Smart Phone, Foolish User

I call the number and after four rings, voice mail picks up. I leave a message and attempt to hang up, but the screen of my smart phone is black and unresponsive. I push the power button, which usually wakes the phone out of sleep mode. The screen remains black. Meanwhile the pre-recorded female voice begins to intone, “If you are satisfied with your message, press 1. To erase and re-record your message, press 2.” Irrational panic sets in. How long will this recorded loop keep running? If it does not receive any of the requested responses, does the system save my message or delete it? Do I need to call this person back and leave another message? But I can’t make a second call if I can’t get my phone to respond, and if I could get my phone to respond, I could adequately end this first call and a second call would be unnecessary.

The automated version of a secretary continues repeating my options for completing the voice mail process as I run down the hall and interrupt my husband’s game of Skyrim. “See, this is what it does! I can’t get the screen back on!” I exclaim, holding out the phone to him. Startled, Steven takes the phone and looks at it confusedly. This look of confusion increases my panic. If my husband, the electronic gadget master of this household, has no idea how to solve this, I am doomed!

I need my phone! I had spent several weeks only being able to send and receive text messages on my previous phone as old age rendered it incapable of connecting to any call for more than 30 seconds. Then I spent another week with no phone capabilities at all as my current phone arrived with a bad SIM card and I had to wait for a new card to be shipped. This phone is the first smart phone I’ve ever owned, and I’ve spent the last two weeks clumsily trying to master the basics–like how to answer calls instead of hanging up on people. Most of the time, the gaffs and mishaps are operator error, but there have been a few times where I would swear that it wasn’t my fault, that the phone wasn’t responding properly, only to have Steven look it over and say, “It seems to be working fine.”2015Dec20

Now, we are both starring at the black screen in his hand as he taps it a few times (still black) and then presses and holds the power button. As the screen finally lights up, I snatch it back, but find that even electronic secretaries have their limits and my call has finally been terminated in some fashion. As I tap the screen, my phone interprets this fiddling as my attempt to redial the number from the previous call. Terribly flustered, I hit the back arrow, which takes me to the main screen, but the call continues dialing, and my panic is now inflamed with the heat of frustration as I can’t seem to locate an icon that will let me end this erroneous call. “What the….No!… Stop!…Why are….gah!” As I erupt with half finished sentences, Steven goes into his “Nurse in a Mental Ward” persona and softly says, “I’ll look on-line and see if there is any information about this sort of thing.” I somehow manage to get the phone to stop dialing, and realize on some level that the size of my reaction is probably out of proportion to the situation, but that doesn’t stop me from ranting, “This is why I like manuals! This (gesturing wildly at the screen with it’s icons) does not help me know what I need to do! All this does is make me blunder around, making mistakes and messing things up!”

And there is the true heart of the matter. Despite my years as a recovering perfectionist, my work to practice healthier attitudes and behaviors, I am a terrified of “messing things up”. Whether the thing at hand is as big the role of president in a business organization or as small as a smart phone, the fear is the same quality and dimension. Fear of failing. Fear of ridicule. Fear of causing irreparable damage. Believe it or not, this fear affected my choice of artistic expression. Fiber arts like crochet and cross-stitch offer infinite numbers of do-overs. As long as you have the patience to frog it, no crochet mistake is beyond fixing. Essays, stories, and poems can be redrafted as many times as it takes for you to be satisfied with them.

My husband is fond of the French maxim Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing). On the one hand, this truth can be disheartening. I mean, for the love! My emotional angst was caused yet again by my perfectionism. But on the other hand, I find plus ça change comforting because there is power in knowing the name of the thing (if you don’t believe me, ask Rumpelstiltskin). If my distress is merely perfectionist fear, then I know what to do with it. Summoning my inner Hal Jordan, I feel the fear and do it anyway. I chose to believe that the blunders of learning are valuable, that how I respond to my mistakes and deal with my messes is more important than being perfect. I chose to persevere in grace and refuse to remain frozen in the Gorgon face of perfectionism.

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2014 in Books (Part 1)

My book reading goal for 2014 was 24 books. Apparently that was one of those “lofty” goals I mentioned in the last post. But something is better than nothing, and ten books read is better than zero books read. So here is the first installment of my 2014 book list.


