Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Becoming a "Townie" in Buena Vista - The Library

We lie in my big king-sized bed this Wednesday morning and breathe a bit as a family after the running of too many days on end and the puking in between the running.  We should be able to ignore the calendar when we are sick, but somehow we don't.

Cecily brought the virus home having picked it up on the dangerous streets of downtown Buena Vista . . . or possibly from some sneezing child at preschool - one can never be sure where they unknowingly consent to host a virus.  Cecily shared it with Ewan.  This is no surprise as Ewan is forever seeking hugs and kisses we are bound to share a bit of whatever it is that lurks on us.  Ewan shared it with Jonah.  This is no surprise as Jonah cared for Ewan so tenderly at 11pm when he was throwing up in his bed the night before.  Jonah shared it with Matt, but Matt has not puked since 1991 so his will has become stronger than any virus that has made the attempt on him in the last twenty-one years.

So far Caroline and I remain undisturbed, but for the puke on my shirt and neck, sheets, towels, floors, rugs, beds, and toilets.  It's just not my puke.  While Jonah slept in my bed yesterday Caroline and I did two math lessons.  Jonah woke up periodically and read enough to finish The Two Towers and then gently beg me the rest of the day to pick up The Return of The King for him which was on hold at our local library.

Finally, around 3:00 pm the girls and I walked into the library where Tori, the twenty-something librarian was waiting at the counter.  Before we could even say "hello" she had fetched our book for us, laid it on the counter and asked with incredulity "He's finished The Two Towers already?"

"Yep, he's been sick today, laying in bed either reading or sleeping and then begging me 'Mom, please go get my book for me' ".

"I love this kid," Tori exclaims.

I love this town, I think.  Much as I miss, pine for, yearn for, try not to think too much about the Salt Lake City Library, no one ever knew my name at that library.  We had to have been some of their most frequent patrons, but no one ever saw us come through the door and had our books picked up and checked out for us without us so much as having to produce a library card or even give our names.

Susie is the sweet forty-something librarian who is a "townie" through and through.  Which is to say she is pure Virginian, mumbles softly in southern drawl such that one westerner must lean in closely and listen hard to translate the loosely shared English.  She wears cable knit sweaters with flowers or seasonal decor such as reindeer or elves on them.  Tori calls her 'The Goddess of the Library' because she knows all the answers - even if you have to listen hard to discern them.

Several weeks ago I had all four kids at this very small library in the middle of the day.  As I was checking our books out Susie leaned in close and whispered "Your kids behave real good."
"Thank you," I replied as we watched a band of children who did not belong to me stomp through loudly, throwing fits and pulling books off the shelf.  They are not bad kids, just unsupervised kids who spend the limbo hour between school and Mom-getting-off-work at the library because they have nowhere else to go.

Recently Jonah returned a movie (The Secret of Roan Inish which you should watch if you have not).  He jumped out of the van and ran in to deposit the movie which we are not allowed to put in the book-drop.  He came back saying "Man, Tori was in there.  I wanted to stay and talk.  For several days after I kept checking our account to see when they would apply the four dollar fine I knew we owed on the movie.  When it never appeared I knew Tori must have had a hand in it.

A few months before that Susie took pity on me when I was trying to pay my library fines which, at twelve dollars, were alarmingly high to her.  Again she leaned in close to me and said very softly "Don't tell nobody, but I'm gonna take half that off for ya."
"Ok, I won't tell nobody," I whispered.  "Thank you."

So consider yourself not told, because I don't want to betray The Goddess of the Library's trust.  Bad things might happen, and we can't live without the library.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Clint Eastwood Has My Phone Number

I have learned the profound difference between Utah and Virginia.   If you look at the following map closely you might see it right off the bat, whereas clarity came to me only after fifteen months in The Commonwealth and a presidential election.  

