Valentine’s

cookies

The prompt today is to write a Valentine. My 17yo and funny Facebook friends reminded me that St. Valentine’s head was chopped off–or he met with some other violent end–and history recounts at least one Valentine’s Day massacre in which 5 people were killed. Some of us are not entirely sure why we commemorate that with chocolates and cinnamon lips, which means I’m not sure anyone at this point would like me to write them a Valentine, but here goes.

Sending a great big THANK YOU to any and all of you out there in the cyberspace to who have dropped by this past year or so while I sort out the tumble of feelings in my heart and thoughts in my head and have sought a safe space for attempting to put them into words. And for reading my random and likely not-entirely-accurate-but-real-to-me memories of my childhood or just last week.

Words fail to capture what it means to me that you care enough to drop by once in awhile or somehow find time in your busy lives to drop by regularly and take the time to read and listen and see and feel with me.

Remember the tale of the little boy who went to the restaurant with his family and found it so remarkable that the server asked him what he wanted he stated with surprise, “She thinks I”m real?”

Today I want to send out a great big love letter of gratitude to anyone who has stopped by here are heard my words in such a way that has made me feel real.

Thank you. I love you. And you are real to me.

[Day 78 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Things I buy

shop

I’ve been a bit stuck on this prompt. I guess I’m not the shopper many seem to be. Retail therapy generally–but not always–is lost on me. Although I do love to buy a good book now and then.

In any case, Saturdays are generally shopping days, and my husband usually asks for a Costco list and a Macey’s list. The Costco list almost always includes milk, “berries if good,” and a roasted chicken. I once had him pick up the raw chicken and roasted my own and that’s when I noticed the price is the same for a raw chicken as a roasted chicken and since then my life is much easier by having the meat from a Costco rotisserie chicken in my fridge on a weekly basis.

The Macey’s list always begins with “small green bananas.” It used to read “greenish,” but now he knows what I mean. Small because no one ever eats a whole banana. Too much sugar. But those tiny short ones–when you can get them–are the perfect serving size.

Sometimes when I’m asking for something new I have to Google and image of it and text it too him. Yes, we are so spoiled in this day and age in more ways than we can count.

Generally my Sunday dinner menu (sadly, I’m not one of those wise women who has her entire menu planned the whole week –or even the whole month–out) is based on the following conversation, which works best with a fully charged phone battery:

Call or text me when you get to the meat aisle.

What’s on sale?

It’s all for sale.

(Halfhearted hahaha.)

Then commences a run down of the price-per-pound for either a shoulder (or cross rib) roast, boneless chicken breasts (much less often now that Macey’s stopped selling their hand-trimmed boneless chicken breasts for around $2-2.50/lb), pork chops, or a pork roast. If I’m desperate I ask for the Family Pack of 80-20% ground beef, but I just learned they don’t sell that anymore.

When prices are high–or, as I say–ridiculous–and I’m lucky, I’ll go downstairs and find a frozen uncooked meatloaf in the freezer and have him pick up potatoes.

Of late two standards on the list are also

“Whatever Kyle will eat,” and

“What Lindsay* needs.”

*Lindsay is now essentially a vegetarian and now an almost-vegan. (She still eats eggs.)

Perhaps my life would be easier if there were things I always kept on hand. But as I said, I have an aversion to planning. Maybe I’ll write about that another day.

In the meantime, I’m grateful my husband generally has time to go to Costco on Saturdays and enjoys doing his home teaching at Macey’s on a Saturday night. I used to wonder why it took him two hours to do the grocery shopping and then one time he was out of town and I had to go myself and ran into so many of my neighbors (Saturday is a special day it’s the day we get ready for Sunday) I needed to visit with for a few minutes it took me two hours too.

Bonus round: If I had to make a list of non-food essentials to never be without, it would include the following:
Charmin’ extra strength toilet paper
Brawny paper towels
Puffs with lotion facial tissues (can’t call them Kleenex because they are the wrong brand)
Trader Joe’s lemon kitchen liquid soap and lavender liquid soap (for bathrooms)
Altoids wintergreen minds (of course I meant “mints,” but I’m imagining the world with wintergreen minds and it’s a refreshing thought)
NyQuil Severe Cold and Flu and Airborne (for emergencies only)
and a good herbal tea.

