Friday, December 15, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gifts Along the Way: Mom's Big Move and Interview of Me

WISHING YOU A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND WONDERFUL HOLIDAY! Had wanted to write the IWSG December post and share a holiday series similar to last year's 'Words of Old at Christmastime', but couldn't fit it in, so sharing an interview of me instead and the latest news, Mom's Big Move. Two gifts along the way this season! 

We're buried, truly buried right now in minute by minute details. I've been helping my mother move into a retirement home this month and it's been pretty darn time consuming for the family. The move is still underway as my husband and I (and others in family) help her downscale the furniture and get rid of a lifetime of stuff. Helping her say goodbye to favorite things and finding treasures in the mix hasn't been easy. The good news is Mom will be living only 45 minutes away. For most of my married life, I have lived a good day's ride or more away. Mom is doing fine, I might add, a bit frazzled with the change but eager to get some semblance of her life back.  

I know some of you have shared similar moves. Did any of you do this over Christmas? What a delight it was to see the retirement home beautifully decorated for the holiday when we arrived. Being we were all borderline nervous with the pending change, the decorations were a bonus in helping with the transition. After hanging a Christmas wreath on the balcony railing and displaying Mom's lighted tabletop Christmas tree, her tiny studio apartment began to sparkle with charm. Turns out December isn't a bad time to move. 

If I may indulge, below is an interview of me that took place in November, published on Jennifer Macaire's blog, but few read. Kind of proud of my answers because they explain why I wrote this book. There is a Christmas scene in the book I happen to adore, where Callie and Lucas find a tiny Christmas tree ornament in the Mersing market. They secretly display the tree on Lucas's red T-shirt surrounded by gifts for their newly found Muslim family. It was risky on their part, given the family doesn't celebrate Christian holidays, but the gesture turns out well for both sides of the family. I won't tell you what happens :-)  The ornament in the scene is based on one from my collection. Love how the 'things we collect' inspire our writing, don't you? 

Christmas tree ornament from collection.

(As first published...Jennifer Macaire: The Shells of Mersing by Sharon Himsl: "Today I'd like to welcome Sharon Himsl, whose debut novel, "The Shells of Mersing" will interest young adult readers")

Me: You begin with a sailing journey from Seattle. Was there a reason for this?"
Sharon: Yes. I wanted Callie to know there are people in the world she can trust. Her father is dead, her mother is missing, and she has just witnessed a grisly murder. She has her little brother to take care of, but she has never felt more alone. The captain (Eric) becomes a father figure who proves valuable in locating her lost mother. In Hawaii, Callie faces the gray areas of trust with Uncle Azman and his questionable forgiveness.
Why is the second half of The Shells of Mersing set in Malaysia and Thailand?
It’s hard to say which had more impact. My stay in Malaysia in 1995-1996 or the novel that resulted. I only know that when my husband accepted a teaching position at a Malaysian polytechnic in 1995, nothing would ever be the same again. I joined him three months later, following a job lay-off at the telephone company where I had worked for fifteen years.
What was it like becoming an expat?
Huge learning curve. I received travel specifics and instructions for expats from my husband’s stateside employer about what to wear and what not to do in a Muslim run country. For instance, knee length skirts and tops with capped sleeves (no bare shoulders, please) were recommended.
Your main characters Callie and Lucas travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia alone. Are their impressions yours as well?
Some of the sights, sounds and smells they experience are straight from my diary. Malaysia was over 50% native Malay (Muslim), 35% Chinese (Buddhist), and 15% Indian (Hindu) in 1995. Each ethnic group has their own language and dialect, but they use English to communicate publicly. Callie and Lucas are relieved to hear English spoken at the market in Kuala Lumpur when they lose their way. The Muslim girl Hayati is based on a teen girl I met on the bus in Kuala Lumpur.
Callie and Lucas meet their Muslim family in Mersing, Malaysia. Do they experience any religious conflicts?
Yes. Malaysians are a religious people. In 1995, expats were warned not to share their Christian faith or pass out bibles if so inclined. It was likewise illegal for Chinese and Indian Christians to do so. I couldn’t resist putting Callie in a situation where she accidentally gives a cousin a Christian flyer handed to her at the market. She has a brief falling out with her Muslim family. As Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, Callie and Lucas then find a way to give gifts to their aunt and uncle, and cousins.
Where did the idea for The Shells of Mersing come from?
I was volunteering at a local orphanage in Kluang, Malaysia. I learned that one of the boys (aged 7) had been rescued from domestic slavery. I was aware of human slavery, of girls mostly, but my shock level jumped to a new level. This was the little boy I had made yarn dolls with at Christmastime. My heart was melting. I then learned that human trafficking and slavery did indeed exist in Malaysia and more so in Thailand to the north. From this experience a story grew.
In Thailand, Callie and Sam kiss for the first time and learn to trust each other. Did you find inspiration anywhere?
Yes. I imagined Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens when I wrote about Callie and Sam. The innocence of first love portrayed in Highschool Musical 1 was my go-to source. I must confess also, that my husband and I very much relate to their romance. We were high school sweethearts♥♥.
Excerpt: Floating Market scene in Bangkok:    
“…The air buzzes with the din of boat engines winding down and taking off.
Sam takes my hand when it’s time to board. Eric beams at us from across two rows, noticing. That obvious, huh. Earlier he was worried about the prison arrangements tomorrow, but I’d rather think about this cool guy holding my hand. I can’t think about Mom right now, because every time I do my thoughts go dark and I’m instantly depressed. Not today, not now.
Sam squeezes my hand. “You okay?” he shouts over the engine.
He always seems to know. “I’m fine.” And I am, just gazing into his light brown eyes.”
https://2.bp.blogspot.com/_RGgC1BjMGn0/TQfIHXeewYI/AAAAAAAAAtU/yQZPUAaNobI/s320/zac-efron-and-vanessa-hudgens+split+main.jpg
Who is your ideal reader?
Teen girls primarily (13 up), and anyone who identifies with a teen’s point of view in an otherwise out of control adult world. The choices made at the brink of adulthood can have a powerful effect on one’s future, even when the odds are against success. Callie’s experience ranges from losing a father and mother and being placed in a disreputable foster home, to fending off smugglers and human traffickers, and then finding favor with the King of Thailand. On the other hand, a seventy-plus year old male relative of mine said he identified with the characters and cried at the ending.    
(Print & E-Book) (Suspense, Mystery & Romance)


