Friday, November 29, 2013

Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan: Book Review

Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert; Paperback; Author - Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Off-the-Charts Dessert
Author: Cindy Neuschwander
Illustrator: Wayne Geehan
Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2013
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age level: 8-11, Picture Book
Pages: 32

Move over boring chalk-board math lessons. Neuschwander and Geehan make learning about pie charts and bar graphs another fun math adventure in their latest addition in the popular Sir Cumference series. Lady Di and her husband Sir Cumference have a problem. The castle cook is ill and the Harvest Faire is about to begin, which means someone else must bake the faire’s Harvest Sweet. Two local bakers, Pia of Chartres and Bart Graf, are asked to bake several desserts. Pia bakes four pies and Bart bakes four batches of cookies. A taste test by the town’s people is then held to determine which dessert will become the Harvest Sweet. However, both bakers do a poor job of tallying the votes when the desserts are sampled. A curious cat and a hungry dog destroy the results. The bakers conduct another test, only this time they are more careful.

The night before the totals are revealed to Lady Di and Sir Cumference, Pia and Bart spy on each other and discover that their most popular desserts have tied. One pie and one cookie are clearly the winners on the pie chart and bar graph they have drawn. Now what will they do? The problem is solved through math and the bakers’ cooperation. Pia and Bart combine their ingredients and bake the winning dessert, Crème de la Crumb. Geehan’s bold illustrations (acrylic on canvas) are rich in color and full of detail. Seven more Sir Cumference books are also available in the series. 
 Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving: A Surprise Blessing

I am so proud of our son this week. He has published his first piece of music. The title is "The Light Shines in the Darkness" by Chadwick Himsl. Chad started playing piano at the age of four. Unlike most kids, he seldom neglected his practice sessions. Honest, I am not just bragging. He loved playing the piano, and when he occasionally turned lazy in this pursuit, I would threaten to not pay for his lessons. It was so easy.

He actually wore out the internal mechanisms that move the keys. I finally sold the piano to a woman who had lost her piano in a house fire. She didn't care if the keys were permanently out of tune without major repair. It reminded her of her old piano. Today Chad is married and has three young children. Where he found the time to compose, record and publish this piece just boggles the mind. Chad shares his motivations and the tune's background in the link above. You can also purchase a copy if you like. ~Sigh~ A proud week in the Himsl household.

I thank God for all my blessings this week, for the love of family and the joy they bring, a small group of friends who enrich my life in large ways, my church family and pastor who inspire, instruct and pray with me, a blog and an online community that continue to surprise and bless me, our lovely home in the beautiful Palouse region where we reside, zero balance credit cards (hoping they stay that way), food in the pantry, a safe water supply and no civil wars out my back door (unlike some in the world), improved health (losing those extra pounds helped (!) and so much more. 

God's mercy, grace, and protection over the years goes without saying. God has a way of getting through to me when I put up walls and forget how much our father in heaven through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cares for me (and you) . . . even in the hard times. There really is light in a dark world.


Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Thursday, November 21, 2013

National Book Awards (2013): Young People's Literature

 Check out the Winners of the 2013 National Book Awards for Young people's literature.


Cynthia Kadohata, "The Thing About Luck"
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages: 10 to 14


Kathi Appelt, "The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp"
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages: 8 to 12
Tom McNeal, "Far Far Away"
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, Ages: 12 and up
Meg Rosoff, "Picture Me Gone"
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile, Ages: 12 and up
Gene Luen Yang, "Boxers & Saints"
Publisher: First Second, Ages: 12 to 17

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Africa Mercy - War and Worship: One Nurse's Journey

More from Marilyn in Africa. She tells the story of Ibrihim, an Africa Mercy crewman she has come to know. The brutality that so many children like him suffered in the 1990s during Sierra Leone's Civil War is chilling.........Sharon

(This is a running post about a nurse's experience on a hospital ship, the Africa Mercy)

10 November 2012
War and Worship
Greetings, my friends. I have two thoughts to share, and perhaps they are related. I heard a bit of the life story of one young man from Sierra Leone who is now part of the African Mercy crew. As you may remember, Sierra Leone had a terrible civil war in the 1990's. The rebel forces were murderous and cruel, and many terrible things happened.

They would invade villages to murder the men and boys. They would chop off children's hands and feet, leaving them maimed and
crippled. They would kidnap young boys and force them to carry
guns and do unspeakable atrocities to their own families, hardening them to a life of violence as members of the rebel forces. 

