Your song

Ever since I can remember, my favorite song has inexplicably been Sweet Home Alabama. I’m not a southern girl. I’ve never been to Alabama. Nevertheless, I used to sing this song at the top of my lungs when it came on the radio (back when a. it played on the radio and b. when we listened to the radio and not our Spotify playlists on the auxiliary channel). It was my ringtone for several years. I used to wish to have it played over quality speakers with good bass as people walked away from the dedication of my grave (I could never decide if it should be played before or after Amazing Grace, live on the bagpipes).

Suddenly I feel the need to find a new song. I don’t actually know all the lyrics to Sweet Home Alabama. And apparently its racist overtones are debatable. Well, what’s really debatable is whether or not the racist overtones are intentional or unintentional.

But as soon as I read it has become an anthem to white supremacists and is often played with the Confederate flag in the background, I’m a little sick to my stomach.

I don’t really have any idea what my new song should be, but here (here is also where I break the rules by not writing nonstop), at the very least, are a few lines of a few songs to which I also don’t know all the lyrics, but which have particularly resonated with me over the past few years. Primarily from Bastille:

Pompeii (on the right–or perhaps wrong–day, this one brings tears to my eyes)
I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Grey clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

The eternal optimist in me often finds myself asking “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

The Silence
It is not enough to be dumbstruck
Can you fill this silence?

I often hear this as “Can you feel this silence?” as well AS “Can you fill this silence?” It’s particular timely to me as I watch world events and believe it is not enough to be dumbstruck. I feel a call to find our voices and use our words to speak up and speak out.

Truth is, I feel about song lyrics much the same I feel about literature and art. Beyond what the artist intended and what meaning critics assign to it, the beauty and significance lies in the effect it has on the listener, or reader, or viewer.

Whatever it stirs within my heart. Whatever it causes me to see differently or more clearly. However it changes my life for the better. That is its true power.

Last night as I was falling asleep, this is the song that stirred up memories from my childhood. How my mom loved Simon & Garfunkel. How she passed that love on to me and to my sister. And how such a discovery and appreciation for something may get pushed back to the recesses of your mind as time goes on and life becomes full and complicated, but it never truly fades.

[Day 81 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

game on (on being game)

Today’s prompt: write about someone who was born game

This is my daughter Lindsay:

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 9.00.37 AM

I like to describe her as someone who lives her life in ALL CAPS. (Also the storm or sunshine of every moment. Both are powerful and magnificent.)

She is fearless. Poison control seemed to know her by name when I called. She’s my only kid who essentially “had a record” with poison control.

When she was just a little kid I was walking with her far beyond the fence in the outfield during one of her brother Zack’s little league games and a kid hit the ball over the fence and Lindsay reached up with her bare hand and pulled it out of the sky.

During Provo Rec. softball–also as a kid–she was recruited by another mom to play soccer. She was an amazing goalie.

She is not, nor has she ever been, afraid of the ball.

She played volleyball and softball in high school. She played softball all four years and is one of the few girls I’ve seen who can throw the ball all the way in from centerfield. During her senior year, her team advanced further than any Provo High girls softball team had ever made it during the state playoffs. They lost against the champions and Lindsay bravely shut down the winning pitcher’s perfect game with an over-the-fence home run.

I really loved watching her play and miss that now, but Lindsay just took her game to newer heights.

She fell in love with rock climbing. Loves the outdoors. And is always game for adventure.

One of the things I love about Lindsay is that her energy and passion are palpable. Her young women leaders used to say that one of the reasons they loved it when Lindsay was around was that everybody had a great time no matter what they were doing.

Her enthusiasm is also contagious. She landed both the jobs she works now because people felt it and loved it and wanted that kind of energy in their business.

