Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Images of Christmas - Capturing the Magic

Merry Christmas!
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:16

The nativity wall hanging on the left is a treasure of mine. I found it in an antique store in 2008, in Trondheim, Norway. I noticed that needlepoint wall hangings like this were quite common in the homes of families I visited. Does anyone else go antiquing when they travel? I found this to be most rewarding. You learn so much about area culture and how people live.  

So how is your Christmas celebration going?

Vince and I enjoyed a brief holiday in Spokane, Washington in early December. We spent a couple nights in a very nice hotel (The Oxford) and met up with two dear friends. We dined in the hotel's warm restaurant, swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, walked through a nearby park, and area stores, drank coffee, and talked and talked. We had a wonderful time!

Spokane's scenery in general was a bit disappointing, not as festive as I had expected. Perhaps Dec 4th was too early for Christmas decorations, but we also noticed that the downtown and mall merchants had cut back a lot on Christmas decorations. Some chose not to decorate at all. I do not know whether it was an economic decision or simply because they had chosen not to acknowledge the holiday. I do not believe this is unique to Spokane, but a trend in other cities as well. Have you noticed the same? More and more people are buying gifts on line. Perhaps our local merchants are more stressed than we realize.

Could it be too that merchants are fed up with losing the true meaning of Christmas, the Christian celebration of Christ's birth? It really does not seem likely, not likely at all. Let's face it, the commercial takeover of Christmas happened a long time ago.

Still, and here  is where the nostalgic side of me takes over and puts on rose-colored glasses, I sometimes yearn for those animated storefronts with all the working parts, the ones I remember from my youth growing up in Tacoma, Washington. I wish I had pictures. Perhaps you remember them too.....Santa's busy workshop, those sweet manger scenes, snowy mountain landscapes, etc., and Christmas music everywhere. From a child's perspective, it did not feel commercial at all, just magical.

So my goal became to capture some of the magic, and maybe I did after all. Take a look. What do you think?

A magical view from our room

Riverfront Park: Structure in back is from Spokane's
1974 Expo. There is a nice IMAX theater now.
Riverfront Park: on Spokane River. Historical clock tower on right.

Riverfront Park: Clock Tower was first constructed in 1902 as part of the
Great Northern Railroad depot. The rest of the depot was later torn down to
make way for the 1974 Expo. The Clock Tower is still wound every week by hand.

Riverfront Park bridge on right
Riverfront Park Carousel
Background not all that great, but good of Vince and me

Back at home I began decorating the house. No (real) Christmas tree this year or outside decorations, but I did manage to create a little magic.

Santa: "He's making a list, and checking it twice,
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice...."

The Carolers: "Oh come all ye faithful...."

Sharon M. Himsl

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Africa Mercy - Surgeries Have Begun: One Nurse's Journey

Madagascar has been a different experience for the Africa Mercy team. They are still trying to locate cataract patients. They know the need is there but the population is more rural, Marilyn explains. As usual, the challenges continue.... 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).

 "Surgeries have begun"
6 Dec 2014

The day has finally come--cataract surgeries have begun. We only had four patients the first day because the surgeon had a meeting with a local surgeon in the morning. I personally was grateful because it gave me a chance to review our process with the day crew before we began. Consequently, we had a smooth launch and all went well in the peri-op room. Some of the other days this week have been rather long because the OR team is also new. They needed to sort out their processes, so surgeries were taking quite a long time. I'm sure it will improve soon.

We still lack patients overall. Unlike other ports where we have been, this town is small and the population is rural. Kathryn, our team leader, has been working hard to establish alternate screening sites so that we can find the patients who need surgery. It is not a simple process--it involves a security team to manage the lines, ophthalmic providers who have responsibilities back at the ship, travel and overnight accommodations for the team who goes, figuring out how to take delicate optical instruments from place to place over rough roads without affecting the calibration, how to transport the patients to the ship for surgery once we've found  them, how to do the needed followup appointments in one remote location while screening in another remote location, etc. I think I'm pretty good at organization, but I can't wrap my head around all the pieces of this puzzle! It's a good thing that it is Kathryn's job, not mine! For me, it is enough just to organize the peri-op room and our small team of five people.

Dr. Naivo is a local surgeon who was trained in India to do the same procedure that we use for cataract surgery. I hear that he's pretty good. We are planning to partner with him--our visiting surgeon and Dr. Naivo can learn from each other, no doubt, and hopefully this will open the door to further long-term collaboration in years to come.