Last year, one of our day crew had been machine-gunned along with all the rest of the men of his village--he alone survived. The year before, when I was in Sierra Leone, I saw many of the young people who had had limbs chopped off when they were babies or children. The city had gangs of youth who lived a life of crime, the only "job skil" they had learned from their conscription into the rebel army. The wounds of war were still very much in evidence.  Ibrihim, the young man I mentioned, was thirteen when the  rebel forces invaded the school he attended. They shot the teacher and kidnapped the boys for their army. Most of the boys had to carry guns and kill people, but Ibrihim was big for his age, and strong.

The leader of the army unit had a young girl who was his prize  possession. She was treated like a princess, which meant, among      other things, that her feet were not allowed to touch the ground. Ibrihim was assigned the duty of carrying her everywhere she went. One day, about eight months after his capture, he heard a voice telling him to run, and run he did. He ran all day and into the night. He traveled for several days, until finally he found some people who believed him (he was still wearing his school uniform, the only clothes he had). They helped him to get home, back to his parents. But in telling the story, Ibrihim doesn't sound bitter.

 Instead, he mentions how thankful he is that he did not have to  carry a gun and kill people. My second thought comes from attending the church service on the ward this morning, and from other opportunities I've had to worship with Africans, both in West Africa and in Congo. They are exuberant! You might mistake it for a football rally--but the focus is on praising God and giving thanks.  It seems like no matter how hard their circumstances or what they have suffered, they enter wholeheartedly into worshiping God. Their attitude of gratitude is one of their great cultural strengths, it seems to me.
I'm sure you've heard African worship music.  If not, you have   missed something rich.  In general, the only instrumentation is     drums.  The complicated rhythms give pulse and energy to the     singing--they can really stir the blood. Generally someone will      lead off with a song, and the people answer by singing a responsive
phrase. The phrases will repeat, back and forth between the leader and the people, reminding me of the structure of some of  the Psalms, with their responsive chants. The leader will gradually evolve to new phrases, and the song continues. At some point, someone else will take the lead, singing what they want to sing.

 The melody also changes from time to time--it feels like something organic, one thing leading to another, but it is all expressing praise and thanksgiving to God. There aren't any songbooks, and no designated succession of leaders. It just seems to happen spontaneously, everybody participating.

So, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Does the pervasive attitude of gratitude give the worship singing its energy, or does their style of worship fuel their hearts with thanksgiving that spills over into the rest of their lives? Who cares? It works! It's beautiful!  

Blessings to you all,

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


Friday, November 15, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: Just Two Goals

"Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts" (Coleman Cox). Ha-ha. I read this today and had to laugh. It helps that the woodpecker has a stout beak for doing the job. However, Cox makes a good point. When do we apply our smarts (or that of others) when trying to achieve a goal?

All of us are self taught to some degree and some of us are more brilliant than others. I am hardly the latter! For the vast majority of us, there is a high learning curve. There are plenty of 'self-help' or 'how-to' books available for learning how to achieve more, be more, and do more. Goodness. An entire profession has been devoted by some on instructing in the various fields: writing, art, psychology, health, and religion, to name a few. I have read my share.

A huge motivator for me in the past in pursuing such instruction has always been a basic unhappiness or an unmet need...... I read avidly about the various faiths (mostly Christian), until God finally shook some sense into me and I saw how 'unworthy' and then (surprise) 'worthy' I was as a child of God. I pushed to finish a college degree rather late in life, alongside my adult daughter and son. After graduation, I took on two 'work for hire' projects for two publishers (I also had an editing job) and worked so hard the back of my neck actually swelled. I can be stubborn and persistent sometimes. 

Funny thing though is now that I am older, I am no longer as driven, which is a real handicap when you are trying to finish a novel. Is it laziness? A bad habit? Have I decided the original goal is not worth the effort? Perhaps the goal has evolved into something new, I have reasoned. For instance, I love blogging about family and things unrelated to the writing profession. I love letting a friend share her experience as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. I love that I now exercise regularly. (Health issues forced me to take exercise seriously and now I am ten pounds lighter). But truth be told, and here's the bottom line....I still want to finish the book!! So, in the left hand column of this blog I still record my (pitifully small) writing output and exercise (so proud of that).

Last but not least, my plate is rather full right now, but in a good, happy way. Vince and I have been exploring retirement options and the possibility of a move, and you can just imagine the reading material available on the topic. Next year is the year! We keep asking, where do we really want to live? Near our out-of-state children? Near our aging family? For that matter, staying here is a viable option, too. These are serious considerations that will determine so much of what happens to us in the future. We have spent hours discussing our options, a debate that will no doubt continue into 2014.

