Birth order

My name is Dalene because I was first born and intended to be named after my father. Being female made that a little trickier, but I’d say they managed just fine.

Oldest of six. One of two daughters. My little sister followed me after just 14 months. And then there were boys. My mother used to dress my sister and I as one might dress twins. My sister in pink or red. I was in blue. Which suits me, so I have no complaint. Our names were said so frequently together, Dalene and Jayne Anne, it wasn’t until I was quite a bit older I realized we were not two halves, but rather two distinct, separate beings.

I am still blessed or plagued–depending on how you choose to look at it–by the effects of birth order. I call it a “responsibility complex.” It was ingrained in me that I needed to behave in order to set a good example for my younger siblings. I wasn’t perfect, but this most likely kept me out of some trouble I might have otherwise gotten into had I not taken this charge rather seriously. Now it only serves to make me feel responsible for things that are not my doing and which are beyond my ability to fix.

My sister and I were often left in charge of our younger brothers. We both had very different approaches to this task. Fiercely independent myself, I’m also inclined to grant others the same privilege, and tended to be more hands off. “If you’re not broken or bleeding, you’re ok.” That same refrain worked seemed to work just fine for my children as well.

I wonder to what degree being oldest contributed to said fierce independence. It is too is both a blessing and a curse. It provides me strength and confidence to do what I must, but also a reluctance to ask for or accept help when I truly need it.

Now both of my parents are gone, I also feel a responsibility to stay connected with my siblings and help us stay in touch. I need to do better at this. I mean well, but here it is again nearly 11pm and I’ve put off reaching out to them one more day. I will do better tomorrow.


While I do enjoy getting lost in a good book, I also like to indulge in a good crime drama or two. Growing up, we got up early and worked hard during the day and would gather around and unwind together with a few television shows we enjoyed. In particular I remember watching CHIPS, Quincy M.E., and the Rockford Files.

For the longest time I didn’t watch TV, aside from Star Trek. It was usually on–generally on PBS–but we didn’t so much gather round.

Aside from a time when we were a trial home for Provo’s high speed Internet fiber and got it for free, we have never subscribed to cable. Which meant when we went on vacation a rare time or too, the hotel room TV was a magnet.

I remember one time during a family reunion in ?, it was a NCIS marathon. And we did all gather round for that when we were back at the condo. I was hooked.

Eventually I got all mostly caught up and I still watch NCIS. Now there are three!

And yes, Netflix. Netflix comes in handy when you are sick in bed or otherwise laid up, and over the summer when your regularly scheduled programming is on hiatus. I was so unexpectedly taken with The West Wing.

It’s different now, watching on the laptop instead of gathered around the TV as a family. Those of us who do watch TV all watch different things. But it’s a nice distraction from my own worries once in awhile. And sometimes can be quite cathartic. One Word (that sounds like two): Broadchurch


My maternal and paternal grandmothers are very different from one another, but they are both very dear to me. And I miss them quite a bit.

Growing up I was most familiar with Grandma Rex, as we would see her at least once a year during branding season, and often more than that. As I child I remember being gathered around her tiny kitchen table with my siblings when Grandma Rex was making large quantities of wheat bread. She would always hand each of us a small wad of warm, spongy dough and let us do what we wanted with it.

As I grew up I became more familiar with her formidable will. When she grew older we used to say the reason she lived so long was because God wasn’t ready quite yet for her to be up there telling him how to run things.

Grandma Rex had a wonderful generous heart along with her strong opinions. She was tiny, but she was powerful and brave. She raised 11 children in some of the most unforgiving climate in the country (Randolph routinely is the coldest place in the nation during winter) back when times were physically hard, caring for and feeding the family and ranch hands without running water or any modern convenience.

Later, after losing my uncle in the war, grandmother took her power and persuasion beyond local and state politics and was involved with the national MIA-POW campaigns. She was a force to be reckoned with her entire life.

I still recall a quiet Sunday a few weeks before Grandma Rex died. We were taking turns spelling my aunts who’d been caring for her and Grandma and I were watching professional golf. Phil Mikkelsen won the Masters. All this time I’d known my grandmother and I never knew she enjoyed golf!

