Category Archives: Joe Niemczura

about the writing process Oct 16th


I’m now up to 70,000 words on my second book. The goal will be to get to about 110,000 words I think; but this does not mean that I am two-thirds of the way done.

For wisdom on this, I go to Winston Churchill.

Once I do get to 110,000 words, when I have written the whole thing out, I will begin the process of editing, which for me will mean re-writing it about a hundred times.

Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is the term for the second book. It will be set in a certain time and place,and there will be a high standard for accuracy as to what it would have felt like to be there then.  For me, this means placing the events, characters and plot in Nepal, since I have done a lot of research already. Does that surprise you?

The Civil War in Nepal

The story will take place during the recent civil war, with especial attention to the battle of Beni in 2003.

Collectivist culture

a theme that runs throughout is the tendency of Nepali people to do things in groups. Every time anything happens, a crowd gathers. If something is going to happen, people will gather a crowd. Exactly who is in the crowd, or not, is a very interesting question. People are defined according to the crowd to which they belong.


well, no. Not erotica, per se. But there will be a plot that involves romance. I think this will engage the reader. To write a passage describing romantic attraction between characters, has been a lot of fun so far. I need to become a better writer.

The Title?

has been chosen. It is “The Sacrament of the Goddess”  which refers to an episode in the book. Many of the key characters of the book are Buddhist, and the Goddess in question is Green Tara.


This not simply writing a story, it involves study and research. I have used the internet extensively for research. I use the notes from my four trips to Nepal. I have hired a guy in Nepal to do some specific research for me. I expect that I still will be working on this in summer 2013, and so I will visit some of the locales mentioned in the book and interview some people.

stay tuned!


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simplify and minimalize your life?

Today, my friend Tom Jamrog wrote in his blog that he has tackled his hoarding problem head-on.

The Minimalist Movement

He hauled stuff to the dump; he gave things to Goodwill. But most of all , he mentally let go of the need to have “stuff.” He gave the link to a very interesting blog on Minimalism,  which provides a sort of philosophy of why minimalism is something we need to consider in twentyfirst-century America. The Minimalists give you a 21-day plan to free yourself… based on the idea that it takes three weeks of daily practice before something becomes a “habit.” They advocate such things as selling your car, eliminating extra bills, etc.

Zen Habits

There is also a terrific blog named Zenhabits.   The writer(s) of this blog offer a perspective on how to live an intentional life, one in which the activities are focused on a goal or purpose, not on blind acceptance of consumer culture, and which promotes the idea of simplicity in life. It is a way to achieve internal peace and harmony.

Re-entry shock

I have been trending in this direction for awhile, ever since my first trip to Nepal in 2007. While there I saw a paradox of people who had nothing ( as in, no possessions) but who were still largely leading happy lives ( okay, well, my book is about the dismal state of health care in that country – not quite “happy”   for those who had health problems). When I returned had a full-blown case of re-entry shock. This led me to reconsider the materialistic approach of the average American.

Backpacking as an expression of Zen

When not in Nepal, I have completed two summer long backpacking trips. This is also an exercise in zen – deciding to let go of as much material possessions and mental clutter as you possibly can.  Seeing how well you do.

Advice to nurses

On my other blog, I spend a lot of time giving career advice to nurses who are entering a very complex and daunting work environment. I think most nurses go into the profession with the excellent zen-like goal of compassion and lovingkindness, but can lose sight of this along the way. I think nurses need to find a balance between the pace of work life and the need for inner peace exemplified by these blogs.

This does not mean that nurses have to accept every thing that comes their way – it does mean that nurses save their energy to fight the battles worth fighting for to make better patient care.

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Honolulu Greek Festival Aug 25th and 26th, 2012.

Be sure to click the hyperlinks, underlined or in a different color text.

Greek Festival

I grew up in Marlboro, Massachusetts, where a small Greek community also lived. I was around Greek dancing when I was young. From the perspective of an outsider, Greek dancing has a wonderful element of community, and of course it is a spectacle of celbration and joy.   In Honolulu, the Greek Festival is coming up, two weeks after I return.  McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Beach Park.

When and where

The doors open on Saturday at noon, and continues into Sunday, admission is $3. There is a schedule loaded with all kinds of interesting things. They bring in a terrific band from L.A. which is as authentic as it gets.

