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Friday, January 30, 2015


I was thinking today of how much I love the South Carolina beaches
and the serene beauty of Pawleys Island

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


For a horrifying but very real picture of human resistance and endurance in time of war, read Laura Hillenbrand's brilliantly written Unbroken.  This is non-fiction that reads as fiction. Make sure you have time because once you pick up this book, you will not want to put it down.

Hillenbrand is extremely careful to let us get to know our protagonist, Louis Zamperini, as a child, an often recalcitrant child, a dedicated Olympic athlete, a WWII bombardier and prisoner of war, and a returning GI. The author's meticulous depiction of Louis’ background, his dedication to become a runner in the 1936 Olympics and a skillful, trained Army Air Corps bombadier during WWII helps us to understand how he withstood the Japanese attitude toward prisoners of war and particularly toward him.  It also helps us to see how he was able to build a post-war life, something we hear about almost daily with our contemporary returning military.

In June, 1943, Zamperini and his surviving fellow fliers were adrift in an ocean teeming with sharks.  Their search mission for another plane abruptly ended when their own plane failed mechanically and crashed into the ocean.  Wrapped in the plane's wires as it sunk below the waves, Louis mysteriously managed to find himself on the surface of the water near a raft. At that time, life rafts were not sufficiently equipped to withstand the horrors of being adrift in the ocean for any length of time. The  survivors of the crash had just enough food to sustain the barest of life; they managed with just enough water to do the same, and then, after being strafed by a Japanese fighter, they were captured and became part of the Japanese prisoner-of-war system that left more dead prisoners by a significant margin than any other country in WWII.  The Japanese culture despised the idea of surrender or of being captured by the enemy, and their treatment of their captives reflected their disgust and lack of respect. In fact, as Japan saw its loss in the war an eventuality, it issued a Kill Order so that no prisoner-of-war would be left alive.  The atomic bombs assured that order was not carried out.

Japanese politician Nakajima Chikuhei said in 1940 “ is the sacred duty of the leading race [Japanese] to lead and enlighten the inferior ones.” The Japanese, he continued are the “sole superior race of the world.” Its military-run school system drilled children on this imperial destiny.” This is the true outlook of fascism.

Hillenbrand shows us how violence was an integral component of the Japanese military culture.  “The Japanese imperial army made violence a cultural imperative.”  Before America was attacked at Pearl Harbor, the horrific attack on Nanking, China was an example of the Japanese approach.  Needless to say, Japan’s prisoner of war camps were violent places that resulted in more deaths than in releases at the end of the war.

Throughout Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand leads her readers to understand not only the Japanese approach to its prisoners, always supporting her information with statistics, but also how Louis Zamperini had grown into a man who had a chance of surviving despite the odds.

When he returned from the war having resisted every attempt to break and kill him by sadistic Japanese, in particular one nicknamed "Bird," his spirit finally collapsed and he nearly ruined his life.  On the brink of destruction, he once again found something that would not only save him but also would guide him until his death at age 97 in July of 2014.  His “war” as a civilian can be seen by many as a tougher war than the physical one he experienced as a prisoner, and his redemption, perhaps, even more remarkable.

I absolutely do not want to give you any more specifics about what Louis endured nor do I want to delve too deeply into his “before” and “after” lives.  All of this man's life was a remarkable journey.

Why read this book if it is simply the biography of a splendid individual?  The answer is simple.  Louis has a a great deal to teach us about hope, dedication, endurance, and finding one's self time and again despite the pain.  His life is something we can all profit from understanding. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, took away something for her own life, wrote about Louis' influence on her, and shares that with us.  If you are familiar with Man's Search for Meaning, you will see the same kinds of ideas there.

I add too, now that the movie is out and so famous, that the movie ends at chapter 33 in the book.  The movie, which I admit I have not seen yet, cannot do justice without the “rest of the story.”  Read this book.