A favorite story about Pearl is one told at her funeral. Apparently one day she had been slaving over a hot stove preparing dinner for the masses and my grandfather (and the ranch hands at his command) was late. And grandmother was not happy. When he finally arrived she proceeded to give him a piece of her mind and he swept her up off her feet, twirled her around, and planted a great big kiss on her lips. That was an effective way to get some peace and quiet, apparently.

Grandma Jacobs was also a tiny woman, but she was quiet. The whole time I knew her she quietly looked after my grandfather, standing back from the limelight, quietly running the seamlessly tight ship in which my grandfather thrived.

While she did visit us in Oregon a couple of times, I best remember driving down to see her in San Diego every few years. I still remember being awed at her patience as six kids tracked sand in to her immaculate home after a day at the beach. We used to joke that Grandma Jacobs would have your water cup washed and put away almost before you were finished drinking out of it.

This was the grandmother who would send me a dime for every book I read over summer break. And also the grandmother with whom I credit for giving me a testimony of the law of tithing. When I was in college Grandma Jacobs had a gift for sending me $10 seemingly randomly but uncannily every time I was looking at a week with no money for food because I had paid my tithing first.

When Grandpa Jacobs retired, they sold their San Diego home and moved to Orem, where, as they grew older it was the privilege and blessing of my family to help serve and care for them. Eventually they moved into a senior living center, where we also spent a good deal of time visiting them.

One of my favorite things about Grandma Jacobs was that she loved me for me, as is, and without judgment. I remember she used to come to my messy house and tell me how wonderful I was for spending time holding my babies–even when they slept. She recalled with sadness how when she was a young mother doctors warned mothers against spoiling their babies by holding them. The thought broke both our hearts.

We were all so worried about Grandma Jacobs after Grandpa died. What would she do without the person who had been the focus of her attention her entire life?

She blossomed! At 80-something years old she bloomed into herself, making new friends, and we were all so delighted! Though opposites, she and my husband’s Uncle Hilton became and remained good friends until he passed away.

A few months before she died, I remember being curled up next to her on her bed, where she had been mostly unconscious throughout the day. I truly thought it was her last day. I was thinking about a particular child of mine who had been struggling. I silently thought to myself as if to her, “Grandma, be sure and come back and give “Jane” a kick in the pants now and then after you go.”

Grandma’s eyes opened wide for the first time that day and she asked, “How’s Jane?!”

Tasks Chores


When I was a kid all six of us were assigned to do dishes numerous times a week and to make a dinner lunch or breakfast at least twice. There were outdoor chores as well–mostly mowing and weeding and picking. (In what is, perhaps, the most fortuitous situation of assigned gender roles, my sister and I were exempt from milking the cows.)

But the dishes. It would take me hours to load the dishwasher, mostly because I would put off emptying and putting the clean dishes away for so long first. It seemed like So. Much. Work.

I recall, most likely in my early teens, discovering the power of attitude. If I chose to have a good attitude and jump right in, the same chore was much less tedious and seemed to be completed much more quickly as well.

Unfortunately, lesson though learned, the choosing continues to be the rub. I am not the well-oiled chore-master my mother was. (And that’s ok, I have other faults, but also other strengths.) So I am generally overwhelmed with being outnumbered in terms of how many people are making messes vs. how many people are cleaning them up.

Dishes and Laundry.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Dishes and Laundry. I don’t dust. I don’t iron. I rarely do windows. And I’m ok with that.

I used to be a good gardener. Gardening and managing the space outdoors was preferable to me for several reasons. One, growing things provides pleasure. Two, sunshine. Three, even with the plague of the earth morning glory, the odds, somehow, seemed less against me. Finally, the work I did didn’t get undone in 5 minutes.

To be honest, I maybe was a good gardener at least through June, and then could barely hold my own at least during periods when my internal alarm clock woke me up before the sun and I could get out there before it got too hot.

I don’t do heat.

But now I work full time. Our dog has commandeered the entire backyard. As previously explained, I struggle with the mornings I used to embrace. And even the handful of plants I manage to pot on my front porch suffer from neglect.