The event starts in the afternoon.  You can dance in the heat of the day, but the dancing does not get serious until 6:30 PM or so when the sun goes down. At that time, you can join the trance…… magic happens……  Rules of the venue require it to stop at 9 PM Saturday. The last forty-five minutes are at a fever pitch, and you will think you are somewhere in the Aegean Sea….

This is me with the beard.  My daughter says I am trying to be “The Most Interesting Man in the World” – that would be a switch. I sometimes think I am kind of boring.

I don’t know how my knee will hold out…… we’ll see…… BUT, if it does you will see me there. Making a spectacle of myself, as in the past five years in a row.

My musical past

I used to be a member of The Huddled Masses Orchestra, a band that accompanied folk dancing in Maine. we took our name from the famous poem. When people came to our events, we always showed them how to do some simple steps. If you see me there, don’t by shy. Introduce yourself. You can join the same dance line as me, I promise to keep it simple.

If you have never done Greek dancing, there are some great examples on YouTube these days.

some guidelines about joining in the dance

There is a great article from Go Los Angeles about the unwritten rules of Greek dance.  For a beginner, it sometimes looks chaotic, but it is not.

I am cutting-and-pasting here. One thing I would add is, most of the time any given band does not announce what kind of dance step they are about to play. The musicians assume the audience can tell the difference. ( and in Honolulu, they are many excellent dancers who can do so.). It’s a good idea to wait a minute to figure this out, or to hang with somebody who can.

A few Greek dances are danced as couples or solo, but most Greek dances are danced in a line. The line moves generally to the right and the person on the end with their right hand free is the leader.  Everyone else follows the leader.

When a dance has a lot of variations, there is no particular order to dance those steps, so the leader calls the steps with hand signals. It is important to watch the leader to know what is coming next. If the leader is not using hand signals, you have to watch their feet.

The first rule of Greek dancing is never try to join a line at the right end (beginning of the line). Sometimes you will see the leader offer the lead to another dancer, but no one takes over the lead without an invitation.

Beginners should always join at the back of the line. You will see experienced dancers break into the middle of a line. There are two reasons for doing this. One is to dance next to friends who are already in the line. The second reason that experienced dancers will break into the middle of the line is so they don’t have to trip over beginners who don’t know the steps. So if you don’t know the steps, go to the back. Don’t break into the middle of a line.

Sometimes, if the line is long, you end up opposite the leader at the other end of the circle and it’s hard to follow the steps because you are looking at them backwards. If it’s crowded, you might not be able to see the leader through the crowd of other dancers. If you’re having a hard time getting the steps, you might want to go behind the leader for a few minutes to practice the steps before joining the end of the line.

The most common dance is the Syrto. It is easy to learn because most people dance it without variations and the bands like to play 20 minute Syrto medleys, so there is plenty of time to pick up the 12-step slow-quick-quick slow-quick-quick rhythm. (This doesn’t apply if you get in my line. My feet get bored doing the same 12 steps for 20 minutes, so I throw in lots of variations.)

At many Greek Festivals they teach a couple of the dances once or twice a day so that beginners get a chance to learn the steps properly. You can also ask some of the more experienced dancers to show you the steps in between songs or when the band takes a break.

If you find the line dances intimidating, you can still join in the Tsifteteli, the Greek version of a belly danced which can be danced as a couple or solo. There are no steps, just get out there and wiggle.

The other dance you will see people dancing alone is the Zembekiko, or drunkard’s dance. This also has no specific steps, but involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko you will see several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they’ll trade off. There are no rules. You can dance alone or you can join the clapping for someone else. As long as you’re having fun, you’re doing just fine.

Now go out and hit the dance floor. Opa!


the three Greek dances they are guaranteed to play

If you wish to prepare, be advised that a reasonably coordinated person can usually pick up the steps to the most commonly done dances, very quickly. (click on the underlined sections)

1) Syrto, part one and part two. Also, here is a link to a really clear teaching video about the Kalamatiano, a related dance.  the best, in my opinion.

2) Zonaradiko – which is Bulgaria would be called a pravo….. or in Israel, the Hora.

3) Tsamico – in 3/4 time. when you watch this one, don’t be distracted by the first two guys in line – the third and fourth guy are doing the “basic step” and that’s all a beginner needs to know.  The first two guys are strutting their stuff, which is very entertaining, everyone else has a spot in the front row!


