Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Twelve-Fingered Boy by Jack Horner Jacobs: Book Review

The Twelve-Fingered Boy
Author: John Hornor Jacobs
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, 2013
Age level: 15 up, Young Adult (fiction/horror)
Pages: 264

Shreveport Cannon (15) lives with his alcoholic mom and little brother in a trashy trailer court. Life really could not be much worse—until the arrest. Shreve foolishly steals a neighbor’s truck and is sentenced to eighteen months in Arkansas's Casimer Pulaski Juvenile Detention Center for Boys. Despite the adjustment, Shreve fits in with his peers and actually enjoys the stability Casimer provides. However, six months into his sentence Shreve is told he will share his cell with a younger boy, Jack Graves. 

Jack comes from an unexplained violent background and had recently hurt five foster kids, putting all in the hospital. Shreve is puzzled by this violent record since Jack is small in size and seems like a nice kid. Shreve then discovers that Jack has twelve fingers (six on each hand), which to his surprise when Jack notices his stare triggers a violent reaction. A strange energy flows from Jack that ripples the air and damages everything in its path. Shreve is unharmed but Jack feels terrible, because it is a power he cannot control. 

Meanwhile, two human services officials (Quincrux and a woman) come to interview Jack. Shreve spies behind doors and learns they are interested in Jack’s powers, and apparently have strange powers of their own. Shreve observes the warden standing nearby in a zombie-like state as they talk. When the session ends the warden is awakened by Quincrux, but he is confused and disoriented. What happened there?

Later Shreve experiences something similar when Quincrux attempts a mind/body control, but Shreve resists and the unexpected happens. A power transfers to Shreve that enables mind control of others. However, convinced of Quincrux’s evil motives, Shreve escapes with Jack from Casimer. The plan is to avoid capture, learn how to control their powers, and find out why Quincrux and others are nervous about the northern state of Maryland.  

Jacobs does a good job of honing in on the boys’ need for control and normalcy in their lives. Jack becomes Shreve’s little brother, but unlike Shreve, Jack does not have a home to return to someday. It is a need that Shreve miscalculates and must reason out on his own. The Twelve-Fingered Boy is fast-paced and mostly geared for boys. There are unanswered questions at the end that hint of a sequel.   

Copyright 2013 © Sharon M. Himsl

Monday, June 24, 2013

Africa Mercy - Life in the Shipyard: One Nurse's Journey

More from my friend on board the Africa Mercy. Read about her life in the Las Palmas, Gran Canaria shipyard . . . on a small island that belongs to Spain.


 (Reported images of Las Palmas online)


Life in the shipyard

20 June 2013

Greetings from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria (one of the small islands off the coast of northern Africa that belongs to Spain).

Life on board the Africa Mercy in the shipyard is different from life during field service.  There's a completely different feel to it, as you might expect--sort of a combination of "resort vacation", living in a construction site, and working full time at strange new jobs.  There are only about 150 people on board, a mix of long-term crew, temporary volunteers who come for the renovation work, and shipyard workers who speak only Spanish.  Some of our families are still aboard; children in the shipyard freak out the port authorities, so kids have to be driven to the port gate before they can set a foot down.  That's reasonable--most ships in the shipyard are not occupied even by adults, much less children.  We are an "unusual case," so they have to figure out how to make it work for us.

Resort vacation:  This is a gorgeous island, a popular vacation spot for Europeans who want a beach holiday.  A couple of us drove around the northern edge of the island and then through the mountains in the middle of the island.  Fantastic views of the ocean, sheer cliffs of lava rock, and quaint little villages that were all impeccably clean and inviting.
The beach here in Las Palmas is a beautiful expanse of clean sand, bordered by a boardwalk lined with little shops and eating places.  The food is delicious, the fruit is lovely, and the prices are reasonable.
What more could one ask?

Construction site:  Jackhammers batter the eardrums all day long.  They are renovating the floors in the hospital.  This ship used to be a railroad ferry, so the floors have rails embedded in concrete.  Great for trains, but not so great for hospital patients.  It will certainly be an improvement...once they finish hammering.  Then there are occasional blackouts, water turn-offs, and so forth, to accommodate other renovation projects.  One of the trickiest projects has been the replacement of the CT machine. The original machine was installed before they finished building the bulkheads.  Now, how to get the old one out and the new one in?  Limited space in a "floating box" makes it a challenge to replace such a large, heavy piece of equipment.

