Forbidden by Ted Decker and Tosca Lee

Forbidden by Ted Decker and Tosca Lee



So why even bother to write a review for In Search of the End of the Sidewalk? I’ve read tons of other books that would rank higher than this one. And yet, although it was terrible, it was still okay. Facing a fourteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai (and then several more hours to Chengdu), I was looking for something mindless, but something that would pull me in enough to make hours fly by without my noticing them. Forbidden did the trick.

Decker (with Lee) created a book that is smack in the middle of the genre I like to call DanBrown. (No spaces. It stands alone as a single noun.) We all know DanBrown as a genre. There’s mystery and intrigue. There are religious overtones. There’s a love story. There’s less than spectacular writing, but enough of a plot that the reader ignores the craftsmanship for the story.  Forbidden has all of the elements to some degree or another.

Forbidden tells the tale of a future society in which the world is ruled by a single government, emotionless, other than fear. All feelings have been wiped out, leaving only fear as a way those in charge to control the masses. As the time comes for a new sovereign to be placed in power, a remnant of those old emotions that were thought to be extinct, again finds a way in to the population. While only a small handful of citizens are able to experience the wider range of feelings, those who are touched realize that love is not only a beautiful thing, but it can also bring pain greater than any they could imagine.

The basic plot is there, but as a whole, Decker didn’t develop the society to make it believable. As I read, I wanted to know more of what it was like to live in a society void of feelings. The reader barely gets a glimpse at the world before the first character reverts to a state of feeling. Rather than focus so heavily on the royals of this period, I would love to have more set-up of the average people living without feeling. I would prefer a book that went in the direction of a dystopian 1984-type world than the DanBrown genre I got.

Maybe I am asking too much. To be fair, I bought this book off the mass paperback stand at an airport kiosk. I didn’t buy it for its literary appeal, but rather its ability to waste away a couple of in-flight hours. Which it did. So, while Ted Decker’s (and Tosca Lee’s) Forbidden earns a measly one shell on my rating system, I do give it slight props for helping pass the time at 30,000 feet.

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A No Questions Asked Turtle Transfer

There’s an old saying about loving something and setting it free.  And while the sentiment has a lovely ring to it as it is plastered across the internet by lovelorn teenagers as a romantically font-ed tagline on heavily unfocused photographs of sunsets and seasides, I won’t get into the ethical dilemmas surrounding the possibility of setting free your captive-bred hamster into the wild because you love it, even though the closest thing he has known to freedom is rolling down the hallway in his clear plastic ball of fun, and the occasional crazy adventure as that ball cascades down the single step in to your 70’s style sunken living room. For some fuzzy little rodents, freedom may really be a quickly executed death sentence because the pine tree outside your house is home to a giant owl (possibly named Clyde) and the fields are full of coyotes and foxes, just looking for a nugget sized snack.

But I digress.

I have a new saying I would like to flood the internet with: If you have a slight fondness for something, but someone else has a true adoration for it, you should hand it over. No questions asked.

I have (okay, had, but we’ll get to that part of the tale soon enough) two turtles- Gong Bao and Ji Ding. (Their names together, literally mean “palace style chicken cutlets,” but are more commonly known in the US as kung pao chicken.) Last summer, as Thad and I wandered People’s Park on a humid Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but rescue these two little creatures which were being sold in tiny plastic bottles. (Click here for the full account of that Tilt O’Whirl and turtle filled day.) With my new family-recruits in-hand, we rushed home to get them out of their death-cages and into a big tub with water and a brick for sunning themselves.

Over the course of the last five months, Gong Bao and Ji Ding have lived in their tub, either on the living room floor, where if there is sunshine to be had, they will be the first recipients, or in the bathroom under the heat lamps that serve as a substitute sun. I feed them regularly, change their water a couple of times a week and occasionally giggle at they create turtle stacks. But really, that is the extent of our relationship. They are cute, but not cuddly. An undying bond has not been forged. I can only tell them apart because Gong Bao has a slightly darker colored shell and tends to be a bit less skitterish when someone comes in to share their bathroom space. (I don’t think Thad ever could tell them apart. Hopefully we never have twins.) They were slightly amusing, but that was the extent of my connection to them.

