Monday, June 29, 2015

Nonfiction Writing in Journal Form: Nepal's Angel

by Valerie Steimle

On many occasions when we write true occurrences for interesting stories, we find ourselves posting in journal form.  This is true for an article I did for a website (which will remain nameless) that never got posted for some odd ball reason or another.  This story is absolutely fascinating and I hope you catch the spirit of it:

Nepal's Angel: When You are in the Service of Your Fellow Beings.

 Michael Shiffler used to play football as a running back for Brigham Young University. A native of California, he graduated in Zoology and Russian, (after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia) and set out in life to do some good.  Little did he realize how much good it would be. Now eighteen years later he finds himself a volunteer in Nepal, helping the people recover from an earthquake which hit on April 25th, 2015. Volunteering with the Salvation Army and using his own non-profit organization, Red Lightening  to help the people of Nepal with medical attention and food, he has accomplished some amazing feats.

Mike Shiffler on left with Nepal's people

Documenting all they have done, Shiffler tells the story of a people now mostly without shelter and food trying to recover from not only one earthquake but two and several aftershocks.  

May 4, 2015
“Made it back to Kathmandu tonight. We walked like crazy, assessed and GPS tagged 8 villages, with about 2500-3000 people. Found a handful of people among them who needed medical attention and luckily had just the right contacts to get 2 of them evacuated by helicopter. It was an epic adventure in service. I've never done anything like it and feel a little surprised the plan actually worked and we are all in one piece
Man and his wife dig through ruins
The vast majority of the homes we saw in these mountains were either completely destroyed or damaged to the point of being unsafe to live in. The problem is compounded by the fact that a series of landslides have cut off all road access, so the only way in is walking. One village we walked to would take nearly 8 hours from the starting point. The situation is even more worrisome in that while many have huge amounts of crops, those crops won't be ready for another 2-3 months, which means anything they want to eat they have to either already have or carry in. In this picture, a man and his wife dig through the ruins of their destroyed home looking for their food. The situation in these mountain villages presents some exceptional challenges, and we look forward to figuring it all out together. So thankful for all the thoughts, prayers and support.”

May 8, 2015
“Occasionally there is a maze of paperwork (which I hate doing) that has to be filled out before any aid can actually be delivered. We had to drive 4 hours each way today, find the right people with the right forms, etc just to have the right permission to operate in a particular area. Stuff like this drives me crazy because we have tremendous other challenges (like figuring out how to deliver 30,000 kg of aid to remote villages), but the good thing is we now have official permission and it also helps prevent redundancy of other aid groups working in the same area (or at least that is the idea). If everything goes as planned, we should have our first large distribution tomorrow afternoon, and it should get easier to move things now. We need more prayers for Nepal.

May 6th
“We saw several villagers carrying 30kg (66lbs) bags of rice up. We are talking about anything from 4-8 hours of hiking and almost all uphill one way. We are still working on a helicopter for delivery to some of the deeper villages.
I call this the The Widows Mite in action- even though I volunteer for the Salvation Army which is a tremendous organization, with a lot of firepower- I have my own small aid group and have received a few small donations. It's interesting to me that most of the donations came from women who don't have a lot to give, but give what they can. I used about 3-4 of such donations to purchase 2 large USB solar charging panels, and brought them with me to Nepal, "just in case". On our hike, we ran into two villages that had cell coverage but lost their electricity, and were a few hours away hiking. This makes gathering information and coordinating for deliveries with them almost impossible, as we would need to hike up 3-5 hours to simply talk to them. I called my friends who were picking us up from Kathmandu and told them to bring the solar panels. One of our contacts from a far away village came down the hill with us, and my little charity gave him the panels, one for him and another for a second village on the way. And just like that, less than $100 of donations from these kind women restored communications with 2 villages and over 1100 people. We have already called both of them, and because of it, the man I'm presenting them to here is now coordinating the information with all 15 villages in his area, about 4000-5000 people for which we can now coordinate a series of deliveries, without needing to hike up. I knew those small donations are powerful, but it awesome to see the result like this.”

May 9, 2015
“When we hiked up into the mountains last week there was a man sleeping right by the path that literally everyone travels on. He was crippled from birth, his legs twisted thin and stiff, almost like a pretzel, a random bad-card fate dealt him when he entered this world. He was laying in his own filth and no longer eating or drinking because he didn't want to continue to create more of an inescapable mess. And there he lay, day after day, with literally everyone who lived on the mountain walking past and ignoring him. He hadn't moved an inch in the time we went up until the time we returned a couple days later. In the same position, filthy and starving and unable to move, properly, care for himself and embarrassed out of eating or drinking despite his hunger.

