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

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.