Unbroken is well-written, interesting, supported (you will seen her bibliography at the end), and will make you want to look at more of Hillenbrand's writing.  I've got Seabiscuit on my list.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Beautiful flowers from the Copper River area in Alaska
I thought the bright, happy colors might be a
nice remembrance of what spring and summer
look like.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


We've just returned from the flights from Hell! Except for the return flight from Kansas City which is
reminiscent of my golf game--just as I am ready to smash every club in my bag, I finish the last hole nicely and decide I have enough potential to come back. Here’s my story; everything I put forth here is absolutely true.

Rob and I were booked on JetBlue out of Newark for Cancun. TSA pre, so no long security lines. Not the most convenient flight possible, a one-stop and relatively lengthy layover, but ok.

If you've ever been to Cancun airport, you know it's an offshoot of Britain's Bedlam prison, but no problem. It’s busy because this is the resort crowd landing and everyone and everything is heading for the sun--including Rob's luggage.  Only one problem; we arrived in Cancun; Rob’s luggage went to Montego Bay, Jamaica!

An hour and a half later, after locating the proper airport personnel since JetBlue has no representative in
Cancun airport, we’ve filled out the forms and are promised that the runaway luggage will be on the first flight
to New York’s Kennedy Airport in the morning and then on to Cancun. ETA: Tomorrow afternoon.

By the time we make it out of customs, our driver has left and we are stranded at the airport. Amid pre-trip
warnings from every travel source available including our resort to not take unregistered airport transportation, we are a bit bewildered. Then an angel from Marriott approaches us. He sees our transportation voucher, recognizes it and knows our driver who coincidentally lives in his neighborhood. He phones him and our guy is back in a few minutes. Whew.  He’s actually stationed at the airport and calls for our car and we are whisked off to Temptation Spa and Resort.

Thank goodness for those light-weight zip-off travel pants that Rob is wearing. Unzip the legs and he’s in light-weight shorts which he will have to wear until the next day.  Zip on the legs and he is all right for dinner. 
Meanwhile I unpack and discover my luggage is severely damaged. A zipper is ripped and shredded, but in all the tumult at the airport, I did not notice the protruding twisted wires and did not report it.  Not to worry,
JetBlue’s disclaimer clearly exonerates the company from all responsibility, and I will have to find a repair shop when I get home.  But mishaps occur.  We can roll with the punches, but now is the time for a welcome drink and a little relaxation and enjoyment. 

Rob’s luggage arrives late the next afternoon, and as always, our stay at Temptation is lovely…

Until it was time to check in online for our return flights.  Rob checks in with no problem, but I am not allowed. I am told I have to report to the JetBlue counter at the airport.  ???????????????  Remember, I am TSA pre√.

We leave the hotel in plenty of time, and the driver drops us at the terminal and leaves--the wrong terminal. This one appears to cater to flights within the Spanish speaking world, and we need to get to the flights heading elsewhere.  I am able to converse in Spanish a bit, but my hearing is not good enough to understand the responses, and Rob doesn't speak Spanish at all.  It’s like a Laurel and Hardy movie as we try to decide on the next step. 

Looking obviously bewildered, we are approached by several men offering taxi services, but we remember those travel warnings.  There’s a sign for a shuttle to other terminals, so we get on line and wait and wait and wait.  Then another angel appears (remember the Marriott guy?).  He’s a van driver from Hertz, and he offers us a ride in his van.  This we gratefully accept, and within ten minutes or so I am in front of the JetBlue check-in counter trying to find out what the problem is.

She checks me in promptly, but when I ask why I, a TSA pre √, flier had to check in at the counter, she shows me a series of SSSSS on my ticket.  She says I was “chosen at random.”  So much for Homeland Security.  Prior to flying they check me out, decide I’m safe enough to fly without taking off my shoes, etc., and now they are going to check me out again while who-knows-who gets on the flight with who-knows-what.  What a waste!!!  What inefficiency.

But I had no idea of how I would now be checked.  Rob sails through quickly, and I am throroughly wanded and x-rayed.  My hands are swiped.  My tablet is swiped.  They go through my carry on literally piece by piece.  I finally made it to the gate, but while Rob is allowed to board, I am again pulled aside and totally wanded and my hands are again swiped—now in front of all my fellow passengers who must wonder what kind of suspicious criminal is flying with them!  But, hey, I’ve never felt any governmental agency runs efficiently, so why should the hapless TSA be any different.