Any victories? Everyone does their own laundry. On a good day I sacrifice being exactly on time to work (which is fine, because we have some flexibility) to empty the dishwasher before I leave, even though I know I will still come home to dishes in the sink. And I’m better about generally making myself last long enough to load the dinner dishes (as long as there is only one batch) before dragging my tired bones to bed.

My biggest battle is with stuff. Too many years with too many people’s accumulation of stuff. Compounded with several boxes of my mom’s stuff I’ve yet to tackle, stacked up along my bedroom wall. It, too, is overwhelming.

I chip away at it from time to time, but I think a good part of the reason I so enjoy the occasional work travel these past couple of years is the blessed absence of stuff for a few days.

I know there will come a time where the kids are all gone–their stuff with them. The clean will go longer before being undone. And maybe I’ll make a dent in the stuff.

I expect I’ll find the house too quiet then.

[Day 26 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


1024px-ghost_town_frisco_in_utahphoto credit Michael Gäbler

We lived outside unfettered and primarily unsupervised back in the good old days when we didn’t know any better than to fearlessly roam the planet oblivious to all sorts of dangers that terrify parents today. (Stranger Things? Totally nailed it as far as parents’ presence in our lives seemed.)

A few memories in particular I recall.

People think of rain as gloomy and spirit-dampening, but I remember none of that from my childhood. I recall running through weeds and tall grass in what seemed like endless summer behind our back fence, which happened to run parallel to the freeway. I also recall endless hours grinding what I considered stackable pencil plants (Scouring Rush or Horsetail) into warm cement to scrawl out my name, words, sentences, rudimentary poetry in wet dark green. Only to have it fade to pale as the day wore on.

I also recall what felt like entire summers in the pasture at my grandparents’ house in Randolph, Utah, and then, once we moved out to the country, in our own side pasture. Baseball was the game of choice. And I consider deprived any child who grew up not relying on cow pies for bases in always undermanned (and under-womanned) baseball games with siblings and cousins. IF we were lucky, the cow pies were sufficiently aged before use. If not, the green scuffs of manure weren’t that distinguishable from the green scuffs of grass on a well tanned leg or arm.

My grandparents also had a rusted old swing set out in that pasture. At least that’s what they thought it was. To us it was most generally a rocket ship. Long before the days of thrusters and warp speed, that ship could go anywhere. Days seemed both timeless and endless as we traveled distances and survived adventures limited only by our imaginations.

If you ventured out back and up the hill a little bit you would cross the old weathered bridge that spanned the creek (or crick, as it were). Beyond that stood worn and no longer used farm structures that, to us, made up an entire western town–more likely a ghost town. But we were smaller then, and the world seemed a much bigger place. I imagine if I visited today, I’d be somewhat saddened by its diminished size and expanse. In any case, we held animal-less rodeos, and lived out fictitious lives in the those dilapidated ruins.

All this in the matter of a dozen or so branding seasons spent with extended family. Up until our lives became real and complicated.

[Day 25 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


I wrote a great post for this. It was raw and real and beautiful. I know I hit publish, but even if I didn’t, I could have sworn–in fact I know because even now I see the “Draft saved at 8:54:28pm at the bottom of this page that drafts autosaved.. But my photos wouldn’t load. So I quit my browser and went out of the post. And when I came back in an empty text box was staring me in the face.

It’s gone.

I lack the energy to try again.

What was intended to be Day 24 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


momphoto credit Zack Rowley

Prompt: “Write about a time when you knew you were going to go through pain, you knew you’d suffer, but you went ahead anyway.”

I’ve been avoiding this one. Although I have been in pain, when I think of suffering I most often thinking of it in terms of the pain I feel over the suffering of others. In particular, I think of my mother.

When her breast cancer spread throughout her body, one of the most awful ways it afflicted her was when her lungs would fill with fluid (pleural effusion). She regularly had to go have the fluid drained (thoracentesis) , at great risk to herself. Having once suffered from double pneumonia, I still recall the heaviness on my lungs and the desperate fight for breath.