If money (and calories) were no object I’d also keep my house stocked with the following:
Fresh flowers
Artisan bread
Artisan cheese
Pebble ice

The end.

[Day 77 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

when you said you’d do something but then you didn’t do it

there is a big colorful postcard from disneyland somewhere in my stacks of things. i bought it when i went to disneyland with jen galan and intended to mail it to a wonderfully courageous woman named Logann, who i’d only met once but who was, essentially, for i don’t know how long, dying. when you have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer you are essentially dying. in any case Logann was mom to a sweet young family and she was fighting so hard for more time with them and needed some cheering up so i intended to address and stamp and mail the postcard right from disneyland.

but i didn’t do it.

i meant to do it when i got back. but i didn’t do it then either.

Logann died in december and i still have her postcard and it reminds me of the soft mailer stuffed with a cute colorful sleeper that even has the postage on it but which i never addressed and mailed to my friend Maure when she and her partner had a baby boy.

the sad thing is, i know i’ve written about this before. because i have other unwritten cards and letters and packages i meant to send to people before it was too late only now it is too late and i don’t know what is wrong with me.

even now there is, sitting in my room, a box of hand crocheted baby clothes that i once sealed in gallon ziploc bags so they would fit in a box the mail lady gave me well over a year ago so i could mail them to france. back to joelle. and then, after she died, to the grieving family of joelle.

i wonder if i’m avoiding something. what? i don’t know. but there is often–not always–some sort of disconnect between my well intentioned heart and putting the address and the stamp and the thought behind it together and complete the action so it does more than just counts. so it might actually brighten someone’s day or lift someone’s heart instead of sit, unfulfilled, uncompleted in mine.

shortly before she died, Logann was the subject of a special fast among her family and friends. i suspected at that time, having been through it with my own mother, that she was at a crossroads. deciding whether to suspend treatment (that is the correct word, but cancer treatment is hardly a treat and it often seems to postpone, rather than cure) and come what may.

in any case, even though it was not our fast sunday and my fasts are far from perfect, i fasted for Logann with all my heart. i messaged her on FB because i wanted her to know how much i love and appreciate (present tense, of course) her and to thank her for courage and her heart. i wanted her to know my heart was joined with hers and those of her loved ones on that december day.

i wasn’t expecting a response, but she responded in her sweet beautiful generous innocence. and even though i didn’t get to say goodbye. i got to say “i love you” and receive her love right back.

and i have to think that is better than goodbye.

but i still regret not having sent that postcard. or made that last key lime pie for dave. or…

[Day 76 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

stairs

I remember the first time I heard about someone falling up the stairs and I thought to myself, “that’s impossible.” It’s a contradiction and just not possible.

And then one day I was returning from lunch at work, with a bag of food in one hand and a full cup of apple juice with ice (one of the few places where you can option in fruit juice instead of soda for the free drink with your combo meal) and I did it. I tripped on a lose piece of edging and I fell UP the stairs.

The contradiction comes from thinking you cannot fall UP. Which may be true. But you can very well fall DOWN while going UP the stairs, in which case your head will (hopefully, unless you find yourself completely tumbling heels over head DOWN the stairs) land higher than where your feet were previously standing and you are in fact, falling UP the stairs.

In any case, it still hurts. I was proud of myself for not spilling apple juice all over the carpeted stairs (do we not all have this holdover from childhood–a fear of spilling things, especially sticky things?). But I dinged my knee on one stair, and, in that way we seem to do when we get older, was later quite stiff in the shoulder from catching myself with my arm before I full on body slammed.

That old saying pride goeth before a fall? It doesn’t return easily after. The first thought always, even before taking stock of what hurts and what doesn’t and what is it you can’t feel anymore, and before patting yourself on the back for catching your drinking before a single drip spilled out, is this:

“Did anyone see me?”

Several years ago I was walking through the pile of crisp fall leaves along my neighbors sidewalk. Unbeknownst to me, the sidewalk was not a smooth path, but rather a series of disjointed rickety-rack cement blocks–kind of like an Escher–where the roots from his (the neighbor’s, not Escher’s) many trees had risen up in rebellion against the pavement.

