In August, a friend from church needed a home to place her little dog for about 8 months. Buddy is a 4 year old long haired dachshund, and just the sweetest thing you ever saw. Since I had recently had Hollie put down, I offered to take him.  He moved in on Labor Day weekend and quickly became the king of the house. Who could resist those darling eyes, that soft body snuggling up next to me, kisses galore, and his insistence that he should sleep in my bedroom to “protect” me all night? I couldn’t and quickly fell in love. I have told his owner several times that she was going to have a hard time getting him back from me. She always laughed and shook her head at me.

Last night, Dale and I were eating chocolate chips in the family room and stepped away to the computer room for a minute. When we came back, we didn’t notice anything for about a half hour, but then Buddy started vomiting and we found the empty chocolate chip bag on the floor. I had heard chocolate was dangerous for dogs and checked the internet to see what to do. I read that chocolate is an incredible stimulant in dogs that their heart and nervous system cannot tolerate. They recommended rushing him to the vet, so we did.

I won’t go into all the details, but just to say that Buddy did not survive. I reached my friend this morning and through sobs, I  told her what had happened. She was incredibly gracious, insisting she didn’t fault me as she knew how much I loved little Buddy.  I still feel horrible about it, on top of my great sadness over Buddy’s sudden departure.

Such a hard lesson, but I hope anyone who reads this will now understand the danger of chocolate in dogs and take every precaution to avoid what happened to us.

I’ve been interested in trying a backpacking trip since reading all of Dale’s blogs about his and Karen’s adventures last summer on the North Country Trail. In October, Daryl, Dale and Karen hiked the Sierra Nevada mountains for five days, and then Daryl and Dale descended the Grand Canyon earlier this month. Enough! My turn to get out into nature and make a life from the items I can carry on my back for a couple of days. Karen had left her pack, sleeping bag and camping supplies here in Arizona and had given me permission to use them on an adventure of my own.

Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, Dale, Daryl and I headed east along SR60 toward Superior and Picketpost Mountain. We left the van in the trailhead parking lot, strapped on our packs and headed down the Arizona Trail.

Arizona Trailhead sign

Arizona Trailhead sign

Me in the lead, Daryl behind me

Me in the lead, Daryl behind me

Two miles down the trail, Daryl got a signal and called Gisele

Two miles down the trail, Daryl got a signal and called Gisele

The hike certainly was not grueling, but it was just tough enough for my first time out. My pack weighed 25 pounds the first day which included water for the two days; it was down to 21 pounds by day two. We hiked just under 8 miles on Saturday through high desert, enjoying the view of the red rocks, multiple specimens of cactus and mesquite trees.

Dale, with Picketpost Mountain behind him

Dale, with Picketpost Mountain behind him

We stopped for lunch at a nice bend in the trail that had a small grassy spot for sitting, and ate our peanut butter sandwiches.

Lunchtime rest

Lunchtime rest

Along about 4:00, we spotted a nice flat area near a dirty spring trough that seemed like a good place to camp. We had to leave the trail and walk along a dry wash for about 1/4 mile to get to it, but found a couple fire pits, three fairly level spots for sleeping bags and tents, and plenty of dead wood to burn a campfire throughout the evening. We dined on lasagna, chicken and noodles, and rice krispy treats, then sipped hot cocoa later as we watched the fire burn and chatted before bed.

Waiting for dinner to cook (in the pouch in Daryl's hand)

Waiting for dinner to cook (the pouch in Daryl's hand)

Daryl had brought his tent and he set that up for me, and Dale slept in his tent. But Daryl slept out in the open watching the stars and the moon rise over the mountain in the middle of the night.

Daryl's pallet

Daryl's pallet

Dale at the campfire, and his tent

Dale at the campfire, and his tent

Dale's tent on the right and mine on the left

Dale's tent on the right and mine on the left

My snuggly bed

My snuggly bed

We had been watching the weather report all week, and expected the overnight low to be 47°. By 6:00, we realized we were in for a much colder night than that. When we crawled into our sleeping bags at 9:00, Dale’s thermometer read 30°, so we know it must have dropped down to about 28° before morning. But the next morning it was back up to 40° when I crawled out of my warm bed and found Dale and Daryl around a toasty fire preparing to make oatmeal and coffee.

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions

One last picture at our campsite

One last picture at our campsite

The hike back down the mountain was made through light rain and even tiny hail at one point, but it was not uncomfortable, as I had Karen’s emergency rain poncho to keep me dry.

Hiking in the rain

Hiking in the rain

Cloudy skies

Cloudy skies

We arrived back at the parking lot around 1:00, and headed to Apache Junction for a burger. Getting into the van was not difficult, but in 20 short miles, my legs seized up and it was all I could do to walk into the Chili’s restaurant. It was only the smell of the BBQ that made me do it. My legs were so sore the second day back that I grunted each time I walked around work. But I felt so satisfied to have done the hike, carried the pack and survived a night in the cold desert.