Ultimately her doctor recommended a painful procedure (thoracoscopic (VATS) talc pleurodesis) in which they would essentially collapse the space where the fluid kept building by draining her lung fully, then filling the space with some sort of irritant (again, I don’t recall what) that made me think of cornstarch and which I honestly didn’t think had any reason being in the human body, especially not the lungs.

The doctor made it sound simple, but it was not. The recovery was extremely painful, with not one, but two drains out of her chest.

I have blocked most of the details from memory and don’t feel inclined to dredge them up right now. But I know my mom suffered. She suffered like I had rarely seen before (someday I will tell you about Adrienne). And it’s not like I would have or could have chosen any differently, but I chose to stay by her side. This is not valiant and does not in any way diminish her actual deep and unbearable suffering, but I suffered more than I can remember, simply by being witness to her suffering.

The worst part of it all, was being painfully aware throughout her ordeal that the human body has two lungs.

We were only halfway there.

After a long and arduous recovery from the first procedure, my mother courageously chose to go in for the second lung.

And she suffered again, this time knowing exactly how bad it was going to be going in.

It is the first time I recall praying for the end of someone’s suffering.

When you are in the thick of something harder than you’ve ever known, the heaviness of it is with you night and day and it feels like it will never end.

The beautiful part of this story is that my mom’s courage in taking this on not once, but twice, led her–with the blessed help of hospice–to enjoy a few good months before she died. During that time she enjoyed numerous visits from family and friends. One of her favorite joys was to take her guests to see the latest progress on Payson Temple construction, something which also brought her a good deal of peace. Followed by fun a visit Rowley’s (if related, it’s a quite distant relation) Red Barn for apples, jam, and hard-scooped ice cream. And, finally, wrapping up with a visit to some family restaurant in Santquin where they serve scones bigger than your head.

Just yesterday I drove past the completed Payson Temple on my way to our niece’s new home in Sanatquin and, on the way back, I noticed the lights at Rowley’s Red Barn. I remember how I worked so hard balancing everything during that time to support my mom, missing all these outings with family because I was saving up vacation and sick time “for the end.” One fine fall day I realized that “the end” might be too late. So I took a half day off of work and accompanied my Mom on her tour. It was a perfect autumn day. The smell and sense of fall harvest was in the air. And I was grateful my mom had seen it through in order to see such a beautiful day and to share it with me.

[Day 23 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Post has been edited to include the name of her condition and the procedures. The substance is worse than cornstarch. It is talc powder. Again, something that seems to have no business being inside of anyone’s lung.

My early reading years


Just the other day I was thinking about some of my favorite books as a child and what it said about me that two were about characters that had been orphaned/abandoned finding a new home and someone who loved them, of those two, one was about tending a garden, and the third was about children who ran away from home.

In any case, the joy of this story is that I still have copies of these books. Not the well worn much loved original copies, but new copies I excitedly ordered from Amazon in anticipation of my first grandchild.

They are, in no particular order:



From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Corduroy is the sweet, illustrated story of a lost Teddy Bear missing both a family and a button.

Mandy is the story of an orphan girl who stumbles upon an abandoned secret garden and brings it back to life.

And From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler is the tale of a great mystery and adventure had by a brother and sister who run away and live, for a time, a the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I read them all countless times and have enjoyed revisiting them again since.

Thinking of books reminds me of how my maternal grandmother used to encourage reading by inviting us to track the books we read over summer vacation and paid us a dime for every book we read. It was a lovely tradition and a great incentive until I was mature enough to read on my own simply for the pure joy and love of a good book.

I read to all my children when they were young, and watched as at one time each one of them would devour books as fast as I could provide them, but then, one by one, got busy or distracted by other things.

As they’ve grown up, it’s been a joy to watch as each one of them has turned back reading again. Some intermittently and each in varying degrees and genres. I have great hope that the love of reading and learning will never leave them entirely, even through various stages of life.

Among other of my sweetest memories is of when my second son left to serve a two-year mission in England. He left a stack of books on the desk in his room and ask that I share them with his then best friend. I noticed that all but one had been books I had introduced to him. That made my mother heart grateful for the love of a good book.

