sand castles




I can’t tell you the last time I made a sand castle, but I would bet it was at least 20 years ago. At first I thought it would have been when I introduced Shane to Florence. Florence, Oregon. And the Heceta Head Lighthouse and Devil’s Elbow. But on second thought it would likely have been on one of the many endless summer days my two oldest boys spent out in the sandbox at our old house. They literally lived in that sandbox. And we let them run the hose in it so they could build rivers and streams and moats and castles and whatever to their hearts’ content.

And because I was then and still am a kid, I’m sure I took a break now and then from the dishes and laundry to build right along with them. Only, of course to have them washed away or knocked over to be shaped and molded and built back up again. (Kind of like my younger brother R.D.’s mashed potatoes and gravy, shaped and molded and built back up again. Over and over until they ended up on a spoon and into his mouth and down his throat.)

But the first thing when I thought when I saw the prompt was “sand between my toes.” Because that is a thing. And whenever I go within an hour or two of an ocean or sea, I will go to great lengths to make sure I have a few moments to dig in my toes, let the relatively tiny ripple remains of the incoming or outgoing surf wash over my feet and pull the sand between my toes while I inhale deeply of the salt sea air and reming myself I am alive. And I am both big and relative and part of the cosmos, but also tiny and insignificant. And before I was and long after I will be, the water will wash in, turning the sand as the sands of time, and wash back out again. Even. Steady. Never ending.

a moment I realized I was very small

My graduating class from Junction City High School was barely 120. In the same way my husband says he is 5’12,” stretching to own every last available increment.

We didn’t have a salutatorian, but in that way you know everyone else in your small classes GPA along with who they’ve kissed, and, well, other things that maybe you didn’t really want to know about them, I knew that if we had, it would have been me. I wore a Gunne Sax dress I’d sewn myself (which may or may not have been adorned with thin strips of blue and green satin ribbon) to graduation, and accompanied–very poorly–I am not a good accompanist–my friend Kellee Bradley for her musical number. (At least that’s how I remember it. It may not have happened that way at all. But then, you’ve seen plenty of disclaimers from me about my memory before.)

Graduation was followed by a summer of long days and nights hoeing by day and slinging pizzas by night–well into 1-2am before being back to sharpening the hoe by 8am the next day.

And then I found myself living the dream I’d proclaimed aloud in my sophomore (or possibly junior, but my money’s on sophomore) year English class.

“I’m going to BYU and I will major in English.”

I set off to BYU, presidential scholarship in hand (or in the bank, or BYU’s bank, as it were), ready to take it by the same storm I took good old JCHS.

And there I was mistaken.

Slowly over the next couple of semesters I learned the painfully hard way exactly what it meant to go from being a big fish in a small pond to barely measuring up to baby-sized guppy in a veritable ocean.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I was INVOLVED!

I had a job. Eventually two jobs (just not simultaneously).

I was not shy. I said hello to people (in a way that is no longer possibly on account of everyone is glued to their cell phones) in between classes and on the way to and from school.

I was assistant hall president (or something) for Bowen Hall. (That might have been my second year, I don’t recall.)

I became friends with the hall residents.

I volunteered for some sort of council where we met with student representatives for all the other schools in the WAC. Where, for the first time, I realized people really truly think we are weird. (We are weird. I’ve just always thought it was a quaint or charming weird and didn’t realize that there are people out there who don’t actually like us. Like not at all.)

I asked boys to preference.

I was an instigator and DID THINGS.

I had my first caffeine in the form of a Big Gulp of Pepsi from 7-11, which made me so hyper I’m sure I made even more friends.

And nothing worked.

I got lost.

People were not as enamored with me as they had always seemed to be back home. Nor were they as enamored with me as I was with them.

I was no one. Invisible. Forgettable.

I started sitting on the back row of all my classes. Not just Physical Science and American Heritage classes populated by literally hundreds of students, but also my English lit classes.

I stopped raising my hand and asking or answering questions.

I got my first C in a class. And said goodbye to the easy A s I’d been so accustomed to.

I felt insignificant.

And very small.

Eventually I got used to it. I realized I was not going to be salutatorian or make the dean’s list or receive an award for Outstanding Student in English or be nominated Most Likely to Succeed by my graduating class or even get asked to Homecoming.

And I became ok with that.