I timbered straight over like a tall tree without knees to catch its fall. Fortunately just before I face-planted, one of my branches (arms) caught the brunt of my fall and I caught myself.

The first thing I did before assessing the damage was look around, hoping no one had seen.

The street was completely empty.

If a tree falls in an empty city street and no one hears it, did it really happen?

Only if your shoulders really hurt the next day.

[Day 75 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Cast out our fear

Admittedly, I’m not the best faster in the world. Not even a good one. But I try. And Sunday, even though as I left for church I felt weak and as if I might have a blood sugar reaction, I kept trying. I figured if I made it to church all I had to do was sit for three hours and then I would come home and break my fast with some peanut butter (protein and sugar).

As I slid into the bench I opened the hymnal (which is weird–normally I sing from my iPad, which I’d left at home–but also beautiful, as I needed to feel the weight of these words in my hands as they sunk into my heart).

1. In fasting we approach thee here
And pray thy Spirit from above
Will cleanse our hearts, cast out our fear,
And fill our hunger with thy love
.

2. Thru this small sacrifice, may we
Recall that strength and life each day
Are sacred blessings sent from thee

Fill us with gratitude, we pray.

3. And may our fast fill us with care
For all thy children now in need.
May we from our abundance share,
Thy sheep to bless, thy lambs to feed
.

4. This fast, dear Father, sanctify–
Our faith and trust in thee increase.
As we commune and testify,
May we be filled with joy and peace
.

Text: Paul L. Anderson, b. 1946. (c) 1981 Paul L. Anderson and Lynn R. Carson.

I could hardly finish the song, being so overwhelmed by such a personal response to what I needed, but hadn’t yet articulated in prayer:

Verse 1: I’m desperate for my heart to be cleanse of worry and strife and for the sense of fear and foreboding I often feel to be cast out and replaced with faith and love.

Verse 2: I want to remember daily grace. And recognize in particular the sacred blessing of strength that is not my own.

Verse 3: Though I am often overwhelmed by my day-to-day life, the deepest desire of my heart is to feed His sheep and for a kinder, gentler world where we recognize that we are all His children and work together to share from our abundance.

Verse 4: Commune. I’ve not yet found the words to express how deeply blessed I’ve felt through the past year by being able to gather with members of my ward family to worship our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even though I arrive alone and sometimes find myself wondering who will make room for me on their bench, I feel such a beautiful sense of community.

C is for Cookie

CisforCookie
Mea Culpa! Proudly carrying on the time-honored tradition of spoiling with sugar grand-babies who didn’t eat all their dinner

Some of my favorite recipes in my mom’s rusted old recipes tins are the cookie recipes. As I recall, all her batches must have been doubled or tripled, because they all called for 5 1/2-6 cups of flour.

My personal favorites are the carrot cookies, with grated carrots and iced with an orange juice glaze with real orange juice. And–wait for it–Wheaties cookies, made with actual Wheaties flakes.

Perhaps I loved them best because I could argue for their nutritional value. Carrots! Real Orange Juice! Whole grain cereal fortified with at least 8 vitamins and minerals!

Have I written about the raisin* filled cookie recipe? That’s the one I recall making the most as a child. After mixing the dough you form it into long rolls, wrap it with waxed paper, and take it out to the freezer in the garage.

When I was a little older and braver, I used to sneak out into the garage and slice off a tiny end of the roll and twist the wax paper back over it as if nothing had happened.

Which was a brilliant idea, except for when you couldn’t stop yourself from sneaking back out for another slice.

I got caught once. That is to say, someone finally noticed that the long rolls of cookie dough were no longer long.

And I lied about it.

I’m not sure I ever got caught, but it’s what came to mind when I first realized that at some point in the copying over the aged, dough splattered recipes once again, either the recipe was mistranslated or someone incorrectly multiplied the doubling or tripling. And the way I knew the recipe was no longer true was because the taste of those little snips of stolen dough is seared in my tastebud memory.

