Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year 2014

Hi. Just wanted to wish everyone a wonderful 2014......in all your pursuits, whether it's writing goals, improved relationships, or some personal quest. We all deserve a fresh start. 2014 is the year!

Some of my accomplishments in 2013:

--The blog. Last year was a huge learning curve for me as a blogger, debuting with the A-Z in April and deciding what I wanted to do with my blogger life hence forth. It is still a work in progress, but for now I am zeroing in on what drew me to blogging in the first place, my fascination with American culture and a desire to establish a web presence for when I finished my novel. I wandered about but have returned to these two goals, so progress there.

--The novel. I wish I could say I have a completed novel. I DO have a polished draft, with the exception of the first and last chapters. I realized at some point that these two chapters needed to reflect each other, so I have been working on linking the two. I have written an action-adventure with elements of mystery and romance, so I have had tons of plot details to check as well.

--Gardening pursuits. Gardening and landscaping a new yard (5 years now) has been ongoing. I'm excited to finally have an apple tree, and a vine maple. Brick edging was also installed and ten shrubs planted. I do most of the work, but my husband is always willing to help with the heavy work. 

--Exercise and weight. Since August I have lost 17 pounds thanks to my treadmill and Weight Watchers. I credit WW a lot, but I have never belonged to this organization, except to use their cookbooks and calculators--all available on line for purchase. I also designed a table for my husband and me to record our daily points and weekly weight. My husband has also lost 17 pounds, but on his own had lost 13 pounds since January, totally a whopping 30 pounds. With results like that, we are committed now. We also use Wii Fit Plus, mostly to weigh in and see our progress on the Wii graph. It's really instructive, and also a fun way to exercise. When the weather improves we'll start biking again.

Peace of Mind. I have been working on several issues, mainly where to live in retirement and what to do about my lovely family who lives all over the U.S. We have decided to stay put for at least a year. We both work part-time at the university and since our insurance health policy is good, why rock a sound boat? Meanwhile, I am working on using the telephone more, open to using Skype (connection is poor right now), and connecting more on Facebook. Facebook is NOT my favorite form of communication but so many people love it. I have prayed about all this, and on a spiritual level, I am in a much better place. I seem to be on the right path.

Goals for 2014:
(In general, more of the same, but I do have a few specifics).

--Finish edits and submit novel this month (I will drop off the grid for a while if necessary). 

--Start a new novel.

--Research other places to submit my writing (ones that actually pay something). An article, a short story? Not sure about this one, as I'm not sure this market exists anymore. So many people write for free these days. The goal would be to submit once a month. Any comments?

--Read one book a week.

--Attend Master Gardener's class and obtain certification. I'll be in class once a week, January through mid-April.

--I also add being a little kinder to those around me. In my busyness, I know I sometimes neglect the moment. So I share the following quote:

Do it that very moment.
Don't put it off--don't wait.
There's no use in doing a kindness
If you do it a day too late.

That's it for me. I hope your goals are firming up and giving you new direction. Thank you for supporting my blog efforts. You mean a lot to me.

All the best in 2014!!

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Monday, December 30, 2013

Signs of Hope: End of December

There is so much gloom and doom in the news these days, I thought I would seek out some good news for a change. If you are like me, there are days you never turn on the radio or TV to listen to the news. 

Lately, I find that of the news sources available, I pay the most attention to the one arriving on my front doorstep in the morning, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. When there is little one can do about the Africans suffering in South Sudan or someone who just lost their home in a flood in India, discovering a local need and/or learning of its resolution is refreshing.

I do not mean to undermine any humanitarian effort in such places or similar. This small newspaper certainly covers all corners of the globe, but I think it is important to consider the needs of people in my own 'backyard' first, because I might  actually be able do something for those folks....and I hope the feeling is mutual. Take a look at what the Daily News reported on locally and globally in the last week.

--Dec 25. Hope when all was lost. A local man, a quadriplegic for many years (due to a car accident in 1969), suffered another car crash in April this year. A mechanism operating his specially designed van had snapped and sent him crashing into a building. Both of his legs were broken but he survived. The van was totaled. Replacement would cost $60k and he only had half. His church (200 members) pooled their money and presented him with a $30,000 check for Christmas!!

--Dec 26. Hope for an American symbol. The U.S. Capitol's famous dome is finally being repaired. In 1990 the Washington D.C. structure started leaking after a storm. More than a thousand cracks and tiny pinholes seeping water have since been discovered. Pans are still being used to catch the drips. The project will cost $60 million and take two years.