Well, it's Saturday, but I need to make some phone calls to next week's patients (which requires a translator, of course), so I'm going out with the portion of the team that is doing one-day post-op exams today (yesterday's surgery patients). It will be interesting to see some of the patients again to see how they are doing. Often, their vision is still quite blurry the day after surgery because of swelling, but it gradually improves over the first couple of weeks. So, real results from the first surgeries will not be available for a while. The patients I've seen again sure seem happy, though. That is what makes all this effort worthwhile.

We only have two more weeks of surgery before Christmas break. But, but, but...we just got started! It seems so unlikely that Christmas is upon us already, both because field service was delayed in starting and because the weather here is definitely humid, hot, summertime weather. It's not winter, and therefore it's not Christmas. But since the calendar doesn't care how it feels to me, and time marches relentlessly on, Christmas is coming. So, let me wish each of you a Merry Christmas, and many, many blessings for the new year.

Love, Marilyn

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

Sharon M. Himsl

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

Friday, December 5, 2014

Celebrate the Small Things: Motivated in the Doldrums - A Lesson on Character Development

Doldrums: a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression. Or, an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with  calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds.

Whoa, all of the above! 

When my husband retired last May, my life went from calm to the unpredictable over night. We went from coasting on neutral to a fast overdrive. First, the idea that we wanted to move closer to family, then the finding of our home in Desert Aire. then the prep and more prep, giving away stuff, carting what no one wanted to the Goodwill, and at last the big move. It took awhile before I caught my breath. When I did, I found myself floating in the doldrums. All writing (books and blog) had been put on hold till further notice. 

Sailors in the past first used the term "doldrums" to describe areas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where the wind would die and ships sometimes floated for days waiting for a puff of wind. Weather scholars call it the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. 

Yep, that was me. Calm at last, but short on motivation.

Then, a puff a wind. Maybe a knot or two, nothing extraordinary. A compass point. I started blogging again. I worked on my book one afternoon, too, thankful that part of my life hadn't died. I read several SCBWI Bulletins and got inspired. 

One day I learned something new about character development. It stuck like glue, kind of like when I discovered the beauty of linking scenes together to construct a book, as script writers do in Hollywood. 

I refer to the article, "Character Personas" by Jaimie M. Engle in the SCBWI Bulletin (September/October 2013). Her article caught my interest when I read how she had drawn her inspiration from Orson Scott Card. I had read his Ender series, and also had been wowed me with his style and character development. (He also writes on the subject of writing, if you have never read his fiction). 

Engle pulled it all together in a nutshell. She began by quoting Card: "...when a storyteller has to create three characters, each different relationship requires that each character in it must be transformed.....shaping his or her present identity." 

Okay, I know this, I thought at first. Nothing new. But here is where I woke up and listened, and paid attention. She writes, "Basically, this means that each of those characters would need four separate personas to carry them through the book without seeming flat to the reader." 

Okay......so what does this mean? 

She assigned an exercise. Go somewhere and observe the people around you, a coffee shop for instance. Watch how each person reacts differently to the people around them. They act one way with their best friend maybe, but differently with the barista, their not-so-good friend, their sister, brother, or parent, etc. 

So, going back to the idea of three characters and four personas, and assuming they all know each other, that's three different relationships. A character may be secretive with one, outgoing with the next one, and motherly to the third. That leaves the fourth persona, which she doesn't really describe. 

The fourth persona, the more I thought about it, is probably how a character reacts to the group as a whole. It could also be...and I like this one.... 'the person a character becomes' when they are alone, perhaps a side of their personality they are afraid to show. Ha! Love it. Using myself as example, I sometimes dance around the house like a giraffe. Now I guess that makes five personas! Hmm....

So if you find yourself in the doldrums, take advantage of the time. Sailors scrubbed the decks and repaired the sheets and rigging. Better yet, study your craft and write something.... Anything will do.  

And remember, the winds will pick up
eventually. They always do!

