Monday, September 30, 2013

"The President Has Been Shot" by James L. Swanson: Book Review

"The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John F. Kennedy“The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
Author: James L. Swanson
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2013
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age level: 12 up, Young Adult (nonfiction)
Pages: 336

Swanson gives a fascinating account of the events and people leading up to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) in Dallas, Texas in 1963. Intimate and surprising details are provided that take readers back in time to that fateful November day and its aftermath. But few it seemed were worried that day. Security was limited. At forty-three, John F. Kennedy was America’s youngest elected president (1960) and his pretty wife Jacqueline Bouvier (Jackie) was younger still by twelve years. Although JFK was elected by a slim margin, the Kennedy family soon captured America with their youthful charm.

Swanson calls it the “Kennedy mystique.” JFK had become “a youthful symbol of a new era of American optimism and spirit.” However, he also proved to be a worthy leader. In less than three years JFK had dealt with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, prevented a Russian missile attack, made landing on the moon a goal, achieved the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, spoke out for freedom and against communism at the Berlin Wall, and addressed America’s growing problem of racial inequality among blacks. So as the Kennedy couple embarked on a Texas campaign trip in 1963, they were hopeful a second term in office would follow.

But in the excitement of the moment an assassin’s bullet awaited them instead, that of Lee Harvey Oswald. Swanson presents the facts and what little is known about Oswald, of his personal life, family, and possible motivations. Then when the assassination takes place, Swanson carefully describes Jackie’s painful ordeal and heartfelt demands that dictated the funeral and how her husband would be remembered. New readers of JFK history will find Swanson’s ‘you are there’ account both shocking and memorable. Photos, resources for further study, detailed building diagrams and more are provided.  

I should add that I found this retelling of American history more than interesting. There are many alive today who have vivid recall of where they were and what they were doing upon learning of President Kennedy's assassination. I was sitting at my desk in Mrs. Russ's math class. I remember watching this strict, hard teacher, who was often gruff in manner, crumble into tears. I could even tell you where I was sitting in her classroom that day.

Copyright 2013 © Sharon M. Himsl

Friday, September 27, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: End of Summer

Well, autumn is here, and by evidence of the pouring rain that pelted Eastern Washington all last week and the changing fall colors, and there is no turning back. No regrets. I am  fired up to do more indoor activities with the weather change. There is something about rain pattering on the rooftop and windows that I find so settling. Perhaps it comes from having been raised in Western Washington, where rain can pour twenty-four seven. Rain is rare here in comparison, so when it comes, I become somewhat nostalgic. I love the smell, I love the sound, I love the change it foretells.

So today I am celebrating the return of cold weather and the end of summer. It is an opportunity to pull out that thick terry cloth robe, crank up the fireplace, rearrange the desktop, and start anew. I am already buzzing with new energy. Yesterday I finished chapter 22 and left it on my husband's desk to read (he's my in-house editor). I also sent a sample chapter to a writer friend to read.
Happy about that!

Summer is such a  detour for me, and from what I have read in other blogs, I know it is a challenge for writers in general. I wish it weren't so, but from the pictures below, you can see some of my end of summer distractions. I love all seasons, don't get me wrong, but cool weather is better for writing, at least for me in the current home I live. 

This brings up another point. I have wondered about setting up an outdoor writing porch next year, like the one I had at my last home. It was wonderful to sit outdoors on the north porch under the trees, with my laptop on my knees. I loved listening to the birds sing and feeling the warm summer air on my cheeks. My patio is too bright and hot here, but perhaps on the other side . . . I wonder, a porch could be added. year year. Do you find writing locations as important as I do? Do you need a special place to inspire you, too?

One of my End of Summer distractions:

No kidding. This is one of several outhouses we found at an outdoor wedding we attended in Snohomish, WA. It even smelled good! Snohomish is in western Washington and off the beaten track a ways. It is a beautiful forested location for a wedding, but services are lacking in places. A prior outhouse we had found (en route) was, uh,.....not so nice.

Vince and me. Dressed up for the big event

So nice to dress up for a change.
Family loving family. What I love most about family gatherings.

Natalie and Jason, the happy couple.

"The Wedding Dance" 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Weekly Recap: Dreams and Writing

It is interesting how the mind works. I have taken a sabbatical from my novel for over three weeks now. No particular reason why, other than everything else going on in my life  has been more interesting. On the positive side, I have tackled some issues that needed serious attention. Household accounts are now more up to date, a tree and several shrubs have been planted, and my house is a lot cleaner (I have a new iRobot Roomba :-).