Matt and I are registered Independents because the only thing we can unabashedly affix ourselves to is our faith and each other.  I will tell you up and down and seventeen days from Thursday that I am a Mormon.  I will also tell you with as much gusto that being Mormon does not a Republican make of me . . . or a Democrat.  What it makes me is a believer in Jesus Christ.  Politics, with all its exclamation points, does more to threaten my inner-discipleship than persuade me to align with the many and varied philosophies of man.  

When Matt and I bought a house in a Salt Lake City neighborhood we had a kind fellow from our church who lived nearby stop at our door to welcome us and get us registered to vote.  How very helpful I thought him.  How very petulant he thought me when, knowing I was a Mormon, I refused to mark the box that declared me a Republican also.  My 'X' by Independent was nearly as offensive/disappointing as it would have been had I just out and told him I was a Democrat.  

The heart of the problem is this: how can one party possibly represent my mind on every issue?  Can I not be of one mind about immigration, while being of a very different mind regarding healthcare?  And being of such disparate minds how could my legs straddle the grand canyon of thought and opinion beneath them.  So there I stand - in a camp of my own making.  Independent.

Utah has no time for me.  The sheer crimson-ness of it swallows up politically independent citizens.  "We don't need you," declares the machine.  "We have all the votes we could ever want.  Go ahead and set up your tent in any corner of the political landscape that suits your fancy."  Which means my phone never rings.

Virginia is desperate for me.  The first I heard of this development was when Malina Mara from The Washington Post came to Buena Vista looking for people to interview and take photos of for a piece highlighting Virginia as a "battleground state."  We have a good friend at Southern Virginia University who called me with about an hour's notice and asked if I might represent what he considered to be a thoughtful and moderate Mormon voice on the roll of faith in an election.

You can find a brief excerpt of that interview along with a photo of me at the following link.

It was through this conversation I began to understand that my registered independence might be viewed differently by the political machinations of "Old Dominion." And so my phone rings.

My phone rings with unprecedented frequency and urgency. 
I get calls from 
Mitt Romney
Ann Romney
Paul Ryan
Clint Eastwood
The National Rifle Association
The Republican National Committee
Americans For Responsible Leadership
The National "Don't Forget to Vote" Association
Republicans For No Taxes
Republicans For Government So Small There's Hardly Any Left
Republicans Who Tolerate Mitt Even Though He's Mormon
Republicans Who Hunt Large Animals 
Holly Brisburne, an actual person, who called last night hoping I would be voting for "our President" today.  I wondered if she knew that her eleventh hour call came on the heels of two weeks of at least a dozen calls a day from the Republicans.   My phone number is at the top of the Possibly Persuadable list and the Republicans must have spent a whole lot of money to that end. 

So the Democrats were a little short on the phone campaign.  They must have spent their money elsewhere, assuming they would catch me while browsing YouTube, or countless websites whose creators might have felt a twinge of irritation that they had become a canvas for democratic appeals.

Not only did my vote this morning count - it could possibly count BIG TIME.  I live in an unpredictable state that could, ostensibly, decide the next president.   

 I have voted.  I feel good about that.  I am not going to reveal my vote as means to maintaining my true independence.  Or really just because the notion of defending my political thoughts and actions to anyone but Matt gives me the heebie-jeebies.  And you are anyone-but-Matt.  Much as I love you.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Virginia's Fruit

Virginia has brought us a good many things, and fruit is one of the most heavenly.  I'm sure there were more opportunities for picking in Utah than I took advantage of, but here it seems the thing to do.

When the seasons of berries, and peaches, and apples roll through, the neighbors start heading out "over the mountain" into Amherst county to get a bushel of whatever is hanging ripe from the limb or vine, or bush.  They stop at my front door and ask "shall I bring some back for you?"  Or they offer their juicers and canners with a clear expectation that this has been on my calendar all winter.

So I have started to put it on my calendar.  And we have started to make the trip over the mountain ourselves.  And we have begun to put strawberry jam in the freezer and homemade applesauce in jars on the shelf.  We are preserving, eating, delighting in what the earth gives us.

