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.]


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.]

being a kid

First thing I did was go looking for a photo of me as a kid. But before I got to that I passed a couple photos of myself as an awkward teenager. And then I realized that I may as well include a photo of myself being a kid with kids. Because I hope don’t think you ever have to stop being a kid. Unless you want to. And why would you want to?

My friend Jane was showing us at book group the other night where she hurt her hand going down the water slide that’s part of the big inflatable toy she bought at Costco (back when you could buy such things at Costco) to set up in her backyard for her grandkids to play on. What I love about Jane is that she didn’t just set it up and blow it up and sit on the bench and watch her kids go down it. (Which is what I would do. Because it is the sensible thing to do.) She went down it with them.

I remember a photo of my grandmother, well into her upper 80s–possibly even her 90s–sitting on a jet ski. And I recall the night she fell and twisted her ankle at UVU while attending a country music concert in the middle of winter sometime after that. She let them help her into the concert, but wouldn’t seek medical treatment until after the concert. (That may not be the actual way it went down. It might just be the way I remember it. But if I remember it that way it is only because it would be just like her. And I’m pretty sure that is just how it happened.)

Being a kid means you walk down to the shoreline–no matter how rocky, or how late, or how many miles out of your way you have to drive to get to it–of any ocean you see and take off your shoes and stick your toes in the sand. And take awkward pictures of it so you’ll remember.

Being a kid means you go back to Michael’s for the buzzard you’ve passed by at least 3 times before just to see how much they want for it because you finally figured out just where to put it even though Halloween is in 4 days and everything is unpredictable at the moment and you don’t really have any other Halloween decorations up. And you laugh out loud when you see the original price is $54, but you know all Halloween is marked down at least 60% so you take it up to the register and point out how its beak is scratched and one of its feathers is a little bent and the bottom of its left eye is a bit chipped away and ask them how much they want for it. And when they magically tell you they will sell it to you for $15, which is the exactly figure you had in your head which you would be willing to pay, you whip out your credit card and purchase the big glorious bird and take it right home to set it on top of your grandfather clock.

Being a kid is lots of things. But when you’re a kid in an older and a bit broken body it means finding joy however it comes to you and having the courage to seize it. And to not care what anyone else thinks about the simply things that bring you joy.

[Day 185 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


Thank you coupons

I like coupons. Essentially–at least the way I see it–coupons often bring something I want down to the price I would actually pay for it. As if I–and I do–have an aversion to paying full price for things.

I have an aversion to paying full price for things.

I’m not sure if this stemmed from growing up in a home with frugal parents (although one thing I remember–and appreciate–about my dad is that when he wanted something of good quality, he was not reluctant to spend good money to get something of good quality. In particular, I remember this about his boots, his cowboy hat, good kitchen knives–of which I have one, good cookware, and the occasional 100% quality Pendleton wool). He also had a bit of good Western art. So I’m affectionately blaming my above purchase on him.

In any case, coupons.

My appreciation for coupons could also stem from my years making ends meet as a poor starving college student, although I didn’t so much use coupons then because I mostly spent money on rent, a very basic food supply, and, occasionally, $10/day ski passes to Alta on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which, fortunately, didn’t require coupons, but which brought about euphoria similar to that of using a great coupon.

Or also from the days when we were a young family also squeezing to make ends meet while my husband worked hard at two jobs and we primarily shopped at that grocery store whose prices were so low it didn’t accept coupons.

But I was queen of combining coupons and/or a good sale to purchase shoes and clothes for the kids at Shopko and Mervyn’s and Payless Shoe Store and Kid-to-Kid.

Combining coupons is a little bit of heaven! 40% off and then 10% off your combined purchase.

Sadly, perhaps foolishly, I now shop at a grocery store that does accept coupons, but I don’t really have the time to find coupons outside the store sales to use when I shop there. Although I do plan purchases around their coupon sales (and also Costco’s) and, fortunately for me, they don’t require the actual physical coupon. So I guess I’m still saving.

Epiphany! And I have a folder full of apps that now allow me to save money when they scan the QR code of the coupons on my phone, so I’m just now realizing I somehow associate coupons with the ones we used to cut out of the newspaper and try to pay close attention to so we would use them before they expired, when actually, it’s all there at the touch of my touch ID on my phone. So apparently out of sight out of mind and I’m still using “coupons” without much thinking about it.

Which brings me back to this art.

My friend Tonya introduced me to Michael Workman some time ago. Some years ago. His images evoke fond childhood memories of time spent on my grandparents’ (note, I’m deliberately using the plural term after recently realizing I’m one in a long line of generations before and after that designate actual property solely to the male of the household) ranch. I can actually smell the sagebrush.