--Dec 26. Hope for the college bound. An online college (WGU) in Washington state has set tuition at less than 50% that of traditional schools (UW is $12,397). Schedule is flexible. One single mom managed to get a four year degree in 17 months. 

--Dec 26. Hope for grammarians. A Local man has invented a new game called Wordzzle. Players combine words to form sentences and learn about sentence structure. Sentences can be nonsensical and funny. They just have to be grammatically correct.

--Dec 26. Hope for foreign adoptions. Support for the Children in Families First Act is growing in the U.S. Congress. If passed, the bill will make international adoption easier. It is estimated there are millions of children in foreign orphanages, but adoptions by U.S. citizens have been next to impossible due to corruption and political problems. 

 --Dec 26. Hope for the persecuted, helpless and war-torn. Pope Francis prayed publicly for persecuted Christians, battered women, trafficked children, peace in the Middle East and Africa, and refugees across the globe. Regarding peace, he said, "True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It's not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment."

--Dec 26. Hope for the young and dying. A terminally ill eight-year-old Pennsylvania girl suffering from leukemia wished for a huge holiday singalong. Thousands of Christmas carolers gathered to sing outside her home the weekend before Christmas. She died on Christmas day.


--Dec 27. Hope for the building profession. Housing and general construction are UP in our small town of  31,359 (the best since 2005). It appears to be a trend elsewhere, too.

--Dec 28, 29. Hope for the fight against TB in Africa. A doctor from our region was evacuated safely from South Sudan when violence and fighting broke out in the area. More than 120,000 people fled the area. Dr. Jill Seaman began her work in Africa through Doctors Without Borders in 1989. She successfully helped establish a tuberculosis clinic in the Upper Nile region. Last report, the clinic was still operational and helping people. She had no desire to leave permanently. She needs our prayers!

--Dec 28, 29. Hope for alcoholics and their families. A drug has been discovered that may help alcoholics stay sober. The medication is called gabapentin, but it will be some time before the Food and Drug Administration approves it and research is complete. Still, it is a hopeful sign for those suffering alcoholism and for families struggling to cope.

Happy New Year!

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: This and That

Oops. Celebrating the small things a day late here, but didn't want to miss the final posting. I have enjoyed this blog hop a lot.  The small things in life make our world spin and color everything we
do. They give us pause and meaning, when the big things overtake and overwhelm. Thanks Viklit for making this blog hop possible.  

Some very small (but important) things below . . .

--Made the best ham dinner ever on Christmas day. Just the two of us was fine, and now we have some great left-overs. Dinner was complete with special table linens, holiday plates and tableware.....candles burning everywhere.

--Reconnected with my baby sister by phone after a long, long time. I don't know why it took so long to communicate, but life got too busy for the two of us. We must have talked an hour and half. Love you, sis!! Do you ever put off calling family when you know you should?  

--Exercised 45 minutes a day all week long on my new treadmill set-up. The flat panel TV with Netflix is working out great. Watching a series called Heartland, and it's all about horses, horses, horses. Getting into the mood for the next novel.

--Admission I have been procrastining the completion of my current novel. New Year's resolution: finish next month and submit somewhere....contest, agent, publisher....SOMEWHERE.

Happy Weekend!!
Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Friday, December 27, 2013

Baygirl by Heather Smith: Book Review

Heather Smith 
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers, 2013
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Ages: 12 up, Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 288

Kitty Ryan (16) lives with her parents in Parsons Bay, a small fishing town in Newfoundland. Her father Phonse is a fisherman, and also an alcoholic. Kitty’s hatred of him overshadows any love or respect she may have ever had and she voices this with a snarly attitude. Mom barely copes. Kitty’s only real support is her grandmother Nan, Phonse’s mother, and good friend Anne-Marie. Without them, Kitty would be lost.
But life is about to change. Phonse loses his job, boat, and the family’s home when the government bans cod fishing in the area for two years. The family moves to a larger city (St. Johns) to live with Phonse’s brother Iggy, who is likewise unemployed and as a recent widower, quite depressed. Kitty moves into this hopeless situation with misgivings. Mom finds a job and Uncle Iggy tries to change, which helps, but Phonse continues to drink.
Further, Kitty must now attend a larger high school. Her first day there she is labeled “baygirl,” a derogatory reference to rural Parsons Bay. The only good thing about the school is Elliot, a boy she likes a lot and who apparently likes her. At home she also meets Mr. Adams, a crabby, wise-cracking neighbor. He hires her to clean his house, but it is more a ruse to drink tea with him and talk. He becomes a good friend and mentor.
Characters come together in a realistic way as Kitty slowly warms up to Phonse, who also attempts to change. Everything culminates when Nan becomes gravely ill and Phonse and Kitty arrive to help. Ending is sad, yet believable, and more is gained than lost. Well written overall, Baygirl’s best scenes include Kitty’s snarky dialogue, the romance with Elliot, Mr. Adams's snippets of advice, and poignant moments between Phonse and Kitty. Although Baygirl deals with the subject of alcoholism, I did not find this story depressing at all. Smith really shines in her characterizations, including the romance between Elliot and Kitty. Enjoyed Baygirl a lot.

