This battle

Me at the house "in town"

More specifically, this battle:

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e e cummings

It means wearing Birkenstocks from the day you first slipped your feet in them at a family reunion at some water park in Salt Lake City when you were about 26 and realized your feet and your back didn’t hurt when you wore them.

With no regrets.

But admittedly with a tiny bit of smugness when some of your fashionable friends who mocked you most bought their own Birkenstocks a couple of years back when they came into fashion.

It means, unlike Hermione, mostly not caring about what the back of your hair looks like since you were about 14 years old. On some days maybe you don’t really care what the front of your hair looks like either–you just want it out of your eyes.

It means getting excited over simple things. Laughing at puns no one else appreciates. Being unabashed about your love of clouds and weather and rain and snow even when many of your friends want it to be endless summer. (You are consoled, somewhat, that some of your kids love the rain and the snow too sometimes.) Being the only one who doesn’t love the movie Elf or red velvet cake or Las Vegas. Or the only one who laughs at your jokes or cries at over TV shows. Or movies, even when you’re watching them on a crowded plane on a tiny screen on the back of someone else’s airplane seat.

It means not being afraid to own it (or working to own it even when you are afraid) when you make a mistake or sincerely say “I’m sorry” when you hurt someone, even though a sincere apology is a rare, rare gift these days.

It means trying really hard (even though you’re not perfect at it, or even always that good at it) to see other people fighting that same battle for who they really are, believing the best in people even when they disappoint or–even worse–hurt you. Looking past their shape, their clothes, the color of their skin, their hair, the way they speak, and trying to catch a wisp of their stories. Because the stories will tell you.

It means being square with yourself.

Digging deep, deep down when the world even–maybe especially–when the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally repeatedly tell you that you are not enough and deciding you belong, your weaknesses along with your strengths, to this place. And you are enough. Both because you are you. And in spite of being you. Mostly because you are God’s. You are in a state of becoming. And you trust God will make you whole.

It means working hard, even though you are flawed–and sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it’s hard–to let others be enough. Being patient while they become. While God makes them whole.

[Day 63 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

In the kitchen

as you're teaching the girls you remember you've done this once before...with these same girls (and you hope it sinks in somewhere and at least one of them learns to love to bake pies from scratch someday)

some of my fondest memories are from a variety of kitchens where I’ve taught so many girls I love how to make pie from scratch

One time when I was a kid–an older kid–my parents were away for the weekend and I woke up and went downstairs to find a stinky black mass of ants spilling out from under the kitchen sink and across the floor and up the cupboard drawers. Ants are gross. The pheromone or whatever it is they leave behind as they mark their territory is gross. Cleaning them up is gross. I may have used the vacuum cleaner, which doesn’t seem highly effective (wouldn’t they have crawled back out?) now that I think about it, but what else was one to do? I just remember it was one of those occasions where I wished I weren’t the grown up and that someone else could be the responsible one.

When I was at BYU I once had a roommate from Tonga. She had four or five four- or five-syllable names. She was lovely and gracious and generous and wonderfully kind. But this was also my first experience with living with someone from another culture (I truly hope grown-up me would be better at this than young adult-me) and there was a bit of a culture shock. Primarily the night I came home from doing my homework on campus and walked into the dorm kitchen to find a full pig on the kitchen counter. Head, hooves, and tail attached.

I remember roasting my first turkey as a young married woman. I felt fairly confident in my cooking skills – I mean it’s usually all about a recipe, and, since I’m female, asking for and following directions isn’t too terrible a stretch. Only I may have simply thought I could just do what I remembered my mom doing, only the updated version since by then we knew never to cook the stuffing in the actual cavity of the bird, to avoid salmonella. So I missed that also essential step of removing the neck and the giblets from the neck and body cavities. And I cooked the turkey with the neck and giblets neatly wrapped in their paper packages inside the bird.