With our R&R tickets bought and travel plans completed, we needed someone to turtle-sit while we were out of town, enjoying the single-digit temperatures of Idaho for three weeks. Thad has a colleague in the consular section, one of the local staff, who used to have a tiny turtle, but it passed away this fall. She was devastated by the turtle’s untimely demise and they had talked about their mutual turtle-tending. If she were willing, we knew she would be the perfect sitter for our tiny reptilian friends. (Her devotion to her own turtle was so whole-hearted that she had her mom knit it a blanket and she took it on turtle-play dates with a neighbors turtles.)

When Thad approached her about watching the turtles for a couple of weeks, she was thrilled! She thanked him profusely for trusting her with them and told him on multiple occasions how excited she was to have them in her house while we were out of the country.

So, with that, the turtle transfer was made.

Fast forward three weeks.

We got back from R&R (had a great time at home but painful trips in both directions!) and were back at work. In the afternoon of that first day back, Thad and I got an email from our turtle-sitter that included the following pictures as attachments.

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She clearly cares about these turtles much more than I do. Yes, I like them. Like. To be honest, full days would go by that I wouldn’t even look at the undersized creatures. But obviously, this was not the case with their sitter. Not only did she say that she talked to them for two hours every evening, but she allowed them one hour of TV-time and they had an assigned bedtime. I’m not that strict when I babysit my nieces and nephews, let alone with the cold-blooded residents of my house!

After a short meeting in my office, Thad and I quickly came to the conclusion that the turtles should stay at their new home, if she would have them. There was no way we could, in good conscience, not allow her to have the little guys.  I have a slight fondness for them, but she loved them! When Thad asked her if she would like to keep the turtles, she got teary-eyed and thanked him over and over.

This all happened on Tuesday. On Friday afternoon, Thad got an instant message from this colleague telling him that she bought him a cake as a thank-you for the turtles. He, of course, told him that a cake wasn’t necessary and that we are happy for her to have them, but she insisted we take it home. In true Chinese cake fashion, it was light sponge cake covered in a super thick layer of fluffy frosting, topped in fruit. Always topped in fruit.

So, I send a plea out to all angst-ridden teenagers with basic Photoshop skills and access to whimsical pictures and fonts. Make this your newest post on Facebook, Pintrest, Tumblr, Twitter and Reddit:

If you have a slight fondness for something, but someone else has a true adoration for it, you should hand it over. No questions asked.

I did. It earned me a cake.



Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds by Ping Fu, MeiMei Fox

Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds by Ping Fu, MeiMei Fox

Ping Fu’s story is, sadly, not a unique one, at least as far as her time in China is concerned. Where she breaks from the masses is with how she turned those struggles and her horrific treatment into values that pushed her to succeed in the US, a world away from where she was raised. She takes trials that could break even the toughest spirit and finds a way to graceful transition that pain into determination and success.


I loved the organization of this book. Ping Fu (along with MeiMei Fox) interweave the stories of her childhood in China with her experiences in the US, not telling a chronological tale, but rather a story of cause and effect. This distinctive take on the memoir helps make the book stand out from all of the other personal stories on the market today that go from playful childhood to adolescent angst to adult trials and tribulations and finally some sort of personal triumph.


While Ping Fu’s story of her time in China fascinated me, and I enjoyed her early years in America, I do have to say that the discussions of the 3D technology left me wanting more. Maybe it is my lack of technological prowess, but even with the explanations, I had a hard time picturing exactly what it is she was creating. The other part of the book that didn’t resonate with me was this desire to start a company, any company. Entrepreneurship is a keystone of the American dream, but I always imagined that folks who started companies did so because they loved the product it created; they had a passion for whatever created the foundation of the company. But for Ping Fu, it was almost as if she wanted to get in on the boom, regardless of the product. Over time, I felt like she came to be truly invested in her 3D design, but that it wasn’t the reason for the company. And maybe this is true of many small business people- that it is about being in business, not which one specifically.