 Copyright 2013 © Sharon M Himsl

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

50 States of Pray: From Washington State

Discovered Mark Koopmans's blog hop rather late, but really loved the idea of offering a prayer, a hope, a reflection on the past or hope for the future the night before Christmas.

It's Christmas Eve and my thoughts are of the hope raised this evening as people around the world lit candles in their homes and churches to celebrate the light brought into the world with the birth of Jesus Christ. Hope in the darkness, for all who believe and peace, unbelievable peace. And everywhere there was that old, familiar song . . . 

Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child

Holy infant so, tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

It's just the two of us this Christmas, my husband and me. Our children and grandchildren live far away. We could have solved this dilemma with a plane ticket and messy weather, but we are trying to make a life here. After all, we started out just the two of us and did fine once. But beyond trying to finish a novel (and I am bound and determined to finish), I find I am seeking a purpose for staying where we live, and a reason for not relocating closer to family.

My prayer would be for confirmation we are where we should be and direction if we are not. I need a map, please! Is it not a prayer we all could benefit from? Life is so short, but rich with potential.

My best wishes to everyone as we approach another year together. This blog community has been incredible. It just gets better all the time!

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Merry Christmas

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Elves

To Karl from Oline (mother)
As we approach Christmas Eve and the celebration of the birth of
Christ, I look forward to a quiet candle light service at my church . . . But tales of mischievous elves, Santa Claus, lively snowmen, cute reindeer and other animals, and inspiring stories of love and forgiveness continue to entertain us at every turn, and for the most part, I don't mind at all. 

As half-Norwegian, I am fascinated with the elves of Scandinavian origin, which upon research, is really where the elf myths originated, in the ancient lore of Norse mythology. "Norse" refers to medieval Scandinavians, the people of that region and their language and culture. Scandinavia usually refers to the countries (and regions) of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, and as some argue, Finland and Iceland.  

Generally speaking, elves were viewed as magical beings, who were either helpful or a hindrance to humans, but their importance in Scandinavian culture runs deep--even today. In Reykjavik, Finland, for instance, people are urging the government to stop a highway project because of the cultural impact on a wilderness area the road would enter. The area, according to Scandinavian folklore, is home to elves and an elf church. It is now up to the Court of Iceland to decide the highway's fate (Associated Press, Dec. 23, 2013). An elf church? How interesting. Has anyone traveled to Finland and seen this before?

Elves were not necessarily viewed as impish or small either, which was my view until seeing Tolkien's take on elves in the Lord of the Ring and The Hobbit movies. The view of elves as "wee people" was actually an influence of William Shakespeare. Elves were related to fairies in his view. There are volumes of information and literary debate on elf folklore available for those interested. I am hardly the expert, but having inherited a collection of Norwegian postcards from my ancestors, I wanted to share four in the collection of elves. 

The postcards were mailed in the early 1920s to my grandfather (Karl) living in North Dakota and later Washington state, from family in Norway. Karl was the only son of five boys to immigrate to America. The elves are rather funny, with their pudgy middles and contented grins, do you agree? All are up to mischief it seems. 

To Karl and Marie (grandparents) from K?? and Ragnar (a brother)

To Karl from Dene (?)

To Karl from Ragnar (a brother)

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf; author's Graveth family archive collection

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Africa Mercy - Heartwarming Stories: One Nurse's Journey

Just in time for Christmas, here are two heartwarming stories from Marilyn in the Congo. Learn more about the African people this amazing ship serves, and how faith in God is behind it all. ---Sharon

(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the
Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast. In your charitable donations please remember this worthy organization).

December 20, 2013
Greetings, my friends,

I like to share two stories with you, stories that make me smile, stories that make me grateful to God not only for my own blessings and good health, but also for the privilege of being here to help extend God's compassion to the people of Congo.
Earlier this week, our field team conducted a routine eye screening at a small out-of-the-way church in one of the residential neighborhoods of Pointe Noire. What wasn't routine, however, was the appearance of one of the first people in line. A twelve year old boy stood there with his father, his face disfigured by a large, weeping tumor covered in bandages. Nothing wrong with his eyes? Good, go home!  Next!...No, that's not how it played out.

