ball drop

Right about the same time the opportunity came up to apply for my current full-time job, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Knowing I still had a teenager at home and would also be one of my mom’s primary caregivers gave me pause. But my mom loved her years working at BYU and was so happy when I was hired part-time at UVU, she meant it when she encouraged me to apply for the job and then to accept the position when it was offered to me.

So since I’ve had this job I’ve gone a year helping to care for my dying mother. I’ve helped my kids when our first grandchild was born early–right as we hit deadline for a huge contract project with a federal agency. We stood watch during that time we hoped my mother-in-law would just wake up from her surgery. And I’ve dealt with foot surgery and a much longer-than-expected recovery from that. I’ve also helped bail out a few people when they either over committed themselves or life happened to them, all while managing my own projects.

And while I may have gingerly juggled a few balls and desperately grasped them just before they hit the ground, until today I’ve never dropped the ball.

And today* I just blew off a phone conference call with a major player in another federal agency with whom we wish to partner for not just an upcoming project, but also the possibility of future projects.

Fortunately, it’s not urgent, and the man has been quite understanding.

But for someone who takes responsibility seriously and just doesn’t blow off people (except maybe, occasionally, my visiting teachers when I truly forget not hours of last remembering an appointment).

And I felt badly.

I owned it. No excuses. Just “I apologize.” Because I sincerely do.

And here’s hoping I never drop such a big ball ever again.

*This was after laying awake half the night worried over dropping the ball after the arrangements I had for someone to hang out with my grandson for at least half my workday so I could hit some important conference calls fell through last minute. The first conference call was a disaster.


I didn’t even try the second one.

And then I forgot the third. Which was probably the most important.

Oh well.

thoughts and prayers

In the wake of the latest mass shooting–and indeed every heinous terrorist act or senseless tragedy to which we are almost becoming accustomed, it’s all the rage to decry “thoughts and prayers.”

I get it. Thoughts and prayers–much like faith–can feel empty without action. Devoid of any move towards progress. Doing at least something, if not all we can do.

But dismissing the power of thoughts and prayers with real intent is, in my mind, just as harmful as doing nothing.

I know the energy of good thoughts. The power of prayer is real. I have been lifted and carried by sincere thoughts and prayers. I’ve seen those I love lifted and carried as well. That power is tangible. And to dismiss it is rash and foolish.

Earnest thoughts and prayers can compel one to act on the behalf of another, even when one is so far removed from the location of a tragedy as to be powerless to affect the lives of those traumatized and bereaved.

To deprive a world of thoughts and prayers would only serve to bring greater imbalance between good and evil in the world. Just at a time we need the power for good more than ever.

he knows my name

Sometimes the effort of holding things together for other people requires more of you than you think you have and pressure of the weight of all the things for which you are responsible for at a given time and all the things you need to do in too short amount of time compresses and you start to feel the tiny cracks snaking along the seams.

Today is such a day. Our RS had a Super Saturday scheduled–one I wasn’t super excited to participate in until they added the service element. But I wasn’t going to go. I’m tired. And I have too much to do. And I’m trying to manage all that with a sweet sick 2yo who misses his parents terribly but who is being remarkably brave and resilient. In any case, my husband came home and insisted he would watch James so I would go over to the church for a little bit.

I dragged myself out of the car and across the parking lot and into the double doors of the church and the first person I saw was one of the counselors of the Relief Society.

“Dalene, I had a dream about you last night. Are you ok?”

The tiny cracks generally hold their own until met with compassion. And then they give way to someone willing to carry a part of the load for a bit.

“You did?”

She never really told me what happened in the dream, just that she was worried about me.

And she listened to me for a spell. And got it.

And my load was lightened.

And I knew–once again–that God knows my name.

And this too shall pass.

the view from my floor

As I am wont to do, I saw the rules more as guidelines, really. And while I finally did vacuum my floor–thanks to the generosity of a friend who lent me her Dyson–I’ve had a long day week and I just put clean pajamas on and my carpet is desperate for a deep, truck mounted cleaning and my kitchen floor is even worse because life sort of happened this while and in face I have a very good idea of what’s on my ceiling even from my favorite chair, which is on the floor, and gives me a perfectly decent view of my ceiling.

This is a handprint. I don’t recall which child of mine left a black greasy handprint on my ceiling, but I’m not in any hurry to clean it off because it reminds me of the story my Uncle Dean tells of the frustration of being a much younger and therefore primarily only child of a lovely woman I’m quite sure had OCD and who we used to joke would wash your glass almost before you were done drinking the water out of it. Dean was rather tall and athletic and I’m not entirely sure how he arrived at it–maybe he did the high jump–but somehow he managed to do some sort of high kick to the ceiling and leave his footprint right in the middle of my grandmother’s pristine ceiling.

I’m also fairly certain that footprint remained there for quite some time.