We live in a beautiful world where most people forget to look up from their to-do lists to enjoy the ride. Lindsay is someone who works hard and plays hard and knows how to enjoy the ride. She seeks after and embraces the beauty and power in mother earth. I love this about her and, while admittedly I pray for her safety as she reaches for the stars, am so grateful she is looking outward and upward and seizing the day.

linds

[Day 80 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Dream Travel

green bayDespite the terror over trying to take a selfie that you see in those eyes, this is the face of a very happy girl working a 12-hour day in a snowstorm called Kayla during her first visit to Green Bay, Wisconsin

I used to think I was a homebody. I was afraid of flying. And once ignored a Mother’s Day gift of a promise to visit my family in Portland simply because I was terrified I would die on the plane.

Then one day when I was fifty-something I got brave and took a job in the field of aviation and became comfortable inhaling jet-fuel fumes occasionally while walking into the office, fell in love the the rumble and roar of heavy metal engines coming and going outside my window in my office on the second floor of an airplane hangar and watched videos on how rigorous testing is to ensure planes can handle extensive levels of turbulence and I relaxed just a little. Oh yes I still pray during landings and take-offs and periods of heavy turbulence. But once I had to travel for work to cities I’d heard about but never experienced I became adept at packing needs for 8 days into a carry-on backpack and a carry-on sized suitcase, learned to take enough cash for tipping housecleaning, shuttle drivers, and whoever else made my stays feel more like home, work my way kindly but firmly into the crowds jostling for boarding in order to get room in the overhead bin.

I spent 4 weeks in 3 trips living in Alexandria, Virginia and never got tired of the thrill of seeing the monuments appear outside the car window while we drove into D.C. to work on an 8th-floor that looked right out over the Washington Nationals’ stadium. We could actually watch the game from the window. My husband and two youngest kids flew out to join me over their spring break and we walked and walked and walked and saw almost all the things and they had a great time even though they wouldn’t be caught letting on that they did.

I fell in love with southern hospitality, relished kicking my feet up on my balcony looking out over Hartsfield Jackson airport at the end of extremely long and hot summer days, experienced a storm the kind that sometimes turn into tornados on an airfield in Georgia and raced against its furious winds and thunder and lightening trying to get back to our hotel before it unleashed its fury on us, with the windows rolled down so we could take photos of the towering green-blue wall of clouds rolling towards us.

I rented a car and drove myself solo through freeways and toll gates and west-side neighborhoods (because my GPS told me so) to find a tiny one-room camera rental place in the type of neighborhood where fences are topped with barbed wire. After a long hard week working at O-Hare and Midway airports in Chicago (with the above mentioned diversion in Green Bay) I stood on the glass of a window extended from Willis Tower out over the city of Chicago and did not feel vertigo, almost got the doors of the L slammed on my as I dashed down a city block and up two flights of rickety stairs to make the train, dipped my toes in one of the truly great lakes and discovered the magic of all the excitement surrounding The Bean.

I watched amazing ocean sunrises from my hotel window learned that one can wash away a whole lot of worry and anxiety and even hurt feelings by walking across the street from one’s hotel and out into the waves of the Atlantic at the end of a long work day. And took an airboat ride to see alligators in the Everglades and drove down to the southernmost tip of the U.S. with one of my best friends who flew out to join me because I knew it was my last big trip for work and my first and likely only time to visit Florida.

Somewhere in the midst of all that travel I also flew by myself from SLC to Amsterdam and then to Helsinki where, after first buying the wrong ticket, I eventually bought the right kind of ticket to take a bus to a hotel I’d picked out rather blindly, checked in, took a scenic walking tour of the area, then stayed overnight before hauling myself and my luggage all over the cobblestone streets of Helsinki proper walking miles and miles looking for where I was to meet my husband and his tour group of educators who’d already been there for a week somewhere by the shores so we could take an overnight cruise to St. Petersburg Russia. This was my second time to Finland, where my husband served his mission, and I fell in love with it all over again, dreaming of renting a summer cottage near in some small seaside town and bringing our whole family to visit.