Like the woodpecker, I (we) will keep pecking away at the stated goals: finish the novel and decide where to live in retirement. When I look at it that way, it is really just two goals to accomplish. So today, I am celebrating the lesson of the woodpecker, who knows (in a small way) how to get the job done, one peck at a time!

How do you handle goals? Has your experience been similar?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Africa Mercy - Surgeries, Excursion, & Slaves: One Nurse's Journey

Sorry to be so behind on my blogging schedule. Not sure I have a schedule, but I have aimed for more than one blog post a week! Here is another email from my friend in the Congo. She is learning so much! ......Sharon

(This is a running post about a friend's journey as a nurse on the Africa Mercy)

2 nov 13, Surgeries, Excursion, & Slaves


First, an update on surgeries:  In general, our surgeons come for 2 to 3 weeks, tucking their time with us into their vacation time from their regular practices.  Dr. Guy was with us for two weeks, and he performed over a hundred cataract surgeries while he was here.  The results have been very, very good.  Many patients could see well from the moment the eye patch came on the day after surgery; others had some edema which cleared by their two week checkup, and their vision improved correspondingly.  That's actually the more normal scenario for cataract surgery.  I've attached a picture of the man I described last email, rejoicing over his restored sight.

 Halleluah! Man praising. Marilyn on right in blue.

 We now have a gap in the surgery schedule--no surgeon for three weeks. Normally, I'd say that this is very sad--all those potential surgeries not being done--but perhaps it's a blessing after all.  We are having trouble lining up enough patients to fill the surgery schedule as it is.

 We're not sure why--I would suppose there are several factors.  This is our first time in Congo, so we don't have the reputation here that we have in West Africa. I imagine that there are many who have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.Also, Pointe Noire is a much smaller city than other places we have been, and the extended follow up required for cataract surgery makes it hard for out-of-town patients to come.  Then, too, Congo seems to have more health care available for those who can afford it than does West Africa.  There are surgeons here who do cataract surgery.  That seems to be a mixed blessing.  We see quite a few people who have had cataract surgery, but they can't see.  Most surgeons here--maybe all--don't put a new lens in place, they just remove the cataract lens.  That gives people more light and color, but no focused image.  Of course, we probably aren't seeing patients whose previous cataract surgery has gone well because they don't need us--and who knows how many of those there are?  Whatever the reason(s), we are not getting the expected numbers of people at our screenings, and therefore we are not getting the number of patients scheduled for surgery as we expected, and need, if we are to keep our surgeons busy when they come.

The Gorge - near Pointe Noire, Africa

On another note, let me tell you about our excursion yesterday.  Pam and I took our day crew plus several others out for a day of exploration and fun.  We went to The Gorge, a beautiful area about 15 miles outside of Pointe Noire.  Our three day crew have lived their lives in Pointe Noire, but none of them had ever been to the The Gorge before.  Fifteen miles sounds close--but it's a long walk if you don't have a car.

Anyway, the Gorge consists of red cliffs in the midst of jungle leading down to the ocean.We hiked for a couple of hours along a trail leading from the top of the Gorge all the way to the ocean.  (They didn't think I could do it!  And they did have to help me in spots...)  At the end of the trail is a beautiful sandy beach, and it is even free of debris and garbage.  There is some very lovely scenery here in Congo.

On the way to the Gorge, we stopped to visit a very beautiful, very sad place.  Apparently, Pointe Noire was a major port for slave traders.  We visited the bay where two million people were shackled, counted, labeled, and shipped to serve as slaves in Europe and America during the heyday.  You read about it, you see movies about it, but being at the actual site brings great sadness as you ponder the reality of man's inhumanity to man--and not just historically.  It's not happening at this location at this time, but elsewhere, people still suffer.  Being there also sparked a bit of introspection--am I free from the all-too-human tendency to use other people for my own ends? Perhaps I am not a slave trader because I was born in a different place and and different time, not because I am essentially superior. I grieved for the slaves, but also for the slave traders, caught up in an evil they didn't even see.

Well, enough philosophical musing.  Next week, since we don't have surgeries, I will be involved in some special screening days.  We have given tickets to all the Congolese day crew so that they can bring people they know who have cataracts to see if we can do surgery for them.  I hope that many people do come, because I know that there are many people here too poor to afford cataract surgery from the local surgeons, no matter how excellent their surgical technique is, or isn't.

We can do a lot of good for many people, if only we can find them and get them scheduled.  Maybe our day crew will find them for us.


