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Sunday, May 30, 2010


In their fourth novel, Pearl Harbor, Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen once again tweak history just enough to create a compelling story examining how a change in but one historic decision might have altered American history. Carefully researched by these renowned American historians, Pearl Harbor returns us to the years prior to the surprise attack. Through the creatively detailed plot and character development, we see motives, reactions to events, and cultural and political developments that might serve as signals to be heeded in today’s world as well.

Pearl Harbor actually begins in 1934, and we enter Japan when members of the England’s Royal Navy still teach in the Japanese Naval Academy. A quiet tension exists. The world is changing as Japan seeks to fulfill its perceived destiny by entering the larger world as a leader. But leadership demands natural resources which Japan lacks. In Japanese culture, where the concept of individualism blurs for the “greater good of the family, of the race, of this mystery of destiny,” the people are bound together to make their destiny a reality. To illustrate this idea in their novel, historical events are skillfully woven into the Gingrich/Forstchen story-telling tapestry giving the reader insight not only into Japan’s problems but also into their solutions.

The 1930s is also a time of military change. In many countries around the globe there is the fight for supremacy between naval and aviation forces. To what branch should a country’s resources be funneled? In future wars, where will the might and power be most important? These are questions which need to be answered not only in Japan but also in the United States and in Europe.

Early in the novel and interacting with the fictional characters, we are introduced to a young Japanese Lieutenant, Mitsuo Fuchida, who as a Commander will lead the first wave of attack on Pearl Harbor. The reader gets to know him, his pride, loyalties and motivations. He becomes a human being in our eyes as we follow his career and his understanding that air power will be supreme.

Fuchida is only one of the “real” characters we meet, and it is through their eyes that we see the testing of the west, the cultural aspects of the war, and the years of planning involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then a decision must be made about Admiral Yamamoto's role in the attack....

But Pearl Harbor is more than a character or cultural study. We’re transported back in time to become witnesses to battles and valor. They’re vividly described, and we can visualize the horrors of the times.

Perhaps more importantly, we forget that we already know the ending. As the action marches inexorably to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reader cannot help but feel the suspense, inwardly hoping that somehow what seems inevitable is thwarted.

I have so many reasons for enjoying this book. I love well-written historical fiction. I love the authors’ concept of “active history,” and the idea that a decision—even a minor one—can have vast rippling effects. I love to learn, and Gingrich and Forstchen teach me a lot about the years leading to our war with Japan. They give me insight into a manner of thinking that is really alien to my own as I come from a country with a different view of leadership and the role of the individual in society.

I enjoyed the three-novel Gettysburg series, all of which I reviewed in Third Age Traveler (,, and, and I highly recommend this latest novel. Please let me know how you feel about it.

BTW, the second book in this series, which begins immediately following the attack, is Days of Infamy.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010


771 Highway 179

Sedona, Arizona 86336


With all the upscale and wonderful restaurants in Sedona, Arizona, the place of choice for locals and knowledgeable visitors is Elote Cafe located in the Kings Ransom Hotel. We were tipped off by my friend Nina in Phoenix, and just mentioning the name to our Pink Jeep tour guide and someone in the Sedona Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center produces smiles and offers to join us.

Elote hasn’t that upscale décor. What it has is a waiting room (no reservations), a wonderful bar with the fastest bartender I’ve ever seen who can whip up anything on the relatively short menu in lightning fast time. I have Sangria to die for, and the traditional Margarita receives Rob’s highest praise—“It’s as good as mine.”

At the bar I sit next to another tourist, a musician from Chicago who comes to Sedona periodically to visit a friend and makes it a point to also visit Elote for its superb Mexican food.

The atmosphere is boisterous, and the room is filled with exuberant eaters, enjoying themselves and heartily giving their taste buds a treat. It is a bit chilly to dine outside on the patio, but the party going on inside is wonderful.

After we’re seated, we decide to attack the menu with the same gusto we see around us. We order a second round of drinks.

Our waitress brings a bowl of delicious salsa, spicy but not too. I feel it on my lips, but I don’t shy away. It has the wonderful piquant flavor of cilantro. The tortilla chips that accompany it are outstanding. They’re crisp and tasty, lightly salted, and not at all oily. I find out from our waitress, Ashley, that Elote purchases the tortillas and then makes its own tortilla chips.

For our appetizer we decide to share Fundido de Charro, an incredible mixture of homemade chorizo, carnitas, mushrooms, and rajas (roasted chili strips) topped with melted Mexican cheeses and served in a cast iron skillet. The tortillas that come with it are warm and light. The portion size can make this an entire meal for two, so we eat half and have them pack up the rest. I have never tasted anything quite like this. Absolutely glorious!