Short synopsis: When notorious Uncle Azman disobeys orders, and secretly sends Callie and her younger brother Lucas to meet their mother's sisters in Mersing, Malaysia, 14-year-old Callie hopes their troubles are over. After all they have endured, what more could go wrong? Their American dad is dead, Mom is missing, and their foster dad in Seattle was murdered, with Callie falsely accused. Pawns in a crime operation gone awry, Callie and Lucas barely escaped being targeted by their uncle's sinister boss for sale in Thailand’s human trafficking market. Although Uncle Azman's turnaround was a miracle, Callie knows that real safety lies with family in Mersing, where they can begin searching for Mom, but a shell box, a ruby, and a boy named Sam from Chicago are about to change everything.
Short Bio:
Sharon spent more than ten years developing The Shells of Mersing, a story first outlined in Malaysia in 1996. With a B.A. in American Studies, she has a soft spot for history and other cultures. Malaysia is a rich storehouse of culture, with its Malay, Chinese and Indian populations. Today she is working on a second novel (a sequel to Shells…) at her home in Eastern Washington, where she lives with her husband on the edge of a desert runway . . . but that’s another story! 
Blogs:

Friday, December 8, 2017

Africa Mercy - Frank's Story: One Nurse's Story


More from Marilyn in Africa....  Sorry these postings are so late!  My friend, as you know, is in Africa serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She emails me and I share her words with you. For those of you who know nothing of  Marilyn's story, the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship that travels the African coast with a crew of nurses and doctors. They come from all over to give of their time as volunteers. 



2017-10-19, Thursday
"Frank"

Cataract surgeries are well underway now. Our goal is to do 30
cataract surgeries per day, but for now, we are only doing 20 per
day. Since this is a new country for Mercy Ships, we don't yet
have widespread recognition or reputation. Many people have not
heard about us; others are cautious, waiting to see how others
fare. But already, within a couple of weeks, the line of people
waiting for screening has grown from about 200 per day to over 600
per day. I predict that very soon, we will be operating at full
strength.

I want to tell you about one young man. Frank is age 17 and has
been blind for 11 years with bilateral cataracts. The
communications department is always on the lookout for good stories
to use in advertising Mercy Ships, and we thought Frank's story
would be of interest. Frank and his parents agreed to have a media
team follow him through the whole process. Amber was the nurse who
scheduled his surgery and who suggested his story, so she was
invited to go with the media team to visit Frank in his home before
surgery. I'm going to quote from her blog about that visit:

"Frank's home wasn't much, but they welcomed us in with such joy. I
was able to meet Frank's Father, older brother, Mother and the
little neighbor baby. There was no way we would have found his
house on our own, so Frank's older brother met us at one of the
major junctions and drove in with us to guide our path. As we
turned down a few dirt roads off the busy city streets, we arrived
at Frank’s house. We pulled up next to a muddy river, filled with
trash and old canoes that were used to transport these huge logs
that were brought in from an island to be chopped up and sold in
the city for firewood.

