Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Thrill Before the Storm

This was one of my first writing assignments as a college freshman.   We were instructed to write a descriptive essay.   It's one of my favorite things I've ever written.   It's not some great literary work and it took tremendous restraint not to correct the many things I'd like to change now.   I cringed at some of the cliches and my tendency--overuse-- of repetition is evident.   Then, there are the tense issues.   It is a favorite, though, because, as I wrote in the previous post, it was one of the first essays I ever "saw."   It is also a favorite because it is a description of the storms I regularly witnessed growing up on our farm.   I loved watching the approaching storms and taking shelter during their short reign over the land.   I post it as part of my mission to record a part of myself on this blog, for myself and my children.

I am standing in the middle of a yard.   A large brick house is about twenty feet behind me.   Directly in front of me I can see a large pasture full of lush, green rye grass.  A herd of cattle is grazing in the back of the pasture and a group of pecans look over a barn sitting on the right corner of the pasture.   From where I stand the world around me seems to have turned into an expectant audience.   It seems to be holding its breath, waiting not for calm before the storm, but for some spectacular display that nature appears to be preparing.

The first noticeable change is that in the sky.   Usually a calm sight of light blue with feathery white clouds, the sky is transformed, in a matter of seconds.   It has taken on a blue-violet shade of color and the soft white clouds, now heavy and grey, seem confused as they swirl through the sky.   At regular intervals, flashes of lightening make their appearance.   The white, jagged flashes look as if they are tearing through the sky.   As one flash of lightening makes its cut, a tiny thread of silver, like the silver tinsel of a Christmas tree, streaks through the middle of the white flash.   For a second the world is lit by a silver glow, like a huge flashbulb camera has snapped a picture.   The new shade of the sky affects all the colors of the land below, making them more intense.   The trees and grasses are bright green and they glow against the blue-violet sky.

Along with the changes in colors, the storm also brings wind.   The wind begins as a soft, cool breeze.   The breeze barely touches the grasses of the pastures and only tickles the leaves of the pecan trees.   The metal chimes on the back porch softly ring with the flow of the wind.   Gradually the breeze becomes stronger, as it rushes around me.   The cool breeze that barely touched the grass now surges through the pastures, looking like it is control of the pastures, leaving the blades of grass standing at attention.   The wind blows through the pecan trees and, looking up, I can see the top of a tall, old tree swaying, like a flickering candle flame, with the wind.   I can hear the sound of brittle pecan limbs breaking as the limbs snap and later hit the ground with a faint thud.   The chimes on the back porch now ring louder and more often, being shaken by the wind.   In the distance a dull banging sound can be heard, and looking in the direction of the sound, I see two aluminum gates, tied together, being blown against each other.   Clothes still hanging on the clothesline are popping in the wind, with a sound like that of a cracking whip.

The small herd of grey Brahman cattle in the pasture, that just minutes before had been calmly grazing among the rye grass, is now alert to the changing weather.   The cattle seem to be charged with a sudden energy throughout their bodies, as if the wind rushing around them is sparked with electricity.   The cattle slowly lift their heads from their grazing, raise their noses toward the sky, as if smelling the coming rain, and begin to run around the pasture.   The calves gather in a group and begin to explore this strange situation.   They run across the pasture, tails sticking straight up in the air, kicking out their hind legs, and bawling excitedly to each other.    The cows are not far behind, running to catch up with the calves.   The herd makes a few more trips around the pasture before settling down to stand under the group of pecan trees in the far right corner of the pasture.

No sooner than the cattle reach the trees, the sound of the coming rain can be heard.   The wind blows strongly until the rain has finally reached the pastures and is coming down in a steady flow.   Now the sound in the air is that of the driving rain, occassionally mixed with the bellows of the cattle attempting to stay dry under the pecan trees.   The sky is a dull blue-grey color now and the wind has settled down to a slight breeze again.   The chimes ring every so often and the sound of the rain hitting the metal roof of the barn I've taken shelter in covers the sound of the limbs I can see hitting the ground.

It seems that the colors and wind before the storm have moved ahead now and the rain has settle in for what looks like a long stay.   I can see the grass lying flat and the limbs of the pecan trees bending down under the pressure of the pounding rain.   After coming to life with the colors and sounds before the storm, the grasses and trees seems to be limp under the power of this rain.   Although the rain hits heavily against the metal roof, I feel like I have witnessed nature's true power and beauty in the thrill before the storm.

Accepting the Gift

In a previous post, I mentioned that I found a folder of writing from college days.   I decided to re-type one of my favorite pieces in my next post.   It was the first thing I wrote where I was conscious of how my brain worked in relation to writing.   It was the first time I was really able to see how I was weird.