For my entrée I choose Puerco en Cascabel, a slow roasted all natural pork with cascabel sauce and homemade queso Oaxaca. Cascabel sauce is made from the cascabel chili, one with medium heat and a complex flavor with hints of wood smoke and nuts. It’s marvelous, and it is attractively served with wedges of perfectly ripe avocado, radishes and purple onions. In a separate dish is a lovely serving of rice and the most delicious refried beans I’ve ever had. I point out the separate dish because too often the rice and beans served on the same oversized platter become lost in or overcome by the main course. Elote takes pride in their presentations and chooses not to let that happen.

Rob chooses Carnitas, slow roasted all natural pork served with guacamole, pico de gallo and arbol salsa. Arbol salsa is made from the arbol chili and this type of salsa is generally recognized generally considered true Mexican—not Americanized. It is also accompanied by the rice and refried beans.

More warm tortillas are brought to the table.

Once again we each eat half the entrée because we must try dessert. We decide to share a Lime Crème Brulee. Elote’s version is a creamy lime custard with burnt sugar crust and candied almonds. The crème brulee dish is placed on a larger platter where there is a mound of whipped cream topped with raspberry sauce and surrounded by fresh raspberries. Think MOUND as in Close Encounters…. The crème brulee is tart and limey, an unusual but delicious flavor, and the whipped cream and raspberries—to die for. This we finish.

We take with us what will become in a day or so one dinner and one lunch accompanied with tortillas! The cost for this feast? Excluding the drinks, tip, and taxes, the total is $52.00. Elote—doesn’t get much more delicious than this!

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Our first stop in Sedona, Arizona is the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center at 331 Forest Road where we quickly meet two transplanted volunteers, one an artist who arrived 27 years ago to join Sedona’s flourishing artistic community. There are galleries and shops throughout the area, and art is an important component of the town. Coincidentally, my new acquaintance graduated from New Paltz three years after I did. We get to talking and reminiscing as women do while Rob speaks with a retired principal from Pennsylvania who is amazed to learn that my NEA MasterCard doubles as a travel card (if you’re NEA, check out the many benefits of this card). They also discuss the GPS tour we’d seen advertised on Los Abrigados’ TV channel highlighting Sedona’s various businesses and offerings.

The GPS tour is just what we’re looking for to take us around town and into the surrounding Red Rock Country along the most picturesque routes. The tour combines guidance with audio/video presentations. The touch screen offers links to additional information. There are also, should we desire, trivia games to play throughout the tour.

There are three tours taking an estimated five hours. We can stop as often as we wish; the three itineraries are outlined on the Chamber’s map, and we are off to explore.
Hwy 89A

The first tour takes us north on Rt. 89A toward Flagstaff through glorious Oak Creek Canyon, a winding, twisting road with enough pulloffs to make me photographically happy. Rising on either side of the road are walls of red rock scored through scores of millennium by water and wind. Once again trailheads often originate at the pulloffs, and busy hikers make their way up the rocks. I can see them, small specks in the distance.
Nature's Gifts

We stop at Midgley Bridge, a “must-see” in every tour book, and we allow ourselves the WHOA!!! moments as sunlight highlights the red rocks against an amazingly blue, blue sky.
Midgley Bridge

Our GPS guide tells us the story of Wilson Mt. where a bear hunter who lent his big rifle to a friend and had only a small rifle tried to kill a grizzly. He wounded the bear but was attacked and killed by the grizzly. His body was found alongside the creek, and two years later a bleached bear skeleton was found, a sign that the death of Wilson story was fact. Hmmmm
Immoveable Nobility

We pass Slide Rock Park where revelers are bounding about in the water enjoying the ride down the smooth rocks in the creek. This is Nature’s 80 foot long waterslide park, and it looks grand. We just don’t have time….
Sedona Rocks!

Our GPS guide tells us the story of Sedona’s founding. T.C. Schnebly added a post office to his home in the area in 1902 and kept submitting names to the Federal Government, all rejected because of their length. Finally he submitted his wife’s name, and, you guessed it, the government accepted it. It has no Native American derivative. In fact, Sedona Miller’s mother, Harriet, made the name up. Hmmmmm
Rock beauty

This GPS tour actually ends somewhere on 89A but suggested we continue driving to the crest of the mountain—so of course we do. Sedona is 4,500 feet above sea level. As we climb this incredibly steep, hairpin, S-shaped road, we pass the 6,000 foot sign, and we are still not nearly to the top. Later we learn that we reached about 7,000 feet on that drive; the Grand Canyon, 110 miles from Sedona along this road is 8,000 feet!
Up Hwy. 89A