The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Why did you choose this book?
I loved the title! And I bought it with a Barnes & Noble gift card that I got for Christmas in 2013 so I thought it was an appropriate choice for my first book of 2014.

What is your three-sentence synopsis?
A surprise attack at a murder scene leaves one of Chief Detective Carl Mørck’s assistants dead, the other paralyzed, and the detective himself scarred physically and emotionally. Returning to work after medical leave, the brilliant but highly abrasive Mørck discovers he’s been transferred to the newly established Department Q. As the sole detective assigned to review “unsolved cases deserving special scrutiny”, Carl Mørck intends to do nothing more in his new basement office than mark the days til retirement, but the case files of a young politician who disappeared without a trace five years ago prove too tempting to resist.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Assad, an immigrant from the Middle East who is assigned to be Detective Mørck’s assistant after pestering Mørck’s supervisor every day for a month. Assad steals every scene he is in, and his undaunted fascination with anything related to police work perfectly counters Mørck’s cynical apathy.

What is one thing you would change in this book?
The R-rated language. While I think the language used by some of the characters is realistic and not necessarily gratuitous, I know there are readers who will skip this book for that reason, and I wish everyone who enjoys mysteries could experience this brilliant mystery thriller.

What does the book do really well?
The book effectively shows how the trauma of the shooting affected Mørck, even as he denies that anything is wrong. I was also impressed that it provides a plausible explanation for the outlandish captivity that Merete Lynnggaard finds herself in. The book definitely builds compelling suspense!

Would you read something else by this author? Why or why not?
I would like to read the sequel to this book to see more of Carl and Assad’s relationship and to see if Carl grows as a character (or remains as stagnant as Christie’s Poirot). I’d also like to see how Adler-Olsen plots another thriller.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble

Why did you choose this book?
I wanted the try a new author. The cover caught my eye and the prologue piqued my interest.

What is your three-sentence synopsis?
Midwife Amy Lang and Coast Guard officer Curtis Ireland have several things in common: a dedication to serving others in their professions, an attraction for each other, a love of the ocean and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and the grief of losing a sibling in the Atlantic waves. What Amy doesn’t know is that they also share a niece, the daughter of her brother Ben and Curtis’ sister Gina. But Curtis isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and Amy’s obsession with proving that her brother’s death wasn’t an accident threatens more than just her own relationships and professional dreams.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Edith, Curtis’ aunt, who’s confidence in who she is and the life she creates for herself inspires me.

What is one this you would change about the book?
The ending! Ugh! Some of the people had to act very out of character in order to achieve the happy ending which made me disbelieve the whole scenario that the mystery is based on. And yes, this is romance mystery, so yes, I knew the story would have a Hollywood ending, but the last chapter was so full of cheese and syrup that it was nauseating.

What did the book do really well?
The book’s easy prose painted clear and lovely scenes with characters that were distinct from each other, which made it a light, fun read (until the end).

Would you read something else by this author? Why or why not?
Probably not, which is disappointing because I enjoyed experiencing Hope Beach and it’s community so vividly and this book is part of a series of novels set in the same place, but ending was so off-putting that I think I’ll visit elsewhere for a vacation-via-book experience.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey

Why did you choose this book?
Other than myth and fairy tales, I’ve never read any story based in Japan and a mystery set in modern Tokyo would let me “visit” a new place.

What is your three-sentence synopsis?
Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer, thinks that the worst thing about taking the commission to find an ancient tansu for one of her regular clients is that she missed out on a free vacation to Thailand with her boyfriend and ended up over-paying for the piece. But that was before Rei discovered that the antique was a fake and had to admit her failure to her client. Still, even that turned out to be a piece of cake compared to figuring out what the burglars who ransacked the knock-off tansu (and the rest of her apartment) were looking for and why the police think she’s mixed up in a murder.

Who is your favorite character and why?
Jun Kuroi, a car salesman; I was surprised by him.

What is one this you would change about the book?
The relationship between Rei and her boyfriend Hugh. Come on, people! If you are able run your own business (Rei) and work for an international firm (Hugh), then you should be able to have a mature conversation with each other rather than these “Hide me–I don’t want to see him” antics that are usually relegated to junior high school relationships.

