Possum Trot

My dear brethren, sistren, et cetren,

As an illustration of my wild/wacky/wonderful West Virginian life, I am sitting in the tiny little Charles Town library (we usually email at the church but decided to switch it up this week) where they have a library card on file with a sticky note that says “the elders” on it. We were allowed to use it to lot on even though we are “the sisters.”
A fun fact about missionaries is that we are very popular among small children but very unpopular among dogs. I think the dog community puts us in the mail/newspaper delivery category. I have always been a little skittish around dogs I don’t know very well but since I got here and became a puppy pariah I am even more jumpy around dogs. This week we were walking around a neighborhood when I heard a ferocious yapping approaching from behind. There was clearly a dog wanting to nip at my ankles and me and my fleece-lined tights and practical shoes were having none of that. Without thinking, the natural person in me had me grabbing my purse off my shoulder and about to swing it at the dog. I promise this was not intentional and was purely instinct. Fortunately the spirit of my calling kicked in and I thought better of hitting somebody’s dog with my purse-ful of copies of the Book of Mormon. I turned around and realized that the tiniest, least ferocious rodent/dog was on my tail (so to speak) but I still ran away. I just hope nobody else saw my would-be battle because my companion is having enough of a field day. I’m praying for better dog skills.
This week was kind of special because we had exchanges! Exchanges are when you trade companions (PS: should there be a reality show called “Comp Swap”?) for a few days to make sure everyone didn’t forget how to be a missionary and probably secretly to give people a break from their companions. Sister P and I missed each other but it was also like a fun slumber party with our Sister Training Leader who came to Charles Town with me while Sister Pratt ventured abroad to the neighboring area. It was just a li’l bit terrifying because I was semi-in charge instead of being like a baby that Sister Pratt carries around in a little front pack. I kept having to “make decisions” and “talk” and other very scary activities. This was especially hard when all four of our lessons on Friday fell through. Two of them just didn’t answer their door, one of them said she couldn’t make it after all, and one of them called to cancel, which is becoming a real luxury. By the time our last appointment cancelled, my temporary companion and I just kind of laughed for a long time and then cried a little bit too.
Sidenote: a gentleman just walked into the library who is looking very regal in his white hair, leather jacket, and beret. He’s thinking very seriously about checking out a DVD of “Spanglish.”
Anyway, in the face of a gaping stretch of empty time, Sister Westbrook and I decided to heart attack someone. I’m not sure if heart-attacking is strictly a Mormon practice or if it’s known in the secular world as well? In any case, it is the act of taking a bunch of heart-shaped pieces of paper and writing nice things on them and sticking them to someone’s door. We had a friend who was just feeling down this week so we decided to heart attack her door, which was a blast, even in the cigarette-scented hallway of her apartment complex aka our craft room. Around 10 minutes before we were supposed to be home, she and I were trying to figure out what to do with our little chunk of time again. Poor Brother Noel broke his leg this week (but he’s a total champ and came to church this week rocking his BYU sweats and Ugg boots) so we started sticky-note attacking his door when who else but his fellow Mormons and next-door neighbors drove up and said “What the heck are you doing on the sidewalk like that? Come into our living room.” so we had the BEST impromptu Family Home Evening with them all writing nice notes to put on the Noel’s door.
Mama Tyrell continues to deliver hardcore on the food front. She taught me how to make beet-picked eggs this week, which apparently EVERYONE makes for Easter out here. I also casually mentioned my deep love for waffles so she fed us so many waffles with strawberries and cream and said that next week she would make us chicken and waffles. Waffle heaven out here.
Yesterday was the women’s section of General Conference!! Sister Pratt and I rallied a little crew together to snuggle up on a friend’s couch and eat guacamole together while we watched. The theme was “Families” (shocker, right?) which I expected to trunk me way out but instead I started thinking about all the sweet families I am working with and about my title. I think there is something really sacred about being called “Sister” by everyone we meet. If someone says “the sisters” everyone knows that’s me and Sister Pratt, even though we call everyone brother or sister at church. Right now I’m sort of a full-time sister, which is really cool. What is especially unique is being called “Sister” by strangers because that sort of recognizes our unity under the family of God even when we seem to have nothing else in common. It makes me way more open-minded when I am talking to new people.
Well, I sure love ya, ‘preciate ya, ‘preciate everything you do for this ward. I hope that Easter brings you all some feelings about Jesus and renewal and the atonement and all that good stuff. I loved each and every one of your letters this week and you can all expect responses this week because I had an actual letter writing festival today. It was the best. My address continues to be 14 Deerbrook Drive, Charles Town WV 25414 if you would like to write me. I love hearing from you and I am grateful for all the good friends and family I have back home,
Sister Ashland

Happy Oprah Day!