I keep thinking of more memories to add, and I may have to write another post just to get them all down on paper the world wide web. I also have a few more pictures, but this entry rambles enough, so I will end with just one wish. Next time, I hope Karen will be with us.

We slept late our last morning in the Big Apple, and packed our bags before walking to Cosi for a leisurely breakfast.  Fortified with coffee and pastries, we were ready and waiting when our Super Shuttle arrived to take us to the airport. Little did we know, our adventure was not over yet. As we tried to check in and check our bags, we were told our flight was delayed out of LaGuardia due to weather conditions, and we would miss our connection in Baltimore. That missed flight would be the last one to Phoenix that day. Yes, we would be stranded in Baltimore for an extra night. Oh, and because it was weather related, the airline does not cover hotel costs. As we were working out the details of hotel reservations and flight changes, I got a call from Carrie telling me Mom had suffered a small stroke over the weekend and was in the hospital. She assured me Mom was doing well and would be discharged that afternoon. Since Daryl and Dale were also out of town, it fell to Carrie, Brian and Heather to cover Great Grandma duty. Carrie took Mom to their house for the night so she would not have to spend her first night out of the hospital alone. Bless their hearts for all they did!

Meanwhile, my group of girlfriends landed in BWI, spent the night in a nearby Hilton, finally making it back to Phoenix at 10:30 the next morning.  All of our luggage made it to every stop that we did, which is something to be thankful for in itself. I spent the rest of the day picking Mom up from Brian and Carrie’s and getting her home and settled, and her dinner on a tray. In between, I made my way to the foot doctor for an alcohol injection for my neuroma. Thankfully, Dale agreed to spend the night with Mom in her apartment to make sure she was settled and feeling fine. I took an extra day of vacation to catch up on unpacking, laundry, grocery shopping and collapsing on the couch. It was then I realized I had completely forgotten to pick up the geocache I had looked up near my NYC hotel. I always like to sign logs in other cities when I travel. I will just have to get it on my next trip. Oh yes, there will be a next trip.

What a wonderful time we had. I want to go every year. Seeing Broadway shows in New York City is unlike any other vacation I’ve ever taken. Robin has already decided she is going to go back with Ken and the kids in tow. Carrie wants to join me next year on the girlfriends’ trip.  Anyone else want to go along?

Our plans were to use day 2 of our sightseeing bus pass to tour upper Manhattan, and eat fried chicken and homemade pie at Sylvia’s in Harlem. However, we hadn’t taken into account that the New York Marathon was running that day, and the streets along the bus route were totally blocked, with tens of thousands of people filling the park.

We walked and walked trying to find a red bus, but never saw one all morning. It was a bitterly cold and windy day, and we ducked into FAO Schwartz, The Plaza Hotel (Robin took a picture of the portrait of Eloise for Megan) and even the Apple store to get out of the cold for a few minutes as we walked. By noon, the sun had started taking the chill off a bit, and we walked through Central Park, and pushed through the crowds watching the runners, looking for a place to eat lunch. Our hopes for Sylvia’s had been dashed and we settled for a deli serving soups, salads and sandwiches.

We made a brief rest stop at our hotel, and then decided to walk downtown again. Robin wanted to visit H&M, a store that carries reasonably priced children’s clothing but does not have an online store. On the way, we passed FoxNews, but they don’t offer tours, so we could only take pictures of the outside marquee.  We found the H&M store next door to the hugest Victoria’s Secret I have ever seen. It was three stories, and was filled to the brim with people. Lingerie is sure a whopping business.

The FoxNews ticker behind me

The FoxNews ticker behind me

With arms full of packages (children’s clothes, not lingerie), we made our way back uptown to meet up with other members of our group for our nighttime bus tour of Manhattan. We knew it would be cold, so we bundled up as warm as we could, and climbed aboard the bus. The nighttime tour bus only has the open top seating available, and we were in the frigid outdoor air, whizzing through the city, over the Manhattan Bridge, through downtown Brooklyn, along the riverside and back across the bridge before heading back to Times Square where we were let off. By that time, my feet were totally numb, and we were all frozen through. It would have been easy to grumble the enjoyment away, but we all tried to view it as an adventure to take the negative edge off. We laughed about how unprepared we all were for the unexpected cold and joked that if the driver had offered blankets halfway through the tour, we would have gladly paid $50 each for the use of one for the rest of the trip.