Eventually we are settled on the plane, but bad weather in New Jersey delays our departure.  We finally taxi to the runway when the Captain tells us there is a computer problem in the left engine and we have to return to the gate so it can be repaired—maybe.  We sit on board, and more than an hour later the computer is fixed and we taxi out and take off. 

We arrive in Newark at 2:30AM, two hours late!  We first begin luggage and customs.

We have reservations to stay at Wyndham Gardens Hotel where our car is parked, the trunk full of winter
clothes because we have an 11AM flight out to Kansas City, Missouri for our daughter-in-law’s graduation from Command and General Staff College and also for her Master’s Degree. 

We check in, go to out to bring in the clothing so we can switch suitcases, and then we head to the Business
Center to check in our United flight.

We finally connect with United only to learn that our non-stop, three-hour flight has been CANCELLED, and we are rebooked on a one-stop, seven hour flight that leaves later in the day and will get us to Kansas City in the evening.  BUT we have the option of finding another flight, which we do—a one-stop (in Chicago), five-hour flight that requires our taking the 7:30 AM hotel shuttle back to Newark Airport.  Total sleep time = 1.25 hours.

When we get to the airport we make sure to arrange for ground transportation for us in Chicago’s bustling, huge airport.  Rob’s knee will just not make the long walk to our second flight.  No problem says the woman at the desk as she puts through our request.

We arrive in Chicago, get on the golf cart, and the driver tells us he doesn’t have us on his list and we have to get off.  No way, we tell him, and although he threatens calling security, when we tell him to go right ahead, he calls, instead, for another golf cart; we switch, and we are driven to the second gate, a long ride plus an elevator ride. 

We board this plane, fall asleep, and wake up in Kansas City, in a wonderful, compact, easily negotiable airport, find our rental car, find our hotel is only minutes away and no more than ten minutes from Jen’s apartment. 

On the ground, this second leg of our Cancun/Kansas City trip begins, and it is totally delightful.  TOTALLY!  BTW, our trip home was very nice.  We had our non-stop to from KC to Newark, and took a taxi to the Wyndham, tossed our luggage in the car, and it wasn’t long before we were sitting in that familiar diner on Rt. 17 eating Chef Salads.

Flying has become a torture.  I rather drive an entire day than go through the trouble of a flight.  How do you

feel about this?

Friday, January 16, 2015


In different areas of Kansas City, Mo., buildings are lighted and festivities go on
as everyone enjoys the holiday spirit.
It was a magical evening.  Here's Cinderella's carriage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


If you've read Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, you're probably already looking for another book by See.  If you haven't read Snow Flower..., read Shanghai Girls and you will be hooked. 

As with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See allows her readers a glimpse into a culture removed not only in time but also in place.  She allows us to travel with her to pre-World War II Shanghai when the city was filled with foreigners and, according to See, foreigners who had no idea of and no interest in the lives of the Chinese inhabitants.  They lived in their own international quarter, richly and privileged with no concern for anything but their own extravagances.  In fact, according to See, even the Chinese who associated with the foreigners had no concern for their fellow countrymen and women who served and worked for them; rather they looked down upon them as peasants destined to live their subservient lives. 

In some ways, therefore, Shanghai Girls is a story of awakening.

But there is much more here.  The story opens in 1937, just before Japan attacked Nanking but not before the tensions began to mount.  Revolution within China is still years away, but the seeds are already sown. Our heroines, sisters Pearl and May, are modern girls, Shanghai girls, who mix with the westerners and work as the beautiful girls who model  for the calendars.  They are celebrities. 

Their story is told through Pearl, the older sister who always saw herself as the less favored of the two.  People were charmed by May who was prettier and more outgoing.  Yet, no sisters could be closer, and the novel traces their lives and travails as they rebel as much as they can against their, in their eyes, old fashioned parents, get caught in Japan's horrific attacks on China and Chinese citizens, and sift through their own lives to try to find some peace and direction.

In some ways, therefore, Shanghai Girls is the story of war and its aftermath.

In some ways, therefore, Shanghai Girls is a story about family and devotion.