The thing that most impresses me about Ping Fu is her attitude. If anyone has a right to be angry and bitter, it is her. And yet, throughout the book, she never talks ill of her birth country. She recognizes the bad- there is no glossing over that, but she reconciles the anger and uses that passion to push herself to greatness. The same can be said of her business contacts. While she doesn’t sugar coat the world of technology and we see her frustrations with certain people/events, she never speaks badly of those people, choosing instead to take the high road and look at situations from a variety of viewpoints.


This book is an interesting mix of personal memoir and business self-help, but ultimately, it works. I would have like to see more of a focus on her childhood and early days in the US, as for me those were the most interesting parts, but I can see where other readers would be drawn to the details of technology and entrepreneurship. Ping Fu’s Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, earns a solid 3 shells!

(With the computer difficulties I am having, I can’t find a way to actually put three shells on the page. Here is one…imagine the others!)



How to Reduce Your Manicure Time By 20%

In 1972, years before my arrival on this planet, Carly Simon called out a mystery man, proclaiming, in front of the entire musical world that that he was so vain he probably thought her hit song was all about him and his apricot scarf.

Vanity. Now, just like it did four decades ago, the word carries a pretty strong negative connotation.

But, I think vanity gets a bit of a bad rap. It’s like the middle school-er who had a bratty older sibling and the teachers steel themselves for the next kid in line, wary of what is coming their way. It’s reputation, fair or not, proceeds it. Yes, there are extremes that deserve the negative connotation. We can all think of someone so full of themselves that they can’t see anyone beyond the reflection in the mirror and we’ve all been subject to the rambling of that person who knows everything, has done everything and wants us to hear all about it.

Boatloads of vanity might be too much, but a bucketful or two isn’t so bad. For example, having just enough pride to not go to the grocery store in your pajama pants and slippers is okay. (Wear a baggy sweater with your hair in a ponytail, but for heaven’s sake, put on some pants that don’t have an elastic waist and some shoes that aren’t made for old ladies with poor circulation!)

Until a few years ago, I would not have claimed vanity as a character trait. While it is true I am not willing to leave the house without a bit of make-up (just some foundation, a swirl of blush and a swipe of mascara), I have no need to be dolled up for a quick run to the gas station or drug store. (Okay, I don’t actually go to the gas station or a drug store anymore, but you get the idea.) My vision of myself changed drastically though, when I realized I put more stock in my appearance that I had previously thought.

This realization came about during my first year living in China as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Stationed in rural western China, I was cut-off from most things “western,” but I still craved some American indulgences, like having my hair highlighted. After almost a year in the country, as I faced a huge summer commitment of helping to plan/execute a summer training program for Chinese teachers, I thought it would be great to go to the conference with fresh highlights. After checking with every salon in my small Gansu town, I settled on a stylist who insisted he knew about and had worked on blonde hair. He claimed to have worked in Xi’An, which doesn’t have a huge ex-pat population, but enough to make his story credible. With the help of a student, I described what I wanted and he seemed to understand the plan. Well, he didn’t. Rather than a few highlights, I ended up with a fully bleached head of hair. Glowing white barely begins to describe the look I walked out of his salon with. That morning, I would have told you a bad hair job wasn’t that big of a deal, as it was just hair and would grow out. Walking down the street looking like I had been exposed to deadly levels of radiation, I was singing a different tune.

Vanity. I had as much of it as the hair stylist had bleach.

Fast forward a few years. I’m back in China, this time with the Foreign Service. Well aware of the lack of good western hair stylists available in this part of the country, I’ve strategically planned salon-time into my schedule, having my hair done during a training in Bangkok and during R& R in Idaho.

But, that doesn’t cover another area of weekly vanity- my fingernails. For years, they’ve been the benefactors of a Sunday night paint job. Each week, I re-lacquer them with different colors/designs. Can nail painting be a hobby? (I hear Pintrest says yes, although they call it “nail art.” I’m not sure what I do counts as art, but I do spend enough time I should be able to list it under hobbies on my next job application!)

