Swimming

swimmeet
in my dreams – photo credit: Sgt. Edward Garibay

For some reason as kid–maybe because I was one of six kids–I always wanted to be really great at something. I wanted to be special. (I’m pretty sure I still want to be special.)

One year – maybe I was 8 or 10 or something–I saw a flyer about a novice swim meet pasted up on a bulletin board or a glass door or window. I must have somehow known what the word “novice” meant (because we couldn’t just Google everything on our smart phones a-way back when) or maybe I just asked someone to make sure what it meant, or I could have even looked it up myself in one of those ginormous faded-red covered dictionaries which served as our Google a-way back when, but I knew since I didn’t have a clue what I was doing beyond those generic group swim lessons everyone takes at the locale recreation center pool when they are 4 and 5 and 6, I was a novice.

And so I begged my mom to sign me up.

For some reason she did sign me up and I found myself for the first time ever, a gawky awkward kid–probably in a bright-colored but likely ill-fitting home-sewn knit swimsuit, standing on a starting block with that sticky sandpaper stuff across the top you could stub your toe on if you weren’t careful because its sole purpose was to keep you from slipping into the pool before the starting gun went off.

The starting gun went off and I’m sure I somehow–but awkwardly–entered the pool and swam however many laps and finished the race. I know I didn’t win or break a world record. Or any record. And I wasn’t special. And that day ended all the dreams I barely knew I had of joining the swim team and being an Olympic swimmer and winning something–anything–right there.

But looking back now I would say,

“Good for you kid. You tried something new. And that’s something.”

[Day 47 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Light the World

It’s been out for awhile now, but I waited to watch this until last night because it felt like a perfect way to more thoughtfully jump into what is already a very busy December. I kind of lose it about 40 some seconds in when it cuts from Jesus giving a hand up to the sick man on the steps of the pool of Bethesda to the boy giving a hand up to a younger boy on the dusty soccer field and I remember that we can love and serve our brothers and sisters as Jesus did.

Today is the kickoff of to light the world 25 ways in 25 days. I can’t guarantee I will have 25 things to say about it, but if I do, I will say it here.

Today’s theme, Jesus Lifted Others’ Burdens and So Can You was timely in a number of ways.

I’ve been Martha’ing about trying to help coordinate food for a family luncheon after the funeral of a longtime neighbor who, as a builder, literally helped build my neighborhood. He is a well loved neighbor, father, husband, and friend to many. I didn’t know him particularly well, but I’m told he built our house long before we moved here (we are the third family in this house since we moved into the neighborhood about 25 years ago, and we’ve been here about 16 of those years).

One thing I will remember him for is his soft-spoken ways and the sweet tenderness with which he always spoke about his wife and the gentle attentive way he cared for her. And the times I felt the spirit whisper the truth of his testimony.

In any case, I’m responsible for organizing the luncheon for his family (and sometime, if I haven’t already, I will write about how I learned this is a sacred and special time when the healing gently, quietly begins). Due to my day job, I have a person on my committee who is generally the point person for the actual serving of the luncheon, but she suffered a fall may have broken her ankle. Bless her though if she didn’t call and call to line up help and do all she could. We had about three days to put this together–coordinating her calls and my Facebook signup on the ward Relief Society page and since I bear the responsibility mantle more heavily than I need to sometimes, I’ve been worrying over it like a Martha and missing the part that Mary would see.

Mourning with those who mourn.

I’m still mourning with the Stewart family. Mourning for families who’ve lost babies this past week. Mourning for a friend who sweet boy just finished leukemia treatment only to find more cancer just as his hair was growing back. Mourning for an unimaginable number of victims of war who no longer have any access to medical care. Mourning for those suddenly and tragically lost. Mourning for those who are lonely, hurt, bullied, and afraid. And this is just a small, small part.

But when I bury myself in busy I forget to feel and you can’t truly mourn without being willing to feel.

So today I took time to remember why we are signing people up for funeral potatoes and Jell-O salads and cakes and rolls.

Why someone who fell helping at the last funeral (just two and a half weeks ago) and whose knee still hurts is stepping up to take the place as point person.

I went to the viewing and looked into the eyes of the people who are saying goodbye to their husband, father, father-in-law and grandpa and I shook their hands and hugged them.

I took a moment to appreciate the generous sisters who, when they saw we were short signed up for two cakes and two salads.

And, remembering that we can rejoice with others as well as mourn, I said a silent prayer of thanks when I learned that sweet Wyatt’s sister is a 100% match for his bone marrow transplant and his mother’s hospital and insurance worries seemed to be resolving themselves. And felt again the joy of learning one of my best friend’s biopsies came back benign.

