Saturday, October 29, 2011

Catherine the Casting Director

 By The Missionary Sister

While many people may think of me as the actress in the family, the flair for the dramatic didn’t actually start with me. It began with Catherine.

Actually, I have her to thank for my being an actress and not a director. Why? Because, in my sensitive budding artistic career, any inclination of mine toward directing was promptly crushed. As the oldest child and the driving force in all decisions great and small in her little sister’s life, Catherine was the self-appointed director, producer, script writer, and costume and prop designer in every one of our award-winning two-person productions. And directing was never in my job description.

One of her favorite shows to put on in our living room was Beauty and the Beast. We were obsessed with the movie to the point where we both dressed up as Belle for Halloween one year, matching costumes and all. I don’t know what we were going to do if we came upon our beloved Beast. Fight to the death, I guess.

Aside from directing and producing, Catherine was also the local casting director. Therefore, whenever she would produce Beauty and the Beast in our living room, she was, of course, Belle. Convenient. Dad was—you guessed it—the Beast. This was a choice of necessity, as he was the only male she knew. Except for the dog. But he wasn’t very cooperative. And do you know whom I was cast as, every single time?

Mrs. Potts.

That’s one to go on the résumé.

However, as the years went on, Catherine became far more democratic in the putting on her theatrical productions, and I was admitted as a full-fledged member of the Rivard Actors’ Union. In high school, our flair for the dramatic broadened beyond Disney stories to those of our own making, and I would like to introduce you to one of them here.

May I now reveal to you the epic story, "An Adventure in the Mysterious Wood: A Fairy Tale."

Director:                              Catherine Rivard (some things never change)
Screenwriter:                      Catherine Rivard
Screenwriter’s Assistant:    Hannah Rivard
The Princess:                       Hannah Rivard
Guardian of the Wood:        Catherine Rivard
Production Company:          Rivard Enterprise
Artistic Director:                  Sarcasm

An Adventure in the Mysterious Wood: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. She lived on the edge of a magical forest. Of course, that shouldn’t be too surprising, since this is a fairy tale, after all.
One day she decided to go for a walk. That also shouldn’t be surprising. We need some sort of problem to befall her. That’s just what happens to princesses who go for walks in magical forests.
Unknown to her, this magical forest was home to a variety of unique creatures, including the mysterious Guardian of the Wood.

Like most magical guardians, this one was a bit perturbed at the entrance of a princess into her homeland just for the sake of a Facebook story.

Deciding to take her job seriously, she chose to help the narrators of said story by creating a trial for the princess.

She began by setting the mood with music. Yes, that’s right. All epic stories have fantastic soundtracks. This one is no different. Only she uses a penny whistle, and it’s in sepia for effect.

The princess wandered deep into the wood, following hidden trails until she was lost, ultimately finding her way into a sheltered glen. Its beauty caught her breath, and she stopped in amazement.

Her first thought, like most fair princesses, was to gather armloads of flowers. This is a common pastime for princesses wandering in magical forests. It tends to have dire results, but they don’t seem to learn.

Eventually, she became wearied of her fearsome task, and reclined among the flowers for a brief respite.

Unknown to her, the Guardian of the Wood was watching her imposition on the Guardian’s carefully tended garden, waiting, watching.

Oh, no, what’s that?! The princess whirled in fear at the sound of snapping branch.

It’s a huge vicious wolf! The princess sprang for some branches, hoping they might shield her from the terror of the forest.

This is the wolf which so frightened our fair princess. That is pretty self evident.

The Guardian of the Wood watched as the wolf stalked the helpless maid. This would be the prime opportunity for the handsome prince to ride in on his white charger and save his soon-to-be-true-love, however, since the narrators were unable to find a prince, the princess is on her own.

This could have been the prince. On second thought, maybe it’s okay he didn’t come after all.

