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

Home again home again lickety split

homeagainBye bye Idaho, Hello Utah, we’re back!

This is us. But it is not us. We don’t stay in hotels for three nights in a row. Especially not over the holidays. We don’t travel during the holidays, except for the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods 99 miles to Grandpa and Grandma Rowley’s house in Duchesne (which, since it’s under 100 miles, doesn’t really count as “travel”). Since we are usually home where there is always so much to do, we don’t tend to just “hang out” and visit. And aside from the times when a Star Trek or Star Wars movie is coming out near my almost-Christmas birthday, we don’t go to movies during the holidays.

But we did it!

Friday after Thanksgiving we forwent (is that word?) deals and steals for memories, completely ignoring Black Friday (which I tend to do anyway) and heading to the antithesis of Black Friday–Emmett. My brother Jon taught everyone who wanted to how to drive the tractor. I went around once on my own, then took James around for a spin, which was delightful.


The rest of the family got to meet the cows. I hope you can see James’ face on this one. He is starting to say words, which he clearly recognizes and understands, and the word of the day was “cow.”


And we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.


We dined out way too much, but it was a great way to catch up with my dear friend Lindsey and spend time with family before everyone headed home today.

And we stopped at my mom’s favorite “rest” stop, Gossner Foods (Cheese Factory) both coming and going.

It was wonderful that so many of my siblings were able to gather this weekend and we truly enjoyed our time together. One of the best parts of the trip, besides how much it meant to my brother that we would come, was spending so much time with this sweet child.

He is cutting molars and canines. He has an upper respiratory infection and cough. And he has one of those childhood viruses that leaves him with painful sores in his mouth. In the midst of that we disrupted his sleep cycle and took him out of his routine and his home and made him spend an afternoon in the company of a puppy that repeatedly knocked him down, yet James continually tried to stay cheerful and happy and enjoy his surroundings. I hope he and his parents have a good long peaceful sleep in their own beds tonight!


NaBloPoMo November 2016


I have issues with the subject of leaving.

I wrote my husband a thank you note in his birthday card when he turned 45 thanking him for sticking around past the age my dad died.

Over the year my mom died, many–even most–of my closest friends moved away from me.

So many people I love–too many–have left the church where we once worshipped together and where we still need them.

In fact, this topic strikes such a nerve with me, I keep deleting my post and looking for a new prompt somewhere.

I do a fairly decent job of staying in an abundance rather than scarcity mindset, except for on the subject of people in my life. And there, past experience tells me I’m going to lose people, and I tend to expect the worst.

And this may go down as possibly the lamest blog post ever, but that’s really all I have to say about leaving.

I’d really rather write about staying.

[Day 44 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

giving thanks


Families are complicated and complex. The people who’ve known us the longest see us at our best and our worst. Sometimes they are some of our closest friends and other times they hardly seem to truly know us. They love us in spite of ourselves and sometimes in spite of themselves, but sometimes they wound us more deeply than anyone else can. And yet we love. And love. And love.

We spent this Thanksgiving with 4 of the 6 of us kids at my newly ex-sister-in-law’s house. Extended family and friends totaled a part of 21. In some circumstances that may have been awkward, but it was surprisingly, pleasingly not awkward. Here is the messy things about exes. You can’t just undo 20 plus years of knowing and loving people. So in some ways, it was perfectly natural to gather and break bread together.

When we lined up the pies we paid homage to our mom–who taught us (all six of us) how to make pie. and our dad, whose love for a good slice of pie was legendary.

My two youngest stayed at home (at their own choice), where, thanks to that one friend you know you can call in a pinch to look after your kids even if you haven’t talked for 6 months, at least they had a plate of turkey dinner to remind them it was Thanksgiving.

In a couple of weeks, all my kids and some longtime friends–the kind who feel like family–will gather around my table for what we affectionately call Thanksgiving 2.0.