All was well and good until last spring when my ring finger nail suddenly developed a weird coloring and the nail became detached from the nail bed. Since I never go to salons, always doing my nails myself, I decided just to keep an eye on it, as it couldn’t be some creepy, flesh-eating bacteria. Which I did. And I watched as it didn’t get any better. And then I watched as whatever the mystery-problem was jumped to the ring finger on my other hand. And then I watched as nothing changed- either better or worse. Eventually, I went to our consulate nurse, who recommended I see a dermatologist while I was home this winter.

Which I did.

At the doctor’s office, after he examined both my fingernails and toenails (I did not see the toenail inspection coming, so I was mortified as I had to present him with my six-week old Marine Ball pedicure that was looking more like a post-boot camp pedicure by that point), the doctor told me that I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. I steeled myself for a ban on fingernail painting. I figured it would only extend to the two ring fingers, so I was already plotting cute manicures to work around the nude nails. As I daydreamed of polka-dots and stripes, he announced that he was going to cut my nails off. I whipped my head around faster than Willow Smith, nearly falling off the examining table.

Regaining balance, physical, if not mental, I asked when we would be setting up that appointment for. Glancing down at the sharp clippers in his hand, I realized there would be no second appointment. I was losing my nails right then and there.

With some clipping and less pain than I had anticipated, I walked out of the office half an hour later with two gnarly ring fingernails.

Trying to see the nail polish bottle as half full rather than half empty, I’ve decided that rather than lamenting my lack of nails, I’ll just think of this as a time-saving procedure. As I continue my weekly ritual of Sunday night manicures, I’m now 20% more efficient! Rather than having ten fingers to decorate, I’ve only got eight. Maybe I can use those few extra minutes to solve the problems plaguing the world: hunger, disease and war. If that doesn’t happen, at least I can use that precious time to update my Facebook, check my blog stats and watch Carly Simon’s clouds swirl in my coffee.

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Resting and Relaxing

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk has been on a bit of a hiatus this last week and a half, and for the most part, will continue to be sporadic for another couple of weeks, as the sidewalk has taken me to Idaho for a bit of welcome R&R.

Rest and Relaxation time officially started last Sunday (China-time), and yet it didn’t really kick in until we touched down on the runway at BOI, sixteen hours later than we had planned. Again, it appears that United Airlines and I will forever be frenemies. (If you follow this blog much, you’ll remember that I’ve had my gripes with United several times over the last few years, but due to the Fly America regulations, I will be a regular customer of theirs, just a very frustrated, slightly unwilling, one.)

This last week has been filled with an array of activity. I’ve been to the Boise Towne Square mall twice in seven days; I don’t think I had been to that mall twice in the previous seven years. But, when every store has something in your size, it is hard to resist the call of consumerism. (My total purchases at said mall amount to less than $50, but I know there is at least one more trip to it scheduled for this next week, so I may still be able to do more of my part to help boost the Idaho economy while I am home.) I’ve been to a hockey game, camped out in the third row for an action filled match against the worst-ranked team in the league; seven goals for the Steelheads was an admirable showing and allowed for multiple rounds of “Hey goalie, you suck!” chants while I clutched my hot chocolate and people-watched to my heart’s content. I’ve been to my favorite blogger dentist ( to make sure all is on-track with my Chinese Invisalign and get my teeth squeaky clean; I’ll see her one more time on this trip, as it appears a small filling is in my future. I’d like to say I am surprised. I cannot.

When I haven’t been out running around, sucking in massive amounts of fresh air and marveling and the continuously blue sky, I’ve used my time wisely. Sometimes you can find me curled up under a blanket on top of a central heat air vent, book in-hand. (Oh, how I miss floor vents!) Other times you’ll find me curled up next to the fireplace, book in-hand. It’s possible, although less probable, that I may also be found spread out on the couch, book in-hand. (I’m a sucker for direct heat sources- heat vents, fireplaces, electric blankets…)

Rest? Relaxation? Working on it! So, please excuse my sporadic posts for the next couple of weeks. I’m spending the start of the new year re-exploring the well-worn sidewalks of home.

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