On the other side of the road was an old cargo shipping container
with a few sheets of metal lined up to create a wall in between one
doorway and the next. There was a metal piece that served as a door
that led into a back alley-like area which led to Frank's house and
a few others. Below our feet was uneven dirt mixed with dirty water
and trash, along with old wood shavings from the woodworkers that
worked right outside the front of their house. Frank’s brother led
us down the narrow pathway, right to their front door.

Their front door was a thin, once-white sheet that had many tears
on it, hanging from a bar above the doorway. The walls were wood
panels that you could see through- occasionally with metal pieces
patching up the larger gaps, nailed to the side. The roof was made
of tin and as we sat down in their living room it started to rain.
It was hard to hear each other talk from the piercing of the drops
above our heads. Suddenly I began to feel drops land on my shoulder
from a rusted hole in the roof. The floors were mostly compacted
down dirt, but when the rain started to fall, small areas became a
bit muddy. The walls were mostly bare, beside an old wedding
picture of Frank's Father and his first wife, Frank's Mother. There
was an old box TV in the corner; it was on when we came in, but had
a very fuzzy and distorted image on the screen.

We spent about 3 hours at Frank's house and learned a lot about him
and his life. He was pretty shy-- and like most teenagers,
responded to the questions with one word answers. After we
finished getting to know him a little better, the communications
team asked if they could do a little filming and photography, which
I will be sure to share as soon as the story is finished. I watched
for a little bit as they shot Frank's pictures. As I watched Frank
stand there, getting his picture taken- there was this emptiness in
him—a blank stare and a look that just went right into my soul. I
later found out from his brother that, as a child, Frank was one of
those kids who was always happy and smiling. He loved making people
laugh and being the center of attention... The entire time we were
at his house, we could hardly get a smile out of him. I think the
only time I even saw a smirk is when we complimented him on what a
handsome, young man he was."

Amber goes on to say what an impact this visit had on her. If you
want to read her entire blog, it’s http://ambersmids.blogspot.com.
Meanwhile, Frank had his surgery a couple of days ago. It was a
bit disappointing when we took the patches off the day after
surgery—his vision hadn’t improved very much. Frank was stoic, but
I think it hit him pretty hard. BUT, his eye pressure was high and
his corneas were cloudy—that happens frequently immediately after
surgery. A little medication and a little time, and his vision
improved quite a bit. It is likely to continue to improve over the
next few days.

So, stay tuned…

Marilyn


2017-10-20,
"Sadness"

Yesterday was a rough day for the eye team, and Amber in
particular. It was an even rougher day for Frank and his family.
He returned for a recheck of his eyes yesterday afternoon. The
cataracts are gone, the new lenses are in position, the corneas are
clear, the eye pressures are normal, the retinas look great…but he
doesn’t see much of anything. Woody feels that his vision will not
improve any further; perhaps the neural pathways didn’t develop
properly. What really makes the whole situation worse, however, is
that by making him a communications story, we raised his hopes and
expectations. We couldn’t have known…but that isn’t helping much
right now. At this point, there’s nothing more we can do for
Frank. We’ve prayed for his healing, which the Lord could
certainly do without our assistance, but if he doesn’t, Frank will
not be able to work, or even cross the street without assistance.

I doubt I would have shared Frank’s story if I’d known the ending
before I wrote about him. It’s always more fun to talk about the
successes, like the lady today who was so exuberant in her
rejoicing. But the reality is, we are limited in what we can do.
The eye is a very complicated organ, most of which we cannot
repair. Nine out of ten people who come to us with eye problems
cannot be helped. Frank’s story was a sobering reminder of our
finiteness.

I suppose that I should write something uplifting to change the
mood of this email…but I haven’t the heart for it right now. The
eye team will recover and go on…but today is a day for grieving.

Marilyn


10/22/2017
"Explanation of Frank's Poor Vision?"

Amber wrote a beautiful blog about the whole experience with Frank. I
would encourage anyone interested to check it out at
http://ambersmids.blogspot.com/. Not only does it give further
information about Frank, it reveals Amber's tender heart.

One possible explanation for Frank's poor vision despite a successful
surgery and healthy-looking eyes could be that he had small, central
cataracts at birth. He would have used his peripheral vision until the
cataracts grew too large, but he never used the central portion of his
visual field due to the cataracts. Ordinarily, our neural connections
develop in response to stimulation; unused neurons do not develop. If
the neurons are not stimulated by the age of five or so, the process
solidifies, and later stimulation no longer triggers neural development.

If Frank had had surgery at age one or two, he'd be fine. But at age
17, it was too late. So, what he has now, and will have, is a bit of
peripheral vision, but not enough to be functional.

We are planning to do some pediatric cataract surgery in January.
Hopefully, we'll get to those kids in time...


Marilyn

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