Oprah Day, for those of you who don’t know, is a holiday I invented. It can happen every day if you have the right attitude. Oprah Day is any day where you feel like Oprah, particularly when she is giving out cars/$$$/other aspects of her bounty gleefully because she can. I try to make every day Oprah day by 1) recognizing that I have bountiful blessings, 2) sharing those blessings, and 3) feeling like Oprah dancing around onstage saying “You get the peace the gospel brings! and YOU get the blessings of coming closer to Christ! and YOU get the love and fellowship of a ward! and YOU get the comfort of the Holy Ghost! and YOU get the deepest questions of your heart answered! YOU ALL GET THE LOVE AND BLESSINGS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER HAS IN STORE FOR YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” So happy Oprah Day, everyone.

This Oprah Day brought lots of adventures and opportunities for personal growth. One such adventure was the new trainer/trainee meeting on Wednesday, aka MTC reunion time. All of the other greenies (aka new missionaries) and their companions gathered together with the mission president and his wife for some learning. It was so magical to see my pals from the MTC and I kind of had to cry forever because they grow up so fast! I grow up so fast! Where does the time go! Aside from watching some very sobering driving safety videos, we also did some role-playing. FYI, missionaries role-play constantly. We never stop. I don’t even remember who I really am because I have adopted so many personae for the purposes of role-playing. Also, we’re supposed to call it “real-playing” so that we will remember to make it real. Classic mission terminology. We were doing a ~real-play~ where Sister Pratt and I were being taught and another companionship was teaching, and our mission president was going around and observing our activity. I was embodying one of our investigators, who is a cat lady and a self-described “red hot Pentecostal” who calls us “Missionettes” and heats her house with a wood-burning stove. I was doing my best to be really real in my real-playing and maybe hamming it up a little bit/a lot bit. I watched our mission president trying not to laugh as he was observing but he super failed and started laughing so hard he had to leave. When the activity was done, he said, “Sister Asplund deserves an Oscar!” and that was probably the proudest moment of my mission so far.

Something strange about my experience here is that nobody can ever pronounce my name. I’m pretty sure it’s not hard, but everyone struggles. I’ve never experienced this before. It must be some feature of the region by which my name doesn’t look phonetic? Or maybe seeing the name tag makes people overthink it. I don’t know. I just tell people to call me Sister Applesauce if they forget.

I had a very eventful Sunday, specifically because we took a trip to the temple to watch Meet the Mormons! It was so much fun and being at the DC temple made me feel like I was a Bryn Mawr student all over again. I loved it. We brought our li’l investigator and her mom, neither of whom had been to the temple before, and they both had a great time. I saw a missionary who I knew in the MTC and there were crocuses AND daffodils! Spring really is happening at last down here. We drove down with Mama Tyrell, who packed us sandwiches and her son and another family all in one minivan, and then there were three other minivans full of people. It was wild. My companion and I were in heaven just sitting in the car for an hour and resting our brains. Missionary work is super fulfilling socially on good days, and pretty draining on hard days. The parts of me that are more introverted are stretching a little because we talk and talk and listen and listen all day long, and because Sister Pratt are in sight and sound of each other at all times. Fortunately when you’re with someone that much you learn how to feel alone together, and we definitely have car rides sometimes where we just relish the quiet.

On Saturday we had social media splits, which means that wherever we went we told people to take pictures of us doing our thing and put them on Facebook or wherever. Allegedly these photos can be found under such hashtags as #socialmediasplit and #baltimoremission but I am a certified non-social media user so I don’t even know for sure.

This week we have been doing family history street contacting, which means that we share cards that have familysearch.org instead of mormon.org on them and we talk to people about family history work. We also are introducing our friend who is a recent convert to the world of family history work. I feel like I might become a family history nerd after my mission, so be careful. Watch over your binders carefully to make sure I don’t steal them and keep an eye on your Mormon grandmas in case I hang out with them and talk about our favorite apps together.

I love you pals, I hope you’re having fun reading the Book of Mormon because I sure am! Super thanks to all the wonderful people who have written me this week, my heart skips a beat every time I check the mail. If you want to drop a line, my address is 14 Deerbrook Drive/Charles Town, WV 25414

May the force/spirit be with you,

Sister Hashtagsplund

Church Ladies

After I finished my weekly email party last week, Sister Pratt and I joined some elders in an attempt to hike a li’l nugget of the Appalachian Trail called Maryland Heights, which overlooks the convergence of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. It was a beautiful day and I got to wear my leopard printed sweatpants and bejeweled sunglasses so I was happy. However, when we got to the trailhead, we were super not allowed to hike because of some downed power lines. The elders decided to try to find a shortcut and we decided that this was a terrible idea, so we parted ways. As my companion and I were walking back to our car, we passed a group of dubious ruffians and we made our missionary faces (aka smiling as if you’re old friends with everyone you meet) and one of them said directly into my mouth as he passed me, with his lungful of cigarette smoke, “Heyyyyyyy giiiiirrrrllllll.” I was tasting cigarettes all day and I still kind of regret that I was too disgusted to try to nourish him with the good word of God.