[Day 22 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Friendship: Jane

When I was a young SAHM of two toddlers, I felt a little buried in the day to day-ness of it all. Cooking, cleaning, caring for young people is a lot of work and there is little time to oneself.

And that’s when I met Jane. I was actually looking for Adrienne and went to the wrong house. It was fall, and almost dark. I walked up to a beautiful home, one that reminded me very much of the time I lived in Strasbourg. I knocked on the door and was met by a dark-haired woman maybe about 7 or so years older than me. I didn’t go inside, but the house smelled of fall soup and felt homey and welcoming.

A short time later Jane and I worked together with the young women in our congregation–our neighborhood, really. We became friends.

We talked a good deal of books. Good books we both read and loved.

We talked politics. Her mother and my grandmother knew each other. Both at one point or another had a reputation as “The most powerful woman in Utah politics.”

Sometimes, back when she would work for her parents and I was a citizen lobbyist, we would meet up at the Legislature for a day during the session. Jane took me for crab during Crab Fest at Market Street Grill.

She passed down perfectly good and hardly worn Birkenstocks to me.

I remember Jane would introduce me to people. “This is Dalene. She is a good writer.”

Jane had never written any of my writing. But she is one of those people who lift up instead of push down. She saw things in me I had either forgotten or hadn’t yet discovered about myself. She was interested in what I thought about a variety of topics. She treated me as if I were already the person I am trying to become.

Jane is one of a handful of people of whom I will say, “I want to be like her when I grow up.”

That was over 20 years ago.

Jane and I are still good friends. Even though her kids are grown and she has daughters who wear a European size 39 shoe, she still hands down a pair of Birkenstocks once in awhile.

She still cares about what I think. And she still makes me want to be a better person.

We have lost friends and family since then. Jane and her husband Dave brought dinner in and gave us gift cards with which to feed our family when Shane was diagnosed with cancer and had half of the roof of his mouth and jaw removed. And again when I was juggling a job, being a mom, and taking care of my mother as she was dying of cancer. Jane’s husband Dave has a stubborn prostate cancer than has now spread. He often doesn’t feel well at all. On rare occasion she will just look at me and say “I know you know.” And I will say “I’m sorry. I hate this for you. But I am here for you.” Our hearts and our eyes will well up. But that’s all we need to say.

[Day 21 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Decorations: This is used to be Halloween


October is one of my favorite months of the year. In part because of fall harvest and the fact that it’s not too hot or too cold, which moments are far and few in between in Utah and meant to be savored. (I actually feel most human in this month of the undead.)

But also because I love Halloween.

In particular, I love decorating for Halloween. The company I used to work for had a wonderful Halloween decorating contest and the rest of the departments hated my department because we went all out and slayed everyone every year. Only sometimes literally. (You can see pics from our last effort–the last before I left–here.)

But my favorite part was that my youngest son also enjoyed going all out and used to decorate our house and yard like a haunted mansion. The ghosts and ghouls and monsters, coffins, and graveyards–complete with cobwebs (often real ones, for I don’t dust) and fog machine–was such an improvement over my earliest years of cute painted wood pumpkins, black cats, and ghosts. The neighbors loved it. I loved it!

But what I enjoyed the most was spending time with Kyle doing something we both enjoyed. Half the fun was the anticipation. Although over time we accumulated some lovely creepy props, we enjoyed going out each year to pick out new additions. And as new Halloween stores popped up in the area as time went on, we had more choices than ever before.

Sadly, his interest waned as he grew older, and last year was the first in many, where there was no spookiness at the Rowley house. Not even a tiny bit. This year my only contribution to the spirit of Halloween is a newly acquired piece of zombie art from my friend Charlotte’s talented daughter. I will hang it today, along with cute orange and purple cat and spider pillow (which will only make me sad, on account of Mowgli), somewhere in the living room. Mere tokens of Halloween spirits past.


Ah well. It was fun while it lasted.

In any case, today is the first of October.


[Day 20 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]