In some ways, therefore, Shanghai Girls is a story of finding the truth. 

The beauty of the book is also in the telling.  Lisa See is truly a gifted author.  Her style is spare as she writes Pearl's words, but Pearl is also a college graduate which gives See a bit more latitude.  I have already mentioned Nanking.  While we've read of the horrors as Japan prepared for conquest of China, Pearl's perspective is from an entirely different place.  She lives it in China.  It is a time for the Chinese to make some very difficult choices about their futures. 

“Friends we've known in the cafes—writers, artists, and intellectuals—make choices that will determine the rest of their lives: to go to Chungking, where Chiang Kai-shek has established his wartime capital, or to Yunnan to join the Communists.  The wealthiest families—foreign and Chinese—leave by international steamers, which chug defiantly past the Japanese warships anchored off the Bund.”

As I read, I can feel the tension of the times and the fears people faced.  The idea of making that decision of where to run, particularly because I know China's fate, is a story too universal to read without sympathy if not empathy.

See's descriptive powers are wonderful as you'll see as Pearl describes something as simple as a dress.

“I choose a cheongsam of peach-colored silk with red piping.  The dress is tailored so close to my body that the dressmaker cut the side slit daringly high to allow me to walk.  Frogs fashioned from the same red piping fasten the dress at my neck, across my breasts, under my armpit, and down my right side.

Lisa See brings her reader right into the setting.  No matter the time or location—for the book moves from one generation to the next—you will see it in your mind's eye.

You will get to know the sisters as fleshed-out people with all their strengths and weaknesses, and you will identify with some of their pains and questions. 

Shanghai Girls is a coming of age book in a time of turmoil and violence.  It is set in a time when respected customs and ways are challenged and replaced and where people are forced to make difficult choices and strange alliances in a violently changing world.  On the other hand, it is a book about love, devotion, and family.

Shanghai Girls is a fine book in every way.  I believe you will be drawn in to the story just as I was, and because there are twists and turns and revelations as we follow the lives of Pearl and May, you will finish the book, sigh, and wonder what happens next to these sisters.  Read and enjoy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


I regret to post this.
The United States has issued a Global Travel Warning, instructing Americans to be very vigilant.  For more information, follow this  USA today link.

Friday, January 09, 2015


On the way back from Louisiana in 2012, we stopped at Graceland
in Memphis

Around the graves, located by the pool, fans leave their tokens of affection

We may be off in years--he would have been 80 on Jan. 8, 2015--
but I'm sure the sentiment remains.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Temptation-Cancun, Mexico One inauspicious way to begin a vacation in Cancun, Mexicos tropical climate is being dressed for New Yorks December weather and knowing that Rob's luggage, filled with light-weight clothes, is not with us; rather, thanks to a JetBlue glitch, Robs luggage is sitting in Montego Bay, Jamaica

 A second inauspicious way is spending so much time in the airport filling out lost luggage reports that by the time we get through Customs, our driver has left! 

BUT a dispatcher from a Marriott resort sees the reservation voucher in my hand, tells us our man is a friend, calls him on the phone, and he is back in a few minutes. What appears to be continuing disaster is put to rights. We have a pleasant ride to Temptation, our hotel, and when we arrive, we heave sighs of relief.  I unpack my luggage, and then we head to Margaritas Restaurant for a late lunch and, you guessed it, margaritas.  This is a true-life experience where the words, "I need a drink" applies. Robs luggage is expected the next afternoon.

We like Temptation Resort and Spa (see, and we like Cancun. Even before we enter the lobby, the thematic red and white colors as well as the signature sight of an apple announces that we've entered a tempting world. We move quickly from the lobby to the VIP reception area. Temptation is an all-inclusive hotel as well as a timeshare, and as owners here, we are treated very nicely. As in many all-inclusives, we are banded at check-in.  White wrist bands for owners, red for hotel guests.  Instantly distinguishable and important.