If you can do the ones above, you will be able to participate in two-thirds of the action.

The band usually also plays a Hasapiko or two; these get a bit more complicated. The local Greek community will always do some zebekeiko.  (there seem to be ten ways to spell this word…). This is a solo dance, and you will be impressed by the high level of skill and passion.

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Some day I will organize my Junk Drawer

Gentle reader:

I have three blogs.

Nursing in Hawaii is where I give advice on issues of the day especially nursing labor force issues.

Nepal Critical Care 2013 is where I write about Global Health Nursing.

and then – this one.

I thank you for staying with my travels this summer. I return to Oahu and to school next week though, and I will be retitled and refocusing this one so that it is no longer focused on my backpacking trip. I enjoy writing about non-nursing topics. In the past I threw these in with the other two blogs – for example, writing about wanting to buy a Pocket Trumpet or attending a Capoeira class. But I wish to use the first two blogs to write about nursing and global health, and all the internet advice says you get more hits if you keep it focused and not so – quirky.



The price of being eclectic

If you have stuck with me, you should now by now that I am eclectic and I live on a sparsely-populated fringe of pop culture. I love music but not the stuff you hear on the radio. I am Catholic and have worked with Christian Missionaries but I have studied Buddhism and Hinduism. I keep up with current affairs but don’t watch much television. I can do masonry, electrical wiring, sheetrock, carpentry and plumbing but I presently own just a few tools. I can phonetically read Cyrillic and Devanagari and used to sing in Polish when I was with the polka band back east. I enjoy playing sports but not watching.  I know how to defibrillate but I try not to rely on the remote when watching television.

Yeah, that’s me.

Junk Drawer?

Sometimes I think my life has been like one of those junk drawers people have in their kitchen – the place where stuff gets thrown when you don’t have a better spot and you hope to sort it out later. So, this will now be the place where I write about: The Royal Elephant Brass Band; strange things that happen in Honolulu; interesting people I meet; the process of creating my second book which I hope to embark upon; my family; Brasil; and everything else.

and so, I am renaming this blog. “Junk Drawer” will be part of the title. I don’t expect to write here every day, and I can’t say what the topic will be. If you choose to unsubscribe, now is the time, and there will be no hard feelings…….




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Trip to Port Charlotte – “God’s Waiting Room”

while on the mainland, i made a quick trip to visit my folks in Florida.


They have been married sixty-one years this summer.

So, we were driving in the car, and instead of sitting in front with my dad, (so as to make use of leg room) I opted to sit in the back seat. My mom has had knee surgery in the past and she too could use the leg room.


flashback to childhood and all previous times I was in the car with these two.

my mom started singing. She is liable to burst into song at any moment. many childhood memories of her, doing some chore such as washing the dishes, while whistling. she always had an amazing sense of pitch and could whistle the same tune  in more than one key.

the tune? “Side By Side”

You may not be familiar with the tune. click here for a You Tube. ( alas, this video is a clip from the movies in 1944; I wish I had Alicia doing it…)

it was very sweet of her.

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Q & A about privies on the Trail

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Q: how can a person tell they are now hiking in Virginia and not TN or NC?

A: Here, there is a privy near each shelter. Virginia is the home state of six presidents.

Q: what!?!?!

A: it’s true. In TN/NC they encourage the “moldering system” and there is a shovel at each overnight location. The guiding theory in TN/NC is, it decomposes faster, fewer flies, etc. Also, every American can enjoy our public lands in their own way, it is our birthright.

In Virginia they have read Ecclesiastes.

Q: and toilet paper?

A: I carry a personal supply. I augment this with selected deciduous leaves. Lately those of the American Chestnut have been my go-to favorite.

Q: isn’t the American Chestnut an endangered species?

A: yes and no. Chestnut Blight has eliminated the majestic mature “redwoods of the east,” but there are thousands of juvenile trees right by the Trail. In New England I found that leaves of the Sugar Maple would also serve. Leaves are biodegradable!

Q: don’t they clog the sewer system?

A: I have never, not even one time, flushed any leaves down a toilet.

Q: what if there is no privy along the way during the day?