He wasn't a candidate for cataract surgery, but he sure would have been a candidate for maxiofacial surgery, had we been screening for that. So, stop the presses. What can we do? Ask more questions.

It turns out that the boy lives far away, and they only heard about    Mercy Ships last week.  Filled with hope, father and son traveled for ten hours to reach the ship.  They couldn't find a screening for tumor surgery (that was done last September...), but undeterred, they sought us out anyway by coming to the eye screening site. How they found us at that little church, I'll never know.

It took a few phone calls, but we got clearance to bring the boy to the ship for further work-up on that very day.  He and his father rode to the ship in the eye team vehicle after the screening was done. That boy was radiant with joy, and full of hope. By the end of the day, he'd had a CAT scan and lab work done; he'll most likely have surgery sometime in January.  What a different life he'll have without that tumor on his face. What initiative and perseverence his father showed to give him that chance.

My second story concerns a young man, age 19, who has been completely blind for many years with dense cataracts.  His mother was afraid for him and refused to allow surgery by the local surgeons. (From what I have seen, she was probably wise in that decision...) Sadly, his mother died a year ago, so now he lives with his aunt. Mercy Ships came to town, and together, they decided to risk surgery. He had his first cataract surgery a week ago. He was brave, but during surgery, he called out to mama...her dreams for his future, grief, and hope all intermingled in that one word.  Well, her dreams and his hope were rewarded--he had nearly perfect vision in that eye even on the day after surgery.

A week later, we operated on his other eye. Oh, oh. According to the measurements, he needed a very different lens in that eye--four diopters different, which is huge. That's not usually the case--people's eyes tend to come in a matched set. What to do? Were the measurements wrong? Dr. Wodome, a very competent and confident surgeon, was in a dilemma over which lens to implant, one that matched the measurements, or one that matched the other eye, since that one had worked so well? The team stopped for prayer, and the surgeon chose to match the lens to the measurements. Results? Nearly perfect vision in the second eye also. His two eyeballs really were different lengths. It's good to work with a surgeon who seeks God's guidance in making decisions.
A new year is soon here, and what blessings will we find awaiting us? I feel like I'm living in a wonderful pagaent of God's grace. It reminds me of the Exodus miracles--not so dramatic, of course, but clear evidence all around me of His compassion and His active involvement in the affairs of men. I am blessed every day just by being here, in my ringside seat.


[Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.]

Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: Morning Sounds

Today I'm celebrating the sounds we take for granted. There are so many, and without the ability to hear, it would be a very different day indeed. Morning sounds alone are enough to make me appreciative. 

  --the click of the keyboard as I type this message. How wonderful I learned to type at an early age. I once worked for someone who had never learned to type, except to poke at the keys randomly.

--the rush of air when the furnace clicks on, warming the house and my body, and telling me it is time to get up. We heat with natural gas--so easy, so efficient, a luxury I dare not take for granted when I think of those in the world that must search for wood or dried animal feces to heat and cook with on a daily basis.

--coffee grinding downstairs in the grinder when Vince wakes up earlier than me, and the trickle of the coffee pot brewing.

--the strum of his guitar before getting ready and leaving for work. James Taylor is his favorite, but lately, Silent Night.

--smart phones beeping, alerting us to messages or the need to charge when we have forgotten.

--the suction of the refrigerator door opening and closing.

--the clang of dishes, pots and silverware coming out of the dishwasher.

--the vibrating hum of the microwave and beep at the end.

--sometimes the sound of NPR news on the radio, but lately we prefer it quiet. We are both information-overloaded.

--hot and cold flowing water, surging through our pipes at the flush of a handle, the twist of a knob, the lift of a handle, and back out again as it drains.

--garage doors opening and closing as Vince and my neighbors leave for work.

-trucks and cars parked on the street, starting their engines, car alarms accidentally tripping, car doors slamming shut, and the hum of these vehicles as they pass.

--a dog left outside, sad to be left alone and barking.

--the gentle click of a clock, reminding me it is time to get busy.

How about you? What would you add to this list?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

(Thanks Viklit for hosting a fun blog hop)

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Entertainment: TV, Exercise & Popcorn

Well, winter is upon us and television viewing just went up a notch in  my home. It's cheap entertainment and with down streaming we can watch a commercial-free series on our schedule, and many of us are on Christmas vacation right now. I love what writers and actors do in these series. You can learn so much about character development and scenes. But mostly I watch for pleasure or to relax, and also for daily exercise. At around forty-five minutes an episode, you can get a good workout on the treadmill.