Fear clouded the princess’ mind, trapping her until her only thought was to sing. After all, dangerous predators always turn into tame forest friends for all the princesses in the movies.

To her amazement, at the sound of her pure, lovely voice, the wolf reared back on his haunches and cocked his head, listening. Score for the princess.

After a moment he turned and trotted back to his mistress, and sat at her side. She listened to the princess’ song. “Why have you come?” Her voice sounded of the forest. Big surprise, seeing as she was its guardian.

The princess slowly emerged from her hiding place, puzzled at the voice (it didn’t take much to confuse her).

“Please,” the princess asked shyly, “I’m lost and don’t know my way back home” (directional aptitude is also not a common princess trait). “Could you please point me back to my castle?”

The Guardian gazed long at the girl, her fierce eyes piercing through the girl. Had she discovered the secret of the glen? (What this secret is, the narrators aren’t sure, but it sounded good.)

“I will take you.” The forest shimmered around them and suddenly the princess found herself standing on the edge of the Wood, her turrets of her castle visible behind the next hill.

“The forest is a dangerous place. Do not expect it to be so friendly next time.” The Guardian peered at the princess, hoping to impress upon her the danger. Princesses weren’t known for their intelligence. “Beware.”

The princess sighed, looking for an instant towards her castle, then back at the Guardian. She wasn’t there! The princess looked around wildly, and then turned, with a skip and began the walk to her castle. After all, strange things happen in the magical forest; no need to trouble oneself about silly magical matters.

The Guardian watched the princess go, hidden deep in the woods, her hand atop the wolf’s head. “Yes, beware… my sister.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Lady and the Tiger (AKA, The Bird)

 By The Missionary Sister

You wouldn’t have guessed it, I suppose, from her sweet demeanor and poetic writing.

Catherine has wicked good aim with a rake.

That’s right. A rake.

You see, there is a side of her that perhaps few people see, and that is that her very composed self can let loose into total Warrior Woman. I suspect that this will serve her quite well in Papua New Guinea, helping her with the many real dangers both large and small. Indeed, you can be confident that the Lord has been equipping her since she was young to deal with many kinds of peril.

As I said, she started young. Or, should I say, we did.

We grew up on a farm, which was excellent preparation for missions work; in fact, Catherine often told me how much she was able to relate to “missionary kids” at college simply because of her rural background. As children, we felt the full force of living on a farm, with our parents expecting us to take our full share of the farm’s responsibilities, no matter the weather, the work, or the mutant animals.

Yes, mutant animals. We had a series of serious mutant animals on our farm, and the first one was also the most dangerous. You know all of those scientists who say animals used to be much larger, taller, and heavier, beyond anything we could today imagine? Do you doubt those people? I sure don’t.

Because we had one.

We had the most serious throwback of a mutant rooster you have ever seen in your entire life. I mean, my gosh, the thing was the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and weighed twice as much as one, too. It had the nastiest, cruelest, coldest, beadiest eyes you’ve ever seen, and they could stare right into your soul—and freeze it solid.

Do you realize it still gives me chills just LOOKING at a chicken that resembles The Bird?

They say children can speak to animals. We couldn’t with most of ours, but we sure as all get out could with this one. You know what it said to us, every time we walked within 30 feet of that chicken coop?

“I’m going to kill you.”

Yeah, no kidding. We didn’t doubt it.

It didn’t matter that Catherine and I had petted and coddled and picked up and tamed those chickens to death since the moment they arrived when they were just a few days old. We tried to make them tame, we tried to do everything by the book, we really did. But when your chicken is possessed, nothing you do helps.

You just have to fight back.

As our dearest parents had absolutely no sympathy for Catherine’s and my 8- and 10-year-old plight, they didn’t rescind the mandate that we had to gather eggs, feed, and water the chickens twice every day. Twice a day stare death in the face. Twice a day make the 20-foot Walk of Death. Twice a day descend into the lair of the demon bird.