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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Weekly Recap: A Maui Reflection

View from our Papakea condo-west Maui
We are back from Maui, Hawaii (as well as from an extended smaller trip to see family in western Washington). Upon reflection, I feel as if I have been adrift at sea for the past two weeks and slowly swimming back against the surf.

Our patio on left; quiet romantic breakfasts
every morning
After a week back home of regrouping and letting life take hold again, my feet are finally planted on the shore. This was our first time to Hawaii. For years I have heard others describe their
adventures and experiences in Hawaii, with eyes glistening and hearts aglow. A family of four I know has made this trek yearly for as long as I can remember. They claim to not worry about the expense and simply spend the rest of the year paying off their credit card debt. Another friend and his wife travel to Maui yearly to the same condo, where they hole up with visiting family and loads of books. More recently, two dear friends island hopped and had a marvelous time. Frankly, we just never could afford it before, and we were hardly the big spenders this time around either.

Vince at seawall
Maui was lovely of course, but I must confess there is no comparison to our experience living in Southeast Asia in the 1990s, where we basked in the rich diverse cultures of Malaysia, Thailand
and Indonesia. Beaches and sunsets were breathtaking and we had the snorkeling experience of a lifetime on Tioman Island, complete with komodo dragons fighting on the beach. But what Hawaii has that no other Pacific tropical region has is the safety of U.S. borders. As one wanting to visit every country in the world, I find this comforting in our increasingly unsafe world. No worries, no passports to update and stress over, no food issues, no language barriers, no money quandaries.......and no civil wars! 

We rented a condo on Maui’s west coast for five days, where we had an unobstructed view of the ocean and the island of Molokai. I had forgotten how powerful the surf can be.....AND NOISY. Vince woke up in the middle of the night to the surf shaking our room and the seawall just twenty feet away, and began surfing the net on his phone for a tsunami warning. It turns out there had just been a major earthquake in the Philippines, so he was a bit stirred up. Ha-ha. False worries in the end. All in all, it was a gorgeous setting for early morning breakfasts on the patio, with the sun barely surfacing and few people about. Given the 3-hour time difference, we woke early on most days.

The happy couple
Bryce, Brenda, Jennifer and Richard.
The wedding groomsmen and
bridesmaids (bride's daughters)
The rest of our time was tourist-packed, exploring the sights, the old town of Lahaina in particular, and
anticipating the wedding on the second day, our main reason for coming. Vince’s brother and his girlfriend were married on a beach north of us. The wedding went well without a hitch and they seem to be off to a happy start. We had to laugh though when we first arrived. Apparently the beach is a popular wedding location. The parking lot was full when we  arrived and there were brides and grooms and bridal parties walking about, all waiting their turn. But from the pictures you would never guess anyone else was around!
Vince at Haleakala crater

More than the beaches, for us the highlight was visiting Maui’s dormant volcano, Haleakala. Often socked in with fog and clouds at 10,023 feet, we decided to google the mountain's weather beforehand and saw that only one day had possibilities. We lucked out. The top was clear and sunny that day. The views overlooking the vast crater and cinder cones were absolutely surreal. We are so glad we went.

"I'm sitting on top of the world"
Hawaii's state bird, the Nene. Oh, I so much wanted
to see one, but never did. I have this bird in my book!

We had passed on the snorkeling, submarine rides, zip lines, and sailboat rides, concentrating more on local history and scenery. (I think we are more travelers than tourists).

"Drums of the Pacific Luau"
However, we did go to a traditional luau (a must :) and Maui’s Ocean Center, a large walk-through aquarium in Maalaea. Also in Maalaea was the only quilt store in all of Maui, where I found a locally made quilt with a turtle design. We gave this to Doug and Karen as a wedding gift. Wish I had taken a photo. They loved it! 

Maui Ocean Center

Surfer on northern coast, along the road to Hana. Surf looked about 4 feet high. One surfer lost his board and had to be rescued by another surfer. I'm glad they watch out for each other! 
Baldwin house. Missionary home in 'old' Lahaina. Lots of history in Lahaina. (We visited this town twice). Home had two feet thick walls, as was customary in England. Turns out it was perfect insulation in the tropical heat.
A good trip, although it is always nice to be home again. If only it did not take so long to reacclimate. I have so much to do. I woke up to snow on the rooftops this morning and an overwhelming drive to finish my last two chapters...or else. Grrr....BIG GRRR....time to get tough (on me)! I have a ton of books to read and review, too. But aren’t Mondays great? They inspire fresh ideas and provide untold energy. Wow....I have the whole week ahead of me. I am eager to jump in and see what I can do. How about you?      

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Sharon M. Himsl

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

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.