This year I didn't take from the earth all that it would have happily given me.  I spent all of the months of May through mid October abstaining from fruit and my weak will could not have borne the hardship of letting the juicy stuff go from my hands to bottles bypassing my mouth entirely.  But I am happily eating fruit again with a new and appreciative tongue.  This comes at apple season which means we are up to our ears in apples.

April gave us strawberries.  October gives us apples.  The months in between would have offered raspberries, blackberries, grapes, pears, and peaches.  Since we have none of these to keep us happy through the long winter we are marking the months of 2013 according to what fruit will fill our kitchen, stain our hands, and grace our pantry.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

SLC to D.C.

So many babies, so many little people, where once there were just those three Rasmussen kids being their own kind of little people.  Such a cyclical and multiplicative thing is life.

It felt good and nostalgic to be in the same room as so many of my family at one time.  I am grateful to Emma for coming all that long way with the most extraordinary baby Colin.  I am grateful to Katie for being brave enough to let us all descend upon her at once so we could enjoy the visit together.  

Matt and I tried to make our clan a bit scarce the two days we were in D.C. while Emma was there.  Babies need a bit more peace than our four feisty little people can offer.  So we took the Metro in to the Smithsonian stop on the National Mall and took Matt to see a few things he had never seen before. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Ewan Wins the Jonah Look-Alike Contest

                            Jonah                                          Ewan

{Again at Washington & Lee with the Lee chapel behind us. }

Ewan's three older siblings imbue him with more personality than he has words for.  His face tells me he could be four-years-old, but his little tongue is still grasping at sounds that make words.  Ewan has speech therapy twice a month.  Miss Cheri comes to our house and we talk about techniques and games that encourage communication and articulation.  He's made progress - he has stopped calling me Daddy, and finally whines for Mommy instead.  Only if there is no Daddy around, because if Daddy is around Mommy doesn't exist.

This parent dichotomy brought on self imposed trauma for Ewan yesterday afternoon when Matt came home from work.  Heartless Matt went to the bathroom and shut the door with Ewan on the wrong side of it.  I was on Ewan's side offering comfort but he wanted none of me knowing who was on the other side.  Ewan screamed, pounded on the door, sobbed, yelled "Daddy" over and over again.  

Within a few minutes he evidently tired of his own histrionics and finally quieted with his forehead resting against the door in a completely defeated posture.  After a moment he turned looking for some distraction or consolation.  Still uninterested in me he opened the dirty clothes hamper to see what treasure might be lurking inside.   

Eureka!  Ewan pulled out the pajama bottoms he had been wearing earlier in the morning while eating breakfast.  He hunkered up into the corner and began prying off the bits of dried oats and popping them into his mouth one at a time.  There he sulked and snacked until Matthew emerged to rescue him.

This is what we call self reliance.

Ewan is a happy child.  His siblings love him and include him in most of what they do.  He wants to be with us and he wants to play.  When he settles into a fowl mood he makes himself heard by continual screaming.  Like most good parents we try nearly anything to stop the shrill shrieks.  Occasionally we let him watch the LDS Youth 2012 theme song, "Arise."  He almost always jollies immediately and sings along or dances.

Here is one such occasion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Finding the Stage

{They are walking along the side of Lee Chapel where Robert E. Lee is buried at W&L}

These two went to school yesterday . . . kind of.  We have a woman here in this small town who has transformed a few things. Her name is Susan Hogan. She owns an art studio and offers art lessons.  She owns a small cafe called the Blue Dog Art Cafe where she displays local art.  She runs a theatre program in the elementary and middle schools.  And she runs a very affordable three week summer camp called Kids University.

The kids put on a play and they do all kinds of art projects.  Yesterday Jonah and Caroline shuffled in to the auditorium a bit apprehensive about this new school-esque experience.  But in the 60 second process of checking in they saw half a dozen kids they recognized from church and one of them motioned for Jonah and Caroline to come sit by him.  Off they went.   Off I went.