In any case, one of the nice things about my ceiling–cobwebs don’t bother me, particularly, is that with the exception of the ceiling in my bedroom, it is the only flat surface in my house on which the paint is not peeling.

So there’s that.

Perhaps if someday I were ever to write a song, it might be about peeling paint (which I initially wrote as “peeling pain.”

In any case, the flat white pain over the texturing my husband did is not peeling.

[Day 190 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

lost puppies. and a cat.

Awhile back I got a desperate message from someone I don’t know who–I’m still not sure how she found me or why she thought to ask me–asked me if we had a neighborhood Facebook page because she had lost her dog Coco and wanted me to post a photo and her contact info. I did as she asked, but there weren’t any bites.

A short time later I happened upon a post on our Relief Society Facebook page with the photo of a cute little chihuahua (to be honest, I do not love chihuahuas, but I realize dogs are like family, so I’m trying to be generous) that had wandered into someone’s backyard. They were looking for the owners.

I messaged the owner and told her it appeared her dog was in our neighborhood and texted my friend the owner’s contact info and later got a message from a very grateful dog owner reunited with her baby.

Literally the very next day, I was tagged in a post by someone else in our neighborhood in response to another neighbor’s post about a found chihuahua. (What are the odds?) The commenter tagged me because she thought it was the same dog.

I messaged the first found chihuahua’s owner to make see if perhaps Coco had run off. She hadn’t. But then I happened across another post by someone I didn’t initially realize I knew (but later found out I did–AJ grew up just down the street from us) who had lost her chihuahua, Gia. I texted that number and got an immediate call back from AJ, who she was distraught about losing her dog. I quickly messaged the woman with the dog to ask her to please keep the dog safe and then told AJ where to find her.

Gia and AJ were happily reunited and I got a gracious and grateful text from AJ thanking me for finding her dog.

(In my mind, I’ve not been the finder, just the communicator bringing the right people together. But I guess the end result is the same.)

In late September I was in Washington D.C. for work. It was late there, when I got a desperate text from another friend who grew up on our street and who has been living with her mother while they’ve been remodeling their first house. She happened to have just arrived in London and had realized that in leaving instructions with her sister for their kids, they overlooked leaving instructions for their cat, who apparently then ran off.

Fortunately though it was late in London and in D.C., it was a decent hour in Provo. So I texted my husband a photo of the missing kitty and instructions where to take her should he find her. Then I turned to our faithful R.S. Facebook page and posted the photo. Before too long I was tagged in a comment on that post and referred to an earlier post I had missed–being across most of the country and two time zones away–in which I was also tagged and eventually we pieced together the cat’s wanderings throughout the day and Shane went down and found the sweet kitty and reunited it with our friend’s twin brother.

Finding AWOL chihuahuas or your kitty in Provo from D.C. is apparently my new superpower.

j/k. But maybe I should open a side business psychically reuniting pets and their owners. 😉

similar states

I would hope that my readers feel a sense of awe at the quality of human endurance, at the endurance of love in the face of a variety of difficulties; that the quotidian life is not always easy, and is something worthy of respect. I would also hope that readers receive a larger understanding, or a different understanding, of what it means to be human, than they might have had before. We suffer from being quick to judge, quick to make excuses for ourselves and others, and I would like the reader to feel that we are all, more or less, in a similar state as we love and disappoint one another, and that we try, most of us, as best we can, and that to fail and succeed is what we do. –Elizabeth Strout

I think this pretty much sums up the human experience.

Are we not all beggars?

Are we not all broken?

Are we not all divine beings seeking to learn and grow on this mortal world?

Indeed I say yes! And that is the beauty of it.

One of the most profound (to that point) epiphanies I had at the tender age of 23 occurred one day while I was shut away in a rather large but somewhat dreary apartment on a rainy grey day in Herstal, Belgium. My companion was ill and I spent the day reading really old copies of the Ensign. I don’t recall the title or author (although I have since tried–unsuccessfully–to find it), but article seemed–at least to me–to be about coming to terms with your past in order to get unstuck and move forward. The gist of it was “forgive your parents for their imperfections. They loved you the best they could amidst whatever burdens they carried. They did their best with what they had.”

Within the bounds of Strout’s “more or less,” I believe this is true. And believe it is freeing. Letting go of other people’s baggage is freeing and empowering. It lets me be free to be accountable for myself and to choose my way forward. And that is the same whether I am looking back at being raised by imperfect parents, being loved imperfectly by family and friends, or being judged–sometimes unfairly–by children who have not yet forgiven me for being human.

It gives me the freedom to accept and–hopefully, eventually–learn from my mistakes. It gives me the power to gain strength from my successes.

Most hopefully it reminds me to be gracious and to accept those who disappoint, those who wound, and those I love in similar states.

[Day 189 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

O tannenbaum

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

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

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