Back in the day we were struggling financially and I was home all day and before all the powers that be razed all the family orchards in town, I used to can. Canning is a hot, sticky mess. I was afraid of canning vegetables or meat (again, salmonella). But I loved to can fruit. I learned the hard way that cherries–a favorite from home–in Utah are inflicted with this lovely white larva that floats to the top of your jar when you can them organically. Also, for some reason–I’d like to think it personal preference and not a spirit of rebellion–I canned peaches and pears the opposite of the way my mother and grandmother did. I like the peaches sliced and the pears halved.

I learned to pray over each batch when I canned, after too often suffering the loss of a jar or two in a batch. Cracked shards of glass and mushy ruined fruit floating in the canner made me sad. Sad over the wasted fruit. Sad over the wasted effort. Apparently I don’t cry so much over spilt milk, but broken glass and wasted fruits make me sad.

One of the best things I love about canning is how after the canning is done and the canners and rings and jars and knives put away and the sticky syrup mopped up, the lovely way the sun shone golden through the neatly lined rows of cooling jars of pears. That is also, truly, the one thing I miss about canning now that the orchards are gone and it’s actually cheaper to by canned fruit at Costco.

I guess one of the best things about being in the kitchen are those times when you’re not in the kitchen alone.

When you and your siblings are snapping beans and peeling fruit with your mom because in the house you grew up in, feeding people was a group effort and you all worked together to make it happen.

And when you picked up two bushels of peaches from the orchard up the street from your house and delivered the other to your tiny aging grandparents and saw them standing next to each other at the double sink because they worked together to preserve the fruit that was routinely served in tiny pink melamine bowls next to a single slice of lightly buttered whole wheat toast at lunchtime at their house. On a good day the fruit might also be accompanied by a small bowl of cottage cheese.

Or those many years you found yourself alone with your mother-in-law (because except for the year before your mom died Thanksgiving 1.0 was always in Duchesne on Thanksgiving proper, because Thanksgiving 2.0 would follow at your house on a Sunday next) in her temporarily quiet kitchen while everyone went out for the traditional Thanksgiving drive in the mountains and you made pies with her tools and utensils while she prepped and put the turkey in the oven.

Or that one time you had Thanksgiving at your mom’s the year before you died and you loved how you and your siblings–even your brothers, maybe even especially your brothers–all came together in the kitchen to prepare the meal while you watched you kids and your nieces and nephews enjoy visiting with your mom and you noticed how content she was that you were all there with her.

And that other time just months ago when you chatted with your newly ex sister-in-law’s brother’s girlfriend over potatoes–she peeled and you chopped–enjoying the view out the spacious kitchen window of her new home while your sister and your brothers and your niece and said newly ex sister-in-law and her widowed mother bustled about preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

The kitchen can be a good place to muse and to ponder when working alone. But it can also be a wonderful place of energy and synergy where many hands make lighter the work, particularly when those hands help with the cleanup.

[Day 62 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


in my dreams – photo credit GocheGanas

This is hard to write about. Because my bed is broken. And because like my mom and most of my siblings I have sleep issues, so I spend more time than I’d like in bed wishing I could turn off my brain and go back to sleep. And because when I come home from work in the winter when it’s too dark and too cold and my bones hurt or in the summer when it’s way too hot and I feel parched and worn and sapped of nearly all life-force it’s all I can do to make myself wait until a decent hour like say 8 or 9 to put on my pajamas and crawl into bed. And because some days in the years past the only sanctuary I’ve had from pain or loss or sorrow or worry has been the fleeting bliss of unconsciousness that even interrupted sleep brings.

I almost changed the prompt to puppies. No reason other than because suddenly nearly everyone I know is getting a puppy. And that’s crazy. Because puppies are a lot of work. I know this because we still have an overgrown four-year-old puppy. And because suddenly nearly everyone I know is getting a puppy I’m wondering why? What pain or loss or sorrow or worry are they subconsciously trying to compensate for with a puppy?

