treasures

my-commute

Maybe I’m doing this writing thing all wrong. “No one is going to read it,” Ann says, but I’m posting my responses to these prompts on my blog which at least two people read (thank you!) and it’s still a little scary.

Creative treasures that will require time and work and patience. The easy thing is I do want to pursue two art forms–one I haven’t dabbled in since high school: stained glass. The other is something I enjoy but more or less gave up when I started working full time: quilting.

A local shop that is in itself a treasure, “here” Provo, offers stained glass classes now and then. My daughter has been wanting to learn and I’ve been wanting to pick up the soldering iron again, so it’s something I’m keeping my eye on. 2017 might be the year.

This past week I moved my quilting table and sewing machine up to our next guest room/toy room/quilt room (can those things be compatible and exist together in a tiny space? I sure hope so!) that became available when our youngest moved to a bigger (and quieter) bedroom in the basement.

Here’s the thing. While they will both require some time and effort, I don’t foresee either of them to be particularly challening. I quilted for quite a few years before giving it up. It’s got to be like riding a bike, no? And the stained glass work I have in mind will be simple pieces that shouldn’t (I hope!) challenge me too much. There’s not really any risk involved.

The other creative impulse that has been beckoning to me for a couple of years now is the one I fear. And it would require the most effort and patience and hard work.

Simply put, I’ve fallen in love with light and color and texture and there is a deep part of me that yearns to be able to capture what I see and love about the world around me and share it.

The iPhone has been my safe zone, the easy button.

But I’d like to kick it up a notch and return to something I also once dabbled in in high school – photography. I want to let go of my fear of manual settings (with the exception of auto focus, as my eyesight makes it difficult for me to see what I’m looking at) and have some fun with a real camera. Maybe even give film a go again.

I’m not sure I can commit myself to say 2017 is the year. But maybe it will.

We’ll see.

[Day 59 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Books

books
my nightstand

One early summer night this year I walked up the steps to the porch of Brown’s house, on time (one never arrives at book club on time) and, even though I was puzzled by the lack of a treat table, walked in the unlocked screen door only to confuse Laura’s father and embarrass myself when we both realized that book club was next week. It was such a shame. I’d not only read the book this time, I’d even made treats! Two things I regularly neglect.

The good news, besides now having a story to tell, is that even though I had to cram it in last minute on a couple of them, I actually read some of the books before we met for book club, and, on at least three occasions, planned ahead well enough to bring treats.

I’m hopeful it’s a sign my life is finally settling…nope. Not going to say it. Don’t want to jinx anything.

In any case, I’m still struggling to get through the really long vampire book I started two Halloweens ago and am determined to finish, if for no other reason than to know how it ends. (I know, I could Google, but I refuse to Google or read cover blurbs or the back pages of anything I’ve not yet read before. Spoilers, and all that.)

Boys in the Boat comes so highly recommended and what I’m reading so far is so good. But I haven’t yet felt compelled to finish it yet. When my life is this busy I need to feel compelled.

Two standouts I actually did finish:

I was happy to return to the lovely prose of Jhumpa Lahiri this year in the form of The Lowland. It’s beautiful. And heartbreaking. Haunting, really.

And I nearly dismissed Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies as the literary version of Pretty Little Liars (which, admittedly, I formed opinions of without having watched on second of), but all of a sudden one simple line (yes, I’m avoiding spoilers) promised substance, drew me in, and held me. In other words, it surprised me. I like being surprised.

Not one for New Year’s resolutions, I will start off January with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, recommended by my sister in law and first on our list for book club 2017.

And I will finish that vampire novel. If it kills me.

[Day 58 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Breakfast

I celebrated my birthday the other day. Having a birthday right before Christmas was painful for me growing up. It sort of got lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday. It’s so close to Christmas we were never in school during my birthday, so I never got to celebrate with my friends. As I got older my friends would give me the same present they got for all of our friends at Christmas, only mine would be accompanied by “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!”

One of the things that bothered me most as a child was when I received a birthday present wrapped in Christmas paper.

It seems a silly thing–and indeed now with more life experience and perspective, it IS a silly thing. But as other December-born will attest, it was really a metaphor for a day that was important to me getting lost so close to that other, far more significant day, the day that is important (and rightly so) to the entire world.