Going back




This summer I made a trek back to the Oregon coast of my childhood. We journeyed along rivers and train tracks and through mountains and forests that, unlike the university I attended when I first moved to Utah and the city in which I still live there, seem to remain unchanged.

Although I didn’t have a chance to see my hometown this visit–and haven’t been there for over 20 years–seeing as how it is Oregon, I imagine it, like most of the coastal towns we passed through on our way up the coast are not as drastically impacted by the years as many other places I know and no longer recognize. The state of Oregon is intentionally careful and deliberate about change. Last I know they had an actual organization led by people dedicated to preserve the green space and particularly the family farms I still remember from my childhood.

In any case, what’s beautiful to me is how familiar the windy path along the river still felt, even after over 25 years. How comforting I found the lush thick growth of forest, the safe green canopies of trees overhead, the damp, wet air. I breathed better than I have, well, probably since I returned to Finland two summers ago. Perhaps one of the reasons I love Finland so is that it reminds me of home.

For many it is easy to enjoy a calm light blue ocean on a clear sandy beach where you are warmed through and through by sun-soaked sand from below and a warm sun shining down from a near cloud-less deep blue sky.

It takes a special soul to fall in love with the rugged rocks, roaring surf and sometimes piercing cold wind of the usually grey-skied NW coast. Passersby may enjoy its scenic beauty from afar. But to love it enough to spend a day there. On the cold wet sand. To walk or even swim in the water cold enough to make the Pacific in San Diego in December feel balmy.

And to want to spend another day there.

And more days every chance you get.

It’s soul-deep, whatever it is that makes that home to a person.

But my favorite thing about going back this time was being able to share this place with two more generations for the very first time. To note that to them it was just the same as it was to me when I left it some 30 years ago.


Even though we were only there for a couple of hours, it did my heart good to watch as Luke and Emily and James made their way up to the lighthouse. And then back down to the water. And as James, who loves sand, but generally runs away from the ocean, slowly made his way to the waterline. And didn’t run away. But found a stick. And dug in the mud. And laughed.




I’m maybe barely through about one third of the thank you notes I want to write. Notice I didn’t say “need to write,” but “want to write.” One of the most important ones I did write already was to a dear woman in my neighborhood who deals with chronic pain and has limited mobility and who sent me the sweetest get well card. In the mail. With a stamp. In it among the kind thoughts she sent my way she revealed feeling that she is of no use to anyone. That demanded an immediate response with a reassurance of how much her friendship and thoughtfulness makes a difference in my life. Because her card arrived on a particularly challenging day. And her kindness does make a difference in my life.

This is just one example of the many ways in which we been loved and supported and served through this time. We are blessed. I am blessed. And I am grateful.

Today, however, I’m thinking about gratitude for something more personal.

Right now as I sit here with my foot propped up, waiting to get up my strength and courage to tackle one more task best I can with partial weight-bearing (hooray!) and two crutches under arm until I return to full weight-bearing, it would be easy to make a list of everything I can’t do. In particular, today, Saturday, 3+ weeks in, a list of all the things that need to be done to put my house in order but which I cannot do.

Instead, I’m remembering one of the favorite lessons yoga has left with me. I don’t recall for sure which instructor it was–I think it was Lacey–who most frequently reminded us to not compare our practice to that of others, but to always be grateful for what our respective bodies could do.

In a world where women are constantly objectified, held to an impossible and unhealthy standard, and in so many arenas shamed for not being perfect, gratitude is essential. I’m grateful that in a revelatory–and also sad–video bolding addressing the challenges of being a woman in our day, given a prompt to think of one word that describes how I feel about your body the first word that came to mind was “strong.” It’s not that there isn’t room on for any number of negative thoughts, but I know that coming up with a positive first is a result of internalizing all those lessons on gratitude. Indeed, one could say, I have a witness–a testimony–of the significant impact gratitude can have on one’s life.

During my recovery I’ve been mindful of being particularly grateful for my left leg and my left knee. It was born the extra weight, extra strain, and unusual contortions as I have negotiated the recovery of my right foot. Just as I pray out loud for strength and safety on the particularly challenging tasks, I regularly say “thank you” aloud to my left leg.

Here are a few other things on my short list of what makes me feel grateful:

I’m thankful for relatively mild pain–especially compared to the only thing to which I have to compare this experience, my ACL repair.

I’m thankful that scars don’t worry me much, because unlike my ACL surgery scar, this one is more gnarly than neat.