That blurry round light at the center top is the ball they drop at Times Square on New Year's Eve

That blurry round light at the center top is the ball they drop at Times Square on New Year

We found the first Starbucks we could after disembarking and stood in a crowded corner trying to warm up as we sipped coffee and hot chocolate. We reflected on the beautiful sights we had seen. Manhattan at night is not to be missed. The city skyline from across the river and the Statue of Liberty alone were worth every degree of freezing cold we endured. (Unfortunately, unless you have a really good camera, it’s almost impossible to take decent pictures of lights from a moving vehicle, so I didn’t get any. You’ll just have to take my word for how pretty it all was.) Back in our hotel rooms, we snuggled down in our beds and dreamed of all we had experienced, for tomorrow we would fly home. Or so we thought.

Saturday was a bit warmer. Maybe I should say a little less cold. With no rain. That’s a beautiful day in New York. Since we were seeing a matinee show that day, we only had the morning to sight see, so decided to postpone the second day of our bus tour until Sunday, and do a little shopping. Brenda went along with us because she was seeing the same shows we were that day and only had the morning open. Robin was longing to visit stores featured in her favorite reality/talk shows, Project Runway and Martha Stewart, and we walked to the fashion district. We were awed by the thousands of bolts of fabric in Mood, the miles of vintage ribbons and trim in Tinsel Trading Co., buttons and beads enough to cover the beach in the bead shops, and enough wrapping papers and crafts to fill Kate’s Paperie.

We hurried back to get ready for our next show, Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. The Playbill notified us that Vanessa Redgrave would not be performing as Miss Daisy that day, but her understudy was excellent opposite Darth Vader, er… I mean Jones as Hoke Coleburn. The small Golden Theater is no Gammage, and every seat in the house is close to the stage. The actors did not even use microphones. The play was fantastic and we enjoyed it very much.

We had dinner together and freshened up for our final show, Promises, Promises with Kristin Chenoweth, Sean Hayes and Molly Shannon. We had been hoping all weekend that the stars would be performing that night, and we were ecstatic to find no understudy notices in our Playbill. Five minutes into the show, Robin whispered, “This is my favorite show!” It had us rolling on the floor laughing, and Sean Hayes almost had Kristin Chenoweth rolling on the floor laughing, too. Her demeanor (reminiscent of Carol Burnett’s efforts to resist Tim Conway’s ad lib humor) just set the audience off, and it was one of the funniest things I have ever enjoyed. Hearing Kristin sing live in person was just frosting on the cake. What a beautiful voice.

As you can see, Kristin Chenweth and Sean Hayes were kind enough to pose with Robin and me for a picture.

As you can see, Kristin Chenweth and Sean Hayes were kind enough to pose with Robin and me for a picture.

Another late night sweet snack with the rest of the girls topped the evening before retiring once again to our hotel rooms.

Friday morning dawned cold and damp. Well, more than damp — it was raining. Bundled in scarves, coats and gloves, with umbrellas in hand, we walked to a nearby restaurant for coffee and our first NYC breakfast. Yes, there were bagels and lox. I said, there were bagels and lox; I didn’t say I ate any. Lox, that is. I did eat bagels.

We bought two day tickets for the sightseeing hop on – hop off double-decker bus and climbed aboard at 50th Street and 7th Avenue. We rode past Times Square, Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, and several museums until we neared Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and Greenwich Village where we all hopped off.

Many of the ladies wanted to check out the the street vendors and meander through shops, but Robin and I were itching to move on down the road at a quicker pace, so we separated from the rest of the group. As we moved through Chinatown, that quicker pace proved to be my nemesis. I caught my toe on a storefront stoop and fell face first on the city sidewalk. I was okay, but did bump my knee and chin pretty hard and scraped up the back of my hand, leaving a bloody splotch on the sidewalk. We stopped into a small nearby pharmacy to buy some antiseptic, but the owners would not allow me to use the bathroom to wash the blood off. “Employees only. You can buy some bottled water to rinse your hand.” We moved on and found a Starbucks. One with no soap in the bathroom. Thoughts of septicemia danced through my head.

We walked from Chinatown to Little Italy and then circled around toward Soho and Greenwich Village, checking out shop windows and city architecture along the way. From there, we walked south to Ground Zero. When I was there with Glenda in 2005, there were memorial displays around the construction site, but that had all been moved inside a new Ground Zero Museum a block away, and there was a fence blocking our view of the work going on where the twin towers once stood. We paid appropriate homage to those who lost their lives on that terrible day, had a bowl of soup, and solemnly made our way back to a bus stop. We did not hop off again, but rode the bus north past the United Nations, Rockefeller Center and Central Park until we were back at our hotel.

After getting dressed up for the show, we walked to an Italian restaurant and had dinner before stepping over to the Gershwin Theater to see Wicked. This is my favorite Broadway show, and it was “Wonderful!” Fabulous music, amazing sets and a story that makes you rethink the Wizard of Oz and what made the Wicked Witch so wicked.

After the show was over, we met up with the rest of our group for a late night snack before returning to our hotel rooms for some much needed rest.

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