The view from the top is spectacular. The high desert has its own vegetative beauty and soaring birds. Far below we see the serpentine road etched into the mountain. Breathtaking!!!! We have moved from one ecosystem to another. The pines, the greenery, and the different rock colors and formation attest to that. It’s rugged and craggy up here. And beautiful.
From top to bottom

On the way back to Sedona we stop to picnic at one of the park areas along the road. I think ours is the only “tourist table.” Families arrive with their coolers, set up their barbecues, and the kids disperse. A great lunch spot before we begin tour #2.
P.S. I enjoyed playing around with that first photo. LOL

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Round a bend in the road and suddenly ahead of us is the towering beauty of Sedona, Arizona's Red Rock Country. The world is full of these WHOA!!! moments, so we enjoy the gasp of delight and pause though a bit weary from a day of traveling so we can walk around in wonder and drink in the majesty of these mountains. Little do we know that within a few days, we will call these rocks of wonder by their names, see them from many angles, and walk among them. Now we thin-slice and we are WOWED!

Sedona is built around tourism, and I'm not embarrassed by wanting to do “touristy” things. But Sedona is also a wonderful destination for Arizona residents. We landed in Phoenix and in a less than the two hour drive to Sedona the temperatures were a comfortable 20º cooler. Temperatures were still in the mid 70's but nice in the dry climate. Drive down from Flagstaff, and the temperature might be 20º warmer, and that's nice too on a May day where the Oak Creek offers plenty of fun water opportunities.

Back to our very leisurely ride into Sedona. The pulloffs where we stop to admire the scenery are often trailheads to the many hiking trails that wind their way through, up, and over the red rock. There are a lot of pulloffs, and Rob and I pull off at every one. We walk around, ease ourselves short distances up the trails, and take a lot of pictures. Trails are marked by difficulty and length. All the tourist info I looked at offered info about hiking, and, in fact, warned about water intake. Take a quart of water for each ¼ mile hike.Scenic Sedona's Red Rocks

An important stop along the way on Highway 179 is the Ranger Station at Coconino National Forest. If you read Third Age Traveler regularly, you know we're fans of the National Park System and the Rangers we've met. In my pre-trip research, I learned of the Red Rock Passes needed to visit many of the area's facilities, and I want to get this necessary purchase out of the way. Happily we find that our National Parks' America the Beautiful Access Pass suffices in most cases. The Ranger, a Brooklyn transplant who says he treats New Yorkers very well, helps us map out suitable trails, points out where we would need reservations—at the Palatki Ruins, an archeological treasure of the Southwest. There are roads and the Honanki Ruins that sound very exciting but which require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. In addition to the maps, we leave with other information to enhance our visit. You can get a lot of information by visiting them online at Rock, Sedona AZ

We're staying at Los Abrigdos, a lovely suite resort that once again allows us to unpack and make ourselves at home in a one bedroom suite with dining area, kitchen, living room. The balcony allows us early morning views of some red rock formations, and the sun requires broad brimmed hats even at 7 AM. The sun feels very good as it warms our Northeast skins, and we are very aware of the dryness of the air. I love the fact that this part of Arizona is a no-sweat zone!!!

Once again the suite works to our advantage. Our plan is breakfasts in, and for the most part, picnic lunches in one of the many spots the area has available along the roads, and dinners in one of the many fine restaurants in Sedona. If you're looking for exciting nightlife, Sedona is not the venue. We've been warned that stores close early and not to expect to find a lot of restaurants open for a late dinner. It works for us as there's so much to see that we expect to enjoy the quiet, natural surroundings of the evening.

BEFORE you head to beautiful Sedona, read as much about it in as many tour guides (Foders, Frommers, Moon, etc.) and note the repeats between the books. Go to for a good overview and the address of the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center—a must place to visit early in your visit--visit their website for information on the National Forests and Monuments that surround Sedona, and if you're heading from Phoenix, stop in the Coconino National Forest Ranger Station en route, get your Red Rock Pass ($5.00 daily or $15.00 weekly), or better yet buy a National Parks Pass, particularly if you are an older citizen or if you're traveling with others. Entry into National Parks is $5.00 per person, and you might find the yearly pass good not only for this trip but for other visits as well. A Ranger will help map trails, point out excellent sunset vista points, and suggest tours, etc. Take the advice on drinking plenty of water. I also took my friend Mary's advice and came with collapsible treking poles. This is uphill/downhill rocky hiking, and I found them very helpful--actually for me, necessary. Why the prep---so you can relish the many, many, WHOA!!!! moments you are going to enjoy.

We've done a lot of planning for this trip, talked to Mary, a friend who wintered here, and also to Nina, a Phoenix friend. I'm anxious to share our experiences with you.

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