Today was great. And I am grateful. But that will be even better.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Dear Mom,


It wasn’t until after you’d been gone about a month or so and I found our some really bad news about a good friend and my first impulse was to text you to ask you to pray for them when I realized the really super hardest thing about losing your mom:

Your mom is the one person in the world who cares about things simply because you do.

Thank you for being that person in my life and for caring about strangers you never met simply because they mean something to me.

Thanks for all those times you scratched my back during sacrament meeting and for teaching me to sing alto.

Thanks for making me take piano lessons and making sure I practiced even when I was stubborn or sullen about it.

Thanks for introducing me to Kahlil Gibran and Carol Lynn Pearson and Jonathon Livingston Seagull and What’s Up Doc.

Thanks for being hard on me and having expectations that taught me to work hard and then even a little harder.

Thanks for putting up with me even when I was sassy. I’m glad that Dad kept me from being really sassy by commanding respect for you, but I know I was still sassy and that sassy hurts. (And I’m sorry.)

Thanks for providing me a place to stay in weeks or months-long stretches surrounding my mission and before I got married even though my independence pained you.

Thanks for all those times you took care of my kids (even that one time when we came home and you were letting them watch Titanic) and managed to fit some time around your full-time work to help me after the babies were born and all the times you slipped me extra food after a family dinner or extra cash to feed our family.

Thanks for living close enough and long enough my kids could know you and for letting me and us help you take care of Grandpa and Grandma Jacobs so they could know and love them too.

Thanks for all the times I got to be your “Plus 1” or “and Guest” at events with your BYU Administration Office.

Thanks for being so excited about my work at UVU and for encouraging me to apply for full time and accept the offer when it came even though you’d just been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

Thanks for wanting so badly to stay home that R.D. & D’Dee and I could take care of you even though it was hard and none of us was perfect at it.

Thanks for all the phone conversations during my commute on the days I couldn’t come see you. Especially for the times that were raw and real and beautiful and tragic all at the same time.

Thanks for keeping your covenants and enduring to the end in a way I know will hold our family together forever.

I love you,


[Day 43 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Throwback Tuesday

As I was searching my brain for a prompt today I started clicking through old Facebook photos I’ve been tagged in and found a few blasts from my past. I figured that might provide good inspiration, or, if nothing else, proof that the awkward girl I wrote about yesterday made it through high school and even managed to not get hit by a bus on her mission.

Primary days

One of the fun things about Facebook is reconnecting to my past. My long past past. This was posted by a girl who friended me through one of our mutual friends (who I happened to reconnect with simply by chance but also via Facebook). I am second from left on the bottom row in the completely mismatched pale blue dress with the bright red tights. Tamie messaged me after friending me on Facebook to tell about a shy 10-year-old moved to a new town and was so grateful when a not shy (that would be me) 10-year-old made her feel welcome in her new church congregation. I love that such a simple act of which I was likely not even conscious is still remembered and appreciated to this day. It reminds me to be careful of everyone, everywhere, and every time. We have a power to love, ignore, or wound. I want with all my heart to be one who loves.

Senior trip to Seaside Oregon

For most of my life I’ve been a bit of a misfit. Friends with all kinds of people, but not quite fitting in entirely anywhere. This was no exception. In addition to being the designated driver, I (third from the left in the back row)was the not-quite cool kid invited to sit at the cool table. Don’t get me wrong–it was no one’s fault and these girls were always kind and inclusive. I just didn’t entirely fit. But they let me tag along drive for the senior trip (and my parents let me go–which was huge!) and were kind enough to make me virgin daiquiris before adding the rum. And then I went away to university and lost touch for nearly 30 years and again, Facebook has provided a way to reconnect.

Dem bones – Liege Natural History Museum

The world has enough mission stories for the eternities, but once again it’s the story of lives intersecting in a significant way and then complete separation for over 20 years and then boom, Facebook. And friends reconnecting, memories coming into focus, and in my book that’s a good thing!