Somewhere along those roads I discovered a wanderlust in my I never knew I had. It’s been almost a year since my last big trip and I’ve tried to sate it with scenic drives through rural Utah, but I’m itching to go big again. I have a friend and a kid who wants to go to NYC. I want to visit my friend in upstate NY. (I want to go in the fall to see the leaves and go up as far as Maine, where I have a free place to stay.) A sister-in-law in New Mexico (ok, that’s clearly not as big as NY). A friend to visit in Australia. Not one, but two countries, I served as a missionary that need to be revisited. A hankering to see the Northern lights. A hunger to walk the moors of Scotland. Shane and I both want to do a road trip to all the contiguous states.

So many places, so little time.

[Day 79 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Valentine’s

cookies

The prompt today is to write a Valentine. My 17yo and funny Facebook friends reminded me that St. Valentine’s head was chopped off–or he met with some other violent end–and history recounts at least one Valentine’s Day massacre in which 5 people were killed. Some of us are not entirely sure why we commemorate that with chocolates and cinnamon lips, which means I’m not sure anyone at this point would like me to write them a Valentine, but here goes.

Sending a great big THANK YOU to any and all of you out there in the cyberspace to who have dropped by this past year or so while I sort out the tumble of feelings in my heart and thoughts in my head and have sought a safe space for attempting to put them into words. And for reading my random and likely not-entirely-accurate-but-real-to-me memories of my childhood or just last week.

Words fail to capture what it means to me that you care enough to drop by once in awhile or somehow find time in your busy lives to drop by regularly and take the time to read and listen and see and feel with me.

Remember the tale of the little boy who went to the restaurant with his family and found it so remarkable that the server asked him what he wanted he stated with surprise, “She thinks I”m real?”

Today I want to send out a great big love letter of gratitude to anyone who has stopped by here are heard my words in such a way that has made me feel real.

Thank you. I love you. And you are real to me.

[Day 78 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Things I buy

shop

I’ve been a bit stuck on this prompt. I guess I’m not the shopper many seem to be. Retail therapy generally–but not always–is lost on me. Although I do love to buy a good book now and then.

In any case, Saturdays are generally shopping days, and my husband usually asks for a Costco list and a Macey’s list. The Costco list almost always includes milk, “berries if good,” and a roasted chicken. I once had him pick up the raw chicken and roasted my own and that’s when I noticed the price is the same for a raw chicken as a roasted chicken and since then my life is much easier by having the meat from a Costco rotisserie chicken in my fridge on a weekly basis.

The Macey’s list always begins with “small green bananas.” It used to read “greenish,” but now he knows what I mean. Small because no one ever eats a whole banana. Too much sugar. But those tiny short ones–when you can get them–are the perfect serving size.

Sometimes when I’m asking for something new I have to Google and image of it and text it too him. Yes, we are so spoiled in this day and age in more ways than we can count.

Generally my Sunday dinner menu (sadly, I’m not one of those wise women who has her entire menu planned the whole week –or even the whole month–out) is based on the following conversation, which works best with a fully charged phone battery:

Call or text me when you get to the meat aisle.

What’s on sale?

It’s all for sale.

(Halfhearted hahaha.)

Then commences a run down of the price-per-pound for either a shoulder (or cross rib) roast, boneless chicken breasts (much less often now that Macey’s stopped selling their hand-trimmed boneless chicken breasts for around $2-2.50/lb), pork chops, or a pork roast. If I’m desperate I ask for the Family Pack of 80-20% ground beef, but I just learned they don’t sell that anymore.

When prices are high–or, as I say–ridiculous–and I’m lucky, I’ll go downstairs and find a frozen uncooked meatloaf in the freezer and have him pick up potatoes.

Of late two standards on the list are also

“Whatever Kyle will eat,” and

“What Lindsay* needs.”

*Lindsay is now essentially a vegetarian and now an almost-vegan. (She still eats eggs.)

Perhaps my life would be easier if there were things I always kept on hand. But as I said, I have an aversion to planning. Maybe I’ll write about that another day.