I am also back on Weight Watchers, which really isn't a diet in my book, but a lifestyle change that enforces eating a healthier, lean diet. I have never joined this organization for real, but found their books and figured out the system. It really works, although it too required some serious attention in the beginning. I have since pulled out the recipe books, charts, and points book. As a result, my husband and I have been slowly shedding pounds, about two pounds weeks.

However, I am still two and a half chapters away from finishing, a rewrite that incorporated new plot details and a change to two secondary characters, one that I had actually eliminated in one draft. My dreams reflect this. I have been dreaming a lot lately, something that happens a lot when you are dieting I guess. At any rate, I had a dream last night that made me realize my novel is still very much a part of my sub-conscious.

Apparently, I have been working through the role and importance of the character I had once deleted. In my dream I met an actress (best keep her identity a secret for now), and suddenly---in a blink, I saw her playing the role of Meagan in my book. Well, okay, that means my book makes it to the big screen, but this was a dream, right? 

I am still recording my writing and exercise hours. Holding myself accountable continues to have a positive effect, whether it shames me into being more prolific or applauds my success. I am human after all, and like everyone else, I have my ups and downs. All said, I am over the hump and moving forward again!

How do you deal with roadblocks in your writing career? Do you stop and clear the paths of distraction or climb over it? 

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Africa Mercy - Stories and Screenings: One Nurse's Journey

Another post from the Africa Mercy in the Congo. Marilyn shares a touching story of a young boy's life-changing treatment, and the difficulty dealing with the anger of those turned away......Sharon

(This is a running post about a nurse's journey on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels up and down the coast of Africa)

Stories and screenings
Evangeline is a little 2 1/2 year old boy with a story.  It started
almost a year ago with difficulty breathing.  It was diagnosed as
malaria, but it didn't respond to the usual treatments. His parents
took him to a large hospital for further evaluation. They said     maybe he had malaria and maybe not, but he definitely had a tumor
in his mouth which would grow and eventually suffocate him.
Indeed, as the months passed, his breathing was progressively  compromised, to the point where he would pass out several times a day. 
The local hospital had nothing further to offer, so the parents eventually quit taking him to the doctors and awaited his approaching death.  The father, however, works in the shipyard.
When the Africa Mercy arrived and he heard that we were a hospital ship, he bought a calendar and marked the days until our main screening day. The parents just hoped he could last that long   (only two weeks!).  Indeed, Evangeline had trouble during the      screening--they had to call the emergency medical team for him. He had surgery early this week.  They removed a tumor from his soft palate the size of a man's fist.  No wonder he couldn't breathe! He spent a couple of days in intensive care, but he recovered well. He went home today to live a normal life, rescued just in the nick of time. 

A little girl wasn't so lucky.  She was brought to us from a mission hospital upcountry, hoping that we could help.  Alas, she had advanced cancer, far beyond anything we could treat.  One of the nurses was carrying her on her back, African style, when she died. The nurses often do that with the young ones--they are greatly comforted by being carried in that familiar way.  I'm glad the little girl was being held close and feeling loved for her final moments on earth.
Our screening day on Tuesday went very well.  The church hadn't   closed the gates, but the people were lined up outside as they were   supposed to be, and the crowd stayed manageable.  We were even able to screen everyone in the line.  Wednesday, however, was a      different story.  That church is in one of the poorest, most crowded districts, and they didn't shut the gates either.

Consequently, there were roughly 400-500 people already inside the compound when our security team arrived at 5:00, and the crowd outside was growing quite rapidly.  The church refused to shut the gates because they wanted their congregation to be able to come to morning mass.  The security team tried to admit only those who said they were going to mass...but once inside, they almost all  immediately tried to get into the eye screening crowd instead. People were starting to push and shove, and tempers were rising. It soon became clear that we were not going to be able to establish order, so we had to pull out and cancel screening altogether that day.

Of course, every screening that doesn't happen or doesn't go well only increases the potential for problems at future screenings by swelling the crowd size and by frustrating and angering the people who have been waiting in line for hours.  It seems to me that there is a level of expectation here in Congo that we haven't encountered elsewhere. Or maybe it is a cultural difference in how they handle disappointment. In Guinea, people seemed so very grateful for anything we could do for them.  If we couldn't help, they seemed to take it in stride and remained grateful that we tried.  Here, there is a lot more evidence of anger. 