And then I thought maybe I could write about other kinds of beds. Nail beds? Do you refer to whatever it is that makes up nail beds on your toes as nail beds too or is that simply a fingernail thing? Because a pedicure sounds like heaven right now. Bed of nails? I keep having this itch in the center of my back (dry winter air=dry winter skin), so even that didn’t sound as appalling as one might have thought. A bed of nails might just scratch that itch.

Flowerbeds. I almost went with flowerbeds. But again the loss. A distant but sure longing for a simpler time when I was no less exhausted but I was home all the days and the heat and the cold got to me less and I found joy and renewal each spring turning over trowels full of warming earth in preparation for summer color while my kids played outside without a care in the world. My favorites were the delicate impatiens that thrived in the protected shade–blooming freely and effortlessly on the north side of the house. Or when in anticipation of spring I dug down deep in the fall, when the kids went back to school, making room for firm, paper-covered bulbs. Or mid-summer, when I was smart enough to begin early in the morning, while everyone else was still in bed and before the heat hit, burying my face in the fragrant purple lavender stems while weeding the side bed–the one that separates our property from our neighbors,’ and is perpetually plagued by grass and morning glory. Most of the flower beds have now been covered with sod. Or are otherwise neglected.

I wonder if when I read this ten years from now the unclaimed but undeniable metaphors will hit me over the head and land heavy in my heart or be long forgotten.

[Day 61 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

I remember when…


I remember when I was a kid and a big family of maybe 8 kids or more (we had 6, so in my mind a big family was one with more kids than 6) had a fire in their home. For some reason I think it may have been the Hatch* family (Duane Hatch was the dad, he was the county extension agent as I recall. I remember this because when I took a class from one of the best on the planet–Larry Sagers–he told me he knew Duane, maybe had gone on a horticulture trip or two with him. They were friends. I was friends with their daughter, Deanna.).

In any case, they had a fire. And I remember my mom taking in their laundry to try to get the smoke smell out of it. I remember this in particular for two reasons:

1. The smell. Every time I smell fabric that has been exposed to smoke–not campfire or bonfire or cigarette smoke–but that pervasive acrid smoke that embeds itself into every fiber of every item in a home where a fire has wreaked its havoc. That smell of that smoke. The reason it was so familiar to me is that back in the day we had nothing but regular laundry soap (and we used the cheap kind – no Tide for us) and no fancy odor eliminators or scented dryer sheets (which I sense would have been ineffective anyway). I don’t remember how many times we must have washed the same clothes (and there were a lot of clothes, sheets, towels, etc. because it was a big family), but I’m not sure we ever entirely rid that smell from their things.

2. My mom’s example of service. There must have been countless acts of service I was never aware of. Both my parents provided wonderful examples of service (lest I forget, I want to note how my dad made sure to leave early enough for church to pick up a severely handicapped woman named Callie from some sort of care facility to take her to church every week). But for some reason this one simple act has always stayed in my mind. Simple? Maybe not. As the mother of 6 who lived on a 6-acre farm with cows and pigs and horses, I’m sure my mother had quite enough laundry to do. Maybe it was the way she did it. Matter-of-factly. Without a second thought. Without complaint. And without expectation. Almost as if it were instinctual. This is just what we do when our neighbors suffer a tragedy.

So yesterday when I saw at car parked next door at our neighbors house, all cordoned off with yellow police tape, I went over to speak to the woman in the driver’s seat, presumably our neighbor’s daughter. (All but two of their many children are already grown up and moved out, so I haven’t met all of kids.)

“Please have your dad call me when he can. I have a big washer and dryer and this great product that is wonderful at removing odors. I’d like to help with the laundry.”

[Day 60 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

*Post edit: Google reminds me there were only three children in the Hatch family (my memory is funky like that) so it either was another family with many children or my mind gave to hyperbole and it just seemed like laundry for a big family because in my small mind that was an awful lot of laundry.