By the end of the day when I picked them up in the POURING rain they were giddy.  "We're doing a play, Mom.  It's Winnie the Pooh.  I'm making a collage.  We get to design flower beds at Penny Park.  I think I might try out.  I want to be a Bumble Bee.  I made a new friend."

Today when I picked them up Jonah announced that he has been cast as Christopher Robin.  And Caroline will be a Bumble Bee.  We have already been to two of the plays that Ms. Hogan has produced.  The kids have loved them, but shied terribly at the thought of being on stage.  It is their turn now.  As a homeschooling mother I am thrilled for them to have this experience independent of me.


It's like rubies.  Precious.

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Dark Week

What happened to my fifteen minutes a day?

This happened.

This photo was taken by an S&I secretary in Charleston, West Virginia as the Derecho approached their city.  It looks like the ocean has taken to the sky, rolling in to engulf the land in its watery wildness.  Strange that there was no rain.  This storm carried anger more than water.

This is one tree on one hill in one little town along the path of the dreaded Derecho that hit June 29th, last Friday night.  This happens to be in my little town, but thankfully it is not my tree.

Here is what happened in our house.

We were just finishing watching a new-ish Rhett and Link video on YouTube, sending the kids off to brush their teeth and put their bodies in their beds when a ferocious sound came to life outside.  The wind howled in astonishing maleficence.  Our lights flickered at about 9:30 pm, then vanished into the darkness, carried away with the wind traveling north.  We had no idea what had whipped through Buena Vista.  We had no idea that it had left all of West Virginia flat and tangled before it reached us, or that an hour later it would visit Katie and Roane in D.C. and carry their electricity away as well.  We thought it was our thunder and lightning, a wind belonging to the Shenandoah Valley that left a bit of debris in our yard from the trees we were already fixing to have taken down.

We knew the location of one MagLite that even had batteries in it.  We lit the few tea light candles we had and made ourselves a big family bed on the floor in the living room.  When morning came there was still no electricity and the scene outside was more destruction than we discerned in the dark attack the night before.  Had we known what was happening around us Jonah and I would never have gone out in it, hand in hand, looking for the neighbors chickens that we had taken responsibility for that morning when they left town.

By nightfall we had seen the fallen trees and power lines everywhere.  We saw broken houses, torn siding, roof shingles blown away.  We heard chainsaws everywhere.  We passed mega lines at every gas station where they were running out of gas and only selling what they had for cash.  There was still no power and our house was hot by then so we packed up and slept on the floor at the institute where there was electricity and air conditioning.  Then again the third night.

The fourth night we took up residence in another family's home who were traveling in Utah and had power.  We had thrown out most of the food from our refrigerator, saved some by filling the institute refrigerator and divided our freezer food between four different freezers in town.  Jonah was sure I would forget where to collect all our frozen food.

I felt strangely unfazed by the ordeal.

"Oh, hello Transience, my old friend.  We met last year around this time.  Do you remember?"

I remember.

"Last year you were a flood.  This year you are wind.  But I am not troubled like I was the first time."

I know now that my babies can sleep just about anywhere once they are tired.  I learned that we all want to serve each other so much we are almost grateful for calamity just so we can say "I have this you can use, or eat, or have."

We make new friends and talk to people staring at the same empty shelves at the grocery store that should have milk but have nothing at all.  We ask "Do you have power yet?"  And they say "Oh no honey, we ain't got power or water.  We got a generator keepin' the fridge cold, but now there ain't no milk to put in it.  WalMart ran out of bottled water on the first day."  And then we say "God Bless.  Good luck," and we go back to our slightly disturbed, displaced lives and feel the heat, hoping that those two hundred electrical workers that came from out of state to fix everything remember our neighborhood.