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico
Temptation-Cancun, Mexico Our room, red and white, continues the theme.  On one wall is a metal sculpture, a lone, lazy tree branch whose end is dropping leaves and a single apple. On the dresser is a silver metallic sculpture of a man and a woman familiarly entwined. Tucked in the beds headboard alcove is another apple, and beneath the smoky glass of our night tables as well as behind the apple alcove glow soft seductive red lights. It's sleek, modern, romantic and charming. Our balcony has a spa as well as a privacy shade. It's all quite seductive. As owners here, we also receive sparkling white spa robes and slippers, a nice touch.

But Cancun, after all, is for the Caribbean sun which we cannot really enjoy on our first afternoon as we wait for Rob's luggage to arrive. On day 2 we are ready to make up for that. The resort is comprised of a series of red and white buildings, whose angular design affords as many ocean-view rooms as possible and also breaks up the resort into sections that belie its size and the number of visitors. The feel is intimate. 

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico
Nestled among the buildings are the three swimming pools that also serve as dividers of sorts as each attracts a different type of guest. There is a sports pool for lap swimming, water volleyball and basketball as well as a host of other organized or pick-up games. On its deck, one might play corn hole.  Or just laze in one of the sunbeds and be spectators. 

There is the "fun" pool, the biggest pool, with the swim-up bar where the music booms, the hotel staff runs games and contests, and is friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic. 

There is the quiet pool, where only if the Caribbean breezes blow quite right does one faintly hears sounds from the "fun" pool. It has its own bar and swim-up bar.  At one end are several whirlpool spas. 

Just stop to pick up your bright red (for guests) or sparkling white (for owners) towels and head to the pool or beach section of your choice.  (Those white towels are your entry keys to some special benefits.)

Temptation-Cancun, MexicoRemember, we're on the Caribbean, and the long stretch of beach that is Temptations is also cleverly divided by different activity offerings, so no one gets that jammed Coney Island feeling. There are lounges, cabanas, hammocks, four-poster beach beds rimmed with billowing gauzy white fabric ready for occupants.  There's a special section for owners, both on the beach and on a separated deck above the fun" pool.  This section has a bar all its own and waiter service.    

The Caribbean Sea is beautifully multi-hued in shades of green and blue. Cool sand underfoot. Gradual slope into the water. Clear, clear, clear water. We watch small silvery fish dart back and forth in tiny, shiny schools. We cool off in the calm waters and watch, down the beach a bit, a woman taking her first sailboard lesson and a man working on his newly learned paddle board technique. Life here is enthusiastically relaxing.  That doesnt mean sitting all day.  Theres something going on to suit everyones taste.  We like the catamarans.  Theres always a nice breeze to make good sailing.

There are docks at several points along the beach where yachts are moored. Owners have access to a yacht for 10-person private 4 hour party at a reasonable cost. The group can be arranged for you, and we're seriously thinking about this for our next visit.

Temptation is an adult-only resort.  I do not mind the absence of children one iota.  We like the freedoms of adult-only.  The ages of the guests range from the early 30s to the 70s.  Everyone is friendly, and there are many Europeans here.  

Our favorite couple this time was a young couple from Wales.  He tempted his wife to come out on a jetski, calming her by saying it's not a fast ride. (?)  She came back after five minutes, green and wobbly!  Then he took off again!  Solo. We also met a man who comes about five times a year "just to get away."  He would be back in six weeks!  We also met a couple from Canada for whom this trip was their eighth visit and they are finally thinking of buying here.

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico
in Bella Vista

As an all-inclusive resort, you've got to consider food, and at Temptation it is excellent and varied.  Choose room service or a marvelous breakfast buffet at El Embarcadero. Folks show up at this informal setting wearing just about anything imaginable.  

There is also a lunch buffet, but Rob and I prefer Margaritas and the idea of a leisurely meal. 

Dinner is another matter. If you choose informal, there is a dinner buffet or there is the relative informality of Margaritas.  If you prefer dining to eating, however, you need to put on those nice casual clothes, lose the sandals and add to the romantic ambiance of a candlelit meal where service is impeccable, nothing is rushed, and everything is delicious.  Here you have several restaurant choices. There is a lovely restaurant, Bella Vista, featuring seafood and Caribbean cuisine where Rob and I enjoyed our first night; there we will have the owners-only lobster dinner later in the week.  Il Placere is the Italian restaurant which I remember with gustatory fondness and where we need reservations (yes, even owners do). And there is the reservation-required Asian restaurant, The Village Wok, also serving excellent meals, wonderful ambiance, and a superb dining experience.