One man told me that he was angry because he had to get in line while we were still sleeping--never mind that his mother actually did get an appointment, unlike many who were shut outside the gates.  Another man was angry because a local doctor was trying to help us with screening," You never helped us before, so why are you here now?" 

A day crew member from  another department had brought her mother to the screening that was canceled.  She was angry. Even after 15 minutes of explanation, her anger didn't often.  Our eye team day crew have reported to us that people approach them to say that they are angry to have been unsuccessful in being seen at various eye screenings. Some people even seem angry when we have to tell them that we can't help their particular problem. 

I get the feeling that the general expectation is that Mercy Ships is supposed to see everyone who wants to be seen and to fix every problem that they bring to us. Being confronted with the perception that many of the people we are trying to help are angry instead of grateful brought me to a moment of truth. Was I going to get on my high horse, as if we deserved their gratitude?  Was I doing this for the sake of getting pats on the back for being here? Or was I working to please an audience of  One, a God of compassion who cares about these people no matter what their emotional response to disappointment might be. It was a good reminder to keep my focus where it belongs!


Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: Summer Biking

Today I am celebrating summer biking. Vince and I have biked for most of our married life together. When the children came we strapped them into baby seats on the back (no bike helmets in those days!) and went exploring. Nothing competitive, mind you. We would bike through the neighborhoods, explore the university campus, or pick a destination across town (ice cream comes to mind) - simple, small outings.

I wish I had a photo to share. I did not realize how much those times meant to me until this post. For some reason, my children do not bike with their kids today. They are too busy with jobs and life I guess, and some areas of the country (theirs perhaps) are not bike friendly.

One of the best kept secrets of living on the border of the Northern Idaho Panhandle is the vast trail system available to bikers. Most of the bike trails are old railroad beds that have been paved over. One trail, the Trail of the Hiawatha, requires busing to the top, but the views are so worth the effort. We have biked this graveled trail (all downhill) more than once. Other trails are planned trails that connect our area's small towns, like the Chipman Trail between Moscow and Pullman. All with few exceptions are family friendly (and most cost nothing to use).

Vince and I recently camped and biked out of Harrison, Idaho, a trail head for the popular Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, a seventy-two mile path that follows the old Union Pacific route from Mullan, ID on the Montana border to Plummer (ID) on the Washington border.

Ready to go!!

We passed through St. Maries, Idaho en route. Saw this giant Paul 
Bunyan standing in front of a school. Every child raised in the 
Northwest (my generation at least) grew up with the story of
Paul Bunyan chopping his way through the forest and settling 
the Northwest.

At the trail head, Harrison, Idaho. Trail of the Coeur d 'Alenes.
Vince on trail traveling north. "Are you coming?" 
(We biked 20 miles in one day!)
Marshland scenery is lovely. Ducks and lily pads everywhere.


A fawn that flirted with us along the trail. We also saw moose and blue heron, but camera wasn't quick enough. There are eagles in the area too.
View from campsite. Lake Coeur d'Alene
Time to rest, time to eat. We love our cabin on wheels.
Back on trail next day along the lake, going south.

That's me on the trail. We wanted to stay longer, but had to get back home.
We biked 8 miles, a total of 28 miles in two days!

  Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl

Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing

Monday, September 9, 2013

Africa Mercy - First Week of Field Screening: One Nurse's Journey

More from Marilyn on board the Africa Mercy. The crew is overwhelmed by the number of people still seeking a medical screening--an impossible task it seems. I feel for the Africans living there. How frustrating it must be to live in a country where your only medical resource is a hospital ship. Sharon

(This is a running post about a nurse's journey on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels up and down the coast of Africa)

First week of field screening
We have begun our twice weekly field screenings, looking for more cataract patients.  These screenings are being held at five different locations in various churches around the city.  Tuesday we went to St. Marie's Cathedral, a huge compound not too far from the ship.  More than a thousand people came--too many for us to see them all.  Screening was scheduled to begin at 9:00,but many people had already arrived when our security people got there at 5:00 AM.  We got them into lines and got started about 7:30, but they came faster than we could see them, so the lines kept growing.  Finally, we had to close the lines and send the rest away.  Matt, the head of security, tried to hand out flyers with information about the next screening dates and nearly had a riot on his hands. I think they thought it was a ticket to get into the next screening, not just information, so they pushed and shoved to get one. 