Strange new jobs:  As I mentioned last time, I was assigned to work in the galley for the summer.  Feeding 150-300 people is a big project, and very hard work.  You are on your feet for nine hours, leaning over a sink or a counter, chopping food or washing dishes.  (I never made it to the "hot side" where the cooking is done...).  Well, by the middle of the second week, I was so exhausted I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, even after a night's rest.  I must have looked as bad as I felt, because my boss decided that maybe I needed a different job. Bless him!

So, now I am working in "sales."  We have a small "ship shop" on board, where we can purchase cleaning products, personal care items, comfort foods, and a few other assorted items.  We also have a Starbuck's cafe where we can purchase coffee and snacks.  (Starbuck's donates the coffee!)  I am learning the language of coffee...frappachino, cappachino, well as how to make them and how to ring up the sales.  Hey, this job is FUN!  Maybe I've found my next career.

One of my cabinmates has left the ship.  My two remaining cabinmates decided that since I was their mother's age, I should have a bottom bunk despite the fact that normally it would be Maryke's turn to move down, not mine.  That was quite a sacrifice on her part, to spend the next year in a top bunk for my sake.  I must say, I sure do enjoy the new arrangement, the ease of flopping down for a quick rest now and then, or getting up to the bathroom at night without clamoring down a ladder in the dark.  Maryke (South Africa) and Remy (Holland) and I certainly get along well together.  Hopefully, my new bunkmate will be as pleasant as they are, whenever she arrives.  Living in such a small space, it matters a lot how well you relate with your cabinmates, and especially with your bunkmate.  Meanwhile, my two cabinmates are both on vacation, and I have the entire cabin to myself!  How's that for luxury?

Well, time for lunch, and then back to work.


This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Weekly Recap: Summer Flu

Hi . . .
I wish I could say the trip to California was wonderful. It was for the first four days at least, but then the family came down with the flu....all six of us (our son's family and me--Vince escaped all). Sore throat, achy skin, chills, fever, cough, runny nose, clogged sinuses and ears, dizziness, red eyes, nausea, fatigue (my symptoms to be precise). (I hope my family will forgive this grumpy post). So much for the flu shot, but I assume it would have been worse without one. Online I learned that 2012-2013 has been one of California's worst flu seasons. However, I then discovered my mother was ill in Bothell, WA with the same bug, so maybe it was a west coast thing.

There is something about flu in the summer that seems so unfair. Sitting in front of a cozy fire under a comforter with a hot mug of lemon and honey tea just doesn't work. It was hot out all last week--in the mid-80s. It soured my mood considerably (you don't want to be around me when I'm sick) . . . and mostly (the worst part) it sapped my energy.

We did fit in a really interesting trip to JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), swimming, dinner out, karaoke night, Wii bowling, and put-put golf.

With our grandsons - waiting in line for JPL tour
Boys having fun on the put-put golf course

Most importantly, Vince was able to help our son fix a major electrical problem in the house, which took several days to fix.

Dad and son at Santa Anita Park
 In hindsight though, more rest for the grandkids (late nights every night were the rule) and more one on one time with our son and daughter-in-law would have been nice. But it happens when you only see each other once a year. You try to fit in precious time with the grandkids because they are growing and changing so fast. Unfortunately, the children often come away thinking it's all about them and the adults come away exhausted. 

Nice photo of daughter-in-law - Farrell's Restaurant
I guess there still needs to be a healthy balance between finding time for both the adults and the children. But with families living so far apart these days, how does one do this effectively? All said, I am thankful for three loving grandchildren and their two very devoted parents.

No writing in two weeks but back to work again, although still coughing and a bit grumpy . . . Did anyone else happen to catch this notorious bug?

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Monday, June 17, 2013

Africa Mercy - The Sail: One Nurse's Journey

More from my friend on board the Africa Mercy. I love her poetic and detailed description of the sail to La Palmas, where they are docking for repairs and maintenance. Read on . . .

The Sail
06 June 2013

We have just arrived in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, the shipyard where we will be undergoing repairs, maintenance, and inspections for the next several weeks.  We left Conakry at noon last Saturday and arrived here at noon, five days later.  The sail was very nice--ideal weather, calm seas, and smooth sailing all the way.  It was an odd time, a mixture of work and "cruise ship" atmosphere.