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico Temptation-Cancun, Mexico
 If by chance you experience some late night craving,  it is available at PatyOs, the evening place for drinks, music and entertainment, all in abundant and often loud quantities.   We actually enjoy sitting just outside PatyOs on some wonderfully comfortable chairs, people watching, and sipping our Fundador brandy, Spain's largest exported brandy dating back to 1874. Nice. We sometimes switch to Presidente, made from Mexican grapes, or to Don Pedro, another Spanish Brandy.  Variety is the spice of life. 

I believe Patty Os is open for snacking all night.

Activities. There is an entire travel agency in the main building.  This area of Mexico is a great jumping off point to see and do things youve read about in history books.  Visiting  Chichen Itza, the pre-Columbian Maya city,  is an extraordinary daytrip.  Its mind-blowing and full of mystery and magic as well as incredible architecture and history.  On this tour were stops at other sites along the way and explanations of plants and buildings.  Wonderful outing.  You might want to go snorkeling in a cenote.  Visit an Indian home.  Shop in the upscale mall in Cancun.  Visit World Heritage eco-archeological Xcaret Park where you can swim with the dolphins, snorkel, and get a taste of Mayan culture.  Its a fantastic place.  Attend a bullfight (which I found disgusting and will never, ever, do again anywhere).  (I blame that mistake on Ernest Hemingway!)

 In addition to offering any type of tour you might desire from companies represented right here in the hotel,  guests cruise the Caribbean on Temptation's party boat, go snorkeling, use jet skis, sail catamarans, or take a ferry leaving from the hotel  across the eight miles of water to Isla Mujeres, a delightful island as far away from Cancun in temperament as you can get. I cannot forget to mention the great Beauty Parlor where we've had, in the past, massages or Temptation's Cigar Bar. Wonderful  There is no way you can be bored!

A few words about staff. You will be hard pressed to find a more accommodating, friendly, and conscientious staff anywhere. They remember you, say hola when you pass anyplace at the resort and help make your stay memorable. Need help with your Spanish? They'll try to help you. I include everyone. Without exception.  This has been true each time weve come, so it is part of the hotel, and, weve found when we leave the hotel, the Mexican culture.

At Temptation, ownership definitely has its rewards. If you read online reviews of the resort, you might come across several complaining about the special treatment owners receive. It's true. That's part of the allure. We've owned for five years. But here is a warning.  I do not recommend buying here. You are buying in a foreign country, and if the company does not honor every aspect of your contact, you have little recourse.  We felt that a section of our contract was not being honored. We did discuss it down here (phone calls from home were not returned and emails went unanswered), and we did reach an unsatisfactory compromise. However, we would never buy anything from this company again because we cannot trust their word or even their written contact.  On the other hand, we will continue to come and enjoy ourselves. No use cutting off our noses to spite or faces. 

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico

So I recommend coming as a guest.  Yes, owners are special, but this resort treats all its guests well.

There are a few places on the property that look a touch tired, but maintenance is ongoing. We had a leak in the showerhead; it was fixed within a short period of time. There was hurricane damage throughout Cancun a few years ago, and there has also been a lot of re-building.  I've read some negative reviews, but that has never been our experience, and as they are so few and far between, I consider them anomalies. 

This is a big resort employing a great number of people.  Restaurant windows sparkle. Everything that should be white--the gauzy fabrics and beach beds--on buildings and borders are crisply dazzling white. The beach is raked. The chairs are arranged.  The towels are big and plush.  We have never been disappointed.

Temptation-Cancun, Mexico
The sport pool early in the morning
One thing about Temptation--you can relax and luxuriate in the sun, swim in the Caribbean, or you can knock yourself out and go home in need of a vacation. No matter how you work it, there's no reason ever to be bored even if you never leave the resort.

If things go as planned, we will head back sometime in 2015 for another good week.  We just hope our luggage decides to come with us!
Temptation-Cancun, Mexico
I love towel sculptures!!!!