Hope you are enjoying the Christmas season. I'm looking forward to two days in Spokane. Vince and I are blending eye appointments with a mini vacation. The Christmas decorations are beautiful this time of year. We may get a little snow, but no problem. Our trusty Subaru has four-wheel drive. Walking along the river and through Riverside Park should be lovely. It is one of the best times to visit Spokane.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Native American Sports & Games by Rob Staeger: Book Review

 Native American Sports & Games
“Native American Life” (series)
Author: Rob Staeger
Publisher: Mason Crest, 2014
Ages: 10-up, Middle Grade
Pages: 64

In this edition of the “Native American Life” series, readers learn about the many sports and games that Native Americans enjoyed in the past. Historically, this activity was a favorite pastime, but who actually participated in such or the rules governing and the reason for playing varied from tribe to tribe.

Games and sports often held spiritual significance. They were played to cure diseases, for blessing of crops and giving thanks, and as preparation for war, among other. A popular common ball game was lacrosse, which had a mythological origin and was originally used to teach the men skills needed in battle. Other games were simply played for fun. Types of games included guessing games; ball and dice games; archery; spear throwing; foot and horse races; wrestling; hoop and pole games; boxing; and gambling. The latter activity, gambling, was especially popular, which over time increased as games and sports decreased in spiritual significance.
Games were commonly divided among the sexes. Men and boys rarely played against the women and girls, although there were exceptions. Men and women in the Southwest, for instance, competed against each other in rabbit hunts. Some Native Americans were excluded from games and sports all together. In Central and South America, among the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans, only the elite class participated in games, as the poorer working class had little time to play.

Staeger describes games and sports in the American Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Far North, and Southwest regions; and also Central and South America. Chronology, Glossary, Resources and Index are included, as well as plenty of photos and illustrations.

I like that some sports and games are played to this today. Two ball games the author describes reminded me of basketball and soccer, and now I wonder about the origin of those two games. The string game, Cat’s Cradle, was most familiar. It took me back to my girlfriend days on lazy afternoons in my youth. This could be a fun book for students in school.....and for parents and kids looking for something to do on a "lazy afternoon."

Copyright 2014 © Sharon M. Himsl

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving: A Day of Thanks

Thanksgiving Day is the oldest holiday in America, and for me anyway, it is certainly the most popular. Most Americans know the story of the English colonists known as Pilgrims, who in pursuit of religious freedom, fled their homeland in 1620 to settle in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. A year later, in gratefulness for a successful harvest, they held a huge feast with the local Indians, the Wampanoag. The famous feast became known as Thanksgiving Day. 

Some may be surprised to learn that this particular feast was not a religious celebration. The Pilgrims did not believe in public display of their religion. Although they were surely thankful, the feast was strictly a non-religious affair, and included game playing and even drinking of liquor. I was also surprised to learn that the 1621 feast is not considered the origin of Thanksgiving Day.

Another feast held on June 30, 1623, is thought to be the real origin of Thanksgiving Day. As the story goes, the Plymouth colony had just endured a terrible drought. Crops were dying in the ground and there appeared to be no relief in sight for the Pilgrims. After much fasting and praying, the rains finally came, followed by a rescue operation from England. Captain Miles Standish miraculously sailed into the harbor with fresh supplies. The shouts of joy that filled the harbor that day must have been heard for miles and miles. A day of thanksgiving and prayer was declared that was both a social and religious celebration.

The standard modern-day meal in America goes something like this: Roasted whole turkey with stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, green bean casserole, vegetable trays and/or salad (including jello and fruit), pumpkin bread, olives, pickles and other condiments, and last but not least, pumpkin pie. 

Well, it was hardly the menu of the Pilgrims. A standard 1623 menu would have been: roasted duck, corn porridge, venison or deer meat, seafood, onions, squash, and corn. I'll take the modern version any day, but it is a lot of eating for one sitting, which is why I love leftovers the best.

Personally, in spite of an elaborate menu, I love the simplicity of this holiday. We give thanks to God, plain and simple. Many will bow in prayer around the table with a table grace. Or, if nothing else, they will think about something they can be thankful for this year. One tradition is to go around the table and share one thing you are thankful for. If you have never done this, I urge you to try. It really sets the mood, and those beautiful candles you set on the table to glow warmly will make the moment all the more meaningful, too. 

Happy Thanksgiving!!  

Sources: http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmah/thanks.htm; 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Africa Mercy - Lemurs: One Nurse's Journey

More from my good friend Marilyn in Madagascar. She does a bit of touring with the staff in between setting up the clinic and sees the Lemur Zoo and Madagascar's famous rain forest. Would have loved to have seen the cinnamon and clove trees, and vanilla vines, and of course, the lemurs.....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).

