Lost in a good book

This, along with From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, were well-worn, dog-eared favorites I read over and over and over again as a child.

When I was a kid I used to sneak a flashlight and read under my covers until the wee hours of morning so my parents couldn’t see the light from my window long past bedtime.

It was while reading Shakespeare in my high school English class I suddenly knew I would go on to study English literature in college. Man’s Search for Meaning, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (language!) shaped me.

I used to be so much better about finding–no, making–time to read. Sometimes I would pick out a book (anything by Michael Crichton or John Grisham) that I knew would be intriguing enough it could help me wile away my minutes on the stationery bike at the gym. But then I would get caught up in the story and have to go home and finish it in the next day or two.

Willa Cather–particularly Death Comes for the Archbishop–is wonderful to leave on your nightstand and consume one chapter at a time at the end of the day. Wallace Stegnar’s Crossing to Safety by is another that is perfect for winding down your day just before drifting off to sleep.

I caught on to the delightfulness of the Harry Potter series early, but was grateful when it became such a phenomenon that I could go buy the next book in the series at Walmart in the middle of the night the day it was released and my kids were at just the right stage of independency that I could stay up all night and finish it sometime the next day and no one would be the worse for the wear (or, ahem, sight amount of neglect).

There was that one year, the year my mom was dying, when I read one book. The same book. Twice. “Where’d Ya Go, Bernadette?” It made me laugh. And after I finished it I knew it was quite possible there was nothing else that could make me laugh quite so. So I read it again.

Those days seemed to disappear since I started working full time. At the moment I am in the middle of at least three books I can’t seem to finish. (One is good and well recommended, but slow. The other has far too many words, but I want to persevere and see how it ends.)

That’s not to say I don’t read at all. True, I no longer finish books in a day, but if on Monday I realize book group is on Thursday and I haven’t read the book, but I did think ahead enough to procure a copy, I can still finish it by reading a few hours each night for the next three nights.

Which reminds me, I’d better see what we’re reading this month…

[Day 86 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Study abroad/regrets of what you did or did not do in college

dalene in liegeSoeur Rex at the Museum of Natural History in Liege

I had high aspirations while I was at BYU, and, while I try to live my life in such a way I have as few regrets as possible (you know, part of that isn’t so much in what you DID or did NOT do, but rather lies in living in the present and not the past and trying not to beat yourself up to hard for not being able to do or have it all), there were a couple of things I wanted to do but never did. Study Abroad was one of them.

I thought it would be cool to live in the French house and go on a study abroad to France and/or England. I can’t remember if I wanted to do this before or after I flunked out of French 101. Most likely before, as
1. I saw how cool the “houses” were when at least one of them was part of my freshman ward and
2. Usually I shy away from things I’m not at least remotely confident I will succeed in. Failing French would have likely doused any remote sense of confidence.

Ephiphany! I say that, but I just realized that my BYU experience proved me wrong on not just one, but two counts. I did end up learning French–and actually living in France–when I was called to serve a mission there. I suppose if I were devastatingly discouraged by failing French I could have chosen to not accept my mission call to serve there. In fact I did accept. I was known as the SYL (speak your language) queen of my MTC district and, in fact, used to make up words if I didn’t know the correct word (maison du fromage for cottage cheese comes to mind) in France in order not to break character. I returned fluent and even minored in French before graduating. And 2. I also failed (miserably) my first Humanities course at BYU. The art and architecture seemed beyond me. But I ended up graduating from the College of Humanities (in English) and did retake and earn an A in that very same Humanities 301 class. (Perhaps, in hindsight, the small-farm-town girl from Junction City, Oregon should have been less ambitious than tackling a 300-level humanities course at first go.)

In any case, I digress. The other two things I wanted to do but didn’t were 1. study abroad in the Middle East and 2. go to law school.

Instead I got married just before finals my second to last semester, worked for a year–miraculously in journalism, which was something I wanted to do–and then became a mother.

Becoming a mother was what I most wanted to do. And I did it. And at least one of my kids did that study abroad trip to the Middle East. And another is currently tackling grad school. And who knows, maybe one of my grandkids will go to law school someday.

In any case, definitely no regrets about being a mom to four wonderful kids and being around to watch them grow into who they were always meant to be.

[Day 85 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

hobbies we don’t do anymore

Back in the days before Pinterest fails and just as Martha Stewart was rising to fame we used to paint wood crafts.

Three orange carrots on a wire tied with rafia.

Oh how we loved our rafia.

A cute 2-foot tall Halloween “gate” complete with whisker-faced black cats, ghosts, and a witch.

Pastel easter bunnies and eggs with stripes and splatters and dots.

“You paint like Julie Child cooks,” accused one of my good friends, Lisa Thomas, who was one of the queens of woodcraft.

Apparently my art is messy.