After our failure to hike, Sister Pratt and I wandered around downtown Harper’s Ferry and into a fair trade emporium run by a very peaceful lady. She saw our name tags and said, “Oh, I know some of your coworkers!” and we introduced ourselves and she said, “Well my name is Sarah… I mean Sister Ellis!” I don’t know, it was cute. It’s fun to try to bridge the gap between all the mystery and jargon of the world of Mormon missionaries and other people, especially hippies. On that note, we have been referred to several times this week as “the church ladies,” which I love for some reason. In olden times they called our kind “lady missionaries” which I kind of love but would probably kind of hate in modern times.
This week we also had a southern feast at the house of a ward member who goes by “Mama Tyrell” (who is basically a (self-identified) redneck version of Bammy, can you imagine how amazing???) She made us fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, chicken gravy. She kept apologizing for not making biscuts and worried that we would not have enough food. For dessert we made a cake called “Bonnie Butter Cake” which she made from a recipe she hadn’t visited since her teenage years and which was on a tattered page torn from a cookbook. Very romantic. Sister Pratt was frosting the cake and Mama Tyrell kept encouraging to “give it more sex appeal!” I need to procure that recipe for myself. The specific adaptation was “Pineapple Cream Cake” and I want to tweak it to have more acidic/pineappley goodness. She insisted that we take the whole cake with us so we spent the rest of the day delivering sexy slices to anyone who would take them. I ate the remainder for breakfast the next morning which was a wonderful mistake.
This week my assignment as a baby missionary was to start taking the lead in inviting people to be baptized, which was TERRIFYING but very rewarding. We are teaching a girl who just turned 8 and whose mom is sort of coming back into the church, so she will technically be a convert. Hers will be the first baptism of my mission. She’s so excited to be baptized and her mom is really happy about coming back to church. I love teaching them. We do family home evening with them and our li’l investigator gets to direct us in a skit of the portion of the Book of Mormon we’ve invited them to read that week. She loves being the boss, obviously.
Speaking of the Book of Mormon! I am having a great time reading it. I started right when I got to the MTC and have been reading a little every day. Reading it has become such a relaxing, nice part of my day and it’s just been so fun somehow. Anyway, I am going to try to finish it before my trainer goes home in June and I would challenge you all to read along with me. I am in 2 Nephi 15 so you can skip 1 Nephi or try to catch up. Read with me! It will be fun!
OK I love each of you. I got several letters that had been forwarded to the mission office on Friday, so it was basically like an extra birthday. I am blessed to be friends with some amazing letter writers, so congratulations! I wish I could introduce y’all to the cool people I’ve been teaching and getting to know and take you on drives around the rolling hills of West Virginia at sunset or through historic downtown Charles Town and feed you all fried chicken and bonnie butter cake. I would love to keep hearing from y’all, my address remains 14 Deerbrook Drive, Charles Town WV 25414. I would especially love to hear some testimonies, conversion stories, and all about what you believe in because that is scripture! And I love to share with my pals who I teach!
xoxo forever,
Sister “Like that tree company, Asplundh?”

Big Dog & Pappy

I feel that this week can best be summed up through a few small scenes from missionary life:

