bedtime

Favorite young mom moment – smooshing my nose into soft tow-heads sniffing in the cleanness of freshly bathed toddlers, willing the scent and sensation to sear itself into my mother-heart memories, for I knew, even on the longest of days, it would fade too quickly.

Like the washing off of dirt and sweat from a busy day, the bath and bedtime ritual seemed to wash away any faults of the day as well, and leaving clean fresh full hearts in its wake.

So tired, though. My kids never missed a beat when I would fall asleep first, slurring the words of their favorite bedtime stories mid-page.

Sleep is my favorite. Filling up the reservoir and strapping on the mask of my CPAP. Snuggling down into my blankets–for I’ve somehow lost the cover of my old, patchy comforter and am currently making do with a small soft pastel quilt made with love for me on my 50th birthday, topped by a cream waffle-weave summer blanket. I curl up on my left side–which has always been my favorite, and turn on a TED Talk down low in order to distract my brain from the worries of the day or the ever-running and always overdue to-do list in my head.

I can fall asleep in five minutes and relish a bread from the buzzing of monkeys in my brain and the relentless background buzz zzz-ing through my head these days. It’s brief but delicious respite from aches and pains of the joints and of the heart.

Staying asleep is the trick. Once I wake up, it takes awhile. Last night it took me 3 TED Talks and at least 50 minutes into a TED Radio Hour podcast. And then I woke up again a couple hours later.

Oh well. Sleep is still a sweet oblivion, even if brief.

Goodnight.

[Day 195 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

scream

I met Jen in 2005 when by some force of fate or alignment of the stars a bunch of us in Provo started blogging and somehow connected with a few select friends of one another and formed this crazy sisterhood of the traveling pants-type friendship.

The kind that last.

At least for those willing to stay.

Jen is strong, wicked smart, clever, fierce, funny and has a heart of gold. Among many other of her talents, skills, and abilities. But what I love most is her essence. You can just feel Jen. I met her online through a friend of a friend but it was years before we met in person.

But first, part of Jen’s story is the heartbreak of infertility and the crazy mashup of the joys and heartaches of adoption.

And after the adoption long heart-wrenching years of more infertility in which one’s remaining hopes and dreams, once boldly defined in vivid color and liveliness, surely fade into soft-edged pastel stills unrealized. None of which I know firsthand, but both for which I could glimpse a feel deep in my heart on account of Jen and her beautiful honestly and brave vulnerability about this part of her life.

That’s the kind of real that dives itself deep into my heart and seals itself firmly to my essence.

One day, years later, it was with great anticipation I awaited an opportunity to meet Jen in person at last.

We were going to meet for dinner at Texas Roadhouse. It must have been the one in Lehi or somewhere, because there wasn’t one in Provo at the time.

There was line dancing.

And rolls.

Endless fully white rolls.

A small group of us met there and hugs, laughter, and stories ensued, flying as freely as places outside of Provo flow drinks on tap. I’m surprised there was even a moment to draw a breath. When all of a sudden someone dropped a quiet but sure,

“Jen’s pregnant.”

You could have heard a pin drop as our tumbling stories and words all stopped in their tracks as we tried to digest the words.

“Jen’s pregnant.”

And then we screamed.

We literally screamed in a chorus abundant with joy and disbelief and gratitude for mighty miracles. Right there in Texas Roadhouse.

Tears ran down our cheeks as we squealed, giggled, hugged and bombarded Jen with a million questions!

“How?”

“When?”

“How are you feeling?”

“Whut?”

“What!”

“Wow!!!”

And we didn’t care who heard us. Because Jen’s prayers and dreams of a decade or so come true deserved full-volumed screams of joy and gladness and gratitude.

Our screams of joy and gladness and gratitude may not have been as loud or as public the next time.

Or the next time.

But the sentiment was there all the same.

Every time.

And every time I see the faces of her kids–all her crazy beautiful remarkable sweet (and sometimes sassy) kids–in the pages of my Instagram feed the memory of them still hits me just so and I scream and scream all over again right in my heart of hearts.

[Day 194 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

balloons

childhood memories of balloons:

crying over this every single time they made us watch it in elementary school:

At least annually wanting to be a balloon wrangler when I grew up thanks to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My favorite was always Snoopy.

young adult memories of balloons:

Discovering the joy–and also the sting–of water balloons

Probably destroying brain cells at least once or twice inhaling helium gas so I could talk like Daffy Duck.

Appreciating balloons in theory more than in application, because they always smell bleh as they deflate.

young mom memories of balloons:

Learning the hard way why you pay a little extra for high float.

Discovering mylar. Shiny!

Realizing my heart might be just a little too soft as watching a child let go of a balloon and wail as it sails into the great blue yonder or startle when it inadvertently pops can bring tears to my eyes.

Waking up one morning to a mysterious and loud intermittent roar only to realize a hot air balloon was unexpectedly landing on a nearby lawn.

Watching my husband go up in a hot air balloon at his elementary school one year. And praying all the way he would land softly and gently at the appropriate time, because by then I’d already read too many runaway balloon horror stories.