16 Nov 2014

The rainy season is soon upon us...so any sightseeing is best done now rather than later.  They say we get over 3 meters of rain a year--that's a lot of water, and it mostly comes in torrential downpours, with hot, humid sunshine in between.  Tropical rain forest weather, yes?  I imagine roads suffer a lot of erosion, and travel becomes more difficult.

So, with that in mind, I took an opportunity to visit the Lemur Zoo, located in a rain forest less than an hour from here.  I expected a "zoo," meaning a collection of penned-up animals. What a pleasant surprise!  Yes, they had several species of lemurs in cages, but the cages were spacious and clean.  Moreover, they only keep them there for a couple of years to help them breed and raise some babies, and then they turn them loose into the rain forest again. They put microchips in the lemurs before release so that they can track and study their habits.  The whole focus is to preserve and stabilize the endangered lemur populations.

We watched the lemurs in the cages and the free-range lemurs in the trees overhead for a while, and then we took a hike through the rain forest with a guide.  Our destination was a lovely waterfall, but all along the way he pointed out the various trees, vines, and other plants of interest.  There is such an abundance of vegetation, so

much variety.  We saw cinnamon trees, clove trees, vanilla vines, rosewood, ebony, various palm trees, bamboo, and all sorts of plants with medicinal uses.  You really can find everything you need in a rain forest if you know what to look for.

The folklore of the Malagasy people is rich with this knowledge. Pam is normally the coordinator for the peri-op room where I work, but her mother needs her to come home for a few weeks. I'll need to learn the ins and outs of what Pam does before she leaves on Thursday, since I'll need to coordinate until her return sometime in January. We begin surgeries in two weeks, and of course, the day crew I'll be working with have never done this before. I think, though, that it will go smoothly.  I already know most of what Pam does, and the day crew seem eager and willing to take direction, so supervision shouldn't be too tricky.

Meanwhile, we are searching for other sites for screening in nearby towns, still looking for patients who need cataract surgery. Kathryn will go north tomorrow, and south on Tuesday, searching for possible screening sites, talking to officials, and trying to make arrangements. Then we'll need to publicize, work out the transportation issues, and hope we can find the patients to fill the surgery schedule and keep the surgeons busy.

The next couple of weeks are filled with "secondary screening," meaning a full eye exam for the people found in the field screenings who might qualify for surgery.  Oh, and we also need to set up our clinic before we can do the secondary screening...and the clinic isn't quite ready for occupancy yet. We're holding our breath that we can get ready before Friday, the day the first batch of patients are scheduled to come.  I expect it will all work out, but not well in advance, with a healthy cushion for unforeseen  difficulties.  It's part of the ripple effect of having to change our field service at the last minute. I'll update you again once we get closer to starting our eye surgeries. Meanwhile, keep us in your prayers as we travel the "gravel road" (a slightly rough ride, but not too bad) toward that day.

Marilyn Neville

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Native American Cooking by Anna Carew-Miller: Book Review

Native American Cooking 
“Native American Life” (series)
Author: Anna Carew-Miller
Publisher: Mason Crest, 2014

Age: 10 up, Middle Grade nonfiction
Pages: 64

 One half of all food crops grown today were developed from the wild by Native Americans, according to Carew-Miller. Some crops can be traced back eight thousand years. Corn, squash and beans were the three main staples developed by the agricultural tribes, and became known as the “three sisters.” In some tribes only the men grew and tended crops, while in others only the women did. 

Non-agricultural tribes, more affected by the climate and habitat, relied more on hunting, fishing and the gathering of berries, roots and other foods (non crops) in the wild. All of the tribes, therefore, had their own brand of cooking methods and recipes. When Europeans began arriving and settling native land, they adopted many Native American foods, while also sharing the foods and animals brought with them. For instance, the Navaho learned how to herd sheep and the settlers learned to eat corn bread. 

However, the settlers often depleted traditional food sources by over hunting and forcing Native Americans to relocate. Large numbers were ordered by the U.S. government to leave the land for reservations, where many suffered poor health from the lack of traditional foods. To compensate, they learned how to cook with new ingredients, using wheat flour, for instance, and creating new recipes (such as “fry bread”). Native Americans prepare traditional foods to this day, some during special ceremonies demonstrating the spiritual connection to food. Other foods are quite common, such as tortillas, beef jerky, steamed shellfish, smoked salmon, succotash, hominy, and chocolate.