In any case, a good while back I found myself with some saved up Christmas and birthday money and a coupon from New Vision Art and this one caught my eye. In part because it was the only one remotely affordable (with the coupon). So I purchased it. And it’s been sitting in a tube waiting and waiting for a frame, along with some other art I’ve won or picked up either way discounted or with coupons over several years.

Waiting for frames.

Then early one Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago I happened to see an email notifying me it was the last day to use some coupons I wasn’t even aware I had from Michaels. I scrolled down and there was a framing coupon for 60% off plus 20% off custom framing and then 55% off stock frames (which is always my first choice if my art isn’t odd sized).

Since I’d been saving up for awhile, I picked out my favorite pieces–including the above–and got some odd-sized Caitlin Connelly sketches matted and set in stock frames, did justice by my Michael Workman, and got my Brian Kershisnik’s Nativity poster ready for Christmas.

And I’m quite satisfied with making this generous coupon go a very long way.

[Day 184 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

When things don’t go the way you’ve planned

I actually don’t plan. The reasons for this are many. It’s possible I don’t even know all the reasons for this. One, as noted previously, despite my best intentions I’m kind of an “in-the-moment” kind of gal. Even if I do plan ahead, I very possibly will be so present in the present that I will forget. (Just ask my visiting teachers.) Two, I’m so conditioned to the unexpected, I feel like not planning somehow leaves room for it in such a way it shouldn’t be unexpected and I can be more flexible–bend to meet it. As if that somehow gives me control. (Note: It doesn’t.) Three, I’m sometimes–maybe even often–tired and overwhelmed and just don’t want to deal with the weight of expectations and to-do items scheduled on my calendar. Who knows, but that’s how I am and I’ve been that way even before I was an 8ish to 5ish M-F kind of girl. Even from my early days as a young stay-at-home mom I somehow found it more mentally healthy for me to use a “done” list at the end of the day (even when it was quite short) than to start my day with a long and impossible “to-do” list.

In any case, I could have written (is that really the correct word?) a photo essay of things that haven’t gone the way I planned (see above). Except that a), since I don’t really plan and b), since my life is also full of successes and happy serendipitous surprises and people, places, and events I choose, such a photo essay might be a misrepresentation.

But above, for your enjoyment, is the Reader’s Digest Condensed version. Because sometimes recipes that have gone perfectly well before explode in your oven. And sometimes your attempt to dress up a cake mix (which you rarely use but was your go-to this time because you needed lots of cupcakes in a hurry) takes more time and your dozens of cupcakes are neither uniform nor pretty. And sometimes you generously give your kid who’s moving out a good TV (so good D.I. won’t even take them anymore, who knew?) and, well, it costs you nearly $400 to get your rear window replaced.

Stuff happens. Life’s messy. If you’re not married to your schedule, or a neatly balanced bank account, or having a perfect life, well, somehow, at least in my mind, it’s easier to roll with it. And it’s easier to laugh instead of cry.

[Day 183 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


20623465_10156551267128065_444559189_oapparently not these kinds of ghosts

My sister visited a couple of months ago. And as she sat on the sofa and I in my corner chair I saw my mother in her face.

It made me wonder what traces of my mother there are in me.

I always considered myself my father’s daughter. But he is so long gone now, I don’t know–I don’t remember, except for his eyes and frame, what I could see of him in myself anymore. Aside from the occasional visits from my siblings, I don’t spend time with anyone who really knew him. So I have no one to remind me I somehow remind them of him.

But my mother, that’s a different story. My husband, my kids, my daughter-in-law, my friends, people in my neighborhood knew my mother. I wonder if I ever remind them of her.


My cousin’s wife lost her mother today. I never met her mother. But I’ve been witnessing from afar as her family has had to split up for months at a time to help take care of her. And how they gathered together and my cousin and the rest of the kids made it just in time to say goodbye. I wanted to reach out to my cousin and ask him to give his sweet wife a big big hug from me and and say how sorry I am. How losing a mother is like nothing else and something you can’t even imagine until it happens to you. But then I remembered this cousin lost his mother. And his step-mother. So he already knows.


I’m not afraid of ghosts. But I dread the emptiness that comes from the lack of a ghost–or some other sense of their presence–to remind us of those we love and lost.

For example, some of my kids headed out to my in-laws’ house this past weekend. I called my sister-in-law ahead and, fortunately without really having to explain, told her we are all a bit uncertain as to how to be at their house without my mother-in-law Barbara. Because I don’t know. And they didn’t know. And I knew this sister-in-law would extend her motherly circle around them and somehow help them through it.

When I lost my grandmothers, neither of them were in the homes where I remembered them best. So while I miss their presence in my life, I didn’t really have to revisit memories devoid of their presence.

And because my family moved from my both childhood homes long before we lost my mother, my mom passed away in her home, not our home. I wasn’t required to build new memories in it without her. And I don’t have any idea what it must be like to return to your childhood home empty of the beating-heart center of your growing-up universe–your mom.