I’m thankful that yesterday I took my first light, maybe 25% weight-bearing (crutch-assisted) steps safely and seem to be none the worse for wear.

I’m thankful for strong arms and shoulders to wield these crutches as needed (you can tell I’ve been spoiled somewhat by the cute (and speedy) little scooter, and the luxury of having a basket).

I’m thankful to know that despite having been disillusioned somewhat by the reality check that learning to walk again is a painstaking process and wasn’t just an immediate result of transitioning from cast to boot, today is another day.

I’m going to take more steps today than I did yesterday.

And even more the next day.

And Monday I will get to start massaging vitamin E oil into my gnarly scar, smooth away the dry skin, and sooth and settle the scar tissue.

One more step to healing.

I’m grateful for good medical care and strong bodies that heal.

good to bad, bad to good

hotel rooms

I’m glad we have options here, because I’m a bad-news-first kind of gal and writing about good to bad would just drag me down (I’m already down), so I’m going with bad to good.

It’s the little things, really. A smile. A listening ear. A funny joke. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a good joke. When I’m down even a weak attempt at humor will make me smile. A terrible pun will make me smile even more.

When I was a little girl and had had my heart broken–even when I was an older girl and had my heart broken–my dad would tell me “The sun will come out tomorrow.” And it didn’t even necessarily have to come out. Knowing that it would at least come up, even if it stayed behind the clouds all day was enough. It was hope enough. Knowing that my dad cared even when he couldn’t (or wouldn’t–there is wisdom and learning in not fixing things for those who need to learn to fix things themselves) was enough.

I’m grateful that I had the sense to let that kind of love in.

Words are agents of change. They wield real and palpable power.

Words wound.

Words heal.

Hateful, angry, ungrateful words take things from good to bad.

Kind, gracious, appreciative words can take things from bad to good. If only we have the courage to utter them. If only we have the courage to hear them for what they are. If only we have the courage to let truth and love in.

A warm, heartfelt hug. There is power in that too.

And that’s how even when you can’t (or won’t) change circumstances, you can soften and heal wounded hearts. You can turn a frown to a smile. Tears to laughter. Bad to good.

5th grade

If memory serves, and it doesn’t always, 5th grade was my last year at Meadowlark Elementary School. And two things stand out. Or rather the shame and embarrassment of them burn still.

The first was my first experience with what we here in Utah call “maturation.” But I’m pretty sure in Oregon they just called it sex ed. It was the first day of the class (which, now that I think about it, is kind of weird. In Utah you go to a two-hour presentation one time in 5th grade–and maybe again in 6th? I don’t know. But in Oregon it seems like we had an entire until of instruction. Maybe 6 weeks? Sheesh. Even a whole week would have seemed a little bit much for 5th graders.)

In any case. It was the first day of class. I wasn’t terribly embarrassed about the subject matter, although it was all news to me. But what made my face go beet red and raised my blood pressure and my body temperature to dangerous levels was when I heard–for the very first time, right there in 5th grade with my 5th grade peers, male and female alike–the correct anatomical terms for male and female sex organs.

I was the oldest of 6 kids. (I was about to write “I lived on a farm,” but, I’ll give myself a pass, because we didn’t move out to the farm until the next year.) And I had not the remotest clue. And for some reason discovering my ignorance felt shameful.

And so you can bet my kids knew the correct names for every part of their bodies whether or not they chose to call them by their proper names.

The other thing that happened was I got played. Betrayed. Humiliated. (Perhaps the reason the primary things I recall about 5th grade are humiliating is because 5th grade is just that time in your life where everything is humiliating? And 6th. Most definitely 7th. 8th…)

There was a boy I liked. He was in 6th grade. I don’t remember his name. But he pretended to like me. In fact he even passed me a note telling me he liked me. I remember that queasy but tingling feeling that began in my stomach but went all the way down to my toes and, at the same time, kind of made my head spin a little. I remember that feeling because it was the same feeling I felt every time I had a crush on a boy and I found out he liked me. It was also always short lived. Because them liking me back was always the death knell for romance. Fear replaced anticipation along with any kind of attraction and I was just done.

But I digress. In this case the actual facts of the matter were this boy did not like me. In fact he and another girl I had thought was my friend (and thus began a good twenty years of not being particularly fond of girls, either, for true girlfriends were few and far in between) were in fact pranking me. The entire point of their little hand-written declaration of interest was to get me to respond, as which time they both too great delight in dashing my hopes and mocking my pain to humiliate me.