What did the book do really well?
It provides an interesting glimpse of modern life in a different culture. The mystery was decently plotted as well.

Would you read something else by this author? Why or why not?
I would not read another book with Rei Shimura as a character; I don’t have the patience for the needless drama that she creates for herself. I might read another book by Sujata Massey if it featured different characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Saturday Adventure

Last Saturday, after collecting a small satchel of paper, pens, books, and a camera, I kissed my husband on the forehead and announced, “I’m off on an adventure! I’ll be back when I’m done.” I left him with a bewildered smile on his face and drove to the Japanese stroll garden on the other side of town.

Garden Bridge

Despite the weather service’s prediction of “mostly sunny”, it was a persistently overcast day. But it was warm enough to comfortable with just a windbreaker and the gray sky made the pinks and greens of springtime really pop.

Redbud by the lake

It was wonderful to be out and about on my own. To be free from the expectation of conversion. To walk with no destination other than Being Outside. To sit and listen long enough for the brook’s soft babble to gradually supersede the chattering thoughts in my head.

By the stream

As I walked I remembered this post by Jonathan Trotter. I feel like 2015 started with the bang of a starter’s gun, and it’s been a series of sprints for the last three months. I placed well in all my meets (to keep the metaphor going) and I’m proud of myself for that, but I hit the wall (emotionally) last Thursday and was desperate for rest and solitude the way a dehydrated athlete is desperate for electrolytes and water. Thus, my “adventure” on Saturday.

A path to somewhere

So at the end of the first quarter of 2015, I’m finally able to take stock of where I’m at and where I want to be headed this year. And it’s okay that it’s April 17 and not January 1; it means that I’m meeting one of the two goals that I did manage to set in January–to remember that every day is New Year’s Day. Truth be told, my “Goals for the Year” can be a bit lofty and especially susceptible to my petulance for time optimism. Maybe setting goals for the next three months would help me be more realistic and stay focused.

Take a closer look

So–April, May, and June–what do I want you to be? I want to have a day of rest like this once a month instead of once a quarter. I want to finish one of craft projects I started last year. I want to start blogging again. (See, this one is already coming to fruition!) I want to become clearer about my “WHY” before starting a couple projects at work. I want to continue to make time for friends and maintain a quality connection with my husband. (Despite all the running of the first quarter, I’ve done well with both of these things.) I want to continue working towards my goal of exercising three times per week. Oh, and to figure out how to make 2015 a Year of Dancing! (After having a Year of Surviving in 2014, the second goal that I set for 2015 was to make it a Year of Dancing.) At minimum, dancing requires a bit of open, uncluttered floor and some unscheduled, unhurried time. Maybe the first step towards that goal is making space in my life to dance.

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Evenings with Emily: This is my letter to the World

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am starting a new series of posts titled Evenings with Emily. One evening last week, it was time for bed, but I couldn’t get my mind to settle down. So I picked up a slim volume of selected poems by Emily Dickinson (one of my favorite poets), read the first poem, and used it as a writing prompt. It was such a lovely distraction from ruminating on the next day’s “To Do List” (which was the rut that my mind had been stuck in) that I intend return to this practice at random intervals and share my reflections here.

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This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me –
The simple News that Nature told –
With tender Majesty

Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see –
For love of Her – Sweet – countrymen –
Judge tenderly of Me
Emily Dickinson

This poem has a wistful loneliness to it that reminds me of my junior high and high school years. Though I had more contact with the World than Emily did, I rarely felt included in it–certainly not a part of it. And lacking confidence–or true understanding, really–of who I was and what value I had to offer, there was a fear of others’ judgement. Nature was my retreat as well–long walks in the golden afternoon, meditation and prayers in the silver temple of moonlight. Nature is a companion that I miss here in the city, yet I am so grateful to have found a community of human friends who refresh and encourage my heart in ways that Nature can’t.

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Book Review: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter by Sharyn McCrumb

I actually read this book in August 2013 and it’s review languished in the Drafts folder for the past five months while my free time was consumed with other demands at home and at work. Thankfully, a more manageable rhythm of life has been re-established and I am once again able to share my literary adventures and creative endeavors with the world at large. So without further ado, I present my long over-due reflection on The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.