Getting up way too early on what was inevitably the longest day of the year by the time you had to get up early to get a good place at the balloon fest, then make your way to (hopefully) snag a decent place to sit along the parade and then hit the arts festival, fit in a BBQ, and stay up late to watch the fireworks–all part of America’s Freedom Festival (which, by the way, I’m boycotting until they let Encircle have a float in the parade).

Loving how bothmy mother and also my kids enjoyed the giant colorful billowing balloons, and the way you can really get up close and personal with them at the balloon festival.

[Day 193 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

puzzles

I recently inherited two puzzles from when my brother and I cleaned out my mom’s house. One of them was a big red covered bridge. The other may or may not have had a John Deere tractor in it.

Naively I snatched them up, thinking, maybe I’ll actually sit down with my family and we can relax by the fire (j/k, we do have a fireplace but it hasn’t had a fire in it since long before we bought this house some 17 years ago) and put these back together.

But before I let nostalgia completely take over my senses, I thought I should count the puzzle pieces, just to make sure we still had them all. (Right. Like a family of six was going to somehow miraculously keep all the pieces together for over 30 years.)

************

One day I decided to stop and visit a couple of sisters from my congregation who have Alzheimer’s and now reside in a care center not too far from my work.

I’ve visited Frankie before, but am usually unsure as to whether or not she remembers me. When I go there, Frankie was, apparently, sleeping. But JoAnn, who had just recently moved there, was sitting at a table with another woman putting together a lovely fall scene of a blue pond and golden fall leaves set against a deep blue sky.

I asked if I might join them and they somewhat lukewarm-ly allowed me to pull up a chair.

JoAnn and I talked while the tall, strong woman to my right, who at one point about 20 minutes in sadly asked me, “Have I met you?”

Alzheimer’s is a brutal memory-stealing beast.

No we hadn’t met, but I was impressed with her puzzle-putting-together skills and told her so. Hoping somehow, it was a drop of solace for memories lost.

The three of us kept plugging along at the puzzle. I found corners and edges and tried, gently, to frame the scene in one direction so the familiar directions of top and bottom might guide their attempts to interlock odd-shaped loops and sockets into one another in the hope of discovering a whole picture.

Frankie must have awakened from her afternoon nap and eventually came out to join us. She was not interested in puzzles and was, perhaps, still puzzled over who I was, but she sat down next to us and watched.

And we continued to flip and turn and move tiny pieces and make sense of them.

JoAnn still wasn’t sure where she was. Or how she had gotten there. At one point she was worried about her what had happened to her car. I told her her daughter, Dana, would take care of it for her. And reassured her at least a dozen times, everything would be ok.

And the afternoon wore on.

At one point I had gone through all the pieces searching for corners and edges and come to the horrible realization that pieces were missing.

And somehow the thought of giving an incomplete puzzle to these women with huge gaps missing from their lives. Women who’d forgotten their husbands had died and couldn’t figure out how they’d arrived at this place where no one was coming to get them (so many of the older women I know with Alzheimer’s come to the conclusion that their husband’s have left them for other women, and yet they wait, still hoping for their return). It was a huge cruel twist of fate and I was powerless to correct it.

***********

One day I sat down to count the puzzle pieces from my childhood to make sure they were all there before I searched for a safe place to store them in my already full house.

“About 500 pieces.”

“About 1000 pieces.”

Said the bottom of the boxes.

Making it impossible to ascertain I had all the pieces without attempting to put them together.

I gave in to the futility and threw the puzzles of my childhood into the trash.

[Day 192 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

seasons

When I saw this prompt come across the wire right before I crashed into bed I thought “fall.” Of course I thought fall. It’s been a clear, warm, golden fall that lingered so long we almost thought it would last forever.

But today I looked again right before I crash into bed and I see the prompt is “seasons.” And my first thought is not even of the usual autumn, winter, spring, and summer.

It’s this.

There is a good reason that generally women don’t give birth well into their 50s.

We are too tired to chase two-year-olds around for extended periods of time.

Even the most delightful ones.

I remember being so tired when I was in my 20s. Well, late 20s, to be sure.

And I remember being so tired when I was in my 30s. Well, later 30s and early 40s to be sure.

But this is arthritic bone tired, which too shall pass.

And so, yeah. Tony Randall and Billy Joel can be dads well into their 60s. But as for me and my body, I’m glad to be grandma and not mom.

And blessings to all those women who are both!

[Day 191 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

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.]

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.]

things you try to skip but you can’t

Thanksgiving 2.0. It’s so much work. And so much harder to do it all by oneself instead of the real Thanksgiving thing where everybody brings something. And even with good shoes, two days on a hard tile floor are hard on old bones and arthritic joints.

But ever since Grandpa Jacobs told me–at the ripe of age of 90-something–how much he loved it because it tasted good and when you’re old you can’t taste anything anymore.

And ever since I realized how much Grandma Jacobs loved my steamed carrot pudding–incidentally handed down from my great great grandmother on my dad’s side–and that no one else except for me and mom and Shane really appreciate.