The Rasmussens are all home now.  We are fine - no one hurt or harmed in any way.  The fourth of July brought fireworks and electricity in our sockets.  There are a few things that we need to have in order before the next encounter.  Like filling our water barrels, purchasing many batteries, candles, and maybe a generator.

Mostly I am grateful for the way a whole town becomes a familial refuge.  There is a House of York, a House of Lancaster - we are the House of Buena Vista, southern, rough, educated, blue collar, middle class, dirt poor, shirtless, well dressed, Mormon, Baptist, Episcopalian - but one house.  And I think our whole house has their lights back now.

Friday, June 29, 2012

On Giving Myself a Generous Fifteen Minutes

Oh Dear.

What a lonely spot this has been since my letter to Mr. Nelson.

Some of you I talk to.  Some of you write things that I read.  Some of you write nothing and I wish you would.  Some of you write things that I wish I read, but rarely sit down to steal the time from some other pressing thing.

And that's the crux of my life . . . not lately . . . just life - many pressing things.  Too many for me to feel truly content, too many for me to feel I am without purpose.  No shortage of purpose - I've got that queued up at my door knocking relentlessly, giving me a raised eyebrow and a tap on the wristwatch.

I am sifting through the many pressing things and feel to budget all the minutes of a day as I would the dollars of a paycheck and see what can be made of them when they are used with great deliberateness.  So, fifteen of those minutes will go to writing for you.  It's for you, for me, for Jonah who will look up jethrodesia and read lots of posts lots of times because he has finished all the books from the library in a week and is eager for more words to ingest.

I don't know what this blog is.  I have no theme, no constant, no real direction.  I avoid writing because I don't have time to compose.  My Mom sees it as a lack of information about her grandchildren.  I see it as a failure to tap something at the center of me that when tapped, makes me feel less anxious.  Writing that is.  When I write regularly I am fulfilling some basic need in me.  Should it be funny, should it be insightful, should it require me to cast off the little grasping fingers of the Ewan who is now trying to pry me away from the keyboard?

Matt says "Don't compose, just write for the record."  He knows a thing or two about "the record" having read so many journals in the church archives and keeping his own to rival that of Wilford Woodruff.

I don't write because of the guilt that comes when avoiding the tasks of running a household and educating our children.  But when I don't write anything, ever, all the mundane work of a woman is condemned to mundane forever.  If I write, then what was once mundane passes through the ringer of self analysis, reflection, the lens of humor, consideration on the cosmic nature of scrubbing the truly disgusting toilet in the bathroom upstairs.  Writing clothes my mundane in consequence.

I need to see something of consequence in my work.

So here is my fifteen minutes today.  If I remember, I will try it tomorrow.  If I do it the day after that you will begin to get a taste of my life - if you're interested . . . if you don't have too much laundry to do.

But this is not totally honest.  This is thirty minutes of today.  The wicked indulgence.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Dear Mr. Nelson,

All my mothers are white - the Anglo-Saxon Eve of European emigration crossing the Atlantic for as many reasons as there were crossings.  I have borne white children, but I have borne them American, and therein lies a kaleidoscopic identity louder than white.  

I am a harassed, homeschooling mother in a small library in Lexington, Virginia, carrying a baby, watching a toddler, trusting two older children to keep themselves alive among the shelves.  There is a book on display - Heart and Soul - with a woman on the cover so dark, so fierce, so determined I cannot pass her up.  I slip her and her little black baby into my bag not knowing what she will pull from us, what she will give to us over the next month.

We have read so many books.  We have learned so many important things from so many authors, but you are the first to whom we all knew we must write and say "thank you."

I grew up in the Southwest and Mountain west United States.  The history of African Americans has always felt like a story removed from me - separated by a continent, an ocean, another continent.  Having recently moved to Virginia we are feeling the tide of African American history come in around us.  Here we are immersed in the ongoing story.  Here we become part of the narrative, and you are among our first guides.