All the serious wood painters had their own jigsaws, but the rest of us had to commission them to cut for us.

And then our babies, who weren’t much good at napping anyway got bigger. And we got busier. And our homes got too much stuff. (I’m pretty sure I still have all of the above mentioned items tucked away in plastic totes in my two-car garage in which I cannot park a single car for all the stuff.

And we weren’t just too busy to paint stuff. We were too busy to remember to switch out the rustic pink hearts for the easter eggs and the ghosts for snowmen (which is fine, really, because their wasn’t much of a difference).


Eventually I started appliquéing pink and red hearts and pink and purple flowers (and yo-yo bunny tails) and rustic pumpkins and fluffy round snowmen. At least a seasonal quilt will keep my toes warm during the zombie apocalypse.

Although, now that I think about it. Those wood crafts buried in my garage will make good firewood someday.

[Day 84 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

weird totally true stories

When I was a kid we used to hear about how Randolph, Utah was the coldest place in the nation during winter and spring and my dad would tell us how when they all slept in rows upstairs (which they did) it was so cold that they would take off their Levis after a long hard day working on the ranch and jump into bed and then jump back into their frozen Levis still standing up first thing in the morning when they woke up.

Earwigs will crawl in your ear and eat your brains. I used to be relieved that was and old wives tale until a couple of years back my friend and neighbor told me she woke up in the night as an earwig crawled in her ear.

Don’t swallow gum because it won’t digest and it will stay in your stomach for 7 years!

Don’t swim after eating! You’ll cramp up and drown!

I don’t recall actual anecdotes to back up these repeated warnings, but they were presented to me as fact.

Facts which have since been disproven.

Watch out for the Bear Lake Monster–it will get you! (By the way, I have since come to terms with the lack of a Bear Lake Monster and accepted the fact that the Utah Lake Monster is only moss, but I still believe in Nessie!)*

My kids grew up with way better stories (aside from the lake monster stories) than I did, always asking their Grandpa Rowley to tell about when Butch Cassidy and friends hid out on the property his dad homesteaded in the Uintah Basin, or the curse of the lost treasure people are still looking for out that way, or, on a good night, any words they can get out of him about skin walkers.

But my personal favorite is how my mother always warned me to be careful about rolling my eyes at her because they were going to get stuck back in my head.

I was so relieved when that never actually happened.

Until I had a teenaged daughter to whom I will not lie and I found myself curse-less.

I had to resort to looking her in the eye and saying, “Do not mess with The Queen” and rolling my eyes right back at her.

It never worked–as in it didn’t stop her–but somehow it made me feel a little better. Sometimes.

[Day 83 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Post edit: Speaking of lake monsters, this is a fun read and video about a legend in my home state.

Nursery rhymes and lullabies

Sur le Pont d’Avignon
On y danse, On y danse

That may be all I remember of this song I learned serving a French mission, but I used to sing it to my mother while we “danced” when I was helping her from her wheelchair to the ladies room in the last couple months of her life. I was grateful that it came to mind some 25 or so years after I first heard it, in the nick of time to help her feel (I hope) just a little more comfortable about one of the aspects of her progressing illness that made her the most uncomfortable. So not a lullaby, but hopefully appropriate for someone at the final lullaby moments of their mortal life.

Way up in the sky
The little birds fly
Way down in their nests
The little birds rest
With a wing on the left
And a wing on the right
The little birds sleep
All through the night
Shhhhh, they’re SLEE-PING!
The BRIGHT sun comes up!
The dew falls away
The little birds say

What is the opposite of lullaby?
I used to sing that to my children, who were inevitably in bed with me, when they awoke. Admittedly, I took some pleasure in singing this rather loudly, especially when we lived in the basement of my night-owl cousin whose roommates sometimes kept us up at night.

Of course my daughter Lindsay, who I often called Susie (short for Susie Q and only one of a handful of terms of endearment she heard from me), got this one:

Wake up, little Su-u-sie,
Wake up!

I’m not sure they would remember, but any one of my children would often here “You are my sunshine” from their mother’s lips. I couldn’t always finish with without choking and tearing up a bit.

I also used to sing the mockingbird song, but I would make up new verses that felt more positive.

Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star are favorites we like to play and sing with for James along with the animation on YouTube.

If The Three Bears counts as a nursery rhyme, then my older kids should know that quite well, as I used to tell them the story as if they were in it sometimes. They used to wake me up with “Mom, don’t sleep. Finish!” as my words would slur together because I was always so incredibly tired.

Finally, let’s you can take the nursery out of the rhyme, but rhymes are good for a lifetime. I just loved rhymes. And would often make up phrases with rhymes mid conversation.

Wordplay is one of my love languages. I hope my kids felt the love.

[Day 82 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

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.


[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.]



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


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.]