The coop is gone, but the chicken house is still there. I still remember The Bird coming tearing around the side of that house right when I thought I was safe. Ha. He knew better. I should've, too.

Catherine and I learned very quickly we needed to give ourselves some serious tactical advantage in this war, otherwise we definitely might die a really horrible early death. And, let me tell you, we had a very strong will to live.

Therefore, in our desperation, we turned to each other, forming the best little SWAT team you’ve ever seen, armed with the best weapons we could find.


Two children. Two rakes. One rooster. It begins.

We each take a death grip on the biggest, widest, scariest-looking leaf rake we can find. Sucking in a deep breath, we look into each other’s eyes, perhaps for the last time. In case we don’t get out of this, well, it was good knowing you. Sorry it had to end this way.

Back to back, we inch into the chicken coop, carefully latching the gate behind us. If The Bird got out… well, we didn’t even want to think about the carnage that might follow.

We’re in. Inching toward the chicken house, backs pressed together, heads swiveling, we try to lock in a location on The Bird. Suddenly, I squeak in horror. There he is. Behind the tree. Looking at us, sneering at us with those murderous eyes.

I warn Catherine, and as one unit we swivel, staring at The Bird. Only 15 feet to the chicken house and to safety.

But we’re not going to make it.

And time stops.

The Bird snakes up his nasty ugly head to its full horrible dinosaur height—the wings come out—the beak opens up—and with a great shrieking squawk of sheer nightmarish fury, he attacks.

As the prehistoric monster rushes toward us, Catherine and I swing around to the ready, braced for impact—and then, rakes flailing, we launch our counterattack. He’s coming at Catherine and she hits him aside!! He wheels and makes for me and I just manage to trip him before he can fly up at my face! The battle is intense! The enemy fire is withering!! We struggle to hold our ground!!

Catherine lays in with whacks and smacks while crying out tactical orders. “He’s on your right! Take him down! Never give in!” She throws open the chicken house door and we leap in and slam it behind us.

With great haggard breaths we crumple in relief against the chicken house doors. We made it. We’re alive. And we smile.

Because we are warriors.


The Missionary Sister Returns!

 By The Missionary Sister

While it is marvelous that Catherine is off for the next month in the jungle village without the slightest access to Internet, unfortunately, all the experts (whoever they are), say that such a long absence is just dreadful for blogs. Newcomers wonder what happened—if the writer is still there—if they even care.

Well, I can assure you that Catherine does still care, and to prove it, I’m writing for her in her absence, with her permission. (You hope, anyway.)

Or, in other words, you may welcome back—The Missionary Sister.

Those who explore together, blog together.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Packing. Again.

Our table, before things got packed...
Well, I have once again been sorting, organizing, labeling, bagging, and taping shut my life into various boxes and buckets. Except, this time, items are sorted into their respective containers based upon whether they are edible and non-edible… by rodent standards.

I’ve also been trying to answer those burning questions that inevitably keep you awake at night. Such as, how much toilet paper do I plan on using for five weeks? Or, since Madang appears to have been out of baking soda for the past month, what are my creative substitutes for cooking everything from scratch? Will I despise corned beef and tuna by the end? How long will my camera batteries last without recharging?

I am, in other words, preparing to leave for five weeks of living with a village family up the North Coast of Papua New Guinea in a tiny hamlet called Silum. It’s a chance for my roommate and me to live with a national family and be immersed in language and culture—in a situation stripped of many of the temptations to fall back on my American habits. Furthermore, I will be exploring the language of use of this particular village, have an opportunity to show the Jesus film, and be blessed to develop relationships with the nationals around me. I appreciate your prayers during this time, that the Lord might be glorified and His name praised in all that we do!