While the geographical parallels of our new home and the tortured slaves in your book settled upon my son, he cried and pleaded with me to go home, back to Utah, away from a place where these things could happen.  I can tell him there are nearly two hundred years between us and this story.  I can tell him the pages that follow offer some resolution.  But I cannot tell him that some divine panacea distilled upon the American heart making true brothers of us all.  Every heart is converted and committed to a prismatic humanity in their own single moment.  

This child, my child, this nine-year-old, white Jonah is in the midst of that moment.  He can now shed some of his own skin and try on something more human, more universal, because you taught him a little about how to respect a human being, be they any color at all.  You taught my six-year-old Caroline that no soul should be standing under the whipping tree.  And honey, you taught me that I can be brave.

Thank you for this story.  Thank you for the paintings you gave us to go with your words.  Thank you for all the things we will now see, the places we will go, the things we will read and learn because we first read Heart and Soul.
Your Sister,


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dusty Sunshine and My Debut as Kin To A Star

My little sister is one remarkable woman.

(Chani, please forgive my photographic indulgence, but I love that we have at least this one photo of us.)

When Matt and I were first married I think Chani was 12.  She was a singing phenom then and is a singing phenom now.  Although her repertoire has changed over the years.  Back then it was teeny-bopper-pop music in sequin jackets singing on a makeshift stage in Fremont Park while a dozen parents sat on metal bleachers cheering on their own star in the making.
The Show Biz Kids.
Of the lot, Chani was THE star.  Don't they all wish they could have sung it and swung it like Chani?

And the girl has never given up.

She is no longer the kid grabbing the microphone to borrow a song from some other artist.  In her relatively new band, Dusty Sunshine, Chani, along with five other musicians are writing and performing their original songs with their own flair.  All without any sequin vests.

The Las Vegas Thompson Brothers of Light Forge Studios are busy in the local Vegas music scene and they have brought us a new music video of Dusty Sunshine, featuring my very own sister as the lead singer.

I am no music critic.  I could tell you there is a banjo involved and that might give you a sense of what they produce.  While this particular song does not include a fiddle, Megan Wingerter is often adding that to the mix.  Here she is playing a mandolin instead.  And I'm pretty sure their percussionist, Courtney Carroll, is beating out her rhythm on my Mom's 50-year-old black traveling trunk that used to hold old photographs and a velvet wedding dress.

I am so proud of Chani.  How it must feel to create something that you are good at and send it out to the world.

Well done my sweet little sis.  Only wish I could have been there with you and Mom for the Neil Young tribute.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

We have a lot of nicknames in our house.  Matt christens us all, routinely, with something new to answer to.

A few examples:

Jessica, Jae, JaeReg, Reg, Reggie, Jethro, Jethrodesia

Caroline, Carlo, Carlotta, Carlotta Kumquata, Kumquat

Jonah, Yonut, Fro-nut, Yonus Fro, Donkey Nut, Donut, Bon-oh-me-oh, Bon-oh-mc-me-oh

Cecily . . . she says hers is Cecil

Ewan, Bald-e-wan,  Brick Density

Obviously the nick names are not necessarily an effort to shorten a name, or even associated with the given name in any way.  Matthew's mind works in mysterious ways.

Another obvious is that Cecily is strangely lacking any nicknames.  None have ever stuck to her.  Which is odd considering that 'Bon-oh-me-oh' sounds just like 'Jonah' to my ears.  Where is the connection?  Nowhere.  It is Matt's gift of persistence that stitches a name to a person.  But like Peter Pan's elusive shadow, no nicknames have settled on Cecily long enough to start sewing.

Jonah and Caroline are, evidently, adopting their Dad's practice.  Yesterday Caroline declared "Jonah, I'm going to call you Phoebe."  To which Jonah responded, "I'm going to call you Carton-of-Jurassic-Buttermilk."

We'll see if those stick.

That would be Phoebe on the left, JaeReg in the middle, and Carton-of-Jurassic-Buttermilk on the right.