In any case, my disappoint over that must have lingered with my mother, who apologized for it long past when I myself got over it.

What I wish my mother knew was how much her other birthday rituals meant to me.

The first is a song. The Best Gift, by Barbra Streisand. I put that song on my Spotify Christmas playlist and it came up quite a bit leading up to the holidays. It’s a beautiful reminder of something I could never have understood until I was expecting my own firstborn. The anticipation of an infant child. A tiny human being so dependent on you and for whom the love you discover in your heart is simply unimaginable and beautifully overwhelming.

The second is a special breakfast. She called it eggs over toast with gravy. I later discovered it appears to be a variation of what’s known in culinary circles as Eggs Benedict. Only the eggs are boiled and sliced instead of poached. They were served over hand-torn toast instead of English muffins (it’s better that way). And the gravy was a basic white sauce instead of Hollandaise.

Still, even as a child, I felt the love. And it is my go-to breakfast on days when for whatever reason I find myself at home instead of rushing off to work and in need of some comfort.

And I make it for myself on my birthday.

Because it reminds me of Mom. And of being loved and cared for in that way that only a mother does.

[Day 57 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

This Christmas

nativity
Close up of Nativity by Brian Kershisnik, photo credit Silus Grok

After a really rough year of losing people, this week before Christmas began with the funeral of a friend of ours. He ended his own life when no one saw it coming and left three grieving children behind. The funeral was good. A beautiful blend of raw honesty and deserved tribute and hope. But my heart breaks for the kids, all who are dealing not with just losing their dad, but also how they lost him.

The next day we attended the sealing of a girl who grew up in our neighborhood–same age as our daughter–and who calls me one of her second moms. The sealing took place in the Payson Temple, which holds a special place in my heart due to the way it brought so much peace and comfort to my mother.

The juxtaposition of a funeral and a wedding so closely merits more meditation and perhaps less words, but my takeaway can be described in one word: hope. I felt the spirit as strong in sorrow as well as in joy.

This morning we got a text from my brother-in-law telling us their sweet granddaughter Lily had slipped through the veil. Lily was born with a quite rare genetic defect that has made her brief sojourn here challenging and painful. Yet she left unexpectedly, as she was progressing well after her latest surgery and without knowledge of a greater plan, in a seemingly random way. And yet we know her life was in God’s hands.

What I will remember Lily best for is her sweet smile. I held her briefly in the NICU on the day she was born. I never heard her cry, but her joyful sweet smile cheered and brightened all who encountered her.

Although it was out of town and I was not able to attend, today the mortal body of another dear soul was laid to rest. Her name is Logann. She has fiery red hair (which I never saw, due to chemo) and a brilliant smile and the very best heart.

I only met Logann in person once, but even as she suffered through her own courageous and valiant battle with metastatic breast cancer she lifted and encouraged me and reminded me to look up while I was caring for my mother during hers. Logann left behind a young children and a devoted young husband, which I’m sure by the tenacity of her fight must have been very difficult for her.

So this Christmas has been marked hard by death. Perhaps because I’m not yet so far removed from the Christmas my mother had just been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and we weren’t sure my mom would make it through the next week, followed by the Christmas that was literally just weeks before she died; the sorrow of my family and friends’ recent losses weigh a little heavier on my heart than usual.

It’s also been marked hard by despair.

For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

(Barely scratching the surface here, simply so I never forget, but most recently: Aleppo. Germany. The future of my country.)

And yet.

The joy this sentence gives: I know my Redeemer Lives.

I know what that means for my mom and my dad. And for all we’ve loved and lost.

I know what that means for Matt and for Lily and for Logann. And for their families.

I know what this means for a world so torn by hatred and evil.

I know what that means for me.

So I will carry hope in my heart more gently and yet also more firmly this Christmas, wondering how my hold on it can be both so tenuous and sure at the same time.

And I will carry a prayer in my heart for the peace–a voice, a chime, a chant sublime–the Savior brings and kindness and good will.

[Day 56 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Gross food

One of my unfavorite childhood memories is of sitting at the table with a plate of cold tomato-y looking “Spanish” rice for what felt like hours, locked in a battle of wills with my mother over cleaning my plate.

Yep. That was a rule.