And I gave thanks for miracles. For I know from whence they come.

O tannenbaum

treeeee
This is a really bad photo of the time I didn’t put my tree (which my husband had purchased without me because I was half living at my mom’s) up until Christmas afternoon, because that was my first time home after our last Christmas with my mom.

I was a young adult my youngest brother was my kid brother and one year—this would have been after our dad died and we moved to Utah and he would have been in jr. or sr. high school he must have taken a wood shop class because he made me a wooden Christmas tree. It was made with stacked wood pieces that fit together sort of like Lincoln Logs and the bottom two were stained brown for the trunk and the remaining were stained green for the branches. It aligned flat, but you were supposed to spiral the pieces around the base so it filled to make a Christmas tree.

That gift made me realize that when someone goes to the time and trouble to make you something with their own heart and hands it means they were thinking of you. As much as I loved that tree (which I’m sure I still have somewhere, although I think it needs some wood glue), what I loved most was knowing my brother was thinking about me.

Now we get all our trees from a family a few blocks down, from Baum’s. Before we knew them we used to buy them from cub scouts at any one of those tree places that seem to pop up out of nowhere in empty old lots right about Thanksgiving. They usually come with a guarantee that they will last until Christmas. One year mine didn’t. And darned if I didn’t take off every ornament and light and drag it back down to the lot for a replacement just two days before Christmas.

Depending on how old my kids were, we always had a few trees that ended up being pulled over—completely over half a dozen times before they were through. I’d sop up water from the carpet with our raggedy old towels, rehang the scattered ornaments, and be grateful if we didn’t lose more than one or two. Now I have a grand-baby I have to think about those things again. Know what? I’ll happily risk the hazard of spilled Christmas just to enjoy a baby around the house.

One of the first times after we discovered Baum’s (it strikes me as funny we didn’t start shopping there much earlier, as apparently my husband taught their kids) we drove up and I was so disappointed.

“They flocked ALL their trees this year!” I exclaimed. (I loathe the artifice of flocked trees, except the tiny Charlie Brown trees that are really just branches nailed on to a couple of 2x4s, which are pretty decorated with a few bright colored glass balls.)

My husband and my kids still tease me about this.

Of course they did not flock all their trees.

It had been snowing already that season. And that was real snow!

One of my favorite stories about my Grandpa Jacobs came out as our extended families gathered together for a dinner in some generic church gym after his death.

He was a frugal man, true to his Scottish roots. And saw no reason to buy a tree on years where no family was coming for the holidays.

One Christmas either my aunt or one of the uncles called on Christmas Eve to announce they were coming for Christmas.

My grandmother, as long as I knew her, was not one to disagree with my grandfather. But she must have put her foot down, insisting the grandchildren open their presents around a tree. Grandpa begrudgingly went out to see what slim pickings were left at the now really vacant vacant lots.

He did not expect to pay full price for a tree that would be discarded the very next day, so he set about finding a spindly, cheap tree and asked to pay half price. The proprietor said “No.” My grandfather continued to try to talk down the price, but found himself evenly matched for stubborn. Yet. Grandpa held firm on his offer to pay half price.

As the story goes, the tree man eventually agreed to my grandfather’s offer, took his money, and then sawed that tree right in half, lengthwise, giving Grandpa Jacobs half a tree, which he proceeded to take home and, without explanation lean up in the corner, full side out as if half a tree were perfectly normal.

[Day 46 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

I did it!!!

This is why we write

8minutes
First meeting of the Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-minute memoir group

We are all connected by stories because we are stories ourselves. There’s that wonderful quote from Muriel Rukeyser: the universe isn’t made of atoms. It is made of stories. When we learn someone else’s story, it shifts the fabric of our being. We are more open. And when we are open, we connect.

–Kate DiCamillo

Tonight I got out of my comfort zone to get into my cold car, program my GPS to a route unknown to a Tree street I’ve never been to, knocked on a stranger’s door and gather with a room full of women I’ve never met. After a simple introduction reminding us of the power of our stories and the uniqueness of our voices, nearly everyone risked vulnerability in order to share a part of herself with everyone else in a way that connected us in imagination, knowing, seeing, tasting, joy, laughter, loss, and grief.

We bonded over tales of releasing tangy pomegranate tendrils, stories of conspiring cartoon cows, memories of childhoods interrupted by death or divorce, and images of wasps nesting in lacquered hair and a new rose bed labored over next to a south-facing porch.