In my quest for the recipe of my childhood (and also because they are my brother Jon’s favorite cookies and I love to surprise him with them when I go visit) I did a Google search. I found recipes that seemed the most similar. I made several batches, even making adjustments on some of the recipes in my quest to find the one true recipe for raisin-filled cookies. At one point I found it and copied it from my Aunt Jean. But now neither of us can find it.

I sometimes wonder if I’m being punished. Both for my sneakiness and for my lie (which, as noted before, I generally avoid because I’m really not very good at it). And the real recipe is lost forever, a sort of curse, if you will, for my cookie treachery.

Post Edit: One time, on a whim, I made these cookies with dried tart cherries instead of raisins in the filling. Let me tell you, there was never a better raison d’ĂȘtre (for me or for tart cherries) than this.

[Day 74 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Addiction

I was standing in the archway of Melody’s house when Shane came to the door to find me and tell me that Kate died. I’ve written about this before. But the shock and disbelief are still as real to me now as they were to me then. I didn’t believe him.

I didn’t know if I should go find Lynda to be with her, one of my best friends and Kate’s mom, or if I would be an intruder in such a moment of personal tragedy. But my gut said go so I did.

Lynda told me later about the look in my eyes when our gazes met as I held her when the coroner carried Kate’s body across the threshold of her apartment and to his vehicle. I felt guilty about not being able to hide the raw horror I felt at witnessing what up to that moment was the most awful thing I could imagine–losing a child. My face is an open book but that was one moment in particular I wished I could have rewritten to mask the distress with comfort, hope, or peace.

“Don’t feel badly,” Lynda said. “When I saw the horror on your face I knew that I would not have to endure this alone.”

Generous words, of course. Because even as a close friend who grieved Kate and grieved her grieving family, I still could never imagine the grief that Lynda bore. That she still bears. Because I’m quite sure the hole violently ripped in your heart when you lose a child never truly heals. At least not in this life.

Kate died of an accidental overdose of Methadone. She was a recovering addict whose tiny frame must have somehow become too saturated with the drug that is responsible for far too many accidental deaths of recovering addicts.

I still mourn kind, beautiful, vibrant, loving, waif-like Kate. I’m still so grateful that the last time I saw her she was looking up. So blessed I had the chance to say goodbye.

Some time ago I got a frantic call from another friend and her mom whose life has been afflicted with addiction. Her own and that of many family members. I was asked to step in and help a family friend in a way they could not. I tried to get other help–because I was worried for my own safety as well–to no avail. I finally called his number.

“This is Dalene. I’m just calling to see if you’re ok. If you need a ride.”

Silence.

Then this grown man–someone I see with so much potential, so much to give, so much of the world ahead of him–broke down into helpless, hopeless, sobs. And I cried with him. Because I feel his despair, even though it is not my own.

I want to help. I want to fix this.

And I can’t.

There is nothing–not one thing–I can do to make this better.

[Day 73 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Refugees – “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”

This is all going to be a jumble since my heart has been in a jumble over this already.

*********
My eyes sting with tears when I see images of their faces. I’ve read a few of their stories. But not too many. My heart was too heavy.

I deliberately avoided the news and social media for weeks because I could not bear to see the body of the little boy in the red shirt washed ashore on the beach.

I saw the photos of the traumatized dirty-faced boy from Aleppo–an ancient country many of our presidential candidates did not even know existed. Did not even know was a country. I tried hard not to look to closely, but the vacant, hopeless stare in his eyes is haunting.

*********

My son Zack recently graduated in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. He lived six months in Turkey and Jordan. This is his friend Abu.

abu

And Zack’s Facebook post on September 6, 2015.

Every month I have the chance to fast and pray for something particularly troubling or a trial in my life or someone else’s. Last night it was clear what I should dedicate today’s fast to. This is my friend Abu Rashad. He is a Syrian refugee living in Jordan. He works in a small vegetable garden behind a school and sends the money he makes home to his family. He is the father of four children who were all severely injured when their house was bombed, most are now missing limbs. One day he showed us a photo of his two year old nephew who was killed in a bombing. Abu Rashad is one of the kindest and loving people I’ve ever met in my life. We’ve laughed, worked, eaten, cried, and prayed together. He is my friend and my brother. This fast is for him and for his people.

*********
A mother, separated from her children.

A 5 year old boy, separated from his mother.

