Roundup Correction

I apologize for cutting  picture of Russell Andersen in half in the last post!  I’m sure no one noticed, but if he were here, he would notice and wonder what happened to the rest of him!

Rancher Russell Andersen, Sunol, Ca.

original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen, SWA


It promises to be a crisp and sunny day when the early morning mist lifts off the spring green hills.  The live oak trees show their new leaves sheltering all manner of wildlife including the chirping of birds greeting the new morning.  It is the annual roundup at the Andersen ranch in Sunol, California.  Russell Andersen is our cousin, and late March and early April are roundup times in Sunol.  The Rasmussen/Andersen roots grow deep here in this valley, since grandfather Peter Rasmussen arrived from Denmark in the mid-19th century.  Sunol is a tiny hamlet nestled below the hills, and besides a few ranches, includes a small elementary school, a Little Brown Church, a couple of coffee shops, and a railroad station for the railroad which runs the few miles between Sunol and Fremont.

The bustle has been here since before dawn, as this is a job which needs to be finished before the day’s end.  Cowboys and vaqueros from Mexico, with their colorful outfits and silver tack are rounding up the cows and their calves which are  to be branded with the RA brand, the steers to have their horns clipped as well.  The cows are left in the pasture and the calves are pushed,  pulled and otherwise coaxed into the branding pen.  There is a cacophany of shouts and goodnatured ribbing as a calf gets loose, and is wrestled to the ground.  The branding irons are heat red-hot to put the RA brand on each calf.  Boys are hanging on the fence as two of our grandsons once did, dreaming as many country boys do of becoming a cowboy.  The cows are nervously calling and stomping their hooves, and the calves are bellowing in answer at the indignity of separation from their mothers.  As each one is branded and/or clipped, it is pushed out find its mother.  Amazingly, they find one another in the confusion, and rush off into the pasture.  The roundup is truly an American institution, since the settling of the West.

  In the house at the top of the hill, women are preparing food for upwards of 25 men and boys.  Whole families have come to help, and there is a large barbeque of beef, huge bowls of salad, pots of beans, casseroles, and good crustly bread to soak up the juices.  Libations flow freely, and as the first empty pots are cleared away, pies and cakes arrive to accompany steaming mugs of coffee.  It has been a long , hard and dirty day, and as the first crew finishes, they call  out goodnaturedly to those remaining.  Finally, after the feast, the horses are gathered to load onto their trailers for the ride home.  This ritual will be repeated the following week until all the valley has finished the branding.  Neighbors helping neighbors, much as country people have always done.  The life of a cattleman is not prosperous, since the land is too valuable, and a more lucrative living could be enjoyed by selling to the developers.  But to these people, this is the only life they could live.

                                                     Top,  Roundup original watercolor painting                 kayti sweetland rasmussen, SWA                                                    Russ Andersen, original watercolor painting                                                        

    Roundup                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Vaquero

What’s In a Name?

“The retrieval of childhood experience is one of the most mysteriously unpropitious of human endeavor,” Janet Malcolm wrote, ” neither of the two ‘I”s through which the story of a childhood is told is trustworthy.”  But Most of the stuff I say is true because I saw it in a dream and I don’t have the presence of mind to make up lies when I’m asleep.   Having clarified  that, my mind can afford to ramble. 

 Being in the military (Navy), we made an almost annual migration to many places within the United States.  Often, when my mother went to be with my father for an extended period, I did not accompany her, and instead, went to stay with my great-aunt.  I don’t recall being either happy or unhappy, and though an only child, I don’t believe I was spoiled.  Of course, that may be my own opinion.  Upon each arrival at a new school, it was my habit to change my first name.  I had no repugnance to my own given name, but as I was always an outsider,  I became an actress in my own play. The propensity began in the first grade when I was totally smitten with Jackie, a cute little redhead with dimples and freckles. Before her I became Hallelulia for a blessedly short time.  Other schools and names took their place, and the next name I recall was Elsie, named for Elsie Dinsmore (a book) or Elsie Brown a girl who lived near my great-aunt.  My Elsie was “born” when I was in the fourth grade in San Diego.  I was able to live a secret  life for most of that semester until a census taker arrived and informed my mother that she had two children; Kathryn and Elsie.  After her disappointment in my duplicity, Elsie suddenly disappeared.  Also during this year I suffered what should have been, (next to having my name change caught out), my deepest embarrassment.  The school held a talent show, and I signed up to play a selection on the piano.  In addition to no particular skill in eiher singing or dancing, I also could not play the piano beyond Chopsticks.  For my first selection, I chose a heavy duty ” Russian” piece.  Needless to say, I was booed off the stage.