I’m reminded of another time, another gathering of women, sharing of lives through real, raw, stories. This one was up Provo Canyon in the cool comfort of fall. The connection was palpable, spiritual, and unforgettable.

This is why we write.

Something scary

I was all in until I read “in the last two weeks.” I don’t think I’ve done anything scary in the last two weeks, although I seem to have been nervous about a few things, they were not scary enough to stay in my mind.

If I go back two months instead of two weeks, however, I did do something scary. Two something scaries (but I forgot to write about the other).

I was invited to attend a teaching retreat in the place of my dean quite last minute. I said yes with very little information other than it was a conference because I figured I had something to learn (I did!) and because it was in Midway and I love Midway and much of the rest of my family was going on the deer hunt so what did I have to lose? But when they finally got me registered in the dean’s place and sent me the materials I realized the entire conference was with faculty and I would not fit in in any way. I was scared and figured I would go and just hang back and stay under the radar, but of course such conferences are designed to connect and involve people, so sitting on the back row and keeping quiet weren’t really an option.

Fortunately for me, one of the first people I met was not faculty either. She was a spouse accompanying her husband and who, because she is a K-12 teacher, decided to attend the ice breaker activities the night before the conference started. She was very friendly and put me at ease. And truly everyone was friendly and no one shut me down or out when they realized I was not one of them. In fact some were curious about what instructional designers do and how to work together with them.

The next day in the classes I again met very interesting, open people who wanted to converse and discuss ideas and concerns and work together to find solutions. The truth is, one can learn a lot about some of the challenges of education simply by being a learner oneself, by being a parent, and by paying attention.

One of my favorite areas of concern was about why people are afraid of math. I think part of the reason we are afraid of learning at all–but particularly math–is we are afraid of getting stuff wrong. We forget that you can learn a good deal from mistakes. I think you can teach people to see mistakes in a different light and use them as tools for learning instead of stumbling blocks.

It was also good for me as an instructional designer to understand why some instructors are frustrated by outcome-based learning and it reinforced to me the importance of thoughtful instructional design. It’s something I work at anyway, but I realized that when I design with purpose it (hopefully) will feel natural and make sense even to the instructor as well as fall into place for the learner.

In any case, I met people from many fields and many countries and many religions or not religions and they were respectful and kind and fun and I had a great time.

Just another reminder that getting out of your comfort zone can be good for you.

[Day 45 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Giving thanks

falls
I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world Heavenly Father created for me

Today I was making chicken enchiladas while not feeling so great and I thought how glad I was that my husband has picked up shredded cheese (or possibly some other convenience that makes my life simpler) and I thought of how it’s the simple things that make life easier and remembered the time I wrote down 100 things I was thankful for and thought that would be a good thing to do again.

100 things (in no particular order)