A trusted man who has risked and sacrificed much to serve our country as a translator for nearly a decade.

A girl who was coming here to care for her sister who had to interrupt here studies here because was in a bad accident and has no one else to help her.

Two elderly people who were denied access to critical meds while they were detained.

Two children, US citizens, traveling with their mother, who was detained because she is from Somalia.

A distinguished scholar who was coming here at our invitation to help fight HIV/Aids.

Families. Professors and students from universities across the country. Doctors. Professionals. Scholars. Employees. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Sisters. Brothers.

People who were traveling here legally. People who in some cases have already invested and sacrificed much in order to comply with an already rigorous vetting process that takes a couple of years. People who in some cases literally have nowhere else to go and no one to turn to.

These are just a few of the people who were immediately affected by the executive order on immigration and refugees.* When, without any credible threat that had precipitated such measures in times past, we up and changed the rules with no apparent thought as to the people whose lives we would put in a tailspin.

Detained. Deported. Desperate.

I literally cried late Saturday evening when I saw the crowd attorneys dedicating their weekends, pro bono, to help these stranded travelers.

And again when I saw the news and realized there were still people being detained and deported on Sunday.

And again when I saw the news and realized there were still people being detained and deported today.

We are a nation of immigrants and refugees.

This–turning them away without forethought or good cause–is not who we are.

Note: Yes, I am aware that this has been done in the past by other presidents. Yes, I support safe borders and careful vetting. Here’s a link to the current vetting procedures.

Here are my primary objections:
1. This action was taken without credible threat. 2. We have actual video (not media reports) of this administration calling for a Muslim ban and of Giuliani boldly stating that Trump specifically asked him how to put a Muslim ban in place. No matter what they call it, I vehemently oppose a Muslim ban. If history has taught us nothing else, it should have taught us the perils in religious discrimination and persecution. 3. Due to the hastiness of this action there was no plan in place for those who are here legally but who were en route from other countries and those who have worked hard to comply with the already rigorous vetting process currently in place.

[Day 72 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Liken unto us

[I want to be better at recording a few thoughts that have strengthened my heart of late. I will pre-date them so as to note when the occurred.]

For the first time in a bit I had a slow Sunday morning and made time to read the Sunday School lesson for this day. One of the passages struck me in a particular way:

8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

9 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.–Joseph Smith History 1

As I was reading, I suddenly felt this passage in terms of politics instead of religion. The cry and tumult are great and incessant. Everyone is zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenants. I am laboring to understand and yet at a loss to discern what is true.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

And for the first time in awhile, I felt at peace. I remembered that I do not have to sort it out from the clamoring. All I have to do is step away from the noise, sincerely ask, and then listen to the spirit in my heart.

small awards

“…things you do that you think should earn you a reward.”

Before I spend too much time getting hung up on the semantics of award and reward, the first thing that came to mind simply because I first read the prompt as “reward” is how some days, not very many, and especially not now that I’ve shelved my crockpot for an Instapot, 6pm me used to be very happy with 6am me (let’s be honest now, my 6am days have dwindled in recent years) 7am me when I plan ahead well enough to have thrown a pork roast and some Liquid Smoke and a generous amount of Pacific sea salt in the crockpot before I went to work.

But if we are talking about small awards (and by “small” I mean postponed and by no means small and by “award” I mean extra stars or whatever awards they hand out in the next life for those moments when the battle is internal and you conquer the sometimes natural impulse to defend yourself and instead choose kindness), I would have to say every time I return unkindness with kindness. It isn’t easy. And it’s not to say there are not times when the right thing to do is to speak up and defend yourself, which, I fully believe, is possible to do kindly.

It’s more about the times when you take it on the chin for something that was not your fault, or even worse was an error on the part of your accuser, and often, despite your very best efforts to be a team player and to support people and to give them what they need.

Even if they sometimes reject it like a magnificent block in volleyball or basketball. You know. The ones that make the highlight reel because they seem to shove your shot or your hit right back down your throat as if it never even happened.

Those moments take courage. And I don’t always have courage. But when I do I feel good inside my heart knowing I’ve been true to my best self.

And on a good day, that’s really all the award, or reward, I need.

[Day 71 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]