Even with all the stressful stuff we had going on with assessments, paperwork, food etc. the thought of this man would not leave my mind. I found myself imagining those I love most, thrust into his cruel prison of a body, and realized that such a scenario was not acceptable if he was someone I loved deeply. I absolutely would not tolerate it.

Strangely, I then came to the conclusion that just because I didn't know and love him personally, his position was still equally unacceptable and my unfamiliarity with him shouldn't change how I felt about the need for action because someone out there, alive or dead, at least at some point loved him that much, and if not, then he was even more worthy of it. I think it was after all these kinds of thoughts, I found myself full of compassion for this man.
Upon returning back to Kathmandu, I started thinking about what could be done for this guy. I've never cared for or washed a grown man like this, and it felt beyond my skill set and comfort level, but I also felt like that shouldn't matter, and it was time to rise to the occasion.

I get some smaller donations from women, I call them "Widows mites" like $25 here and there and I try to use all these little donations in the most powerful way possible because they are all these donors can give, which so deep and meaningful to me.

We used one of these little donations, went out and bought a bucket, some soap, a new mat, bed pan and new clothes. The man was a quick hike away from the distribution, about 15 minutes or so. Once the distribution got rolling, I started heading up with 2 other team members and we learned that there was someone who was supposed to take care of him. We tracked the caretaker down and let him know it was not ok to leave this poor man like this.

Long story short, the caretaker, who turned out to be his brother, and I washed this guy right there on the side of the path. I think it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life because I learned something that has changed my heart, and I grew in becoming able to do something I never would have considered. Compassion, it seems, is an incredible tool for good. I feel like if I can tap into that same deep feeling again, I'd be more motivated to serve and make stuff happen. I have lots of room to grow in understanding true compassion. It's an exciting thought to me. I want to improve compassion wise, if that makes any sense.

I'm worried that the man might fall into the same state of neglect, so we are working on something a more long term. Not really sure what the right answer is there. I'll update you when I can when we have a solution in place. I feel deeply grateful for this experience, and hope that my sharing it with you has given you something positive and meaningful to think about. It was a great day today.”

May 16th
“You might be reading in the news about aid moving slowly here, and this is why: There are literally hundreds of villages just like this, on the edge of a mountain, thousands of feet up, scattered all over Nepal. They are only accessible by helicopter or hiking for days. You can't really carry tons of aid in. This is why aid work in Nepal is nearly impossible in some regions without some villagers are moving to new locations, most seem to staying.”

May 17th
“I'm happy to report that our Salvation Army team has delivered food aid to nearly all of the villages I hiked to in my first days here and we have even helped several additional villages. I was originally supposed to return to the U.S. tomorrow afternoon, but given the upcoming schedule of shelter aid we are planning to deliver, I've decide to extend an additional 7-10 days, all depending on how well my health holds up. Three weeks is usually my max, but I feel pretty good and also feel that it is really important to get these supplies out to our villages before monsoon season hits, which is coming up. We have a great team here in Nepal and we are going to keep it going as long as we can. I'm very proud to see and be part of the reports our team leader Damaris is turning in, and know we are making a difference.
Salvation Army with Food Aid
USB solar panel chargers are a huge success with our remote village deliveries. Many of them oddly still have cell network coverage, just no way to charge their phones. Once we deliver these, they can charge their phones and they can update us with their needs in real time or we can call to get certain info. This village has a developing water and medical issue. The restored communications will allow us to plan right up to the time we might make a return flight, which is important because needs are constantly evolving. We hope to get a medical team and some filters out to them soon, and my friend Amanda is bringing more chargers this week. She couldn't have arrived at a better time, as the chargers are getting very hard to find in Kathmandu.”

One of the last tasks Mike did was visit the man he helped on the path:

Saved Man from Path
“We were able to locate and transport the man by the path from his remote village to a care facility in Kathmandu. He had been moved 3 hours up the mountain and will now have the proper medical attention, food, and care he needs. So very grateful to be part of this experience, and especially thankful to everyone who came together to make it happen. It's been over a month for me in Nepal - so many great new friends, experiences and memories I will treasure for the rest of my life. That said, time to come home and rest up.”