Fortunately, all the churches where we will be screening have high walls and gates.  We were able to get our people inside and get the gates closed without injuries to anyone.  We stayed until we'd screened everyone inside the gates, but many unhappy people were left outside.

Wednesday's screening was even worse!  There were already more than 300 people inside the gates when the security team arrived at 5:00 AM, and the crowd was growing rapidly.  Matt just shut the gates at that point.

The crowd outside continued to pound on the gates and to climb the walls, but the security team was able to keep it under control inside the compound, so the screening process proceeded in an orderly fashion for those 300 people already inside.  Unfortunately, there was no safe way to bring any more people in once the gates had been closed, so we saw somewhat fewer people than we might have with better crowd control.

By now, I'm sure the word is out that you'd better get there the night before and camp in the courtyard if you want to be seen, so I expect that the problem is going to get worse.  Matt is talking about having the gates to the church compound locked the evening before a screening so that at least the crowd is outside and won't overrun the screening stations.  One problem, though, is that each church has daily early morning church services.  How does one admit the congregation but not our patients?  I would suppose that the pastors will have to agree to cancel church on screening days, at least until the crowd size diminishes to manageable levels.  Hopefully, with continued screenings, we'll eventually get the crowd processed and/or enough people will get discouraged and stay home.

Our problems with crowd control certainly underscore the desperate need for cataract surgery and eye care in this city, so I am glad that Mercy Ships can begin to meet that need.  I wish we had the resources to at least screen and interact with everyone who comes--but we don't.  Angry, disappointed, disgruntled crowds are inevitable at this point--but it's heartbreaking.  There is no Plan B, both for the people we have to turn away and for the people we cannot even find time to screen.

On Friday we held a bit of a debriefing for the eye team.  One person after another talked about the heartbreak of having to turn people away--and then we started remembering the people for whom we had been able to say yes, the people who will eventually have their sight restored through surgery. We remembered several who came to screening with vision-threatening infections whose eyes we were able to save.  An eye drop in time saves sight!  Anyway, as a team, we seemed to get our emotional balance back, ready to face another week of screening days.

If a potential patient makes it past the first cut on screening day, they are given an appointment date to be seen at the eye clinic for a more thorough eye exam.  At this clinic exam, we will make a final decision on whether they are a candidate for surgery or not, and if so, they will be given an appointment date for coming to the ship for surgery.  These clinic exams will begin next Monday.  So, beginning next week, we will be screening for two days a week and running clinic for two days a week.  I'm not sure what will happen on Fridays--but I'm sure something is scheduled, and I'll find out eventually.

Meanwhile, we have been using every spare minute to train ourselves and our day crew in all the things we need to know and do for clinic appointments.  There is a lot to learn!  Language barriers make everything more difficult, and medical terminology can present problems even if English is your first language.  But, our day crew are now trained in such things as using charts for visual acuity tests, using tonopens to check for glaucoma, using auto-refractors to measure refraction and corneal curvature, and A scans to get the measurements for the intra-ocular lens to be implanted during surgery, not to mention all the vocabulary that needs to be translated in taking medical histories and in explaining everything to the patients.  Are you impressed?  I am!  Perhaps I should mention that I didn't know all these machines a week ago either--I'm learning right alongside the day crew.

I would like to end with a story. "E". traveled from Nigeria to Guinea last spring, hoping for surgery on his large facial tumor.  Alas, the surgery schedule was already full, and there was no room for him. Undeterred, he arrived here in Congo just about the time the ship came into port, with little money and no place to stay, but full of hope that this time we would help him.  Perhaps by divine appointment, he encountered some incoming Mercy Ship people in the airport, and they could tell that he would be a likely surgical candidate for us.  He became our first customer at the Hope Center (normally used for post-surgical patients needing ongoing therapy) as he waited for us to get the hospital up and running.  I met him in the hall a few days ago--he was on board for surgery the following day.  I hear it went very well. I expect he's a handsome fellow now--I hope I get to see him again before he leaves.
Blessings to you all,


Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy Labor Day: Time to Rest

That's me right now, dog tired and ready for bed. I think I'll write this post and play the rest of the weekend. It's Labor Day weekend after all. But first, let me digress a bit, and recall some of my working days.