Carew-Miller discusses six Native American groups: 1) Northeastern U.S. and Canada, 2) Southeastern U.S., 3) U.S. Southwest and West, Mexico, 4) Central and South America, and the Caribbean, 5) North Central and Western U.S. and Canada, and 6) the Far North. Photos are provided throughout, as are a glossary, chronology and list of resources. Plenty of detail on every page.

Personally, I would have liked a few recipes, but that's just me. Native American Cooking is geared toward fifth graders and older kids studying Native American culture and wishing to learn more about Indians on a human level, other than the century-old conflict we all know existed between native peoples and whites. I think it adds balance to the discussion. 

Copyright 2014 © Sharon M. Himsl

Friday, November 14, 2014

Africa Mercy - Where Are They? One Nurse's Journey

I continue to be impressed with the Africa Mercy team. That screenings of patients can even progress seems a complete, utter miracle to me. About 2000 possible patients came to sign up for surgeries on the first day. Can you imagine? And apparently, there were fewer cataract patients than anticipated. Where are they, she wonders. .........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).

"Where Are They?"
12 November 2014,

We've been in country for a little over 2 weeks now, and the activity has been fast and furious, getting ready for surgery. Our first surgeries--orthopedics and general (goiters and tumors)--started today. You could almost hear the collective sigh of "at last, we're doing what we came to do." It's really a red-letter day for us all.

On the eye team, our fortunes have been mixed. We have a wonderful group of day crew, twelve Malagasy men and women. Their collective level of English comprehension is much better than what we usually get at the beginning of field service, and their work ethic is excellent. We have been struggling to find time to teach them all that they need to know, but when we do teach, they seem to learn quickly. They are an educated group, used to learning new things, and they ask good questions.

What pulls the team in multiple directions are the competing demands of various tasks that need to be done ASAP. We needed to
unload the container of supplies, of course, and bring some semblance of order to the peri-op room. We needed to power wash a very dirty room in the warehouse on the dock for future eye team
use. Next week we'll need to haul all our supplies and equipment
to the clinic building that is currently still under renovation, and get that facility set up.

Another thing we needed to accomplish was to get various teaching
materials translated into Malagasy. The day crew translated the
different documents, and I typed them. It took about four revisions to get rid of all the mistakes--it's very interesting to type in a language you don't understand. It made me realize how much I sight read in English, and proofread as I go along.

Apart from training the day crew, the biggest task for the week was
screening for potential patients. Unlike previous years, this year
they decided not to do a "main screening" day in which thousands of people assemble to be screened for surgeries for the entire field
service. Instead, we have established a permanent screening site and we're screening daily for the whole month of November. On the
first day, about 2000 people came. Since then, the crowds have
diminished in size but increased in "quality," meaning that more of
those who come are actually good surgical candidates. They must be reading the posters, or the word is getting out from those who came earlier in the week. For most surgeries, it seems, there are
plenty of people needing the type of help that we can give, and the
daily screening is going well.

That hasn't been the experience of the eye team, however. We've
been screening every day--indeed, one day we were screening at two places simultaneously--but we haven't been finding very many people with cataracts. In fact, the demographics say that there aren't all that many old people around, and for the most part, cataracts are a function of age. Add to that, this town is a third the size of Pointe Noire, which itself was small compared to most of the
ports where we work, and there is a local doctor who has been doing cataract surgeries for the past number of years. Hum...are there patients out there that we just haven't found, or are they really not there? Will we find enough patients to fill the surgery
schedule for the first surgeon, scheduled to come on December 1?
How should we tweak our program to increase our ability to find the patients?

And so, we are underway...and we are not. Have you ever tried to
row a rowboat away from the dock while it is still tied up? That's
a little of what these two weeks have felt like. We're paddling like mad...but are we making progress? When you look at tasks
accomplished, we've done a lot. But when you look at actually lining up surgeries, not so much. And so, for most of the ship, the waiting game is over, but for the eye team, we're still very much in limbo, waiting to see how it all shakes out. If you are the praying type, please pray that we'll find the patients who need cataract surgery, and pray for wisdom for those in authority who are having to make decisions about what to do next.

Don't you love the drama? It's beginning to feel like chasing a mirage. "Normal" surgery schedule is so close...just out of reach...just over the horizon...coming soon, to a port near me--I
Marilyn Neville

[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.