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!!  


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 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.]


Monday, November 10, 2014

Great Explorers - Neil Armstrong by Jim Ollhoff: Book Review

Neil Armstrong (Great Explorers): Jim Ollhoff 

Great Explorers: Neil Armstrong
Author: Jim Ollhoff

Publisher: ABDO Publishing Company, 2014
Age: 9-15, Middle Grade Nonfiction
Pages: 32

Neil Armstrong was a great American hero. His legacy today as the first person to walk on the moon continues to inspire the most ardent of dreamers. “There was a feeling that if people could do that,” Ollhoff writes, “they could do anything.” Ollhoff describes Neil Armstrong as a modest, quiet man, but whose talents and achievements as a military pilot and aeronautical engineer, placed him in a unique position in history. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War. The Soviet Union had just sent a man into space, and the U.S. was worried about losing control of the space frontier. In 1961 President Kennedy made landing a man on the moon a U.S. goal within the next ten years. Armstrong was accepted into NASA’s Gemini space program as an astronaut the following year. 

Ollhoff describes the training process and command decisions that demonstrated Armstrong’s skill in controlling a spacecraft. In one example, two ships had spun out of control. His intelligent response and quick action saved the lives of everyone on board. Armstrong was subsequently selected into the Apollo space program, which included many missions, one of which eventually went to the moon. 

On July 19, 1969, Apollo 11 had reached its destination and was orbiting around the moon. A lunar module, the Eagle, was launched with Armstrong at the controls. It landed on the lunar surface and Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Over television, he uttered the now-famous words: “That’s one small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind.” 

Armstrong went on to have a full career, teaching and lending his expertise to NASA and the aviation industry. Ollhoff also describes Armstrong’s equally impressive early years and personal life. Model airplanes and books about flying were long his interest as a young boy. Timeline, Glossary and Index are provided. 

Great Explorers is a light introduction to the history of the space program and the life of Neil Armstrong. Designed to inspire, the story certainly does that. Personally, the moon landing is still a major event in my lifetime. On the day of the landing in 1969, I was at the switchboard working as a telephone operator in Tacoma, Washington. News came over the air on TV that the Eagle had landed. There must have been fifty or more of us working the switchboard that day. One by one we took turns taking breaks so we could run to the break room and watch the exciting news. The transmission was poor, in black and white, but the message was loud and clear.

We had landed a man on the moon!  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Celebrate the Small Things: Two Perspectives

Vince and I were wandering around our new property today and ended up where we often do, at the top of our little sage brush hill overlooking the runway. Turn one way and you see the runway and in the distance, Sentinal Gap, a large opening through the Saddle Mountains, carved out by floods during the ice age, and now the route of the majestic Columbia River. Turn the opposite direction, and you see our new home and large yard. there we were, both commenting on the view, when it occurred to us we were both looking in opposite directions. We burst out laughing. He of course was staring at the runway and the Gap, and I was looking at the red Smoke Bush I had just planted in the yard. I guess it's why our place seems to be working so well for us. A runway (and hangar) for hubby, and a garden (or at least the potential of one) for me. 

I think I'll call our little hill, Perspective Point.

A different perspective is nothing new for us. We have been dealing with opposite perspectives most of our marriage, and it has made for some interesting experiences. An old song, one from my mother's generation, comes to mind. I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds: Book Review

When I Was the Greatest
Author: Jason Reynolds
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
Age: 12 up, Young Adult
Pages: 232

Fifteen-year-old Allen, or Ali, as his eleven-year-old sister Jazz nicknamed him, lives in the rough Brooklyn district of Bed-Stuy, a black ghetto neighborhood dominated by gangs, guns, and drugs. Ali's dedicated mom, Doris, works hard to keep Ali and Jazz out of trouble, in spite of their dad’s absence, who only occasionally visits. It helps that Doris is a social worker. She knows how to keep her kids on track, even the two neighbor boys, Noodles and Needles, whose mother is mostly absent and dad is long gone. 

Needles has Tourette’s Syndrome, a strange condition that causes his arms to flail unexpectedly and curse words to fly out of his mouth. Noodles struggles with caring for his brother alone and deals with a lot of anger. Ali is really his only friend. Meanwhile, Doris discovers that learning how to knit eases the symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome. Needles (as nicknamed) takes up knitting and the effect is rather dramatic, enough so that when Ali and Noodles learn of a party, Needles is also invited. 

They have to lie about their age to attend the 'over eighteen' party, and things go bad from there. Needles has an attack and accidentally stabs someone with his knitting needle. A fight breaks out. Ali dives into the brawl, while Noodles freezes on the sideline and does nothing to help his brother. Fortunately, Ali’s boxing skills help him beat off two guys. Word gets out after the fight that the two guys are now looking for him. Ali’s dad gets involved and prevents any further bloodshed. Meanwhile, Noodles must deal with his failure. The friendship and family loyalty are thus tested but forgiveness triumphs in the end. 

There is much to love in Reynold’s book, its authentic language and introduction to black ghetto culture, for one, but character voice and development surpasses all. The side characters are just as interesting.
Further, I was not familiar with Tourette's Syndrome at all. I love that Needles's control of his condition is helped when he takes up knitting, despite causing him so much trouble at the party. Reynolds has a way of pulling things together at the end, where what this book also does well, is show the power of family. 

Copyright 2014 © Sharon M. Himsl

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.