I was identified as Gifted and Talented in fifth grade.   In Louisiana, that meant an evaluation primarily based on an IQ test, with other evaluations weighted to lesser degrees.    I was "serviced"--school district's term--through a pull-out program.   That meant that on Tuesdays, a special G/T teacher came to school and took us out of our classes for the whole day.   We met in our G/T classroom that was in a portable building and did enrichment-type lessons that usually included a novel study at their core.   The last time I checked, in Louisiana, teachers who teach gifted classes, at any level, must be certified by having a Master's Degree in Gifted Education, or they must be in the process of obtaining that degree if there are no other candidates available for the job.   Parents of the gifted in Louisiana have had a strong lobby presence, so they work harder than some states to serve the special needs of gifted students.

"Special needs."   In Louisiana, I was a Special Education student, with an IEP.   I didn't really think about that until I was in high school.   As part of a research paper, I borrowed books from my teacher.   They were her books from college days in the 1970s.   I was shocked and a little frightened at the descriptions of giftedness I found.    I knew at some level that I was wired differently from so many around me, but I had never seen it actually described as being something almost akin to disability which required special services.   I didn't want to be in the G/T program any more and since high school offered honors classes, I didn't have to be in G/T to be challenged.    In reality, I didn't stop being certified G/T; I just elected to drop the one class offered at our small high school.

About three years later, I had two experiences in college that made me revisit being G/T.   The first was a realization as I watched a syndicated episode of The Waltons.   In this early episode, John Boy Walton is making his own realization about himself as a writer.   He is suddenly conscious of the fact that there is a part of his brain that is always watching, as if separate from himself, and that part is actively describing the situation in his head.   It's as if it is writing it as an event happens.

It really bothered me.   It left me a little shaken because I realized for the first time that I did that, too.   Sometimes, in the midst of a situation, there is a part of my brain that is "writing" about it.   I'm not consciously aware of it at the time and I don't hear the narration :), but later, I can retrieve it and take dictation.   I did this often in college as I wrote letters about my week to my friend, Regina.    It doesn't happen in every situation of my life, or even in the majority of them, I guess.   More often, it's just a particular line or paragraph, or an overall theme or structure.

The second experience came when I was taking an advanced composition course.   The professor asked us to come individually to the office to pick up our papers.   When I received mine, I guess I had a look of disappointment.   "It's a good paper and you made an A," the teacher said.

"I know," I said, "but I never SAW it."   She stopped and stared at me and I realized what I had said.

"You see it, too, don't you?"   she asked.

There was no way she meant what I did.

"You see the paper in your head, before you write it, don't you?" she asked.

I nodded.

"You can even turn the pages of the finished paper in your head, can't you?"

I nodded again and said, "When it's right, yes."

When I wrote something, I only felt good about it if I was able to match it with what was in my head.   
She shared with me that she could do the same thing.   We were kindred spirits for the rest of the class and I started to feel comfortable with being odd.   I started to work with it instead of against it.   It was a tremendous breakthrough when I admitted in a special education college course that I was G/T.

I still have other qualities that are typically found in the G/T population and while they are  'gifts,' they don't always make life easier.   G/T is different from being "smart" or "high-achieving."   It is about being weird and wired differently.   When that weirdness is identified and developed, it can be a great thing.   When it's not, it can lead to frustration, underachievement and a lack of self-esteem.    

Thursday, 18 October 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

round button chicken

 ~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

Every Thursday, at Like Mother, Like Daughter

I'm having to combine two weeks on this post.


I was blessed to go on a girls' weekend with four amazing women.   It was a grand time with great conversation, food, fellowship and much laughter.   We were able to experience the first cold front of fall as it blew in and attend mass together in a beautiful little church.   We also shopped at the local trade days event.   Near closing time, we came upon a booth with some beautiful religious statues.   One of the owners said her sister had started hoarding statues and she managed to get her to sell some of them.   "Make us a deal!"   was her cry.   So we did.   And she accepted our offers.   I thought of Mama as the seller let me get boxes of more statues from under the tables.   Mama loved to be the first one to unwrap things before they were set out for others to see at a sale!

 Above are pictures of  our collection of beautiful statues we bought--rescued--on our trip.   The seller said she was glad they were going to people who would appreciate them.  

One of my rescued items: this little wood carved Our Lady of Perpetual Help as it now sits in my home.


Honestly, just the sight of ROYAL MAIL in my mailbox makes me happy.    When it marks a package containing great British drama, I'm more than happy.

I've been waiting for this one for months.   As part of a Cultural Olympiad, the BBC produced television adaptations of three of Shakespeare's history plays: Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and II and Henry V.   I've watched Richard II and Henry IV, Part I so far.   They are amazing.   Beautifully done, they are authentic and accessible.   I'm looking forward to watching the rest as soon as I possibly can.