I could gag down liver and onions as long as there was enough bacon involved, but “Spanish” rice was my nemesis.

I grew up thinking I hated Spanish rice and then I realized (sorry Mom), what I hated was my Mom’s attempt at Spanish rice. Now rice–often accompanied by beans–is a favorite: Mexican, Spanish, Indian, what have you.

And while I encouraged my kids to try different foods and sometimes fussed a little if I didn’t think they were eating fairly well balanced when they were younger, I never imposed the “clean your plate” rule at my table.

Sometimes I wonder if I worked so hard to be the antithesis of my parents (only in some respects) my kids will work just as hard to be the antithesis of me and therefore become my parents. (The logic is sound, no?)

In any case, I can’t really think of gross food in terms of some of the examples in the prompt, but I can think of a few quirks.

To me, sauerkraut is gross. Nor am I fond of pickles or relish or mustard.

Lately I’ve heard that is a genetic thing, but if that’s the case maybe I’m a throwback because as far as I know I’m the only one who has an aversion.

I grew up eating cottage cheese in my chili, which isn’t a stretch if you think about it, but I don’t know anyone else who does it. My brother-in-law puts pineapple in his chili, so when we used to eat chili together, it was like having cottage cheese and pineapple in our chili.

Go figure.

My dad allegedly appreciated chocolate sauce over peach ice cream. I’m not so fond of chocolate with my fruit, but that doesn’t actually sound too bad. Those chocolate jelly sticks? Not my favorite. Although I have grown to appreciate a fine quality chocolate orange.

Speaking of ice cream, dipping fries in milkshakes? No. Not a fan. Not even fond of fries in ketchup. But while I lived in Belgium I did come to love fried dipped in mayonnaise. And while I don’t often order or eat fries (except I never mind having just a taste when someone I’m eating with–the right person, of course, you can’t mooch fries off of just anyone), when I do, it will only be on account of fry sauce.

So my takeaway here is aside from the fact that when I order curry and they ask me how hot I want it I tell them I want tears streaming down my face and that I take WAY too much wasabi when I’m eating sushi–enough I can feel the exact place in my brain where it explodes when it hits my taste receptors, I’m pretty boring when it comes to food.

I’m ok with that.

[Day 55 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Post Edit: I continue to power through some of these prompts that may seem silly or superficial, mostly on account of the fact that on that night when I gathered in a room full of strangers (to me) at Ann Dee Ellis’ house some of the most poignant posts were written for the prompt “Pomegranate.” I’m not there yet, but I keep hoping that as I keep writing, I will learn to dig deeper and that possibly something wonderful will flow from something as seemingly silly as “Gross Food.”

Christmas tradition

Interesting this should come up as I’ve recently had two different conversations with two different people (one a family member, one a friend) who are dealing with people in their families wanting to usher out the old and ring in the new when it comes to family Christmas traditions. Both those who want to hold on to old hold on, I think, because the traditions are associated with loves ones lost. I get that.

Boy do I get that.

One I do now. Tonight (yes, December 19), we finally dragged in the tiny 4-foot Christmas tree we bought last minute somewhere I had to find on Google because Baums was already sold out and all they had left were a couple of 1 1/2-foot trees. And I live for a live Christmas tree. My kids are all going to make fun, but I don’t care. Even when I am and old 93-year-old wearing oversized corduroy jumpers and colorful mismatched wool socks under my Birkenstocks in some beat-up shack on the Oregon coast, I will have a live tree. It might only be 1 1/2-feet tall, but I will have a live tree.

One from my childhood. All of us kids slept upstairs so when it was finally time to come down for Christmas we would line up on the stairs in a way that always makes me think of the Von Trapp children (despite being a few short and having already by then given up the matching clothes made from drapery fabric). Youngest first, of course.

In my family we don’t so much care about birth order any more. And it’s harder to get people out of bed. But we do line up in the hall until I’ve put the breakfast strata in the oven and turned on Dan Fogelberg’s The First Christmas Morning CD.

One I love. It strikes me that this one also fits in the above two categories. As a family we always closed our Christmas Eve gathered together to read Luke Chapter 2 and then pray together. In many things we were hit and miss, but in this we were constant. So when it was my turn, I was sure to establish the same tradition with my family. Eventually we kicked it up a notch always having our son Luke read the verses from Luke.