So yeah. 5th grade. It was not a very good year.

on being lazy

I’m neither inspired nor disgusted by the prompt to write about the consequences (bad things) or the rewards of being lazy.

Perhaps I’m not in love with the word lazy, because I’m a fan of leisure and I don’t necessarily believe that leisure is synonymous with lazy.


Lying in bed watching the dappling of light and shadow play through the leaves on the tree outside my bedroom window come summer and fall.
Lying in bed watching the starkness of light and shadow stream through the bare branches on the tree outside my bedroom window in winter.

Curling up on the sofa with a comfortable quilt and a good book, with the windows cracked open so I can breathe in earthy petrichor and listen to the rain. You know, back in the day when I didn’t have to be to work at 8am.

Curling up on my bed or sinking back in the reclined seat of my car, windows cracked, to steal 9 minutes of power napping in order to give me the oomph I need to power through another day at the office or another day of not rest on the weekend.

In the break-necked speed of a fast-past world where we put so much stock in doing we’ve forgotten how to simply be, I may easily regret some of the distractions I busy myself with on occasion, but I hope I’m a better person for being able to sit with family or friends and just be for a few hours, without watching my phone or the clock. Listening. Talking. Feeling. Connecting.

[Day 139 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


Rules were one thing, which I may or may not discuss later. But consequences were another. I grew up in a time when corporal punishment was considered good parenting. By other adults, anyway. I wasn’t a bad kid. But I knew too well the sting of a belt or the hard-pointed toe of a sturdy cowboy boot against my backside and may have been slapped a few times.

As painful as that was for a child (except for that time, as I grew older, where I hormones gave me a little more padding on said backside, protecting me a bit better from the smack. But, fortunately, because I was older and wiser, I figured more quickly than my little sister did that keeping this discovery to myself, as opposed to thinking I had the last laugh, was a safer bet), this became very perplexing to me as a parent. As I child I knew I was ruled by fear. And I promised myself I would command respect because I deserved it–because I was respected–not because someone feared me. As a parent I quickly learned that the problem with corporal punishment wasn’t just that it was wrong, but also that it worked. And as I found myself dealing with willful and sassy and even disrespectful ‘tweens and teens, I was at a loss. Because the one thing I knew had worked on me, I was determined not to repeat. And I never found anything else that did.

So what is the answer? I still don’t know. I hung on to the repeated words of my friend, “Preserve the relationship,” and kept a tight grip on any shred of hope that “This too, will pass,” and just kept loving. The best my broken heart could love.

In other news, that time I was grounded for an entire month–including no phone calls–simply for breaking curfew, felt extreme and torturous, especially to an oldest child who carried her responsibility complex rather hard and heavy upon her shoulders and was otherwise a good kid. Oh well.

So say what you will about rules.

The one rule by which I could not–and still cannot–abide, is the clean plate rule. So relieved when common sense came around and we started asking kids to simply try something before they got down from the table and didn’t make them sit at the table for an hour until they managed to gag down the last bite of cold Spanish rice.

Am I angry about this? No. But I didn’t think it was a good rule and the only thing worse than the fact that it was the practice at the time I was raised is that some people in our day practice it still even though we should all have learned better.

And that’s what I have to say about rules and consequences.

[Day 138 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Outdoor School – things I learned outside

When I was a teenager I got a summer job hoeing weeds in my neighbor (who was also our friends’ dad) John Hintze’s farm fields. It was a full time job and required riding my bike early every morning to his farm maybe 5 miles away and sharpening my hoe (I can still hear the screech and smell the scorch of burning metal) before tossing our hoes and the shirts or zip-up hoodies we would wear around our waists in case of inclement weather (it was Oregon, after all) and our lunches in the back of one of his farm trucks and make our way to whatever field we’d be working in that day. There were lots of good things about working that job, not necessarily tied to being outside, but outside was where it happened, so here’s my list.

I learned to be on time. It’s not like you would think that was optional or special, back in the day. But if you weren’t there the crew left without you, so there you go.

