June 4, 2011

Joy, Love and Nursing Homes

Posted in Adult, Local, Local Author, Non-fiction, San Juan Island at 5:15 pm by bhelstien

JOY: Living in a Nursing Home

Jean Hendrickson's book about her life at the Life Care Center

JOY – Living In A Nursing Home, by Jean Hendrickson, © 2011

Jean Hendrickson has published another book from her room in the nursing home at on Spring Street. She writes with honesty and directness about her decision to give up her independence and move into a skilled nursing facility. Her message might be surprising to many readers, because she proclaims that the decision was not difficult and the outcome is entirely rewarding.

I’ve been visiting the Life Care Center in Friday Harbor every week for almost ten years now. I bring books, magazines and movies from the public library to folks who want them, and the library offers a program where I read aloud. When I first became the outreach librarian this was the most intimidating aspect of my job. I didn’t know how to relate to people with dementia. Over the years, I’ve really come to appreciate the support residents each other regardless of their challenges. The staff working at the center set this standard with their gentle, consistent caring. Their love really opened my heart –making it easier for me to provide library service to this diverse group of people with a wide range of cognitive strengths.

I know that the materials the library provides, the large print books, cassette tapes, CDs and movies, make a difference in the quality of life for many of the residents. Because I have the privilege of working one-on-one with anyone who wants to see “the library lady” I can find out what kind of stories interest them and what format will best meet their needs. With books and stories, someone feeling trapped inside a nursing home or a wheelchair can travel freely in his or her mind, and in spite of physical circumstances, can continue to grow and enjoy life.

Jean Hendrickson is a rare elder who writes with grace about aging. Other residents at the center have other gifts: remembering poems, singing or sharing memorable histories. April is National Volunteer Month, and the convalescent center, with all the love flowing is a great place to volunteer.

Jean Hendrickson’s book might help a senior you know facing a tough choice. It might help the family of an aged parent when facing planning for the care of their loved one. You might learn that you yourself want to join the community of residents, staff and volunteers that make up the Life Care Center of the San Juans. I am grateful my work takes me there.

JOY – Living In A Nursing Home, like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

Hard Work and Heart Break

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Non-fiction, San Juan Island at 4:58 pm by bhelstien

Callused Hands, Hungry Heart

Jim Lawrence's memoir of a farmer-fisherman

Callused Hands, Hungry Heart: Memoir of a Fisherman-Farmer,

By Jim Lawrence, © 2011

Jim Lawrence will turn sixty this year. As a baby-boomer, he has lived through many of the experiences of the baby-boom generation, as his new memoir reflects. His book starts out with him dropping out of university in 1972, rejecting the abstract world of academia for the real world of logging clear cuts on the Olympic Peninsula.

But his life’s dream was always to be a farmer, and after some months of wandering, he ended up on San Juan Island, visiting friends, and stayed. Readers can pick up bits of island history in his recounting of work at the cannery, fishing to earn a living, raising dairy calves, and the evolution of his family farm. The book provides a window into the lives of the 1970s back-to-the-land community; their sacrifice of comfort and convenience, their ethic of opening doors to strangers, their struggle to find meaning.

Lawrence has written a very personal memoir. He recounts his struggle with learning disabilities with compassion for the boy who was literally sick with anxiety about failing in school. He evinces a gentle forgiveness for the young man who learned to cheat to protect his self-esteem. The Lawrence family is well-known on the island. Jim’s honesty in writing about his childhood and difficult relations with his parents will undoubtedly raise eyebrows if not ire. That Jim is publishing the book and distributing it where his farm’s products are sold show he has transcended much of the pain of his struggle as a child to learn.

Given the deluge of books on local foods and organic farming one might expect Lawrence to write about food and farm politics. He tosses off a few polemical remarks about corporate food, and the book devotes many pages to foibles of his farm. But this is a personal story, about Jim as a man, not a book about local food systems. He demonstrates courage in publishing it.

Callused Hands, Hungry Heart, like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

June 19, 2010

Correspondence, Contrition and Clemency

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Non-fiction, San Juan Island at 3:53 pm by bhelstien

book cover of Truth Be Told showing violinist and pianist

book c

Truth Be Told: Life Lessons From Death Row, by Agnes Vadas and Richard Nields, © 2006

Agnes Vadas led the San Juan chapter of Amnesty until her death in 2007. She wrote countless letters on behalf of prisoners and attended meetings of Amnesty around the country. And in May 1999 she began a correspondence with death row inmate Richard Nields that would continue for more than five years. The two exchanged letters, sometimes weekly, which finally totaled more than 200. Agnes Vadas, or Agi to those who knew her, learned about Rich through Amnesty International because, even though he admitted his guilt, this case was one where the application of the death penalty was inconsistent with law. Agi wanted to offer him some comfort on death row, and she wanted to save his life.