1. Shredded cheese (though I usually grate my own)
2. Can openers (especially the kind that don’t leave sharp edges)
3. Rain
4. Storm clouds
5. The camera in my phone
6. Words
7. Hot water
8. Modern medicine
9. Natural medicine (let’s hear it for Vitamins C and D and L Lysine)
10. Harmony
11. Acoustic guitar, all strings for that matter, and percussion
12. Fine cheese
13. Sherpa-lined slippers
14. The good hearts and quick wits of my kids
15. Puns
16. Babies, particularly sweet baby James
17. Hugs–people who give them and people who accept them and people who hug you back
18. Those friends who love you just the way you are, but also, by treating you like you are already the person you are becoming, help you be better than you currently are
19. Watching my kids choose good friends (including a good spouse) and work to be good people
20. Those people who see you, get you, and who notice
21. People who love and show affection freely
22. The spirit whispering to you that you are enough even when the world tells you otherwise
23. Flowers
24. Light
25. Heated seats in my car
26. My sunroof
27. Timpanogos and her majestic Wasatch sisters
28. Connecting with strangers in a significant way
29. People who let you see them and are real with you
30. Blues, greens, and greys of the Pacific Northwest
31. Getting lost in a good book
32. The way fiction opens your heart to compassion and empathy
33. People who will look you in the eye
34. Honesty and truth
35. A sincere apology (those are rarer than you might think these days)
36. Genuinely grateful people
37. Pastry cutters, wood rasps for zesting lemons and grating nutmeg, a perfectly weighted rolling pin
38. Grated nutmeg, crushed cardamom, Penzeys baking spice
39. Words that build
40. Phrases almost too perfect for this world
41. Belly laughs, baby giggles, unrestrained awe
42. Water
43. Fresh corn on the cob, slathered in real butter and lightly salted
44. Vine-ripened tomatoes
45. Fresh peaches
46. Line-dried laundry (although that’s a luxury I haven’t experienced in awhile)
47. Still warm laundry fresh from the dryer
48. Orange carrot soap with ground oatmeal and lavender buds
49. My stick blender, a bucket full of lye, and my box of essential oils
50. My killing the 9 to 5 playlist on Spotify
51. The Zombie song and other Halloween songs that make me smile
52. White Christmases
53. The peaceful hush and pale glow of newly fallen snow
54. Sand between my toes
55. Warm sun on my face
56. The slow greening of dormant grass come about March
57. The way I think Spring is my favorite because I welcome the return of light and warmth
58. The way Fall is truly my favorite–with the colors and flavors of the harvest and the crunch of falling leaves beneath my feet–even though it means winter is coming.
59. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice oatmeal and steamers and pancakes, pumpkin cake squares
60. The look and feel of good soil full of organic matter (hard to come by here)
61. Mist coming down off the mountains and into the valley
62. Being alone on a quiet morning
63. Rainy Mondays
64. Petrichor
65. The aroma of freshly baked bread
66. Family – my family, my ward family, and my extended family, particularly my aunts and uncles who reach out to us now both our parents are gone
67. Sisterhood
68. The way reading the Book of Mormon almost daily changes me
69. The way I feel when I can set aside my fight with distractions and just “be” in the temple
70. More Holiness Give Me; More Holiness Give Me, Be Still My Soul, Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, Reverently and Meekly Now
71. The way my husband loves his students and serves our ward
72. The memories I treasure of growing up in a farm town across from a giant mint field in Oregon
73. The way my parents taught me how to work hard and be self reliant and gave me independence
74. The steady surf-sound of the Pacific Ocean
75. Finding ways my various circles of friends and family and acquaintances (although if I know you, I consider you more than an acquaintance and am more likely to call you friend) intersect
76. My Instagram account
77. My commute
78. Those moments I can count on one hand that built a firm foundation of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and remind me where I am from, why I am here, and where I am going and keep me rooted even when tempests toss
79. A prophet’s voice
80. Testimony
81. Peace and beauty amidst deep trials
82. Those good people in your life of whom you say “I want to be like her when I grow up”
83. People who listen and are truly interested
84. People who will share their stories and their truth with you
85. The things I learn from trying something new or learning something the hard way
86. When I can feel God’s love for other people
87. When I can feel God’s love for me
88. People who choose kindness
89. Gifts from the heart
90. Art
91. Those friends who you can count on to look after your kids when you’re not there
92. An optimistic heart
93. The perfect green scarf my brother knit me for my 50th birthday that really sets off my green eyes
94. Pajamas
95. A good road trip
96. The way I feel when I eat farm to table
97. Red rocks
98. Family farms, farmlands, green spaces
99. Provo’s downtown
100. The example of my Savior, Jesus Christ

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Home again home again lickety split

homeagainBye bye Idaho, Hello Utah, we’re back!

This is us. But it is not us. We don’t stay in hotels for three nights in a row. Especially not over the holidays. We don’t travel during the holidays, except for the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods 99 miles to Grandpa and Grandma Rowley’s house in Duchesne (which, since it’s under 100 miles, doesn’t really count as “travel”). Since we are usually home where there is always so much to do, we don’t tend to just “hang out” and visit. And aside from the times when a Star Trek or Star Wars movie is coming out near my almost-Christmas birthday, we don’t go to movies during the holidays.

But we did it!

Friday after Thanksgiving we forwent (is that word?) deals and steals for memories, completely ignoring Black Friday (which I tend to do anyway) and heading to the antithesis of Black Friday–Emmett. My brother Jon taught everyone who wanted to how to drive the tractor. I went around once on my own, then took James around for a spin, which was delightful.

tractorred

The rest of the family got to meet the cows. I hope you can see James’ face on this one. He is starting to say words, which he clearly recognizes and understands, and the word of the day was “cow.”

cows

And we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

fantasticbeasts

We dined out way too much, but it was a great way to catch up with my dear friend Lindsey and spend time with family before everyone headed home today.

And we stopped at my mom’s favorite “rest” stop, Gossner Foods (Cheese Factory) both coming and going.

It was wonderful that so many of my siblings were able to gather this weekend and we truly enjoyed our time together. One of the best parts of the trip, besides how much it meant to my brother that we would come, was spending so much time with this sweet child.