With Mercy Ships, everyone works.  If your regular job is suspended during this shipyard time, you get assigned to a different job for the duration.  I will be the pre- and post- operative nurse for the eye surgeries once we reach Congo, but for now, I work in the galley.  We are making three meals a day for a crew of about 300 people, so it is a big operation.  I find it physically taxing, standing on my feet from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, chopping vegetables, washing dishes, washing all the fresh food in bleach water, etc.  We do get breaks and meals, but's a lot of standing and leaning over a sink or counter while I work.  Aleve (naproxyn) is my new best friend!  

Our work is about to get even more complicated, because they plan to do renovations in the regular galley.  We'll have to move our cooking to the crew kitchen, a much smaller space set up for individual and family cooking, not mass production.  Ken, the chief chef, has modified the menu to fit the new circumstances...I'm guessing that it will include a lot of soups and sandwiches.

I've never sailed on a cruise ship, but I've heard it described as one big party.  We also had a lot of fun while sailing.  Someone organized events for every evening, ranging from worship on the bow at sunset, to Open Mike entertainment, to a game of "gotcha".(Each contestant was given a name of another player to "eliminate" by sneaking up on them and squirting them with a syringe of water.  If you got your victim before you were squirted, you inherited your victim's target for your next quary, until everyone was eliminated except the winner.)

For me, the wonderfully refreshing thing about the sail was the ocean. It stretched from horizon to horizon in all directions--endless, vast, gently undulating, sparkling in the sunlight, a whole cacaphony of colors.  If the sun is behind you, the water is emerald blue, except the almost-black water in the shadow of the ship.  If you face into the sun, the water is black at the base of the waves, coffee brown on the sides, and white on the crest.  In the distance, all you see is sparkles dancing.  If you look at the water in our wake, it is a light aquamarine, filled with bubbles.  It gradually smooths out and blends in again, but the surface of the wake remains smoother than the surrounding water for quite a long time, leaving a visible trail.

There is a peacefulness about sailing.  The pace is steady, hour after hour, cruising in a straight line toward your destination, but at such a slow, measured pace.  The scenery doesn't change, except another ship in the distance now and then, so it feels somewhat timeless, like an endless voyage, sailing to the ends of the earth.  We had navigation updates, of course, so we were aware of our progress on the map--but I could imagine what the Pilgrims must have felt crossing the Atlantic for months with nothing but stars to guide them and no feedback on their progress.

Gran Canaria is one of several little islands just off the coast of Africa, but they are part of Spain, both governmentally and culturally. 

Las Palmas is a large city, and a tourist attraction.  It will be interesting to see how it compares to Conakry.  I suspect that it will feel a lot more familiar--European, with a southern Mediterranian flavor,  but far closer to my culture than Guinea was.  I expect that I'll have a good time exploring on my days off.

But for's been a long day in the galley.  Definitely time for bed.


This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Africa Mercy - Departure from Guinea: One Nurse's Journey

Hi . . . Two more emails from my friend on the Africa Mercy. Marilyn talks about pirates and stowaways as they prepare to leave Guinea for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. I find it sad the desperation that Africans must feel as they attempt to stow on board. I wonder how many people actually drown trying! It is yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to live in the modern world.

When I first offered to post Marilyn's story, I had no idea how extensive her trip would be. I don't know about you, but I am grateful to have participated in this very small way. I know she appreciates your comments!! 

Departure from Guinea
1 June 2013

I'll begin this email now, but I'm not allowed to send it until after we have left Guinea.  There's a reason for that restriction--stowaways and pirates--both of which frequent this port.  They don't like for us to discuss the details of the security measures we take, which are considerable, but let me share a couple of recent events.

Stowaways: Conakry is rated among the top ten ports for stowaways.

After this week, I believe it!  A couple of days ago, a cargo ship left port...and then had to turn around to bring four stowaways back.  One very unhappy captain spent hours dealing with Immigration, sorting out the mess. I can understand why a couple of stowaways found earlier on a ship beside us suddenly, involuntarily, became "swimmers."  They swam the length of our ship before heading in to the dock--I think they wanted to distance themselves from any further action.

We have recently increased our stowaway security measures, as we always do near the end of our stay in a port.  For several nights, we have had watchers on the bow and the stern in two hour shifts in addition to the regular security activities.  I watched at the stern from 1:00 to 3:00 AM last night.  My watch was quiet, but the bow watch kept a close eye on several prospective stowaways trying to board the ship next to us.