So replace the TV remote's batteries, lower the shades, add a large bowl of low fat popcorn and sparkling water, pull out the ottoman for your feet or jump on the treadmill and go! Here are the series I watch and recommend.

Currently watching: (update 12/23/13)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Saving Grace
H20 Just Add Water
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones
1/3 cup popcorn, 1 TB peanut oil in
popper. Season with (fine) popcorn
 salt. Servings: 2 large bowls.
(WW 2.5 points)
Sparkling water (selser) 0 points
Waiting for a new season

Hart of Dixie
The Lying Game
Doc Martin 
The Walking Dead
Downton Abbey
Warehouse 13
Dance Academy

Watched in the past:

Flying Wild Alaska
Life Unexpected
A Gifted Man
Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: The Next Generation

So what do you watch in your spare time? Also, do you have a favorite Christmas movie you like to watch? My husband and I happen to like While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher.

Or maybe . . . you are one of those 'rare birds' who never succumbed to watching television (or even movies). Can you recommend a good book instead, or another activity?

Years ago, when first married, I suggested to Vince that we never buy a television and take advantage of the local library instead. I fantasized reading my heart out and wandering through tall aisles of books like a kid in a candy store. His fantasies were a bit different from mine back then, to say the least. His mouth dropped . . . he was speechless beyond compare. Who was this 19-year old girl he had just married? Had he missed something? We laugh about it now, and you can see who won the argument . . . but no regrets. If not for television (and favorite movies), our dialogue today would lack a certain spark. We can quote lines from  movies and TV series that sometimes only resonate with us. It happens when you have been married thirty plus years.  

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tooting My Horn: Kissing in Elementary School

Have you heard the story of a six-year-old girl who got suspended from school for sitting too close to a boy at the lunch table? Apparently, Sally had a crush on six-year-old Billie (not their real
names). When the lunch bell rang she would rush to buy her meal so she could sit next to him at the
table. "Hi, Billie," she kept saying, trying to get his attention, it was reported. Billie told her to go away and tried his best to ignore her, but Sally was not about to give up. Every day was the same and Billie was miserable.

Word finally reached Billie's mom that Sally was badgering her son to the point of starvation. Apparently, he was coming home ravenous, having left most of his lunch at the table uneaten. Mom marched into the principle's office the next day and had the girl suspended.


I was Sally in this story, attending a grade school in Tacoma (WA) many years ago. I remember being so smitten with Tommy (his real name), I couldn't form a complete sentence without grinning and batting my baby brown eyes. Tommy was obviously uncomfortable, poor guy. He would move as far away on the lunch bench as possible. He usually ended up wedged between me and the kid on the other side. Did Mom, our teacher or the principle get involved? NO (thankful for that). Good old-fashioned peer pressure solved the problem. Tommy's big sister approached me one day, poked me hard in the chest, and said, "Leave my brother alone." It worked. Humiliated, I sulked away my lunch hour, vowing to never like another boy again . . . and come to think of it, I kept that vow until about the eighth grade (when the hormones kicked in).

So why am I telling you this story? I was reading in the newspaper recently that a six-year-old Colorado boy had been suspended two days from school for kissing a girl. The article said it was not just one kiss, but kissing that was repeated "over and over" (I assume over a period of days). Apparently, he was warned repeatedly to stop, but the kissing persisted and the school decided to suspend him. He now has a "sexual harassment infraction on his discipline record." (Associated Press, Dec.  12, 2013).

The article left me feeling kind of sick inside. I do not know what the real solution was, but suspension with a sexual harassment infraction on his record just feels wrong. The boy is six-years-old!! How will this infraction impact him growing up? How will his family and friends treat him hence forth? I suspect neither family (or the school) feels good right now, and it is especially sad at Christmastime. I hope there is a happy ending to this story. I hope there is an outpouring of love and forgiveness for all involved. What do you think?

Dec 18....
Here are some links with more information. I was relieved to find out the charges were changed to "misconduct!" I was also relieved to find out his mom was very upset with the first charge and went to bat for her son. A parent was very much involved in this case. You can read the article and listen to her reaction in the video below. Her son is also interviewed. I urge you to listen . . .


Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Believe by Sarah Aronson: Book Review

Author: Sarah Aronson
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab, 2013
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age level: 14-18, Young Adult 
Pages: 287

Janine Collins (16) of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is not sure what she believes. As sole survivor of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem ten years ago, Janine became “America’s blessed child.” Pulled from the rubble by Dave Armstrong, an American preacher and instructor, the rescue was deemed a miracle. Now on the bombing’s tenth anniversary news reporters are lining up to interview her. Janine has no desire to be a celebrity. She was the victim of a bombing that killed her parents. She hardly feels “blessed.” She has deformed and scarred hands that ache constantly, although she dreams of being a clothing designer. She only wants to be left alone.

With the help of friends and Aunt Lo (Mom’s sister and now her guardian), Janine embarks on a plan to avoid the reporters. The plan nearly works, until her good friend Abe is struck by a car in a freak accident. Janine is not sure if she even believes in God, but at the hospital Abe makes a miraculous recovery when she touches him with her hands. Word reaches the press that Janine has special healing abilities. Dave Armstrong, whose ministry has grown since the bombing, is quick to promote Janine’s new healing ability. Janine is caught up in the euphoria. She even thinks she has healed a paralyzed boy, until it is revealed that the boy has faked his condition. Corruption is uncovered and Armstrong is arrested.

Meanwhile, Janine has alienated her friends. Disillusioned and alone, Janine returns to what has bothered her most of all, her parents’ death—mom’s death in particular. Mom was the sole reason Janine had survived. She begins to wonder about Mom’s beliefs. Mom and Lo had abandoned their Jewish roots. At Lo’s suggestion, Janine reads her mom’s journal and makes some shocking discoveries. Lo is there to soothe the pain but Janine is now interested in meeting her Jewish grandparents. More grounded than ever before, Janine is finally willing to talk to the press.

This is a complex story with lots going on. The background story of Janine's Jewish roots on her mother's side is intriguing but unresolved at the end. There is hope that Janine will believe in something at some point, given her interest in her Jewish grandparents, but what she believes in most at the end, her own personhood, seems to have been the author's intent. Janine's passion for sewing and clothing design is either dropped or left hanging. I wanted so much to see her succeed. I wanted to see more of her friendship with Emma, too. What happened to Emma? But as I said, this is a rather complex story. To have developed more (my preference) would have taken more pages. All said, Aronson's Believe is thought-provoking and different.
Copyright 2013 © Sharon M. Himsl

Friday, December 13, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: When Small is Good

A busy day ahead wrapping presents and getting packages
 ready to mail, so I will be brief.

Some small steps and wonders below:

Willie shared tank with "Blue" 
--Lost my little frog Willie. He was quite the comedian and although smaller than your average frog, he made me laugh in big ways. 

--Presents are all over the floor. I'm checking the piles twice, making sure the grandkids have equal amounts (they always know). It is close to ready, but a trip to the store for a few more items is needed.....a small shopping trip compared to most, since I do most of my shopping before Christmas.  

--More than 4 hours on the novel this week. A very small step but progress is progress.

--Signed up for a Master Gardener class in January. Have wanted to do this for years. Course is offered every other year but the timing was never right.....until now. Wahoo!

--Mailed Christmas letter to e-friends, those I only correspond with online. A relief, a relief! A small step toward keeping my sanity (and focus) at Christmas, and a good way to start the weekend. 

Hope your week went well. Have a great weekend!!
(Thanks Viklit for hosting a fun blog hop)

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Tradition of Gift Giving

Stores and merchants worldwide love this time of year. For some, it is the time they break even, and most of us do our part to contribute to their well-being! I did not flood the stores on Thanksgiving day, nor did you see me in one the following day, which in America is traditionally called black Friday. I wasn't in the mood.

I'm not a scrooge or a naysayer when it comes to Christmas. I love this holiday and the reason for celebrating. It is just that this time of year often brings me to the pits of depression when once again I must deal with family living so far away. Now, don't get me wrong. My hubby and I are happy to live where we do most of the year. But . . . some days are hard. A friend knows this about me and surprised me with an early gift just before Thanksgiving, a nice potpourri of herbs.

Doesn't my new plant look great in the kitchen window?
You know who you are, my friend. Thank you!

Of course, the first gift-giving at Christmastime dates back to biblical times, when the three wise men (or Magi) brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as baby gifts when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Gold is still valued today in the financial markets, as it was in biblical times (including its health benefits), but what about frankincense and myrrh? I always seem to forget what they were and went online searching for answers . . .