In the meantime, I’m grateful my husband generally has time to go to Costco on Saturdays and enjoys doing his home teaching at Macey’s on a Saturday night. I used to wonder why it took him two hours to do the grocery shopping and then one time he was out of town and I had to go myself and ran into so many of my neighbors (Saturday is a special day it’s the day we get ready for Sunday) I needed to visit with for a few minutes it took me two hours too.

Bonus round: If I had to make a list of non-food essentials to never be without, it would include the following:
Charmin’ extra strength toilet paper
Brawny paper towels
Puffs with lotion facial tissues (can’t call them Kleenex because they are the wrong brand)
Trader Joe’s lemon kitchen liquid soap and lavender liquid soap (for bathrooms)
Altoids wintergreen minds (of course I meant “mints,” but I’m imagining the world with wintergreen minds and it’s a refreshing thought)
NyQuil Severe Cold and Flu and Airborne (for emergencies only)
and a good herbal tea.

If money (and calories) were no object I’d also keep my house stocked with the following:
Fresh flowers
Artisan bread
Artisan cheese
Pebble ice

The end.

[Day 77 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

when you said you’d do something but then you didn’t do it

there is a big colorful postcard from disneyland somewhere in my stacks of things. i bought it when i went to disneyland with jen galan and intended to mail it to a wonderfully courageous woman named Logann, who i’d only met once but who was, essentially, for i don’t know how long, dying. when you have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer you are essentially dying. in any case Logann was mom to a sweet young family and she was fighting so hard for more time with them and needed some cheering up so i intended to address and stamp and mail the postcard right from disneyland.

but i didn’t do it.

i meant to do it when i got back. but i didn’t do it then either.

Logann died in december and i still have her postcard and it reminds me of the soft mailer stuffed with a cute colorful sleeper that even has the postage on it but which i never addressed and mailed to my friend Maure when she and her partner had a baby boy.

the sad thing is, i know i’ve written about this before. because i have other unwritten cards and letters and packages i meant to send to people before it was too late only now it is too late and i don’t know what is wrong with me.

even now there is, sitting in my room, a box of hand crocheted baby clothes that i once sealed in gallon ziploc bags so they would fit in a box the mail lady gave me well over a year ago so i could mail them to france. back to joelle. and then, after she died, to the grieving family of joelle.

i wonder if i’m avoiding something. what? i don’t know. but there is often–not always–some sort of disconnect between my well intentioned heart and putting the address and the stamp and the thought behind it together and complete the action so it does more than just counts. so it might actually brighten someone’s day or lift someone’s heart instead of sit, unfulfilled, uncompleted in mine.

shortly before she died, Logann was the subject of a special fast among her family and friends. i suspected at that time, having been through it with my own mother, that she was at a crossroads. deciding whether to suspend treatment (that is the correct word, but cancer treatment is hardly a treat and it often seems to postpone, rather than cure) and come what may.

in any case, even though it was not our fast sunday and my fasts are far from perfect, i fasted for Logann with all my heart. i messaged her on FB because i wanted her to know how much i love and appreciate (present tense, of course) her and to thank her for courage and her heart. i wanted her to know my heart was joined with hers and those of her loved ones on that december day.

i wasn’t expecting a response, but she responded in her sweet beautiful generous innocence. and even though i didn’t get to say goodbye. i got to say “i love you” and receive her love right back.

and i have to think that is better than goodbye.

but i still regret not having sent that postcard. or made that last key lime pie for dave. or…

[Day 76 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

stairs

I remember the first time I heard about someone falling up the stairs and I thought to myself, “that’s impossible.” It’s a contradiction and just not possible.

And then one day I was returning from lunch at work, with a bag of food in one hand and a full cup of apple juice with ice (one of the few places where you can option in fruit juice instead of soda for the free drink with your combo meal) and I did it. I tripped on a lose piece of edging and I fell UP the stairs.

The contradiction comes from thinking you cannot fall UP. Which may be true. But you can very well fall DOWN while going UP the stairs, in which case your head will (hopefully, unless you find yourself completely tumbling heels over head DOWN the stairs) land higher than where your feet were previously standing and you are in fact, falling UP the stairs.