Later, during the next shift, a couple of potential stowaways made a stab at boarding our ship.  Matt, the security officer on duty at the time, later told me it was a bit comical.  They approached by canoe, then slipped into the water to swim to the ship.  Problem was, they couldn't swim, so they were hanging on to white plastic jugs as floation devices--easy to spot!  Matt yelled at them, and they moved off, perhaps to try their luck elsewhere. 

We are supposed to wear our identification badges at all times, but it becomes especially important during the time just before we sail.  We are supposed to be watching all the time for intruders without badges, possible stowaways.  Yesterday, my friend Leslie was in her cabin, and a man without a badge walked into her cabin and hastily retreated.  Alert to possible implications, Leslie followed him and called for help.

Lincoln and Matt heard her and went in pursuit of the fellow.  The intruder broke into a run--wrong move!  Lincoln collared him, swept his feet from under him, and planted him more-than-firmly against the stairs.  Matt, meanwhile, was on the radio alerting the security team of the pursuit and then the capture of the intruder.  It all took place in less than a minute, start to finish. A textbook operation, beautifully done.  Oops!  Just then, the captain announced a drill...intruders on the ship, and can we find them?  The poor guy was a plant, not a real intruder.  Hope he wasn't hurt too badly. Lincoln wouldn't have played so rough if he'd known it was a drill...the captain had just been giving them a couple of minutes to get hidden before he announced the drill...


2 June 2012  

We are now underway, sailing for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.  We'll be in the shipyard there, getting repairs, rennovations, and inspections done.

In August, we'll head to Pointe Noir, Congo, for the next field service.

Stowaways are just people trying to find a better life for themselves.

You have to feel bad for them...but it sure is the wrong method to use.

They generally end up being taken back to their own country, put in jail, and blacklisted from ever obtaining a lawful visa.  Pirates, on the other hand, are dangerous men in pursuit of money, and they don't care who gets hurt in the process.  The odds of being accosted by pirates is low, but we have to be prepared, just in case.  So, last night I was on pirate watch.  I am happy to report, I didn't see any.  A couple of hours under the stars in mild weather, rocking gently as we plowed through calm waters, watching the lights of ships passing in the night...really not a bad gig, I'd say.

One more thought:  When we left Conakry yesterday afternoon, nothing "official" was planned to mark our departure.  The ceremonies and thank you's had all been done in the preceding days.  The officials of Guinea really put together a wonderful exhibition of local talent to entertain us as a thank you for our work here. speeches were made, recognition was given, and so forth.  But now, as we left the harbor, several small boats accompanied us--pilot ships and fishing boats.  They blew their horns and waved as they traveled alongside for quite a distance.  Many other people in the port left their work to congregate on the docks and wave as we sailed past.  These ordinary folks expressed their gratitude so eloquently and so spontaneously--it really warmed my heart.

More stories another day.

This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Weekly Recap: Perseverence Pays Off

Hi . . .
I woke up to a beautiful morning in eastern Washington today. My bird feeder is now a popular addition in the neighborhood (the 'Ritz'), this after breaking and falling a few weeks ago--my $40 plus feeder that I later discovered could be purchased for half. It scattered seed all over the patio and later awaited repair on our kitchen floor. Vince finally fixed it last week and attached it permanently to a pole. Apparently, a swinging bird house in the wind is not a good setup (considering the winds we get here). 

It was truly the week of repairs. My computer had a 'mega' infection. Our microwave went 'kaput', the garbage disposal clogged, a rock busted through the lawn mower and left a golf-size hole, the shredder wouldn't shred, and the treadmill had an annoying glitch. Amazing man that he is :-), Vince fixed them all!! It happens when you are married to someone who built his own airplane. They think they (and usually can) repair anything. He is still working on the Subaru problem, a sensor light that keeps coming on, but I am pushing for taking it to the dealer on this one.

I have been tackling the garden planting, including a brick border that is taking longer than I expected. Everything has to be level....what a tedious project, but I do like working with my hands. (I once repaired phones for the telephone company). Oh...remember the seed experiment? Unfortunately, the squash got planted too early and died.

Rhubarb and strawberries in front left. Three planters on right now with seeds.

The garden plot is actually on the wrong side of the yard!!! Big boo-boo on my part. Squash would not have thrived there anyway. All those sun-loving veggies have to go somewhere else. Sooo.....I will now plant peas, beets, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, and greens, which can handle some shade. Perseverance will pay off in the end. I'm the 'true grit' of gardeners! 