I love the title of this book; it’s intriguing with the implied inevitable tragedy and (perhaps most importantly) it made me pick up a novel by an author I knew nothing about. Kudos also go to the artist who designed the cover for this paperback edition for effectively giving me a taste of the book’s atmosphere before I’d even read the first page.

This mystery is quite a contrast from last novel I read. Quicksand has an immediacy to it’s pace, like a series of white water rapids that move you through the story with impetuous haste; there is this sense of narrowing as the entire plot whirls around a handful of characters. Whereas The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter is more like a ride on an old steam engine train, slowly building up speed, moving effectively while letting you take in the surrounding landscape and study the other passengers.

The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter has a slice-of-life feel to it (despite opening with a murder-suicide); you see different characters fighting personal demons, marking particular milestones, and cherishing secret dreams that may or may not have any bearing on the outcome of the mystery itself. The citizens of Dark Hollow, Tennessee, reminded me of people I knew growing up in a small town, which made their story seem more real to me. While Quicksand almost felt like a fantasy to me (maybe because I’ve never had a brilliant detective and a charismatic ex-arms dealer vying for my affections like Eve Duncan), this story and it’s characters are very grounded in the culture of the rural Midwest in the early 1990s. This pre-9/11 novel lacks certain attitudes that permeate our culture today. And I tasted the bittersweet tang of nostalgia as I read about Sheriff Arrowood attending a Judds concert during their farewell tour. In my opinion, this type of present day fiction (McCrumb published it in 1992) makes the best historical fiction, if it survives long enough.

I found it interesting that after reading Quicksand, I was eager to start the next book on my bookshelf, but when I closed The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter for the last time, I was content for more than a week to reflect on the pictures of the life in this Tennessee valley that McCrumb had painted so effectively for me. Quicksand was cotton candy–fun, but not really satisfying. The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter was pot roast, cooked slow and seasoned well. There was one dry bit–a few pages of odd and distracting historical exposition in the middle of the book–but over all a literary meal that hits the spot!

Blurb (from the paperback edition): Blessed with “the Sight,” old Nora Bonesteel is the first to know about the murder-suicide in Dark Hollow, Tennessee. Four members of the Underhill family lie dead on a run-down farm. And Sheriff Spencer Arrowood has this worried feeling that the bad things aren’t over. Old Nora knows they aren’t. For what she saw was the kind of dying that will test the courage of the living–and a sheriff’s insights into country way and hearts.

First line: Nora Bonesteel was the first one to know about the Underhill family.

I would recommend this book to: Anyone who likes a mystery that takes it’s time.

Would I read it again: Yes

My personal rating: 4 out of 5

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Book Review: Quicksand by Iris Johansen

You know you have too many books when you come home from the bookstore and have to take books off the shelves to put away your new literary treasures. Thus, I chose my latest book to read based on the question, “Which of these books am I not going to keep?” Quicksand was loaned to me by my mother-in-law, so it obviously fit the criteria.

I found Quicksand to be an easily engaging and solid thriller. The story was dark (how could it be anything else when the villain is a serial killer who targets children!), but I didn’t think the violence was too graphic. I liked that Johansen trusted the story itself to be compelling enough not to resort to cliff-hanger chapter endings (or graphic sex scenes and R-rated swearing for that matter); I plowed through this in 5 or 6 hours so I certainly found it compelling as is. I was quite curious when I reached the point where I had expected the story to end and discovered that there were still 50 pages left. I’m sure there are readers who would have anticipated Johansen’s ending, but it was an interesting surprise for me.