NaBloPoMo November 2016

When I grow up


When I grow up I want to be a detective.
I want to be an marine biologist.
I want to dance.
I want to be like Ruth Naylor.
I want to be like __________ (insert the names of a number of people I love and admire here).
I want to read all the books.
I want to write.
I want to visit Australia.
And New Zealand.
And Iceland.
I want to study the weather.
I want to open a quilt shop.
I want to play the cello.
I want to go back to school and be a microbiologist.

Several months ago my oldest was deep in the middle of a sharp learning curve going from student to civilengineerwitharealjob and I tried to tell him not to sweat it. Truth is most of us “grownups” are making our way through unfamiliar territory and sort of making it up as we go. Not because we are not smart or capable, but simply because things have to get done and we may not know exactly how to do them until we jump in and do it.

As a kid, I remember thinking my parents were so old. All grown ups were so old. When I turned 44, I remember looking back on my dad (who died at age 44) and realizing he was still just a kid in a grown-up body just doing what needed to be done and tackling new challenges as they came up and making his way and having so much of his life ahead of him. Sobering to think of my mom, who’d been a SAHM so many years all of a sudden finding herself entirely responsible financially and otherwise for 6 kids. Terrifying!

I used to work with a bunch of twenty-somethings and I knew when they looked me in the eyes they saw an old person who somehow ended up in charge of them. What they didn’t realize–what I failed to realize until that point–is that at when I looked back into their eyes I saw a peer, for whatever our age we are merely the sum of our parts.

We are the rambunctious toddler rebelling against nap time (which most of us now regret).

We are the dejected elementary school student slowing walking home in the rain in a large crayoned paper grocery bag after the Thanksgiving play our mom didn’t make it to because she just gave birth to her fifth child.

We are the awkward jr. high kid who was the second person in her entire school to get braces and who was teased mercilessly about locking braces with the first kid, who happened to be a boy.

We are the teenage girl who got stood up for a dance by a stupid older boy from another school who said “You’re a nice girl and that’s not what I’m looking for right now.”

We are the small fish in the giant ocean of BYU who fell asleep in the back row of many of her classes because she could not sit still without falling asleep.

We are the new missionary just arrived in Belgium in an emotionally challenging companionship who prayed every day the first two months she was there that she’d just get hit by a bus so she could go home.

We are the BYU alum who got her dream job as copy editor at the local free newspaper only to learn everything the hard way after they let the editor go and passed on all the responsibilities to her.

We are the twenty-something new mom being told by her doctor that the postpartum depression that made her burst into tears every time the phone rang and feel so guilty about being so overwhelmed was all in her head.

We are the thirty-something SAHM with the free range children and the perpetually messy house who learns to find joy in every day but not quite in all the daily chores that get undone in five minutes.

We are the forty something woman with a keen sense of the power welded in words that either tear down or lift and who feels either the weight and biting edge of those words or the loving strength they with which they carry her and wishes more people would use their words carefully.

We are the nearly fifty-year-old woman who missed the computer age and had to fake her way through it when she went back to work part time after 17 years as a SAHM and once fell flat on her face in front of one of the owners of the company because she’d never used a laptop and had no idea how a touchpad worked. (She later her redeemed herself and once her IT guy brought her homemade cookies because she troubleshooted a problem he couldn’t solve simply by Googling.)

We are the fifty-something woman who left a job where she was perfectly capable and perfectly comfortable to take a leap of faith into a job she could never have imagined but which, turns out, she can by some miracle do and who every single day looks out her car window somewhere along her commute and thanks God out loud for the beauty of the earth.

We are the strong but–like the rest of us–flawed woman who throughout all those ages has lost too many people to cancer–including both her parents, has seen miracles, has loved with most of her heart–even the hurt parts, and who works really hard to see the cup as half full even when she’s afraid it might crack, and who feels perfectly confident saying that growing up is overrated. Hang on to the joy of a child seeing something for the very first time and the fearlessness of youth. Life is better that way.

[Day 42 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016