We were having a conversation with two couples and we got into a theological discussion about the nature of God and were chatting about it when a fellow in the group, who is very big and tall who always wears suspenders said, in such a tone as to settle the matter once and for all, “Ahhhh testifahhh to you….. that Gaaahd…. is a perfecteeeeeeeeed…… glorifaaahhhhhhhhd….. MAYUN.”
A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses rang the doorbell at our apartment, which was an event with an irony I’m still trying to wrap my head around. We traded materials and there’s still a copy of The Watchtower lying around somewhere.
I ate dinner at a house on Tally Ho Road, which runs parallel to Leather Lane and Ole Barn Road. The family I was eating with told me about shoveling the walkways of two of their neighbors, one of whom is named Big Dog and the other who goes by Pappy.
On Thursday at 6:30 I woke up with a sore throat and a sniffle, looked at the blizzard outside, told my companion “I feel like a garbage can.” and went back to sleep until 6:30 that evening.
I’m happy to report that I feel much less like a garbage can now and that the snow has mostly melted. Those obstacles aside, we had another week of great teaching, even when we had to teach an 80-year-old widow about the law of chastity.
At District Meeting, where the missionaries in the area gather to talk about how our progress is going, give each other support, and share advice, I was called to be the “District Fireball” which is a calling where I keep everyone pumped during the meeting.
I had a dream that I was on American Idol with some of the missionaries I was in the MTC with and President Eyring. I also had a dream in which one of the ward members said to me, “Whatever the question is, look at your palm. There is the answer.” and I woke up and wrote it down because I thought it was really important at the time. What does it all mean??? Fax me some halibut???
I really enjoy working with the ward, including driving out to an address West Virginians often refer to as “40th and Plum” as in “40 miles out of town an plum up the holler” (seriously though, I’ve heard that joke at least three times since I got here) to help a sister who had a house fire clear out some of her belongings. She’s an amazing sister/total mountain woman and basically the whole ward was up there hauling stuff around to various locations. I love seeing that kind of community support and I love that as a missionary I have been able to just jump into the center of ward activity. I went to sacrament meeting for the first time on Sunday (we didn’t have it last week because of stake conference) and I definitely could have named at least half of the people there.
The community as a whole is also wonderful. There is so much good work to do and I feel like my nets are full of fish to the point of breaking, if you will. I wish I had more time in each day to meet new people, study, build up the community, teach people, help people make progress they want to make, do service, write letters, etc etc etc. It is really great to feel useful and like I have something to offer that people want and need.
Finally, here is my spiritual thought of the week, which my companion taught me: specific prayers get specific answers. As I’ve been voicing exactly what I need or exactly what I need to know, I’ve been able to see more clearly the hand of God in my life. Try’ton!
I’ll just include my contact info in every email because it is so much subject to change. Write me letters! at 14 Deerbrook Drive, Charles Town, WV 25414
I love you humans a lot and I hope you are all doing great and don’t feel at all like a garbage can.
Sister Askand (ye shall receive)

Apple Pie Ridge Road

I made it! I’m doing it! I’m a missionary! I rang a doorbell! The most important update is that I am doing really well and having a good time and doing good work. I’ll try to get into more detail chronologically.

On Monday we prepared to leave the MTC. I made bookmarks for the other missionaries in my district, which is probably the most Mormon thing I’ve ever done, and the elders apparently spent four hours collaging boxes for us to put our study supplies in. A lot of care packages come into the MTC in these perfectly sized boxes for scriptures and other study materials, so they cut out pictures from various lesson pamphlets and foraged around campus to find enough of these little cardboard boxes and decorated them with pictures of Jesus to give to us as parting gifts. It was very silly and very touching and I cry a little bit every time I get one of my many, many pens or books from my Jesus box because those elders are so sweet. We had a very emotional and special final evening together blessing and praying for each other. It was a lot like Senior May Day for you Mawrtyrs out there. We got in past curfew (sorry, God!) and got all of our modest skirts in the right suitcases so that we could FINALLY FLY AWAY!! Which I was so excited for.
When I finally arrived I was full of worry about making a good impression on my mission president and his wife and meeting the other missionaries. My mission president and I ended up having a great interview together. We both cried and I left the meeting feeling loved and respected by him and feeling like we’re very much on the same page with our missionary philosophies. It’s too bad we only have a short time together because we get along really well.
I also finally got to meet my trainer, and she is great! She’s like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. I’m a little intimidated because I feel like I will never be as together as she is but we get along really well and have fun and do good work together, even when she wants to listen to EFY music while we drive. When I arrived she put a balloon shaped like an alien in my closet with a li’l sign that said “Welcome to Charles Town!” and we now use that alien in role plays. We are calling him Ivan.
Everything about my first area is cushy. I live in a huge townhouse with my companion and I have a giant bathtub and walk-in closet all to myself. The ward loves us and loves to feed us, and the area is beautiful. I’m in Charles Town, West Virginia which is a wide geographical range that is mostly rolling country. It has a little downtown where we street contact and every building there is beautiful. Lots of old houses out here that are great to look at.
I also have been using my German so much! There is a senior German sister serving in the mission and a young Elder from Austria and a German exchange student living near some ward members who I am chatting with. It’s been a really pleasant surprise and I have to say that I super feel the gift of tongues helping me out.
I’ve had pretty much exclusively amazing lessons so far. Everyone here is interesting and they have a lot of stories about weird miracles. I have yet to meet someone who I don’t love and every morning I leave my apartment excited for all the new people I’m going to meet and looking forward to seeing those I have met again. We teach a lot of old ladies. I love it. I feel super blessed to have had relatively few challenges so far. I love praying all the time and making new friends all the time.
I miss all of you though! I love every word I hear from your lives and I hope y’all get a change to write me. My new address is 14 Deerbrook Dr/Charles Town, WV 25414
Sister Applesauce (as my bishop calls me)