  We lived in San Diego, which had been the site of near-disaster at the age of four when twin boys of six enticed me into a deep ravine near the San Diego Zoo and left me.  My memory is not one of fear but rather of anger amplified when the police found me sometime after dark.  I was given a boxing lesson the next day and threatened with punishment if I allowed anyone to treat me so again.  My first opportunity to exact revenge came shortly thereafter, and after delivering a few good punches, I was never bothered again. 

There were other name-changes, but not until the 10th grade, did I come up with the first original name of “Arvie” made up from my own imagination.  I truly loved that name, and would have kept it if the War had not started and we moved.  I was sent again to live with Auntie, a no-nonsense New Englander, who would never have understood my need for anonymity.  That was the year I was forced to grow up and accept my own identity for what it was worth.

Why would a quiet, well-behaved child choose to play-act her fantasies under a new name in each new location?  Perhaps loneliness or a feeling of inferiority, or maybe just an opportunity to escape from a life she did not feel a part of.  As adults, we cannot know what is in a child’s heart or mind.    Most fantasies are harmless, and end with childhood.  We do what we can and hope for the best.

    “Presidio  Sunset” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen                                                                                                                                                             

My Life As a Star

Growing up in Los Angeles during the Depression made one deeply aware of the movie industry, and the great “real” movie stars.  Their faces were on movie magazines, newspapers, and movies were an affordable entertainment on  a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  Everyone wanted to grow up to be a movie star.   It was the era of Shirley Temple of the dancing feet, ringlets and dimples.  Shirley and I shared the same birthday month, and though we did not share the dimples or the ringlets, my grandmother saw no reason why I could not be taught to sing and dance.  There were no beauty pageants as such, but Baby Parades were pretty common, where proud mammas dressed their little darlings in tiny costumes and entered them in local parades.  It certainly helped if the child showed some talent.  Alas, I merely marched in my beauty pageant attire, so I was promptly enrolled in dancing class.  Surprising everyone but myself, I showed absolutely no gift nor lightness of foot.  Though a tiny child, my dancing was akin to the proverbial bull in the china shop.  My mother mastered the curly hair by coaxing my straight hair into a semblance of ringlets with strips of rag, and a curling iron.  Visually, I was a cute kid with no talent.  My idol in the class was Nancy Joy, whose mother surely epitomized the well-known stage mother.   Nancy Joy was pretty, fairly talented, and her mother was certain she would become at least as famous as Shirley Temple.  She also had attitude, considered a necessary attribute for fame and fortune.  I, on the oher hand, much preferred climbing our fig tree or the neighbors’, or re-enacting the latest Flash Gordon movie.  So for a few years, reality reached my mother and grandmother, and I followed my own path of childhood sloth.

Around the age of eleven, I showed some promise of possessing a fair singing voice.    Besides the movies, radio was our entertainment.  It was the day of comedy, with Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, Joe Penner, and now and then, a female vocalist.  I spent my pennies on sheets of  lyrics of the popluar songs of the day, and learned them all.  Singers such as Deanna Durbin and Kathryn Grayson were featured in the movies.   I sang my heart out in the bath, because the acoustics are amplified by the tile and the bathwater.  (I just made that up, but it sounds reasonable.)  Being a determined woman, my grandmother somehow convinced Deanna Durbin’s singing coach to listen to me.  An interview was arranged and I had a permanent and new clothes, and off we went to allow the great man to hear my voice.  I sang  “My Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown” for him, and he reacted favorably, assuring my grandmother that my voice was at least as good as Deanna’s before she came to him for coaching.  Engaging him as a teacher was out of the question because of the money involved, but we hastened to another teacher who was cheaper and closer to home.

My lessons continued throughout my Junior High and High School years, and I participated in all the school operettas, and fundraisers, etc.  One school had a dance band which played for all the dances, and I was the “girl singer”.  Thus I never really learned to dance.  No surprise there considering my early experience.  One always must grow up, so I married and had a family, and my so-called singing career was over.  Many years later, I attended a high school reunion where my old singing teacher was being honored.   He was very theatrical, wearing a hairpiece and some makeup to assure himself that he was still viable as a younger man.  I rushed up to him introducing myself and sure that he had been curious as to where my talent had led me.  Instead, with an arched eyebrow, and looking down his nose from the podium with what I interpreted as a slight sneer, he said “I don’t believe I remember you.  Your voice must not have impressed me.”  Hugely deflated, and horrified that he had had the nerve to insult me in such a public and unkind manner, I fairly shouted “My Grandmother would not like to here that!”  He laughed aloud, stepped down from his perch, and said “You have a good sense of humor!”