A: Do what bears do. Actually – don’t. Bears will relieve themselves in the middle of the trail. Bears are very unselfconscious. People should step *off* the trail, then emulate the happy-go-lucky bears.

Bear scat is distinctive, by the way.

Q. Are you making this up?

A. No. Why would I lie to you? A number of years ago, a wise hiker wrote a backcountry masterpiece titled “How to Shit in the Woods.” It is now a canon of backcountry lore, and I would be hard pressed to add anything to that oevre. The book ends up in many a hiker’s Christmas stocking, to this day, and has been translated into French. Kathleen Meyer, the author, deserves an honorary PhD from Warren Wilson College or perhaps UVM. To say nothing of the Nobel Prize for medicine.

Q: do you own a copy?

A: No. Buy it on Amazon.

Q: what if you…..just…. Can’t?

A: in that case, backpacking may not be a good fit for you. I met a girl scout troop on a thirty mile A.T. Hike. One of the leaders told me they’d done a “test hike” for a weekend back home in Ohio a few weeks prior, during which they found that two girls tried to “hold it” for the entire three days. One more reason to do a test hike before setting out on the real thing. Those two needed to work on “letting go.” They did not make the final roster.

Q. Is this problem caused by civilization taking us away from our roots?

A. My own daughters grew up in rural Maine and our old farmhouse had a two-holer; we had a flush toilet but sometimes the two-holer was a handy backup when a blizzard took out the electricity or some such. I’m just sayin’.

Q. About squatting. Weren’t you having knee problems?

A. Thank you for asking. My right knee has improved and I am able to squat with more flexibility than before. Maybe that’s TMI. Difficulty in hyperflexing my right knee prevents me from surfing because I can’t “pop up.” When I had my knee X-rayed, the orthopedic surgeon told me I have previously fractured my patella. Who knew? All this time I thought it was a meniscus tear.

As an aside, In Hawaii I learned that children in Asian cultures spend more time squatting than kids on the mainland. This maneuver enhances lifetime knee joint flexibility. I once had a student who decided to squat in the hospital corridor, while jotting down her nurse’s notes. I had to tell her it’s simply not done that way, use a chair. Later we joked about it on the elevator, and all ten students in the group squatted as if on cue. I said “don’t hold your breath waiting for me to squat down there with you.”

Q: what about Nepal?”

A: the main fixture in Nepal is a squat toilet. These are common in rural Asia. It’s not as if I haven’t had practice 🙂

Q: what else about privies?

A: In NH and VT, Dartmouth College Outing Club (DOC) maintains a hundred miles of trail, and the D.O.C. designs each privy as a standalone work of architecture. There is one location where the privy roof is supported by four columns reminiscent of Bernini’s famous Baldachino at  Saint Peter’s Basilica. To sit on that throne in the forest cathedral is a majestic experience. Architecture is a means of social commentary, of course.

Trail progress

PS got to Saunders Shelter prior to the lightning storm Sunday. Alone there overnight. Nine miles and 2,000′ vertical, despite lingering in Damascus until 11 A.M. An enjoyable hike paralleling the Virginia Creeper bike path and a rollicking mountain stream. Found myself humming the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pastorale symphony” – which he composed after a hiking trip in Bavaria. At one point I stopped for a swim.

The 16th was a relatively short day, but Tuesday I will climb the ridge that includes Mt Rogers, tallest peak in VA. – thirteen miles and 3,000′ vertical. Wednesday is reserved for the Grayson Highlands. Feral ponies etc…..

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July 15th riding out of town on a rail…..Next stop – Grayson Highlands

July 15th –

Happy birthday to my brother Ed!


got the new maps for VA, now that I am done with all four section-maps of TN/NC. To my delight, Grayson Highlands is closer than I thought. Grayson Highlands is the place where they have feral ponies and it is a must-see. It will take a few days to get there.

today’s hike is ten miles and 2,000 vert to the next shelter. Part of the hike will be on the old road bed of the “Virginia Creeper” – a now-defunct Railroad.

I will get there.

Or not.


take time today to focus on how you breathe.

in & out.

for a few minutes.

put your hand on your chest as a way to focus.

feel your heart beating.

these are the simplest forms of Buddhist meditation. get re-connected with your body.  to regain awareness of your own life, your own process of being alive, is the essence of mindfulness.

peace out,

Catch-Up 2012





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