The trip to our son's home is almost here. It has been a year since we have seen his family. They have the cutest three boys in the world. Don't you agree? Sigh....wish they lived closer.
Grandma Sharon with the boys 18 months ago

Last....but far from least, I persevered and managed to work on my novel over 20 hours a week for three weeks in a row. I find I need to write this amount of time to stay vested in the story. The book is coming along and one chapter in particular made me cry and gave me the shivers (think I nailed the scene this time). Three and a half chapters yet to revise. I know the trip will be a huge distraction, but I am prepared to muscle my way through when I return. Perseverance works for me!

How about you? What energizes or frustrates you most when life piles up and conspires, and let's be honest here, who doesn't have a full plate? We all seem to react differently it seems. For me it helps if the basics are in security, sound relationships, belief in God, and good health, but even there, life can get the best of us at times.


My preference is to muscle my way through  
whenever possible. 

William Blake once said: 
"Great things are done when men and mountains meet."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Africa Mercy - The Aquamarine Ace: One's Nurse's Journey

Hi . . . Another email from my friend on the Africa Mercy ship. She tells an interesting story about used Japanese cars and how they are transported to other countries. Take a look . . .

This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.

The Aquamarine Ace


Today, a harbor story.  Ships come and go all the time--this is a busy harbor, and no berth remains empty for long.  This morning,  a French navy ship departed from the berth right behind us.This afternoon, the Aquamarine Ace arrived.  This evening, it left again, after only four hours in port.  Who will come tomorrow?

The Aquamaine Ace is a behemoth.  I was standing on deck eight of Africa Mercy, and the Aquamarine Ace towered above me, perhaps twice our height, and surely twice our length.  It is a "ro-ro", in local parlance, short for "roll on, roll off."  It was transporting 1500 used vehicles from Japan for resale in various countries.  They stopped first in India, came here to unload some more, and now are heading to Dakar and then to South America with the remaining vehicles.  Then back to Japan to do it again.

The 'Aquamarine' cruise ship
(photo online of the Aquamarine)

Did you know that huge ships don't parallel park?  I'd never much thought about it before, but coming into port is a slow-motion ballet.

The little tiny tugboats come alongside, of course, to guide and to protect...and to push, pull, and shove as needed.  The large ship glides slowly to a stop well out from the dock, then oozes slowly, silently sideways until they reach their destination.  It can take half an hour to move a hundred feet.  They certainly don't want a lot of momentum when they do reach the dock, as heavy as they are! 

Leaving is another ballet.  That little tiny tug flings them a line and lugs them away from the dock, bit by slow-motion bit.  Then it gradually turns them 180 degrees so that they can nose out of the harbor instead of backing out.  A second tug comes alongside and does a head-butt on the side of the ship to complete the turn and get the ship into position.  Now I know why the tugboats have rubber tires on their noses!

 Finally, the ship is under its own steam and glides slowly out of sight.

I that the way we will leave port a week from now?  I suppose so!



Saturday, June 1, 2013

War Dogs by Kathryn Selbert: Book Review

War Dogs

Kathryn Selbert
Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2013

Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Ages: 5 up, Picture Book

War Dogs is about two ‘real’ war dogs, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his beloved pet poodle Rufus. During World War II, Winston (also known as the British Bulldog) lived in a secret underground bunker in London with war office staff, his wife Clementine, and Rufus. Selbert describes the busy life that Winston led during the war. Writing war speeches and following the war’s progress were among his many duties. He delivered speeches to the House of Commons and met with his advisors, too. Rufus was Winston’s faithful companion and best friend throughout all and rarely left his side. He listened to Winston’s deepest concerns about the war. He was there when London was bombed and walked with Winston in the aftermath, surveying the damage. Then he waited faithfully for Winston’s return as he met with leaders in America and Russia on how to end the war. D-day, the invasion of Normandy, and soon the end of the war came, and Rufus returned to the countryside with Winston to rest. 

Selbert gently touches on London’s worst moments during the war, the bombings that took lives and destroyed its buildings by fire. She then shows the aftermath of the war when London rebuilt and started over again. Illustrations are in rich color, vivid and lifelike, but thoughtful of younger eyes. Rufus is on most pages and moves the story forward. A Time Line and short bio of Winston and Rufus are provided at the end. War Dogs is a good introduction to World War II history for young readers, but adults will need to explain the events as they unfold.

Copyright 2013 © Sharon M. Himsl


About Me

My photo
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.