So as things turned out,  I can neither sing nor dance, I have very unpeasant hair,—–But I do have a sense of humor, and I suppose in the scheme of things, that is more important.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Long Beach Baby Parade 1932


Gallup, New Mexico is a nondescript railroad town, whose main street is Highway 40.  Indian souvenier shops, bars and other places of business attract those passing through.  It lies between the Navajo and the Pueblo country, and is dry and windy.  At the far end of town, going East is Red Rock Park campground, whose main attraction is understandably, a large red rock.  In the afternoon the wind picks up, and the sand and grit fill your eyes, and tosses the camping gear around if it is not confined within a tent or camper.   Next to it is a large stadium where two or three times a year, an Indian rodeo is held.  People converge from all the surrounding  area, to watch high school boys rope, ride bulls and wrestle calves.  The enthusiasm runs high, and the spectators are dressed in their best for an exiting weekend.  Men in their black cowboy hats, boots, jeans and silver concha belts.  Women wearing long velvet or flowered skirts, all their turquoise jewelry, and shining black hair done up in chongos.  Little boys hang on the rails, dreaming of the day when they will ride a bull, or rope a steer. Well-behaved lIttle girls sit primly and quiet beside their mothers, watching the boys.

Going back into the town, in side streets are shops selling  lovely turquoise jewelry, and more upscale Indian artifacts, such as rugs, baskets and pottery.  For serious customers of authentic Indian art, Gallup offers better value than Santa Fe, which attracts a different classs of art lover.  Continuing through town to the western edge, an Indian Flea Market attracts enormous crowds of people once a week on Saturday. Indians from all the surrounding country come to trade.  Pickups loaded with fleece lure weavers.  Mothers-in-law sometimes sit atop the fleeces as they ride into town.  In some Navajo families, a married man prefers not to speak to his mother-in-law. (Or perhaps it is the other way around.) A shaman herbalist sells seeds and leaves which are guaranteed to cure everything from a cold to a broken heart.  Hats, belts, and boots have men crowding around their stalls hoping to get a bargain from the stolid, grim faced sellers.  You can buy anything from T-shirts to broken auto parts and not-so-good fake turquoise jewelry and pots from the nearby reservation.  Not to be forgotten, is a stand with the world’s best tamales.   It is a large market with several aisles, so it takes a long time to see it all.

Looking down one of those side aisles, two women were bargaining over a rustic cradle board.  The older Navajo woman, impassive and silent, was the maker of the basic unadorned cradle board.  Many of the Southwest tribes make very beautiful, beaded and padded cradle boards.  This one was bare wood laced together with leather, a hard bed for any tiny infant.  The young Navajo,very pregnant customer was not having much luck in getting the old woman to lower her price.  I stood there a full twenty minutes listening, and hoping she would make her purchase and there would be another cradle board somewhere in the confines of her truck.  Finally the old woman said “Twenty dollars.”  Just then the young woman looked at me and said “You want this.”  A statement, not a question.  I said yes I did,” but you need it!”  She said “Take it”.   When I demurred, she asked “Can you come back next week”, and when I answered “no”, she said “I can.  Take it”.  With that, she turned and walked away empty handed.   Obviously, this was the only cradle board for sale this day. Guilt ridden, and knowing the price the old woman had quoted the girl was twenty dollars, I asked what she wanted for it.  She very irritably said thirty dollars.  I pulled two twenty dollar bills out of my pocket and offered them to her without actually releasing them.  I looked her in the eye and said, “You told her twenty.”  With her hand on the forty dollars, we stood for what seemed an eternity before  she reluctantly said OK, and I returned the extra bill to my pocket.

I rejoined Dr. Advice carrying my newfound treasure, but instead of feeling glee, I could only hope that the young woman did return the next Saturday.

                                                                                                                       “Navajo Grandmother” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen


If you find that you absolutely have to pull weeds, do it on a warm sunny day in the herb garden, with the scent of mint, thyme and rosemary wafting around you.  It helps if you have a large rabbit observing you from behind a bush.  Harvey came to live in our garden this weekend, having been rescued from oblivion by soft-hearted Dr. Advice.  To be perfectly honest, he stole him from a parking lot. 