Then, on June 4, 2010, just days from his execution date, Nields was granted clemency. Mr. Nields’ death by execution was commuted when Ohio governor Ted Strickland, noting the weak basis for the death penalty in this case according to a Ohio Supreme Court judge and Federal Judges at the U.S 6th Circuit, granted a clemency petition, and sentencing Nields to life without parole. And San Juan Island’s Agi is validated three years and a day after her death.

Readers can get a window into personal side of this story through the amazing book, Truth Be Told, which is their unexpurgated correspondence. The letters comment on music, books, and Shakespeare’s plays. Rich Nields and Agi discussed shared a distrust of former president George W. Bush and fierce hope through two election cycles that a Democrat would win the presidency.

Agi shared glimpses into her life here on the island as retired violinist and music teacher, talking a surprising amount about the weather, her pets and neighbors. Rich shared some of his frustrations, fears, and his terrible remorse for the crime that led to his death penalty conviction.  He asked Agi for books, which she faithfully sent. He read, and wrote about how he found escape and meaning and peace in authors from Larry McMurtry to Ernest Hemmingway and Kent Haruf. For me as a librarian, their discussions of fiction were some of the most moving parts of their correspondence. The reader discerns the importance of literature when one is confronted with one’s soul.

Agnes Vadas was a difficult person for me to like and work with. In her letters you can hear her laughing at herself, something I never heard in person. I read the Ohio Parole Board’s clemency report for Richard Nields online, and it raised my feminist hackles against serial domestic abusers—there’s an ugly story Nields never shared in his letters. Readers don’t have to like either of these characters, but one does develop compassion for each reading the correspondence.

Hats off, Agi! Just because Richard Nields is no saint, he should not have been executed. Your book helped raise awareness and make a difference here, as did the recent email network organized for clemency by Janet Thomas, Agi’s good friend, who took up the challenge in her memory and for her own conscience.

Truth Be Told, like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

May 14, 2009

History offers lessons on alcohol abuse

Posted in Adult, Lopez Island, Non-fiction, Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Shaw Island tagged at 8:24 pm by bhelstien

book cover of Pig War Islands

book cover of Pig War Islands

Pig War Islands: The San Juans of Northwest Washington by David Richardson

© 2009 by Beth Helstien

For National Historic Preservation Month I decided to review Richardson’s history. As I sat to write up my thoughts about it, I was also thinking about the impact the of the recent “Every 15 Minutes” program to reduce drinking and driving. So I dedicate this review to the many lives of islanders lost or maimed due to alcohol abuse.

Richardson did not intend it, but one can read his book as a chronicle of this community’s relationship with spirits. Each of the commanders of American Camp struggled with lawlessness in San Juan Town–historically located in Griffin Bay below the American encampment–due to excessive drinking and illegal activity selling alcohol. Capt. Pickett (camp commander from July to August 1859 and April 1860 to July 1861) begged civil authorities to enforce order. Capt. Bissell (camp commander from February 1862 to October 1865) resorted to de facto martial law. You can still find pieces of historic wine bottle glass along the shore at English Camp.

Another telling story is the founding of the county seat by Edward Warbass and how close the town father’s vision came to failure. When we speak with pride of the historic appearance of Friday Harbor, most of us probably are not thinking that the town’s success was the result of the opening of the second store with a backroom saloon when William Douglas became the third person to own a business here. Three business properties in “town”—two of them bars.

Customs was one of the sources of the conflict. The good people of the islands often preferred to get their products without the benefit of taxation. Before national jurisdiction was decided, importing from Victoria was a way of life. Such importation continued, without customs duties, after the national boundary was settled; only now it was smuggling.

During Prohibition, smuggling from Canada via the San Juan Islands flourished. Many islanders learned to keep silent about well known rendezvous location sites and to ignore the night time sounds of engines on beaches as exchanges took place. Rum-runners would sew their loads into gunny sacks in case of such emergencies. When a ‘rummy’ felt he might be boarded, he would toss the contraband overboard. There were benefits from close calls with the Coast Guard: locals learned to find the sack-wrapped bottles in the shallows, and would sometimes haul in the entire load before the smugglers had a chance to return to retrieve their jettisoned cargo.

Alcohol and the San Juans: is there such a thing as moderation?