Frankincense is a fragrant resin found in certain trees (Boswellia genus). It was burned as incense by priests in biblical times. But did you know that frankincense was also used to cure skin diseases, aid digestion problems, treat arthritis and female hormonal problems, and heal wounds, and when burned, to ward off mosquitoes? Today it is mostly used in perfumes and incense, because of its sweet fragrance, but there is some scientific evidence it could be used to treat colitis, osteoarthritis, and Crohn's disease. 

The Three Wise Men

Likewise, myrrh is a resin found in certain trees (Commiphora
genus). It was an important ingredient used in biblical times to embalm the dead. But did you know it was also used by some as a rejuvenation tonic, and for stomach pain, kidney problems, female disorders, nervous system disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and circulation problems? Today it is used in mouth washes and toothpastes (because of its anti bacterial properties) to prevent gum disease. Further, it can be found in skin ointments and creams for various skin disorders, sprains, bruises and aches.  

Traditionally, gift-giving began with the first gift, God's gift of eternal life to the world with the birth of his son Jesus. The actual practice of gift-giving dates back to the Christmas celebration in the Middle Ages. An intense celebration of parties and feasts took place that spanned a two-week period, followed by a gift exchange at the end. It is the basis of the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. But gift-giving as we know it today probably dates back to the Victorian era in the 1840s (just think of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol), although gifts were much, much simpler then. A single gift would have been a small cake, an item of clothing, or say one small toy . . . perhaps for a girl, a homemade doll. 

Cake at Christmas

 Today gift giving on Christmas day is common in most countries around the world, even in places where the birth of Christ is not celebrated. Many people in Japan, for instance, enjoy the secular aspects of Christmas. They give gifts to each other, decorate their cities with lights, and put up Christmas trees. I saw such decorations in Singapore too when there in 1995. But it's been my observation that Christians in less affluent countries focus more on the religious aspects of Christmas (as in my friend's experience in Africa). Here in America where all of us tend to overspend during this time of year, the stress level can really go up. It's easy to lose focus in our gift giving......which is really a way to show love, but it can get lost in trying to buy the perfect gift (or number of) and forgets the person . . . or if you are a Christian, the real meaning of Christmas. All of this adds up and is probably why I balk at the early season buying rush (or procrastinate :). The preference is to jump into things slowly, and avoid being caught up in what feels like a fast moving train. Do you ever feel that way?

So now that I have that off my chest, it is time to finish the shopping, write the Christmas letter, send the cards, (decorations DID go up early), and mail those packages. We are elves to six wonderful grandchildren, and I am finally in the mood!

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl
Sources: www.frankincenseandmyrrh.net/; www.dl-uk.info/christmas-gift-sending-tradition-history-origin.html; wikipedia

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Africa Mercy - Christmas and Cataracts: One Nurse's Journey

Still aboard the Africa Mercy in the Congo, Marilyn talks about Christmas in Africa and on the ship. As the crew members come from nearly 30 different nations, you can just imagine the variation in customs. Meanwhile, the eye surgeries continue . . . and she shares a typical day. ---Sharon

(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the
 Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast. In your charitable donations please remember this worthy organization).

Dec 7, 2013
Christmas greetings, my friends
Christmas in Africa.  What is that like?  From outward appearances, it seems like it isn't a public event here, despite the fact that this nation is overwhelmingly Christian. There are no decorations around the town. There is no Christmas music playing in stores (they're just stalls, without electricity, not proper stores). There is no blitz of advertising, urging me to shop 'til I drop. In fact, I see no evidence of preparation at all. When we ask the Congolese day crew about their plans, it sounds like most of them plan to go to church that morning and then spend the rest of the day with family, maybe have a nice meal together.

Christmas on the African Mercy. What is that like? For a while, I thought maybe it was going to be a low key event. Then, a week ago, the ship suddenly blossomed with decorations--artificial trees (we have room to store those all year???), door decorations, cloth wreaths, trimmings everywhere you look. No candles and no live evergreens--it is a ship with maritime regulations, after all, and we are in Africa. The crew comes from about 30 different nations, and it seems we've all brought our cultures and traditions with us. The Dutchies had their version of Santa Claus last night--all the children had to do a trick for Santa, and then they got treats. Other nations will have events on other nights. This evening they  had a Winter Bazaar--it seems that quite a few crew members make craft items to sell, and tonight was the carnival to show their wares. I'm told we'll have a very nice brunch on Christmas morning, and of course we have our religious celebrations throughout Advent. I even hear rumors of a candlelight service Christmas eve--on the dock, of course, fire regulations being what they are. What is pleasantly missing, however, is the constant advertising, the obsessive shopping, the obligatory parties, the secular songs that celebrate everything but Jesus, and the frantic pace that so often blurs the holiday at home. I think that I'll enjoy Christmas quite a bit this year.