I somehow failed to notice the subtitle at the bottom of the front cover–An Eve Duncan Forensics Thriller–so I had no idea that I was joining a party well after it started. (Although, in hindsight, the way certain things were referenced in the story should have tipped me off.) But that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. In fact, not reading any of Johansen’s books prior to this may have enhanced my experience of Quicksand. I think it made Megan Blair a more effective character since she was a mystery to me instead of being an Easter egg as she would have been if I had read Pandora’s Daughter. And by the end of the book I was losing my patience with Eve’s obsession with finding her daughter Bonnie’s remains at the expense of all else–I may not have had any patience left if I had already endured her ruthless desperation through seven other books. I understand that losing a child is a life-long burden to a bereaved parent, but I do not understand Eve’s obsession in light of the fact that she is occasionally visited by Bonnie’s spirit, who assures Eve that she is happy now and urges her mother to give up the search. The novel certainly indicates that the longer Eve continues this obsession the greater the damage she does to herself and those around her. But if Eve has stubbornly resisted her beloved daughter’s invitation to lay down this burden (for at least eight novels), I can’t see any hope for her getting out of this infuriating rut and I have no desire to travel with her any farther in it. So my bottom line is that I enjoyed Quicksand more than I expected, but not enough to read more of Johansen’s Eve Duncan series.

Blurb (from the paperback edition): Do you still miss your little Bonnie? The one sentence, spoken by a male voice in an anonymous phone call, is all it takes to drag Eve Duncan right back to that horrifying moment years ago when her only daughter vanished without a trace. Since then, Eve’s life has become an obsession to find her daughter’s remains. Only one man–a brilliant, ruthless killer–knows the truth about what happened to Bonnie. But taunting Eve might be his first and last mistake…

First line: Someone was watching him.

I would recommend this book to: Anyone looking for a light, beach-read thriller.

Would I read it again: No

My personal rating: 3 out of 5

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Book Review: A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans

I confess that the blurb for this book wasn’t all that appealing to me. But because I’d seen it advertised often enough in the Sci-Fi Book Club catalog, the title caught my eye at the used bookstore. I read through the first few pages, which did what a blurb is supposed to do, and I went home with Chris Evans’ debut novel. After reading A Darkness Forged in Fire, I would say it’s an impressive debut.

Book One of the Iron Elves Series

Aside from the occasional stumble over the jargon of this new world (a normal hazzard of the genre), Chris Evans’ prose is smooth and effective. Evans deftly demonstrates his intimate knowledge weaponry and military culture while carving some extremely sympathetic (and humorous) character gems to set on the battle’s canvas, of which Private Yimt Arkhorn and Private Alwyn Renwar shine the brightest. These two characters are so fully realized that I smelled the spice from the crute that Yimt constantly chewed and felt weight of Alwyn’s glasses as he squinted into the darkness of their night patrols. I cared deeply for them, which heightened my main problem with the book–I didn’t care about the main character. I found  Konowa Swift Dragon a bit tedious and his relationship with Visyna terribly cliched. Until the final battle, I was far more interested in what almost anyone other than Konowa was doing in the story. Now since the cast is fairly large, there were plenty of intrigues to keep my attention, but it’s a shame when the hero is totally eclipsed by the supporting cast. Nevertheless, A Darkness Forged in Fire is a good read and I will continue with the Iron Elves series for love of Yimt and Alwyn and to satisfy my curiousity about RallieSynjyn.

Blurb (from the 2009 paperback edition): An unforgiving world of musket and cannon…bow and arrow…magic, diplomacy, and oaths—each wielding terrible power in an empire teetering on the brink of war.
Even in this world, Konowa Swift Dragon, former commander of the Empire’s elite Iron Elves, is anything but ordinary. He’s murdered a Viceroy, been court-martialed, seen his beloved regiment disbanded, and been banished in disgrace to the one place he despises the most–the forest. All he wants is to be left alone, but then an unexpected royal decree orders him to resume his commission as an officer in Her Majesty’s Imperial Army, effective immediately.
For in the east, a falling Red Star heralds the return of a long-vanished magic, and rebellion is growing within the Empire as a frantic race to reach the Star unfolds. It is a chance for Konowa to redeem himself–but the entire enterprise appears to be a suicide mission…and the soldiers recruited for the task are not quite what he expects. Worst of all, his key adversary to obtain the Star is none other than the dreaded Shadow Monarch, whose machinations for absolute domination spread deeper than Konowa could ever imagine.

First line: Mountains shouldn’t scream but this one did.

I would recommend this book to: Anyone is looking for a new fantasy series to explore with a convincing blend of military and magical warfare and a couple of delightful comrades in arms.

Would I read it again: Maybe.

My personal rating: 3 out of 5

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