I learned there is intrinsic value in work but also that you can put fun and meaning in whatever it is you do. Hoeing weeds in the elements–whatever they be–for 8 hours a day is not easy work, nor is it particularly engaging. But we learned to build relationships and enjoy one another’s company (we where in a crew of four, generally) and to engage ourselves in being present. Feeling the sun on our backs. Sweat across our brows. The steady steps forward in the fertile Willamette valley soil accompanied by the thud, thud, thud of hoes hitting the earth. Sometimes instead of sweat we were wiping the steady mist or light rain from our brows so we could see. In any case, we worked hard. Hoeing is one of those jobs where doing a good job now pays off the next time you visit the field.

I learned efficiency is born of a balance of effort and care. A hoe can as easily cut down an intentional plant stalk as well as the unwelcome stalk of a weed. Somewhere you learn to strike a balance between getting down on your hands and knees and meticulously pulling every tiny weed by hand and throwing down your hoe so hard and wide you take out the crop as well. With practice, you can angle the edge of the hoe carefully against a weed-crowded plant stalk and twist the blade just so in order to snag the weed and save the plant. I’m sure there is a metaphor or other life lesson in this.

I learned I’m a morning person and to hit things hard at the beginning of the day and that, at least for me, pacing myself means knocking out the biggest chunk or hard part first. Breaks and lunch were required and I learned right off the bat that the day goes by more quickly if we took our first break later in the day (not just after two hours) and divided up the last half of the day in smaller chunks. Yes, it was all in our heads, but you’d be surprised how much of life is all in our heads. I’m not good at taking breaks at my current job, but I do try to pace the day so I get the biggest chunk out of the way when I’m feeling fresh.

I learned to love the sky. Our lunch break was 30 minutes and we didn’t have anywhere else to go, so the fields held us captive for long after our lunches were eaten. Unless it was raining, we’d lay our dusty bodies down on the warm earth of the 3-foot expanse between rows of whatever and stare up at the sky, sometimes discovering cloud formations or whatever else our imaginations sent our way. To this day I love a wide expanse of open sky. All the varying shades of light and color–from bright, intense blue, to dark, foreboding greys.

I learned the power of imagination, meditation, and relaxation. Long before there were apps for that, I used to lead our crew in a relaxation session made up in my own head. I talked them through the details of laying on a big comfortable puffy cloud which, by some miracle, was light and yet strong enough that gravity wouldn’t have its way with you. I started at the feet, and described relaxing your toes and letting your ankles settle in comfortably, supported by the cloud, then worked my way up to calve muscles, knees, quads, hips, and so on until we were all a puddle of looseness snuggled deep into the cloud, breathing deeply. Remarkably comfortable considering the reality of lying on the ground. There were days when the temperature was just right–just warm enough–the exercise would bring us to the brink of sleep just in time for that 30-minute mark to pull us up and send us reaching for our hoes to resume the swinging arcs of our hoes.

[Day 137 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

things I listen to

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Found a new podcast the other day (see above). I do love podcasts–you can learn so much! Some favorites include Nate DiMeo’s the memory palace, TED Radio Hour, and Hidden Brain. Unfortunately, I generally use podcasts along with TED talks to help distract my brain when the monkeys go crazy when I wake in the middle of the night and are unwilling to let me go back to sleep. Most times it works and I’m nodding again before I finish. I’m sure I’d get more out of them if I listened to them when I was awake. ;)

When I’m at work or on the road I listen to a playlist of primarily acoustic music–some of it a little folk-y–and a few other eclectic favorite pics just for fun. As a side note, I’m not ashamed of playing it loud and singing along–belting it equally loudly–as long as no one else is in the car. I sort of live for 4pm when the rest of my coworkers (who come in at 7) leave so I can unplug the headphones and just listen freely.

This morning I’m enjoying silence. I don’t mind silence, particularly in the morning.

I keep meaning to listen to audio books–the handful I’ve tried are very good, as producers tend to choose voices wisely. My problem is I’m a better reader without multitasking and get more out of a good book simply reading the print version.

Baby giggles are pure pleasure. Truly any kind of laughter. I love listening to people I care about, or even someone I just met, who is willing to be real and genuine and vulnerable and honest with me. Frankness is music to my ears. Visiting with friends is always balm for the soul. Friends are generally open and honest tend to love you for who you are working on becoming while also being willing to accept you the way you are.

I also love the wind–water when and wherever I can find it, be it ocean waves, roaring spring runoff, or a trickling spring. I know I’ve said it before, but storms are good too. Unless it’s too soon after the flash, thunder is comforting.

But rain. Oh rain. I will forever love listening to rain.

[Day 136 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]