 Harvey, along with five other assorted animals, due to someone’s delightful sense of humor,  had obviously been placed in a row watching traffic.  Looking closer, we saw that each of the plaster or plastic animals was broken in some manner.  Poor Harvey was missing all four legs.  Not a good thing for a rabbit.  He seemed glad to see us, and virtually begged to leave his companions.  Sometimes you just know these things.  At any rate, we scooped him up, and here he is, hiding behind the Veronica by the waterfall, with his missing legs forever obscured.  The hummingbirds have dive-bombed him and Charlie, the Jack Russell, is bewildered to see a giant rabbit smugly daring him to attack. (As you perhaps know, Charlie’s breed has been bred to keep the yard free of rabbits, squirrels and rats.)  Harvey being twice his size, is safe and I hope his roadside companions also found good homes.

I love Springtime.  It is a whole new beginning for everything.  New Years let’s you turn over a new leaf, and vow to do better the coming year, but early Spring brings the flowering trees  out, (the almond trees were especially sweet this year after the cold winter rains).   The bulbs fairly burst out of the ground, and the bare trees shake themselves free from winter by responding with delicious new leaves.  The fig tree sprouted three new leaves today!  I always feel myself especially fortunate to be in my garden and  digging when others are still knee deep in snow. 

Incidentally,  to Harvey’s left in the photo, is the outside trim of a large Arabian horse sculpture of which I did a pair for a local rancher’s entry gates.

A New Sculpture

kilnIt has been a long night.  Too excited to sleep, I have worked and reworked this new project in my mind.   These are the sculptures I most enjoy creating.  The one’s just for me, just because I want to.  Not someone else’s preconceived idea, or a gallery which wants more of what you have already done.  Those are the lucrative, and always flattering requests, but the one you do for yourself is frequently the one you can’t bear to part with, at least until you realize you absolutely have no more space for it!  It becomes your baby.

The light is just breaking through the curtained window, and I quietly leave my bed and sleeping husband, and go to the studio.  I always forget how cold the room and the floor are when I go to it early each day.  I have washed  the floor down the night before, cleaning out the used clay scraps, which when dry, become like dust, to be tracked everywhere. My tools are clean and placed neatly on the work bench.  I prepared 25# of clay the night before, but I may need more.  Oh, how I love the smell of wet clay, plaster, damp wood.  All the myriad  odors that linger in a working clay studio.

I think the ideas which come in the night creep out of some mythical box in my head, like small pieces of paper, each with a suggestion of something new.  Beginnings are magical, the possibilities are endless.  An old hand at this, I realize that I may start several times before I perfect what is in my mind.  I have a good feeling about this one, however, so Iwill begin  slapping wads of quite wet clay around the armament to sketch out the figure.  This will go fast.  The entire piece, if all goes well, will take several weeks of sculpting.   After it is blocked in, I can use drier clay, and begin the actual details.  A few days of drying, and it can be hollowed out.  Cut off the head and hollow, cut off appendages and hollow, glue it all back together.  Then will come the wonder part of it.  The lovingly crafted features, skin, hair, clothing.  It looks pretty good, so I can set it aside for a month or two depending on its size and the weather.  When it is dry, I will sand it and make sure it is fit to put in the kiln.  If it is cracked, it may be repairable, or the crack may be too big.  I might have to begin all over again.  Better be very careful the first time.  Drying time is up, it is looking good, but I know not to pat myself on the back yet.  Kiln time!  He is inside and the temperature will gradually rise to 2800 degrees over a 24 hour period.  A day  or two to cool off, and then it is time to open the cooled kiln.  I want to do this alone, if it isn’t too heavy to move by myself.  It is really a time of birth, private and subject to great disappointment if somehow there was a kiln accident.  Blowups and cracks are caused by careless wedging of the clay, or insufficient drying time, or just because it may have been placed in a bad spot in the large kiln.  With clay, the finishing materials  can be many,  including some I have used to patina bronze sculptures.  But I am so loyal to the earth that is clay.  My ancestors in England and in Canada worked in clay, and I feel a part of them is continuing through me.  It is time to begin.

Art lives through the imagination of the people who are seeing it.  Without that contact, there is no art.                                                                                                                                     

“Heartbeat of the Earth”  original sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The Bridge Club

The noise level rises as they make their way to the front door greeting one another with hugs and air kisses.  These eight little ladies have been meeting once a month, some twice a month, for nearly 50 years.  They know each other well.  Occasionally, when someone moves or passes away, a new member joins the group.  Their children grew up together, married and had children of their own.  They have lived in the same community for at least 50 years.  There are no secrets.  They know when their children’s marriages are in trouble, and when they end.  Their own marriages remained solid, though there are only three husbands left between them.  They went through tennis, golf,  dance club, antique club, PTA, Campfire Girls and Girl Scouts,  high school football games, volunteer work and aerobic classes.  They were the first generation to recognize the benefit of regular exercise.  They learned to cook with Julia Child and to exercise with Jack LaLanne.