Pig War Islands, like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

May 3, 2009

Meet an Island Original

Posted in Adult, Non-fiction, San Juan Island at 6:59 pm by bhelstien

cover of DVD Naturally Attracted: Connecting with Michael J Cohen

cover of DVD Naturally Attracted: Connecting with Michael J Cohen

Naturally Attracted: Connecting with Michael J. Cohen © 2008 Charley Scull

© 2008 Beth Helstien

This DVD is about the truly original local teacher, psychologist and singer. You might know Mike from Sugar on the Floor or because of his music in interpreting the life of Captain Pickett, from contra dancing or from his creative work in psychology. Mike’s understanding of how humans interact with the natural world and his contributions to folk music are extolled by students, colleagues and friends; San Juan Islanders will recognize many familiar faces.

Naturally Attracted: Connecting with Michael J. Cohen, like all materials reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

Take a trip to China, if only in your mind

Posted in Adult, Guide book, Local Author, Non-fiction tagged , at 6:52 pm by bhelstien

book cover of Getting Around in China

book cover of Getting Around in China

Getting Around in China: Notes from an American Traveler © Fred Richardson

© 2008 Beth Helstien

From Waldron Island, Richardson rights a practical handbook for anyone traveling, living or doing business in China. The first section of the book covers the basics–maps, getting around on boats, bicycles, and trains. Travelers’ concerns like safety, hotels and food, and others are given separate chapters.  The second section loosely mirrors the organization of the first section, and it is comprised of Richardson’s journal entrees over several visits to China over the years. Some entries evoke the strangeness of travel in the Orient, while some reflect the changes in China over the last two decades making travel there easier. These travel tales are satisfying for anyone interested in China, even those who have no intention of traveling there.

Getting Around in China: Notes from an American Traveler, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

Hope for those with MS

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Non-fiction at 6:49 pm by bhelstien

book cover of MS amd Your Feelings

book cover of MS amd Your Feelings

MS and Your Feelings: Handling the Ups and Downs of Multiple Sclerosis © Allison Shadday, LCSW

© 2008 Beth Helstien

Shadday shares real-life MS success stories and gives insightful professional advice derived from years of counseling hundreds of chronically ill patients. Her book offers readers hope, inspiration and validation. She addresses how to come to terms with a diagnosis; strategies for identifying and managing stress triggers; ways to cope with fear, guilt, anger, loss, depression, and isolation; and steps to enhance intimacy and develop a greater sense of emotional security. Shadday wants islanders to know that her book is applicable for people with many types of chronic illness in addition to MS.

MS and Your Feelings, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

Transformative Power of Prayer

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Memoir, Non-fiction, San Juan Island tagged , , , at 6:42 pm by bhelstien

book cover of We All Have a Purpose for Being Here

book cover of We All Have a Purpose for Being Here

© 2007 by Jean Hendrickson

© 2007 Beth Helstien

Jean Hendrickson’s We All Have a Purpose for Being Here came to me in a usual way, but it isn’t a usual book.  Richard Walker, the editor of the Journal of the San Juans, and I get together periodically to exchange volumes authors eager for a review of their books send to him.  Many of these books won’t ever be reviewed in the Journal, although many of the books do end up in the San Juan Island Library.

The criteria for me to write a book review are that the book be by a San Juan County author, be about the San Juan Islands or a San Juan islands person, or be set in the San Juans.  It’s a small portion of the thousands of books published annually and the millions that have been written that will ever qualify for this column.

Jean’s memoir meets the criteria of local authorship and being about a local.  Much of the last part of the book is set in the San Juans.

Jean Hendrickson is writing about her personal journey from main-stream Mid-West Christian to a non-denominational spiritual healer and leader.  Some might find her ideas easy to attack. It is hard to talk about prayer in public these days, especially if it isn’t Christian prayer.

Her journey initially takes her down a path of dedication to human rights and freedom to greater and greater degrees of spiritual practice. I was particularly interested in her experience in group housing. (I once counted that I had had over 50 different housemates over the years). Jean’s “career” ended with her work as a wedding officiant on San Juan Island. Since my own “career” path is very similar to Jean’s, beginning as environmental activist and becoming ordained to officiate at weddings in 1998, I found Jean’s life very interesting.

This well-written book is self-published.  The frequent errors that plague many self-published books were absent from this one. The amateur photographs and illustrations are perfectly appropriate to a memoir for general readership.

I read We all Have a Purpose for Being Here at a time of personal crisis when my sister was near death, and the prayers in this book and Jean’s prayerful orientation to daily life were very helpful to me. Some of what Jean believes is too weird for me. (Channeled spirits and Yellowstone’s need for energy balancing challenged my limits.) Nevertheless, I was deeply moved, reminded to make prayer a habit in my life. The book came to me, dare I say, at the right time and with a purpose.

We all Have a Purpose for Being Here, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

Spook’s world is fast-paced and smart

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Non-fiction at 6:38 pm by bhelstien

book cover of Real World Intelligence

book cover of Real World Intelligence

Real-World Intelligence © 1991 Herbert E. Meyer

© 2007 Beth Helstien

Get ready: the Community Theatre is producing the play Pack of Lies in February (2007). Based on a true story, a suburban London family in the early 1960s befriends neighbors who are suspected of spying for the Soviet Union. Who is lying? What lies are acceptable? What is betrayal?