Although I’m bringing a household with me, one thing that can’t get wrapped in plastic and labeled with permanent marker is Internet access. Meaning, as soon as I board the truck on Friday morning (Oct 14), I will not be blogging or answering emails for the next five weeks. So, you’ll have to be patient and wait for me to return around November 17 or so before I can share my stories. In the meantime, I would like to introduce you to my lovely and remarkable sister, Hannah. Some of you may have met her already through her blogs Cambria Horsemanship and Prayers of Light, and now she will be appearing here as the guest blogger Missionary Sister :) You may recall a previous post of hers here. I guarantee, with her writing, you won’t be disappointed!

May the Lord bless your next several weeks! I look forward to hearing what He’s done in your lives—and I’m excited to share what He will do in mine!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Tin roofs are quite noisy.

I was lying on my air mattress, staring up at the dark through my mosquito net. Rain was shattering against the roof in a grand deluge, and the whole house quivered like crockery at the claps of thunder.
Yes, I decided. The traditional morota roof with its sago palm leaves has its advantages.

It was six-thirty in the morning, but dawn seemed to be sleeping in, and I could only just see the outlines of the other women in their nets. We wouldn’t be starting early this morning—rain had been pouring for most of the night. It was the third and final day of our backpacking hike through the mountains of Papua New Guinea, where our lives were rolled in plastic and tucked into 20 kilos on our backs.

Here we are, smiling and dry before we left
Our original hike team had lost two students to sickness and one to a nursing baby, so we were a threesome of expatriate students plus three national guides, who served as our teachers, partners, caretakers, interpreters, friends and much more. We had been hiking through various villages and hamlets, spending nights with local families, and inquiring about language and culture, much like what would be done by survey teams before a translation team would be allocated. We had inquired about idioms and learned how to scrape coconut meat. We taught our waspapa how to make popcorn over a fire and discovered what kind of kumu or greens were edible along the trail.

And now we were in Betelgut, waiting to start the longest and most difficult part of our hike. The town sits near the peak of a mountain, which today, had caught at the low-hanging clouds like ships on a reef, tearing open the bottoms and pouring the wet cargo in a great deluge on the trails.

So we waited. And storyed. And drank tea. And waited. And ate ash-flecked corn roasted over the fire. And storyed more. And munched on beef biscuits. And waited. And discussed our predicament. It wasn’t so much a question of not wanting to get wet—rather, our waspapa and lead guide discussed animatedly as to whether the steep, muddy, single-foot-wide trails would let us get back to POC in one piece or if the many bridge-less river crossings were now floods able to wash us to the Pacific Ocean.
If given a choice, most Papua New Guineans wouldn’t go walking in this sort of rain at all (which ought to tell you something, since they must be some of the most outstanding hikers in the world). But we were at a draw—we needed to get back to POC.

So we strapped on our backpack rain covers, squashed our hats on our ears, slathered ourselves liberally with bug repellant, and began a hike down slippery footpaths, bright with orange clay as slick as ice and often rushing with ankle-deep water. Wel graun, they call it in Tok Pisin. Literally, wild ground. My feet skittered sideways, and I found myself breathing with relief every time the path turned upwards—to descend a mountain in the rain means you might as well sit down and slide.

Here's that cute stream. Before the torrential downpour.

Where the day before had chattered with insects and birds, now I only heard the continuous rush of unseen creeks and waterfalls newly erupted down the mountainside. The cute little stream that had hosted our picnic the previous afternoon now churned across the road with a vengeance, snatching and roaring at our legs until we had to yell to be heard. Rain-hiking is tiring. And breathtaking.

It is a marvelous thing to break out suddenly on top of a ridge where the earth falls away on either side of the path, and as you look over your shoulder, all you can see is wave after wave of mountains, green dulled to grey behind sheets of rain and clouds. No houses. No roads. No people other than your companions’ breathing behind you.

Not long after we finally started, the clouds wrested their broken hulls off the peaks and began sailing toward the next ridge. The cocoa leaves waved farewell, and water trickled off their edges. I slipped off my hat and reached for a banana. After three days, we’d be home soon.