Dinner parties were just that—parties.  Everything was planned down to the clothes they would wear,  perhaps to match the decor of the dinner table and the flower arrangement.  These are women raised in the Great Depression, where there were very few parties, and not many new party dresses, so this period of their lives became quite special.     Before marriage, and for a short time afterward, they held various jobs.  There are two nurses and  three teachers, and one artist.   They all became the last generation of stay-at-home mothers.  Were their children’s lives any better for that?  Good question.  

Some now need help climbing up the steps when they arrive.  One has a walker, one or two sometimes need a cane.  Every able-bodied friend hurries to lend a hand getting them to their chair and a waiting glass  of “pink” wine.  The conversation is lively and constant.  The subject matter is personal,  ranging from family, husbands past and present, to politics, sex and religion or lack thereof, and always, aches and pains.  They learn who has died or moved into rest homes or senior living.  They discuss whether they will ever need to move from their comfortable homes.   Lately they have been exploring the distinct probability of their own deaths, and the desirability of burial or cremation.  Their ages range from eighty to eighty-nine, and their minds are sharp as twenty year olds.   They cannot understand why their children and grandchildren never learned this frustrating and fascinating game!

  After a social hour the hostess serves lunch, and then down to the serious business of the bridge game.  The arguments begin over whose turn it is to deal or at whose house they will meet next time.  The person who brought her glasses is the one who keeps score, because the score card is written in ridiculously small print.  Some are available to substitute in other formal bridge groups when needed, others are not.  The games last until late in the afternoon, when the hugs and kisses are repeated and they go their separate ways until the next game.

We don’t need to worry about this older generation, they were born with, and still have common sense, and have retained a good sense of values.


Sometimes things need to be re-blogged just as a reminder.


If it were not for the shadows

We should never have the sun.

If we never had the night-fall

Then day had not begun.

If we never knew a heart-ache,

Then our soul would never sing.

If we never had a winter

We should never see the spring.

If we never knew the tempest

We should never love the calm.

If we never knew the wounding

We should never feel the balm.

If we never knew some sorrow

Then our hearts could not be gay.

There may never be tomorrow

But we always have today.

“Into The Storm” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Chance Encounter

Dr. Advice and I arrived three hours early for our annual flu shot.  We were obviously not the only ones who did not read the signs posted on the entrance to the lab giving the times the shots would be given,as there were already twenty or thirty people ahead of us.  The annual flu shot has become something of a ritual.  Some  people would not have it if their life depended upon  it.  Others like us, line up like sheep, just waiting to be stabbed in the arm, and wear a sticky note on their jackets proudly announcing “I Had My Flu Shot”.  That is good medical P.R. 

A small bouncy woman who looked to be in her late forties,was in  line behind us.  It was very cold, but she had no jacket and had an out-sized fanny pack strapped securely around her middle.  She made a joke about us each taking one of the wheelchairs standing in the corner of the hospital corridor and having races up and down the hallway to take up the waiting time.  Her speech was slurred and she seemed to have trouble controllling her hands,  After apologizing for her speech, she told me her story.

She had had not one, but two brain aneurisms some years before, with resultant surgery.  One is usually enough to do you in.  Her short term memory is gone, and in her fanny pack she carried not only everything she needed for her day, but a most important pad and pencil to write down things she needed to remember.  Her sense of humor was amazing, and her self-deprecating jokes infectious.

She related a story which happened about 10 years ago in front of her local grocery store where she had gone to pick up a few things.  She had written them down, but wanted to try to remember what they were instead of  relying on her note.  An angry looking woman was pacing back and forth in front of the store.  She spoke to her and made a joke about trying to remember just what it was she had come for.  The woman seemed not to hear, so she went into the store and completed her shopping. W hen she finished and came out of the store, the woman stared straight ahead with no recognition.   The little woman thought no more about it.

A couple of years ago, when shopping at the same store, my new-found friend was approached by a woman who said “You probably don’t remember me.”  She did not remember and told her so.  It seems that on their first meeting, the woman had been listening to every word she had said.  She told her, “On that day, I was contemplating taking my life.  After hearing your story, I decided that if you could undergo all that you have, I did not have that right.  Instead, I worked to solve my problems, and I have you to thank for my life.

We are all put here for a purpose.  Most often, we don’t know what that purpose is.  I know that with her sense of humor, and her inspiring story of survival, this woman has saved at least one life.