Following the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ Michael taught on his mission, he has been the instrument in helping the people of Nepal start the recover back to normal life. He is only one person but look at all he has accomplished to help those disaster stricken people. What an example of compassion and love for a people he has never met. Organizing funds and using those funds to organize not only food and medical supplies but something most people would not have thought to send: USB solar panel chargers so rescue communications can continue. 

This is a story for the world to hear and know there are people like Michael Shiffler helping Nepal get back on their feet. It is inspiring and emotionally moving.  We need more people like him to do more good in the world.  Count me in.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Loaded Gun

By Lisa Swinton

We're all busy. This isn't news.

But lately I've felt like someone's got a loaded gun pointed at my head and if I can't get my TO DO list done on time then that person is going to pull the trigger. 

This is a two fold problem. 

First, I can't concentrate when I feel like the weight of the world on my chest is impeding my ability to breathe, and this makes me less productive. 

Second, if the trigger is pulled, at least I won't have to worry about the TO DO list anymore. 

Correction, it's a three fold problem. 

I'm not ready to die. I've got to much I want to cross of my TO DO list. Sigh. 

Maybe I feel this way because it's the end of the school year. 

Yes, really. My kids finished school on June 18. So, Summer really starts TODAY for us. While many of you have already had weeks of vacation, we here in Maryland have had to make up a slew of snow days. 

But summer isn't slowing down. There's swim team. My kids and I are in a production of The Music Man. There's also Vacation Bible School, Lacrosse camp, basketball camp, two family vacations, a mom & daughter vacation to NYC, youth conference to chaperone, and girls camp to lead that go in the mix as well. There will only be one week of the entire summer where nothing is happening and that's the week before school starts, which is exactly when I expect my daughter to go into full blow panic about starting middle school. Oh, and I'm trying to finish up the last of prepping my next novel for publication in September. 

Yes, I'm out of balance. Yes, many of the things on our summer list are good things. Some are needful. Some are about service. Some are supposed to be restful. But right now, I just don't feel it. 

What's a girl to do? 

I can do what we women usually do, grit my teeth and barrel through to the end. (Not so fun.) 

Or, I can let go, take a breath and remember that all will be well. All will work out. We can have a calm, positive, relaxing summer while sharing warm family moments amid the self inflicted crazy. 

The "bear" attitude I carry will just make everyone else cranky. 

The "grace" attitude I carry will make life smoother for us all. 

As the Mom, my attitude affects all in my home. If I want my home to be happy/a place of refuge, then I have to be the one to set the tone.  

What ideas do you have to keep peace in your home when school is out and or how to regain balance when you feel off kilter?

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Flax Seed Formula

This blog post isn't intended to diagnose a condition or tell y'all what to do. I'm just sharing my experiences, and maybe they'll be helpful to you. If nothing else, maybe they'll be mildly entertaining.

When I was seventeen, I developed carpal tunnel. I didn't have a job or a driver's license yet, so I spent a lot of time at home crocheting, typing, and doing other things that are essentially really bad for your hands (repetitive movement). I'd go to bed at night with braces on my wrists and Mineral Ice slathered up to nearly my elbows, and some nights I couldn't sleep at all because the pain was so bad.

A co-worker of my dad's had just gotten surgery for her carpal tunnel, and he took me over to meet her. She explained the procedure, and I decided I'd have to go that route as well. It was to the point where I couldn't use my hands much at all anymore, and sometimes the pain was enough to make me cry.

Well, around in this same period of time, I met up with a homeopathic doctor (I forget why I was going to him in the first place. Oh! Chronic ear infections. That's why. Carry on.) and I mentioned to him that I was going to have surgery for carpal tunnel. He asked me to hold off for just a bit and told me to take vitamin B complex. He said that would nourish my wrists and allow them to rebuild. I wasn't totally excited about having the surgery anyway, so I was more than happy to put it off (I hadn't seen a surgeon yet, so it wasn't a big deal to delay).

The B complex vitamins took enough of an edge off the pain after a few weeks that I decided not to have surgery after all. I got a job and was able to do my tasks without difficulty, but I still had to watch how much typing I did, etc. I carried on this way for about a year.

Then an awesome thing happened.

I met Matt Pinkston.

Isn't he cute?

But I digress.

We started dating, and I mentioned one day that I take B complex for my carpal tunnel. He said something that literally changed my life. He told me to add flax seed oil to what I was already taking.