He is cutting molars and canines. He has an upper respiratory infection and cough. And he has one of those childhood viruses that leaves him with painful sores in his mouth. In the midst of that we disrupted his sleep cycle and took him out of his routine and his home and made him spend an afternoon in the company of a puppy that repeatedly knocked him down, yet James continually tried to stay cheerful and happy and enjoy his surroundings. I hope he and his parents have a good long peaceful sleep in their own beds tonight!

jamesrocks

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Leaving

I have issues with the subject of leaving.

I wrote my husband a thank you note in his birthday card when he turned 45 thanking him for sticking around past the age my dad died.

Over the year my mom died, many–even most–of my closest friends moved away from me.

So many people I love–too many–have left the church where we once worshipped together and where we still need them.

In fact, this topic strikes such a nerve with me, I keep deleting my post and looking for a new prompt somewhere.

I do a fairly decent job of staying in an abundance rather than scarcity mindset, except for on the subject of people in my life. And there, past experience tells me I’m going to lose people, and I tend to expect the worst.

And this may go down as possibly the lamest blog post ever, but that’s really all I have to say about leaving.

I’d really rather write about staying.

[Day 44 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

giving thanks

thanks

Families are complicated and complex. The people who’ve known us the longest see us at our best and our worst. Sometimes they are some of our closest friends and other times they hardly seem to truly know us. They love us in spite of ourselves and sometimes in spite of themselves, but sometimes they wound us more deeply than anyone else can. And yet we love. And love. And love.

We spent this Thanksgiving with 4 of the 6 of us kids at my newly ex-sister-in-law’s house. Extended family and friends totaled a part of 21. In some circumstances that may have been awkward, but it was surprisingly, pleasingly not awkward. Here is the messy things about exes. You can’t just undo 20 plus years of knowing and loving people. So in some ways, it was perfectly natural to gather and break bread together.

When we lined up the pies we paid homage to our mom–who taught us (all six of us) how to make pie. and our dad, whose love for a good slice of pie was legendary.

My two youngest stayed at home (at their own choice), where, thanks to that one friend you know you can call in a pinch to look after your kids even if you haven’t talked for 6 months, at least they had a plate of turkey dinner to remind them it was Thanksgiving.

In a couple of weeks, all my kids and some longtime friends–the kind who feel like family–will gather around my table for what we affectionately call Thanksgiving 2.0.

Today was great. And I am grateful. But that will be even better.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Dear Mom,

mom

It wasn’t until after you’d been gone about a month or so and I found our some really bad news about a good friend and my first impulse was to text you to ask you to pray for them when I realized the really super hardest thing about losing your mom:

Your mom is the one person in the world who cares about things simply because you do.

Thank you for being that person in my life and for caring about strangers you never met simply because they mean something to me.

Thanks for all those times you scratched my back during sacrament meeting and for teaching me to sing alto.

Thanks for making me take piano lessons and making sure I practiced even when I was stubborn or sullen about it.

Thanks for introducing me to Kahlil Gibran and Carol Lynn Pearson and Jonathon Livingston Seagull and What’s Up Doc.

Thanks for being hard on me and having expectations that taught me to work hard and then even a little harder.

Thanks for putting up with me even when I was sassy. I’m glad that Dad kept me from being really sassy by commanding respect for you, but I know I was still sassy and that sassy hurts. (And I’m sorry.)

Thanks for providing me a place to stay in weeks or months-long stretches surrounding my mission and before I got married even though my independence pained you.

Thanks for all those times you took care of my kids (even that one time when we came home and you were letting them watch Titanic) and managed to fit some time around your full-time work to help me after the babies were born and all the times you slipped me extra food after a family dinner or extra cash to feed our family.

Thanks for living close enough and long enough my kids could know you and for letting me and us help you take care of Grandpa and Grandma Jacobs so they could know and love them too.

Thanks for all the times I got to be your Plus 1 at events with your BYU Administration Office.

Thanks for being so excited about my work at UVU and for encouraging me to apply for full time and accept the offer when it came even though you’d just been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

Thanks for wanting so badly to stay home that R.D. & D’Dee and I could take care of you even though it was hard and none of us was perfect at it.

Thanks for all the phone conversations during my commute on the days I couldn’t come see you. Especially for the times that were raw and real and beautiful and tragic all at the same time.

Thanks for keeping your covenants and enduring to the end in a way I know will hold our family together forever.

I love you,

Dalene

[Day 43 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016