 Also missing is winter weather, something that is strongly
associated with Christmas in my head.  Just after the decorations went up, a friend exclaimed, "it's snowing!" She meant it was snowing at home, of course, but for just a moment, I really expected frosty air and snow flurries outside. I was almost ready to go see for myself--and then I remembered, I'm in Africa. It is hot even when it rains, and I doubt they've ever seen frost or snow here. It's just not Christmas weather, to me.

Meanwhile, we have started cataract surgeries in earnest. This year was slow starting because we lacked surgeons for several weeks, but now we have surgeons coming nonstop through the end of field service next May.  Each surgeon comes for two or three weeks, and then we get another one.  Each surgeon has their own specifications and quirks, so it seems like we are always on a learning curve, changing things to suit them. Never a dull moment! But it is certainly rewarding work.  Each day brings 12-20 people with dense cataracts to receive life-transforming, sight-restoring  surgery. It still thrills me to think that I can play a small part in this great blessing.

Every day is different, but let me describe a "typical" day. I usually wake up before the alarm rings, which is good, because my bunkmate doesn't need to get up as early as I do. I get dressed in the dark, having carefully laid out everything I need the night before. Breakfast starts at 06:00 so I grab a quick bite, because I need to begin the work day by 06:45. Fortunately, the "commute" to work only takes a minute or two (and no scraping my windshield or shoveling my driveway...) After a quick prayer, the team goes out to the dock to fetch our patients on board.  That's no easy task! They are blind and usually old. Walking is difficult, and they need to walk up the gangway (42 steps), into an unfamiliar  environment, down two flights of stairs, and down the hall to the peri-op room. Some of them are really, really slow and need lots of help.  Once the first batch of patients arrives in the room, we get their name bands on, their eyes checked, their vital signs done, their dilating drops administered, the pre-op teaching done, and take the first three to the bathroom--all before the surgeon comes to examine patients around 0745 or 0800. It takes all five of us working at top speed to get the first patients ready for surgery on time.  I feel like I've done a day's work by 0830 or 0900, when the pace finally slows down a little.

After the initial surge, I have time to deal with the little problems that come along--the diabetic with a blood sugar of 400, the three or four people who have blood pressures of 230/120 or thereabouts, the one with a fever, the patient or two who are missing vital measurements of their eye that the surgeon uses to choose a lens. Often, it seems, there's a media team from somewhere who just have to have a story by following one or more of our patients through the whole process. They bring their big cameras and microphones and generally get in the way and slow things down. But, telling the world about what we do brings in the finances so that we can keep on doing it.

Eventually, we hit a steady state--taking patients down the hall to     the bathroom, taking them to surgery, and receiving patients back from surgery about every twenty minutes or so. Naturally, when they come out of surgery, we need to check them over, give them meds and instructions, and walk them back out to the dock, which is just as difficult as bringing them into the ship initially. Once we reach steady state, we have a little time to spare. Often, we engage the patients in singing worship songs.  The whole mood of the room mellows out. Most of the patients smile and sing along readily. You should see their delight when I get them up to dance with me while we sing!

The surgical team breaks for lunch at some point, which interrupts the steady state flow. We don't get a break, of course, because we still have a room full of patients to tend to. We need to finish with the last of the morning patients and escort them off the ship, and we need to begin the prep for the afternoon patients, to have them ready for when the surgery team gets back. We do get to eat lunch, of course, by taking turns, but it is eat and run so that the next person can go to lunch, too.   

Somewhere between 2:00 and 4:30, we get the last patients off the ship, and we're done for the day--except to prepare for tomorrow. We get the room cleaned and ready, supplies restocked, and charts checked.  Statistics, ordering more supplies, dealing with emails...all the usual stuff. I'm seriously dragging by suppertime. I tend to work to exhaustion, not realizing how tired I am until I stop moving for a moment--and then it's too late. I am trying to learn to pace myself, take proper breaks, delegate tasks appropriately, and be less of a perfectionist. I need to think like a marathon runner, not a sprinter. Well, that's the goal,    anyway.

One of the really good Christmas traditions we have, in my opinion, is the annual "Christmas letter." I look forward to hearing from many of you about your fortunes in the year gone by and your dreams for the year to come. I wish you all good health and peace as you pace yourselves through this holiday season. 

Blessings, Marilyn

[Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.]

About Me

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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.