The San Juan Island Library is again sponsoring its program “San Juan Reads” encouraging the entire community to read The Human Factor by Graham Greene. The novel is concerned with many of the same issues as the play: spying for one’s country and the personal consequences of espionage on the lives of the people involved.

The theatre, library and other community members have been working together planning outreach events to enhance the experience of the book and the play.  Along with others on the committee is San Juan Island’s Herb Meyer, the former Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council during the Reagan Administration.

I’ll probably never see the world the way Herb Meyer does, but his book is well-written and fast paced.  He sounds the same theme as do the instructors at the School of Library and Information Science where I am studying for a master’s degree: information is power! And the only way to make information work for you is organization.

In library school, students are socialized into different values for organizing information (for instance Real-World Intelligence isn’t much concerned with keeping records for posterity), but the concepts of gathering information (collecting), analyzing (classifying) and reporting on (repackaging) intelligence line right up with my curriculum on librarianship. Both the book and my instructors address issues like the tremendous rate of change that we now live with, globalization, and the constant threat of information overload.  To avoid the pitfalls of a rapidly changing world and the inundation of information we are all surrounded by, we need organized approaches to collect and understand the information we need.

Meyer argues that to succeed, businesses must now pay more attention to intelligence than ever before. Business executives should develop intelligence outfits as part of their business organizations, mimicking government intelligence outfits such as the CIA with intelligence on competitors, markets, new technologies, financial conditions, effects of political decisions on business conditions, etc. The book gives some examples what to do as well as what to avoid.

I found Meyer’s discussion of secrets not only smart and intriguing, but genuinely humane. While he tries to debunk the glamour and intrigue of intelligence work, Meyer only succeeds in piquing my interest in it. Whether you read Real-World Intelligence or not, don’t miss Pack of Lies at the San Juan Community Theatre, and for you many dear readers, the San Juan Island Library has 10 hard back copies and an audio recording of  The Human Factor by that master of the spy story, Graham Greene.

Real-World Intelligence, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

Sorting out Medicare’s mind boggling complexity

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Non-fiction at 6:31 pm by bhelstien

book cover of Shredding the Social Contract

book cover of Shredding the Social Contract

Shredding the Social Contract: The Privatization of Medicare ©2006 John Geyman, M.D.

© 2008 Beth Helstien

My husband still regrets losing his doctor when Dr. Geyman retired from practice at the Inter Island Medical Center. In addition to being a fine doctor, Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, where he was chairman, a member of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, he is a prolific author.

Trying to understand what to do about Medicare is daunting and not for the faint-hearted. Dr. Geyman introduces the reader to a boggling number of agencies involved in health care and an even more overwhelming set of acronyms for various plans, policies, and mechanism of measurement of health care services. More significant than the mere terminology for understanding the Medicare morass is the complexity and severity of the problem.

The book sets the context of the Medicare problem as the clash between private interests (and profits) and the public good. The initial chapter is an historical overview of the conflict between democratic values and the interests of corporations in America.  The conclusion: privatization of Medicare is the single most important threat to the program. The argument that free markets deliver health care with greater efficiency or less cost than government is debunked.
The book documents the numerous ways in which private plans and corporate interests actually cost Medicare more than government-sponsored insurance. Geyman has done his research, and he documents his points with reference to hundreds of sources in more than seven hundred footnotes. Privatization of Medicare undermines the health of older Americans and the stability of the program, and privatization should be ended before Medicare is destroyed.  It means insurance companies make the decisions about Medicare coverage. Issues at stake include:

  • access to and choice of doctors
  • choice in medical treatment,
  • continuity of care,
  • when costs containment should be considered, and
  • quality of care for seniors.

Public policy decisions are taken out of the realm of democracy, where Geyman argues they belong, and placed in the hands of corporations seeking to maximize profits.

His sources include public opinion research that points to the fact that regardless of political rhetoric, most Americans support some sort of national health insurance plan. (It’s fascinating that the candidates running for office are more fearful of how the media will attack them if the support a solution that corporate interests—including much of the media—disfavors, rather than offering what voters actually want.)

The price of America’s social contract to provide health care to the elderly is now more than a third of the national budget, and Medicare’s cost—and its portion of our national budget—is rising fast. Medicare’s problems demand solution. Paying for health care for seniors—and providing health care to all Americans—won’t be easy.  Readers who want to understand the vastly complicated issues at stake will find a wealth of information in Geyman’s book; it’s worth the work.

Shredding the Social Contract, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

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