And ever since I realized how much my mom looked forward to it year after year after year and thought everything was perfect (which, coming from a mom, is super high praise).

And ever since I had married kids and realized not obligating people to be somewhere one Thursday out of the year when they had two families to try and please and maybe one day might want to have their own Thanksgiving at their place, so having Thanksgiving 2.0 on an arbitrary Sunday a week or two after greatly reduces the pressure of keeping track or trying to be two places at once. (Enough of that on Christmas, right?)

And ever since I realized that if you make all your own dishes at your house then you not only get turkey dressing made your way and generous amounts of pecans with your streusel-topped yams, you also get hot leftover turkey sandwiches with homemade turkey gravy the next day.

Thanksgiving 2.0.

[Day 188 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

treasures

That one time I was at the market in Helsinki on my very first trip to Finland and I–who am in no way a doll person–saw her. And I looked at the price and converted the euros to dollars and walked away. And then I walked past and talked myself out of her again. And then the third time I went back and purchased her. Because I knew if I went home without her I would be a little sad.

The old ceramic cup that had, apparently, sat unnoticed on my mother’s desk full of pens and pencils and paperclips for over three decades. It’s pretty blue glaze around the rim overlaid with shiny gold. And my dad’s name and birthday scrawled across the front. Someone must have made it for him in Brazil.

My parents’ simple silver wedding bands nestled one inside the other hanging from a heart on a silver chain.

Crocheted baby blankets from Shane’s aunts. A pastel-patterned quilt made by a friend and presented to me on my 50th birthday. A couple of my own comfy quilts whose stitches hold, along with the pieced fabrics, memories of rainy days reading curled up on the sofa, cozy Sunday naps wrapped around people I hold dear.

The photo I took of James sitting in the green wild of an organic strawberry field on our last trip to Oregon. Strawberry stains on his sleeve, his lips, and the front of his shirt. Eyes cast downward, focusing on the sweet red strawberry his tiny hand is bringing to his lips.

The photo I took yesterday of James’ tiny little sister when we first met. In the NICU. Three and nearly three-quarter pounds. Six and a half weeks early. Sweet miniature bundle of precious miracle wrapped tightly in a blue polkadot blanket lying in my arms. Almost the spitting image of her big brother.

People are treasures. The people we love. The people we meet. The people who love us. Sometimes even the people who don’t so much, but whose paths we cross, and who capture our attention and give us tiny glimpses into their lives, which we may or may not remember forever. But which, at least for a time, we held because they made us feel something.

Memories are treasures. The joyful ones. The painful ones. Even those buried deep.

Because wherever they are filed away, they are a witness. To our lives. To the fact we came here. We breathed in life deeply. Sometimes it hurt. Sometimes it stank. Sometimes it was sweet or glorious or pungent or petrichor. And it was all worth it. Life and all its unexpectedness is a treasure.

[Day 187 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

my emotional acre

“Anne Lamott says we each get an emotional acre at birth where we get to do whatever we want. Grow trees. Collect junk. Dig holes. Have parties. Whatever you want.”

Clearly I need to be brushing up on my Anne Lamott. Because I have never heard this quote until I saw the prompt (several days late, but that is another story). So I have no context. But I’m going for it.

At first though my emotional acre looks an awful lot like my brother’s ranch in Emmett Idaho. The equipment and buildings are old. Some are broken. Most of it needs mending in one way or another. But there is a big beautiful picture window at the front of the house and people are welcome, even though my brother is quiet. And there are sprinklers going tsk tsk tsk way off in the fields around the clock. There is so much comfort in the tsk tsk tsk of sprinklers. I don’t know why. And there is sky for days.

Somewhere on that acre (which I’m now realizing I made 10 acres just like that, but that’s ok because that is what I do–any time I have a little bit of something–time, money, love in my heart–before I know it I’ve spent it and I’ve spent it and I’ve spent it over again. Because there are more ideas in my head and desires in my heart than all the little bits of time and money and acres and love in my heart) there is also a deep grey green earthy mint field. The kind that makes me cry when I drive past it and inhale deeply of the scent of my childhood.

Which means there is also some sagebrush. And, sadly, mosquitos. So I have reason to include the unmistakeable scent of DEET.

Oddly and impossibly but wonderfully there is also the tangible comfort of rugged deep mountains whose presence is an omnipresence, even when shrouded by dark grey misty clouds and stormy skies.

There must be stormy skies.

Today a friend captioned her shadowy grey Instagram post of corner windows looking out over stormy skies “My favorite color is rain.” And I knew that even I barely knew her when we worked together briefly years ago, we are kindred spirits.

And along the back 40 of that acre-twenty-acres are trees. An ancient green forest thick with ferns and wildflowers and wild blackberries. The kind of trees you can’t see for the forest and that’s ok because it was meant to be.

And somewhere there is water. Cool, clear, running water. I’d ask for the crashing waves of the ocean, but one can’t have it all.

Because where would you put it?

Especially on just–ahem–one emotional acre.

My emotions are too big for just one.

[Day 186 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]