So I worry about this upcoming Thanksgiving and not knowing how to fill that space that used to be just ours while everyone else went up to the mountains, and resort to feeling ghosts in quilt shops and Chuck-a-rama parking lots and the Payson Temple.

[Day 182 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


IMG_2681It looks like we killed the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.”

We had a shoot on Friday. I had to leave for work at 6:45 and make a run into the truck stop on the way there because I realized it was only 37 degrees and I was wearing Birkenstock sandals and had no gloves. I’d only just last minute tossed a comfy old sweater in the back of the fleet vehicle because I realized my coat was in the back of my car parked at the UFRA parking lot.

It was cold. I began the day trying to shovel tall weeds with my sore foot to clear a path to the set of valves we needed for part of the shoot and getting poked by puncture weed and thistle to do so.

All in a day’s work.

Shoots are not easy, but they can be fun. I was reminded of this when one of the firefighters tried to ad lib (we’re using voiceover on this one, so there were no lines anyway) the scene in a messy German/French accent. And later when he tried to three-stooge another one of the scenes and we all wished he had a giant-sized red wrench to pull out of his pocket for the “Closing the Remote Valves” video.

Shoots can be long. They can be cold. They can be hot. Things can go wrong. They can start early. And they can run late. For me, at least, they usually require a good dose of Ibuprofen. In other words, they can be hard and they hurt–and I’m not even the one doing the heavy lifting. But, just like most work, they can also be fun. I am always grateful for the people who are willing to make them fun.

I still recall hearing the operations guy who’d worked at the Salt Lake Airport for nigh on 30 years that if you love what you do, you don’t really see your job as work. One of the keys to that–along with working with good people–is bringing an element of play into your work.

You don’t have to be Moe, Curly, or Larry. But I find that generally you can find beauty, wonder, imagination, joy, whimsy, fun, and even occasionally a good pun in almost anything you do. And that can make work a pleasure.

I don’t ever want to become too old or too responsible for play.

[Day 181 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

a moment when everything changed

the moment when my mom was on the other end of the line, terrified and in tears, telling me her breast cancer* had come back and it had metastasized and she needed to get the emergency room.

i was numb and angry and sad and in disbelief all at the same time. i told her not to drive there herself but that i would come get her, bring her back in, and take her back home. i remember driving down the freeway with tears running down my face crying and praying and swearing (not the really bad ones) and i felt like god was somehow ok with all the feelings including the anger and disbelief and heard my prayers anyway.

i sat in the corner of the ER room, to the left of my mother’s head. the PET scan was posted against the artificial light on the opposite wall. my mom was on the gurney. the doctor stood at her feet. he did not have one single bit of good news. not one. the cancer was everywhere.

there were so many moments after that moment, but that was the moment when i felt my mom’s dreams of travel and visits to family in idaho and south carolina and southern california and who knows what else in her retirement all seemed to evaporate. all the dreams she had postponed while she took care of us kids when we were little, took care of my dad when he was sick, worked to support a family of 6 after dad died, then–still working–took care of her parents after they moved here to retire and, having just retired herself, looked forward to enjoying after finally starting to feel a little better after her cancer treatments the year before.

*because that was another moment sitting with my mom in another doctor’s office just months after my grandmother’s death a couple of years before.

[Day 180 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

knowing someone

“Sarah Payne, the day she told us to go to the page without judgment, reminded us that we never know, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully. It seems a simple thought, but as I get older I see more and more that she had to tell us that.”

–I am Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I am haunted by a quote that is either real or imagined from Broadchurch: “You can never really know a person.”

I heard this quote–or somehow absorbed the implication from the miniseries that left me curled up in the fetal position sobbing–at the same time a trusted friend and mentor of a couple of my kids was charged and convicted of abusing one of the most sacred of trusts–teacher/healer and student in one of the worst ways possible (not that there is by any means a not-worst way. I physically and emotionally felt the collective conflict in somehow trying to to make sense of it and also being physically sickened and horrified. On the same day I learned two of my closest friends had deceived me about something huge and deeply personal that I could or would never have imagined and right before my eyes. It was the level of deception that wounded me most. Lying to me has always been one of the deepest ways to hurt me.

The natural result of such painful betrayals is to not to want to trust anyone. To turn inward and wall ourselves up in a desperate attempt at self preservation. Because we cannot know. We do not know who will betray us. Who will wound us or those we love.

The flipside, however–if one would simply turn it around–is to brave looking outward. To attempt to understand. Withholding judgment. Wanting to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. See the world through their eyes. Discover their weaknesses and celebrate their strengths. Share in their sorrows and in their joys.

Do we ever really know? No. I don’t believe we do. But there is an adventure in the trying.

[Day 179 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]