ball drop

Right about the same time the opportunity came up to apply for my current full-time job, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Knowing I still had a teenager at home and would also be one of my mom’s primary caregivers gave me pause. But my mom loved her years working at BYU and was so happy when I was hired part-time at UVU, she meant it when she encouraged me to apply for the job and then to accept the position when it was offered to me.

So since I’ve had this job I’ve gone a year helping to care for my dying mother. I’ve helped my kids when our first grandchild was born early–right as we hit deadline for a huge contract project with a federal agency. We stood watch during that time we hoped my mother-in-law would just wake up from her surgery. And I’ve dealt with foot surgery and a much longer-than-expected recovery from that. I’ve also helped bail out a few people when they either over committed themselves or life happened to them, all while managing my own projects.

And while I may have gingerly juggled a few balls and desperately grasped them just before they hit the ground, until today I’ve never dropped the ball.

And today* I just blew off a phone conference call with a major player in another federal agency with whom we wish to partner for not just an upcoming project, but also the possibility of future projects.

Fortunately, it’s not urgent, and the man has been quite understanding.

But for someone who takes responsibility seriously and just doesn’t blow off people (except maybe, occasionally, my visiting teachers when I truly forget not hours of last remembering an appointment).

And I felt badly.

I owned it. No excuses. Just “I apologize.” Because I sincerely do.

And here’s hoping I never drop such a big ball ever again.

*This was after laying awake half the night worried over dropping the ball after the arrangements I had for someone to hang out with my grandson for at least half my workday so I could hit some important conference calls fell through last minute. The first conference call was a disaster.

THERE IS A REASON PEOPLE DON’T GENERALLY TAKE A CONFERENCE CALL WITH A TODDLER IN THE ROOM!

I didn’t even try the second one.

And then I forgot the third. Which was probably the most important.

Oh well.

thoughts and prayers

In the wake of the latest mass shooting–and indeed every heinous terrorist act or senseless tragedy to which we are almost becoming accustomed, it’s all the rage to decry “thoughts and prayers.”

I get it. Thoughts and prayers–much like faith–can feel empty without action. Devoid of any move towards progress. Doing at least something, if not all we can do.

But dismissing the power of thoughts and prayers with real intent is, in my mind, just as harmful as doing nothing.

I know the energy of good thoughts. The power of prayer is real. I have been lifted and carried by sincere thoughts and prayers. I’ve seen those I love lifted and carried as well. That power is tangible. And to dismiss it is rash and foolish.

Earnest thoughts and prayers can compel one to act on the behalf of another, even when one is so far removed from the location of a tragedy as to be powerless to affect the lives of those traumatized and bereaved.

To deprive a world of thoughts and prayers would only serve to bring greater imbalance between good and evil in the world. Just at a time we need the power for good more than ever.

he knows my name

Sometimes the effort of holding things together for other people requires more of you than you think you have and pressure of the weight of all the things for which you are responsible for at a given time and all the things you need to do in too short amount of time compresses and you start to feel the tiny cracks snaking along the seams.

Today is such a day. Our RS had a Super Saturday scheduled–one I wasn’t super excited to participate in until they added the service element. But I wasn’t going to go. I’m tired. And I have too much to do. And I’m trying to manage all that with a sweet sick 2yo who misses his parents terribly but who is being remarkably brave and resilient. In any case, my husband came home and insisted he would watch James so I would go over to the church for a little bit.

I dragged myself out of the car and across the parking lot and into the double doors of the church and the first person I saw was one of the counselors of the Relief Society.

“Dalene, I had a dream about you last night. Are you ok?”

The tiny cracks generally hold their own until met with compassion. And then they give way to someone willing to carry a part of the load for a bit.

“You did?”

She never really told me what happened in the dream, just that she was worried about me.

And she listened to me for a spell. And got it.

And my load was lightened.

And I knew–once again–that God knows my name.

And this too shall pass.

the view from my floor

As I am wont to do, I saw the rules more as guidelines, really. And while I finally did vacuum my floor–thanks to the generosity of a friend who lent me her Dyson–I’ve had a long day week and I just put clean pajamas on and my carpet is desperate for a deep, truck mounted cleaning and my kitchen floor is even worse because life sort of happened this while and in face I have a very good idea of what’s on my ceiling even from my favorite chair, which is on the floor, and gives me a perfectly decent view of my ceiling.

This is a handprint. I don’t recall which child of mine left a black greasy handprint on my ceiling, but I’m not in any hurry to clean it off because it reminds me of the story my Uncle Dean tells of the frustration of being a much younger and therefore primarily only child of a lovely woman I’m quite sure had OCD and who we used to joke would wash your glass almost before you were done drinking the water out of it. Dean was rather tall and athletic and I’m not entirely sure how he arrived at it–maybe he did the high jump–but somehow he managed to do some sort of high kick to the ceiling and leave his footprint right in the middle of my grandmother’s pristine ceiling.

I’m also fairly certain that footprint remained there for quite some time.