My first job (aside from babysitting) was picking raspberries on a large farm in Puyallup (WA). I was a city girl (Tacoma), so waiting on the corner for the hay truck to arrive and then riding in the back with others my age was fun. I was 14. But it didn't last long. My girlfriend and I had a bit too much fun one day and got kicked off the farm for a berry fight.

My second job was sales clerking and modeling for a Tacoma department store. I was on the store's fashion board for my high school and one of my duties was to write a fashion article for the local newspaper. Looking back, I was pretty proud of that piece. I was 16 and worked on and off for three more years. 

My third job was in college working for the school's food service. I worked in the back filling the dishwasher and cleaning tables. Not a pretty job, now that I think of it, but it provided the spending money my blue collar parents could ill afford. I was their only child of three to attend a 4-year college.

My fourth job was in Tacoma with Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone as a telephone operator. It was the scariest job I had ever attempted. Training was quite intense for the next month. One other girl training with me actually gave up and quit. Our office covered a large lata of cities, and calls to the state capitol, Olympia, were not uncommon. Person to person calls to the governor or a congressman's office were the scariest. All operators had to be trained in proper protocol. Emergency calls required special training as well. It was also during the Vietnam War. I learned how to patch calls to soldiers in the field and their wives at two nearby bases, Fort Lewis and McChord. I was 19 and also engaged to be married.   

My fifth job was to occur in Biloxi, Mississippi, where my new husband (Vince) was stationed in the Air Force. The job never happened. The plan was to transfer to Southern Bell Telephone, but the weekend of my arrival Hurricane Camille hit. The storm struck with a fury and destroyed much of the gulf coast. Over 100 people died in Biloxi alone. Telephone lines were down, electricity was out, and water had to be trucked in when it was over. The area was devastated for months to come. The telephone company gave me a leave of absence for the next six months.  

My fifth job finally materialized with Southwestern Bell in Clovis, New Mexico where Vince was stationed next. It was an old fashion office, compared to the modern Tacoma office. The switchboard cords were twice the diameter, and numbers were actually dialed on rotary dials, instead of key pads. We had pencils with big fat balls that we used to dial the numbers. "One ringey-dingey, two ringey-dingey...." Does anyone remember that line in comedian Lily Tomlin's operator skit? That was me in Clovis! How funny that office was, as I think back. It is also where I got sent home for wearing culottes. Dress codes were so strict then (another story....).

My sixth job was back in Tacoma with Pacific NW Bell again. Vince had been sent to a remote base in Turkey for a year. The only good thing about that year was meeting Vince in Germany for R&R. We had three wonderful weeks together.

My seventh job was in Macon, Georgia with Southern Bell. Vince was stationed about 30 miles away in Warner Robbins. Still an operator, I felt I had found the perfect position for transferring in the telephone company. Bell operators had the same training all over the country. But I had another unexpected learning curve while there. In the 1970s racial tension in the south was still pretty high. On the job discrimination was illegal but practiced nonetheless. I struggled too with the southern dialect, which often sounded like a different language. My ear never adapted. I was there about a year, until our daughter was born.

 My eighth job was in Olympia, WA with Pacific NW Bell again.. Vince was out the service and had decided to go to school. Jobs were in short supply for ex-military, but the phone company again came through for me. I hated working with a three month old baby at home, but one of us had to work. The job lasted about a year. I was pregnant with my son and morning sickness was hard. I quit and we decided to live cheaply so I could stay home. 

My ninth job was with General Telephone in Moscow, Idaho three  years later (eventually in Pullman, WA across the border). Finances were tight and I returned to work with a heavy heart. My son was three, and daughter five. I started as a telephone operator, but worked several other positions over the next 15 years. Eventually, the office was shut down, as many other phone company offices began doing across the nation. The industry was changing rapidly as new telephone technology advanced. As I sit playing with apps on my new Android smart phone, I think what a different world it is today. 

My Tenth and most recent job (outside the home) was with Washington State University, where I edited food science articles and books for a food engineering professor and his team. It lasted ten years, and I was ready to leave when the time came. Writing fiction and reading food science manuscripts is really a conflict of interest.

And so, my eleventh job is here, with this blog, and the writing I am doing on my novel. It is perhaps the job I have wanted to do most. Here is some food for thought: "Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else." (James M. Barrie)

How about you? Do you have a long roll call of jobs, too, or are you just starting out? You might be surprised at just how hard you have already worked!    

Copyright 2013 © Sharon 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.