When Luke left on his mission–my first child leaving the nest–I was quite sad about him not being here to read Luke. One of my best gifts ever a CD he’d recorded for me before he left of him reading the account of the Savior’s birth from Luke 2.

One you don’t love. If I could change one thing, I wouldn’t buy anyone anything for Christmas. I would follow the lead of my cousins who save their Christmas money for an experience. Every December they go on a cruise together as a family.

I would do this in a heartbeat were everyone willing.

We have enough stuff.

We have too much stuff.

I would much rather step away from all that stuff and the overwhelming thought of more stuff and go see the world together.

Bonus. When I was a kid I also have fond memories of listening to to the Campbell Playhouse: A Christmas Carol with Orson Wells on the radio. I’ve always loved A Christmas Carol. I now include the Patrick Stewart audio version and the George C. Scott video version to this old favorite.

[Day 54 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

2005

Back in 2005 a small handful of women of varying ages began blogging. This was before blogs were monetized or made the morning news. Before Facebook and texting and Instagram and Twitter.

Some of our posts were silly. Some were funny. Many skimmed along the surface of our lives. But some were real and raw. And when we had the courage to reveal a true part of ourselves, we began to connect.

Some of us had begun as strangers. Distanced acquaintances several times removed. Friends of a friend. Some were already longtime friends. But our stories build bridges and friendships and a community.

Over the years a couple made names for themselves. Some made money. And a lot more friends. Some of us quit blogging altogether. None of us has time to read blogs so much anymore. In any case, there are now far too many to read.

But for a couple of years there and through a regular look into one another’s daily lives in a way that had previously been unprecedented, we had something special.

Most of us met each other in real life at least once. Some of us got together for lunch once in awhile. We took meals into one friend when she had a new baby. Cried with another when her mom was diagnosed with cancer. And literally screamed full voice in a crowded restaurant when another announced she was by some miracle pregnant after years of broken-hearted infertility.

Eventually we grew apart. The significance of our daily lives diluted in the swelling sea of women blogs and mommy blogs and marketing and monetizing.

Drama tore us apart in ways that we would never have imagined or wished upon ourselves.

Most of us still hung on to the fragments, and loved and supported and connected best we could when swells of pain and sorrow rolled over one or the other of us.

And yet. This week when one of our own was horribly injured in a weight lifting competition and another’s ex husband took his life, I watched us rally. I got messages and texts. Our hearts stretched back out to one another. We checked in. We prayed for each other. And we loved.

And I am reminded the bonds of friendship are not to be taken lightly. Or for granted.

Truer words

joseph_smith_first_vision_stained_glass

When I was just a kid I remember watching a scratchy, dust-flecked voiced over film strip recreation of the beginnings of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth. The narration was taken from a passage of Joseph Smith’s history of the answer he received when as a young boy he inquired of God through prayer which church he should join.

25 So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.

Even now, decades later, I cannot hear this verse without recalling the unmistakable and undeniable surety I felt of their truth when I heard them:

For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.

That’s kind of how truth works. It sort of knocks you in the gut and takes your breath away for a minute. And the truer the words, the harder it hits.

When I was a bit older I decided it was time to read this book that Joseph Smith later translated, The Book of Mormon, and put the challenge of asking God myself to the test.

I don’t know what I expected, but what I got was simple but sure reminder, “you already know.”

And I did.

Sometimes that’s how truth works. It strikes a chord of your heartstrings and as it resonates down do deep you realize it moves you so because truth is eternal, and this is either a new truth, truth you knew before, or truth you already know but needed to feel again to be reminded.

Truth centers me and holds me fast when doubt and artifice seek to knock me off kilter.

I remember venturing into literary criticism as a young English major and reading of truth and beauty. To be honest, I didn’t much care for literary criticism. For me art and literature are personal. It’s so much more than what it means, but how it makes me feel and what truth it reveals to me. I find beauty in truth. I recognize both in my heart as something bigger than me, greater than this mortal existence, and timeless beyond the past, the present, and the future.

Once I know a thing, I cannot deny it.