In any case, it still hurts. I was proud of myself for not spilling apple juice all over the carpeted stairs (do we not all have this holdover from childhood–a fear of spilling things, especially sticky things?). But I dinged my knee on one stair, and, in that way we seem to do when we get older, was later quite stiff in the shoulder from catching myself with my arm before I full on body slammed.

That old saying pride goeth before a fall? It doesn’t return easily after. The first thought always, even before taking stock of what hurts and what doesn’t and what is it you can’t feel anymore, and before patting yourself on the back for catching your drinking before a single drip spilled out, is this:

“Did anyone see me?”

Several years ago I was walking through the pile of crisp fall leaves along my neighbors sidewalk. Unbeknownst to me, the sidewalk was not a smooth path, but rather a series of disjointed rickety-rack cement blocks–kind of like an Escher–where the roots from his (the neighbor’s, not Escher’s) many trees had risen up in rebellion against the pavement.

I timbered straight over like a tall tree without knees to catch its fall. Fortunately just before I face-planted, one of my branches (arms) caught the brunt of my fall and I caught myself.

The first thing I did before assessing the damage was look around, hoping no one had seen.

The street was completely empty.

If a tree falls in an empty city street and no one hears it, did it really happen?

Only if your shoulders really hurt the next day.

[Day 75 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Cast out our fear

Admittedly, I’m not the best faster in the world. Not even a good one. But I try. And Sunday, even though as I left for church I felt weak and as if I might have a blood sugar reaction, I kept trying. I figured if I made it to church all I had to do was sit for three hours and then I would come home and break my fast with some peanut butter (protein and sugar).

As I slid into the bench I opened the hymnal (which is weird–normally I sing from my iPad, which I’d left at home–but also beautiful, as I needed to feel the weight of these words in my hands as they sunk into my heart).

1. In fasting we approach thee here
And pray thy Spirit from above
Will cleanse our hearts, cast out our fear,
And fill our hunger with thy love
.

2. Thru this small sacrifice, may we
Recall that strength and life each day
Are sacred blessings sent from thee

Fill us with gratitude, we pray.

3. And may our fast fill us with care
For all thy children now in need.
May we from our abundance share,
Thy sheep to bless, thy lambs to feed
.

4. This fast, dear Father, sanctify–
Our faith and trust in thee increase.
As we commune and testify,
May we be filled with joy and peace
.

Text: Paul L. Anderson, b. 1946. (c) 1981 Paul L. Anderson and Lynn R. Carson.

I could hardly finish the song, being so overwhelmed by such a personal response to what I needed, but hadn’t yet articulated in prayer:

Verse 1: I’m desperate for my heart to be cleanse of worry and strife and for the sense of fear and foreboding I often feel to be cast out and replaced with faith and love.

Verse 2: I want to remember daily grace. And recognize in particular the sacred blessing of strength that is not my own.

Verse 3: Though I am often overwhelmed by my day-to-day life, the deepest desire of my heart is to feed His sheep and for a kinder, gentler world where we recognize that we are all His children and work together to share from our abundance.

Verse 4: Commune. I’ve not yet found the words to express how deeply blessed I’ve felt through the past year by being able to gather with members of my ward family to worship our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even though I arrive alone and sometimes find myself wondering who will make room for me on their bench, I feel such a beautiful sense of community.

C is for Cookie

CisforCookie
Mea Culpa! Proudly carrying on the time-honored tradition of spoiling with sugar grand-babies who didn’t eat all their dinner

Some of my favorite recipes in my mom’s rusted old recipes tins are the cookie recipes. As I recall, all her batches must have been doubled or tripled, because they all called for 5 1/2-6 cups of flour.

My personal favorites are the carrot cookies, with grated carrots and iced with an orange juice glaze with real orange juice. And–wait for it–Wheaties cookies, made with actual Wheaties flakes.