This is another one I had on pre-order from Amazon.co.uk as soon as it was aired in the BBC.   Parade's End is a television drama adapted by the great Tom Stoppard, based on the novel series by Ford Maddox Ford.   It was directed Susanna White, who directed one of my favorite British dramas, the 2005 BBC Bleak House.   

I am one happy Anglophile!


Little brothers need dress-up, too!   Clad in his Superman shirt, here sits Thomas, beaming as he holds up his new Hawkeye costume.   Hawkeye is the never-miss, archer-assassin from Marvel's The Avengers.   Thomas has carried the little bow and arrows with him since he got them, even to my oral surgeon appointment.   He's just disappointed it didn't come with a quiver.    So, he slips the bow in the back of his shirt.


Whilst looking for last year's tax return (not that I was at the last minute filing before the six month extension deadline--nope--not me), I found a file of papers and essay exams from college.   I used to file everything BC (Before Children).   What I found sometimes made me cringe as I read it critically, but it also reminded me just how much writing has meant to me throughout my life.   It reminded me that I need to make a focused effort to write regularly, through this blog, private journals, and actual pen-and-paper letters.    When I graduated from college, I had plans to teach whilst writing young adult fiction.   Then, I would go to graduate school.

Teaching didn't allow for much work on the side, though, and later came children of my own.   This blog sparked my return to writing and made me realize how much writing is a part of me.   So, I committed to take time to write, no matter if what I produce is ever read.   It's the process that is as important to me as the product.

From a blue book exam.  The sight of a blue book still makes me happy.   It took great effort to control physical signs of my excitement on test days.

More than one English professor shook her head and said, "What a waste," when I told them I was an Education, not English, major.   At the time, it just made me want to teach all the more!

Still one of my favorite things I've ever written, it was just a description of one of many approaching storms I witnessed growing up in Louisiana.   It was the first organic piece I'd written where my writing voice could really be heard.

Monday, 1 October 2012

October 1: Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese, known as the Little Flower.   Along with St. Jeanne d'Arc, she is Co-Patroness of France and one of only three women officially given the title
"Doctor of the Church" because of the profound truths and teachings contained in her spiritual writings and more importantly, in her life.   Her writings are few, memoirs of her life and spiritual journey she wrote under direction from her superior at the convent.   Her life was short, only 24 years, ended by tuberculosis.   However few and short her writings and years, the love, power, grace, and glory contained in them is limitless.   She is still teaching and touching lives today, 115 years after her death.

I began a devotion to this great saint before the birth of our oldest daughter.   We gave her the middle name, Therese-Marie, when she was born so she would have the intercession of two powerful patrons, St. Therese and the Blessed Virgin Mary.   It's really kind of hard to top those two when it comes to female names!

Early morning celebration for our oldest, with Therese-Marie as her middle name

Our youngest daughter has Jeanne d'Arc as her middle name, so we have faithful French Catholics covered!

Beyond obvious reasons for choosing Therese as her middle name--reasons easy to realize upon reading a biography of the saint--we had several specific reasons for our choice.   My husband is of French and Acadian French heritage.   Some relatives came to Louisiana directly from the Continent, while most of them arrived in Louisiana after being exiled from Acadie (present-day Nova Scotia) by the British.   France is called the "Eldest daughter of the Church," but she has not always been the most faithful daughter.  Case in point: the French Revolution.   There has always been a strand of anti-cleric and anti-authority sentiment in France since Catholicism was established.    For the settlers of Acadie, who found themselves isolated and only served by a traveling priest once a year of even less, these strands of independence became even more pronounced and are still evident in Cajuns (as the exiles of Acadie became known after they settled in Louisiana) today.   We wanted the protection and intercession of Therese, one of the faithful French Catholics, as a sort of counter-balance to some of the negative aspects of French and Acadian Catholicism.  She is a reminder of all that is good about France.

St. Therese as Joan of Arc in a play at her convent.

We also chose Therese because she is an excellent role model for modern girls.   She was a child of a firm middle-class family in France.   Her family's name was respected, she lived in nice homes and wore fine clothing.   She had nice toys, a good education, and loving attention from her family.   She chose to choose all--and surrender all--to God as she felt called to join the Carmelite order.   In a most-wordly and increasingly secular France, she chose God.   What a wonderful example to any girl or woman, no matter her calling!

Below is a link to a piece I wrote after reading Heather King's life-changing book, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux.   I wish I could afford to hand out copies to every person I meet.   It changed me and continues to do so.

 Thanks be to God for the Saints who inspire us, guide us, and lead us closer to God.   St. Therese, pray for us.

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