In any case, one of the nice things about my ceiling–cobwebs don’t bother me, particularly, is that with the exception of the ceiling in my bedroom, it is the only flat surface in my house on which the paint is not peeling.

So there’s that.

Perhaps if someday I were ever to write a song, it might be about peeling paint (which I initially wrote as “peeling pain.”

In any case, the flat white pain over the texturing my husband did is not peeling.

[Day 190 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

lost puppies. and a cat.

Awhile back I got a desperate message from someone I don’t know who–I’m still not sure how she found me or why she thought to ask me–asked me if we had a neighborhood Facebook page because she had lost her dog Coco and wanted me to post a photo and her contact info. I did as she asked, but there weren’t any bites.

A short time later I happened upon a post on our Relief Society Facebook page with the photo of a cute little chihuahua (to be honest, I do not love chihuahuas, but I realize dogs are like family, so I’m trying to be generous) that had wandered into someone’s backyard. They were looking for the owners.

I messaged the owner and told her it appeared her dog was in our neighborhood and texted my friend the owner’s contact info and later got a message from a very grateful dog owner reunited with her baby.

Literally the very next day, I was tagged in a post by someone else in our neighborhood in response to another neighbor’s post about a found chihuahua. (What are the odds?) The commenter tagged me because she thought it was the same dog.

I messaged the first found chihuahua’s owner to make see if perhaps Coco had run off. She hadn’t. But then I happened across another post by someone I didn’t initially realize I knew (but later found out I did–AJ grew up just down the street from us) who had lost her chihuahua, Gia. I texted that number and got an immediate call back from AJ, who she was distraught about losing her dog. I quickly messaged the woman with the dog to ask her to please keep the dog safe and then told AJ where to find her.

Gia and AJ were happily reunited and I got a gracious and grateful text from AJ thanking me for finding her dog.

(In my mind, I’ve not been the finder, just the communicator bringing the right people together. But I guess the end result is the same.)

In late September I was in Washington D.C. for work. It was late there, when I got a desperate text from another friend who grew up on our street and who has been living with her mother while they’ve been remodeling their first house. She happened to have just arrived in London and had realized that in leaving instructions with her sister for their kids, they overlooked leaving instructions for their cat, who apparently then ran off.

Fortunately though it was late in London and in D.C., it was a decent hour in Provo. So I texted my husband a photo of the missing kitty and instructions where to take her should he find her. Then I turned to our faithful R.S. Facebook page and posted the photo. Before too long I was tagged in a comment on that post and referred to an earlier post I had missed–being across most of the country and two time zones away–in which I was also tagged and eventually we pieced together the cat’s wanderings throughout the day and Shane went down and found the sweet kitty and reunited it with our friend’s twin brother.

Finding AWOL chihuahuas or your kitty in Provo from D.C. is apparently my new superpower.

j/k. But maybe I should open a side business psychically reuniting pets and their owners. 😉

similar states

I would hope that my readers feel a sense of awe at the quality of human endurance, at the endurance of love in the face of a variety of difficulties; that the quotidian life is not always easy, and is something worthy of respect. I would also hope that readers receive a larger understanding, or a different understanding, of what it means to be human, than they might have had before. We suffer from being quick to judge, quick to make excuses for ourselves and others, and I would like the reader to feel that we are all, more or less, in a similar state as we love and disappoint one another, and that we try, most of us, as best we can, and that to fail and succeed is what we do. –Elizabeth Strout

I think this pretty much sums up the human experience.

Are we not all beggars?

Are we not all broken?

Are we not all divine beings seeking to learn and grow on this mortal world?

Indeed I say yes! And that is the beauty of it.

One of the most profound (to that point) epiphanies I had at the tender age of 23 occurred one day while I was shut away in a rather large but somewhat dreary apartment on a rainy grey day in Herstal, Belgium. My companion was ill and I spent the day reading really old copies of the Ensign. I don’t recall the title or author (although I have since tried–unsuccessfully–to find it), but article seemed–at least to me–to be about coming to terms with your past in order to get unstuck and move forward. The gist of it was “forgive your parents for their imperfections. They loved you the best they could amidst whatever burdens they carried. They did their best with what they had.”

Within the bounds of Strout’s “more or less,” I believe this is true. And believe it is freeing. Letting go of other people’s baggage is freeing and empowering. It lets me be free to be accountable for myself and to choose my way forward. And that is the same whether I am looking back at being raised by imperfect parents, being loved imperfectly by family and friends, or being judged–sometimes unfairly–by children who have not yet forgiven me for being human.

It gives me the freedom to accept and–hopefully, eventually–learn from my mistakes. It gives me the power to gain strength from my successes.

Most hopefully it reminds me to be gracious and to accept those who disappoint, those who wound, and those I love in similar states.

[Day 189 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

things you try to skip but you can’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving 2.0.

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

treasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my emotional acre

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

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

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

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

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

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

There must be stormy skies.

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

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

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

Because where would you put it?

Especially on just–ahem–one emotional acre.

My emotions are too big for just one.

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

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.]