Perhaps I loved them best because I could argue for their nutritional value. Carrots! Real Orange Juice! Whole grain cereal fortified with at least 8 vitamins and minerals!

Have I written about the raisin* filled cookie recipe? That’s the one I recall making the most as a child. After mixing the dough you form it into long rolls, wrap it with waxed paper, and take it out to the freezer in the garage.

When I was a little older and braver, I used to sneak out into the garage and slice off a tiny end of the roll and twist the wax paper back over it as if nothing had happened.

Which was a brilliant idea, except for when you couldn’t stop yourself from sneaking back out for another slice.

I got caught once. That is to say, someone finally noticed that the long rolls of cookie dough were no longer long.

And I lied about it.

I’m not sure I ever got caught, but it’s what came to mind when I first realized that at some point in the copying over the aged, dough splattered recipes once again, either the recipe was mistranslated or someone incorrectly multiplied the doubling or tripling. And the way I knew the recipe was no longer true was because the taste of those little snips of stolen dough is seared in my tastebud memory.

In my quest for the recipe of my childhood (and also because they are my brother Jon’s favorite cookies and I love to surprise him with them when I go visit) I did a Google search. I found recipes that seemed the most similar. I made several batches, even making adjustments on some of the recipes in my quest to find the one true recipe for raisin-filled cookies. At one point I found it and copied it from my Aunt Jean. But now neither of us can find it.

I sometimes wonder if I’m being punished. Both for my sneakiness and for my lie (which, as noted before, I generally avoid because I’m really not very good at it). And the real recipe is lost forever, a sort of curse, if you will, for my cookie treachery.

Post Edit: One time, on a whim, I made these cookies with dried tart cherries instead of raisins in the filling. Let me tell you, there was never a better raison d’ĂȘtre (for me or for tart cherries) than this.

[Day 74 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Addiction

I was standing in the archway of Melody’s house when Shane came to the door to find me and tell me that Kate died. I’ve written about this before. But the shock and disbelief are still as real to me now as they were to me then. I didn’t believe him.

I didn’t know if I should go find Lynda to be with her, one of my best friends and Kate’s mom, or if I would be an intruder in such a moment of personal tragedy. But my gut said go so I did.

Lynda told me later about the look in my eyes when our gazes met as I held her when the coroner carried Kate’s body across the threshold of her apartment and to his vehicle. I felt guilty about not being able to hide the raw horror I felt at witnessing what up to that moment was the most awful thing I could imagine–losing a child. My face is an open book but that was one moment in particular I wished I could have rewritten to mask the distress with comfort, hope, or peace.

“Don’t feel badly,” Lynda said. “When I saw the horror on your face I knew that I would not have to endure this alone.”

Generous words, of course. Because even as a close friend who grieved Kate and grieved her grieving family, I still could never imagine the grief that Lynda bore. That she still bears. Because I’m quite sure the hole violently ripped in your heart when you lose a child never truly heals. At least not in this life.

Kate died of an accidental overdose of Methadone. She was a recovering addict whose tiny frame must have somehow become too saturated with the drug that is responsible for far too many accidental deaths of recovering addicts.

I still mourn kind, beautiful, vibrant, loving, waif-like Kate. I’m still so grateful that the last time I saw her she was looking up. So blessed I had the chance to say goodbye.

Some time ago I got a frantic call from another friend and her mom whose life has been afflicted with addiction. Her own and that of many family members. I was asked to step in and help a family friend in a way they could not. I tried to get other help–because I was worried for my own safety as well–to no avail. I finally called his number.

“This is Dalene. I’m just calling to see if you’re ok. If you need a ride.”

Silence.

Then this grown man–someone I see with so much potential, so much to give, so much of the world ahead of him–broke down into helpless, hopeless, sobs. And I cried with him. Because I feel his despair, even though it is not my own.

I want to help. I want to fix this.

And I can’t.

There is nothing–not one thing–I can do to make this better.

[Day 73 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]