[Day 53 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Snow


The highlight reel from our visit to Austin Straubel

I remember the first snow my freshman year at BYU. No coat. No hat. No gloves. But we frolicked like we had never seen the white stuff. And we probably had, once or twice. But not in actual feet. And not those big fluffy flakes that stay on my nose and my lashes.

That year I applied with BYU grounds crew for an on-call snow removal job. When I interviewed they told me they had never hired a female on-call snow remover. I was hired and I didn’t mind the early mornings in the dark or the cold (by that time I learned to wear a coat and a hat and gloves). But after just a couple of calls I either sprained or broke my ankle (I never did get a firm diagnosis–the health center couldn’t tell if it was a new or and old break – such were the ways of BYU’s health care back in the day) and I had to quit.

But I never got over my love of snow or even of shoveling it.

True story: When we first moved to Grandview Hill, we didn’t have a real driveway. It was just gravel. Snow neither sticks nor shovels well off of gravel. So I used to layer up and head out to see what neighbors needed a hand with their shoveling. On a couple of occasions I shoveled the half circle driveway of the house I live in now just as a courtesy. And because I loved to shovel snow.

There are still many things I love about snow. The soft hush of the earth covered in snow. The way it never quite gets dark when the world is covered in snow. The crunch crunch crunch of your arms and legs when you make snow angels or of your boots in fresh snow. (That sound has always reminded me of the sound your jeans make slipping intp a fine leather saddle.) The way Christmas lights reflect off the snow.

And especially the way a true white Christmas feels just right deep in my heart.

That said, as I have grown older, my body has grown weary of the cold. And I’m both grateful and relieved when one of my generous neighbors “happens” by with a snowblower or on a 4-wheeler with a snowplow attached.

And yet last year, when I had the opportunity to travel to the great lakes region to help film snow removal for some training we’d scripted, I felt that same old excitement I’d had at first snow during my freshman year. A trench-length down parka arrived from Amazon just in time. My daughter lent me her brand new neck warmer. Wool socks. Sherpa-lined boots. Ear warmers. Lined leather gloves. I was so ready for my first time in the Windy City.

Only there was no snow. It was sunny and clear and unusually warm.

So we packed up and headed north to Green Bay Wisconsin just in time for the big Groundhog’s Day storm.

I got to ride along in one of the big rigs and we knocked that snow out with precision.

And I felt like a kid again.

[Day 52 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Drinks

root-beer-float
photo credit Arnold Gatilao

I remember the first time I drank caffeine. I was a freshman at BYU and I really committed myself to a Big Gulp of Pepsi or Coke. So those 32 ounces hit my uninitiated body like 32 some kinda watts (what’s a lot of watts? I don’t even know. But there must be a good pun in there somewhere). And I was jittery and energized and, to be honest, that’s probably the closest I’ve come to being “high” my entire life. Except that time I let them give me Valium and pipe Jack Johnson into my headphones while I did 45 minutes in the MRI machine.

In any case, growing up soda was a rare treat. Caffeine (which I wouldn’t be able to spell correctly without spell check) was forbidden. And what I really loved was root beer.

I loved root beer especially when it was mixed just so with the right amount of vanilla ice cream and would completely float my boat.

I loved root beer floats so much I used to grab root beer from the tap at the MTC cafeteria and a little bowl of ice cream at the dessert station so I could make a root beer float because I knew I would miss them during my year and a half (actually 14 months on account of 2 months in the MTC) in Belgium and France.

I missed root beer floats so much while living in Belgium and France that on occasion I would buy Perrier and ice cream and whip my out my stash of root beer flavoring from the states and attempt to mix in a little sugar to make a root beer float the hard way.

That didn’t work so well, but it was the idea of a root beer float that felt just a little bit like home.

Since then I came to terms with how I really feel about caffeine (which I still didn’t spell correctly) and have since become more of a Dr. Pepper girl. But because I do make an effort to avoid drinking my calories in the form of straight sugar* I rarely indulge.

*No diet for me. I have a thing for being able to pronounce the ingredients in my food and besides, to me, artificial sweeteners have a nasty aftertaste.

But I still do love a good root beer float a couple of times a year.

By the way, one of the best wedding receptions ever was held in my neighbors’ back yard. Casual dress. And all they served for refreshments was root beer floats.

Perfection.

[Day 51 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]