(Cue angelic bursts of song.)

I picked up some flax seed oil and started taking it, and that combination absolutely cleared up my carpal tunnel. As in, I don't have it anymore.

And I was so grateful, I decided to marry the man.

He and I have done some research to figure out why this works. Here's what we discovered.

Like my doctor told me, B complex nourishes the wrists. The flax seed oil goes in and lubricates them and strips out the uric acid, which builds up with repetitive motion. So basically, it's a one-two-three punch. You strip out the build-up, lubricate the joint, and then nourish it. I've found that it works for my other joints as well.

Over the years, I've shared this secret with everyone who tells me they're suffering from carpal tunnel. Some look at me like I'm crazy. Others want to know if I've invested in the flax seed oil industry and have something to gain by making this recommendation (I haven't invested, but I really should). Many aren't interested in trying a natural remedy. But those who have tried it and given it a sincere go have found relief of their symptoms. For some, it hasn't been complete relief, but it's been enough to take the edge off their pain and make life more manageable for them.

Now again, I'm not trying to tell you what to do. I'm just telling you what worked for me and for many of my friends, and you can decide for yourself if you'd like to give it a go. At the worst, you've cleaned out some cholesterol and reduced your stress levels (other benefits of flax seed oil and B complex). At the best, you've helped yourself with a debilitating condition. You've really got very little to lose here.

If you'd like to give it a try, head on down to Walmart or other place that sells stuff and pick up a bottle of flax seed capsules and another of B complex vitamins. Then take, for the first week:

Six flax seed capsules and three B complex per day, spread out throughout the day

For the second week, take:

Four flax seed capsules and two B complex per day, spread out throughout the day

And then after that, every day take:

Two flax seed capsules and one B complex per day

You will know after a few weeks if it's going to help you out, and your expenditure will be about twenty bucks to give it a try. That's it.

 Today, I can type for hours and hours without a single twinge. At a recent writers' retreat, I wrote nearly 25,000 words in two and a half days, and my hands/wrists didn't bother me at all. My sitter-downer gives out long before my wrists do. And I'm to the point where I don't even need the two flax every day - now I take it about once a week.

This is just my story about how I was on the brink of surgery and was able to avoid it and also improve my overall quality of life. It's not for everyone, and I understand that. But it might help for some. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Friday, June 12, 2015

When Books Don’t Listen to You as the Writer

The first time I had a book character disobey me, I was in complete shock. I'd heard about it from other writers, but hadn't experienced it myself. When I told one of my non-writing friends that it had happened, she was pretty sure I was crazy.

Whether you outline or discovery write, you know that sometimes your story will spin in a different direction than what you'd planned. Outliners will then have to redo their outline to fit it in, and discovery writers? They just go along for the ride.

Back to my first experience. My main character's brother, Adam, was supposed to be a minor character. Someone who was only mentioned in passing.

And then he laughed at me. "No, sorry. I have to do this. For my sister."

I stared in shock at the words in front of me as I saw him dart out of the room and try to save the day. I watched him get taken and move the story forward in a way that my main character couldn't have. The story was so much stronger because of it. Then together, they were able to save the day, and the story wrapped up perfectly. Well, maybe not perfectly because another two books came after that.

There are times when you can reign in your story and tell them to behave, but before you do, weigh the consequences. Will the story suffer if you go a new direction? Will it be stronger? What are you going to have to change after this? Is it worth it?

One great indicator is how the story reacts. If you're suddenly at a standstill and you can't go any further, chances are you need to go back and fix a spot. Maybe that sudden inspiration wasn't what the story needed. And sometimes the different direction is exactly what the plot needed to drive it forward.

I was done with a series last year. My character had saved the day and everything was exactly how I wanted it. Except ... my story had other ideas. One day in the middle of church, a whole new plot came to mind and screamed at me to write it.

So I did. Except that I got to the ending and sat there staring at it. Nothing worked. The ending I had planned out didn't solve anything, and in fact, made it too similar to the ending of the third book. I took a step back and talked to a few friends before suddenly realizing that this wasn't the end. It had to go a different direction or I would have broken promises I made in the book. After I made that decision, the story flowed perfectly, and I was able to finish it later that day.

And now I have another book to write. But you know what? That's okay, because I know that going off the beaten path will make this story stronger.

So what's the craziest thing your characters ever made you write?