Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Tale of Twelve Raisins: Or How to Incur a Humongous Vet Bill

I've written before of our trials and tribulations with our pets.  Those who know us well also know that we will go the extra mile for our fur-kids.  This story is no different.

For the past two months, our lovely  Quinn has been on a vet-prescribed elimination diet to determine what is making her so darn itchy. She is so itchy, in fact, that we now refer to her as 'Itchy Skin Quinn'.  We are fortunate to know hunters who are willing to provide us with those parts of the animal that are not used for human consumption so we can make Quinn's meals on a daily basis. And we don't stop at diet; she is bathed twice weekly with a prescription shampoo and receives a bi-weekly concoction of herbs and oils designed to be absorbed directly into the fatty layer of her skin.

We are now a fully 60+ days into Quinn's elimination diet; as such, I think it's fair to suggest that this limited palette is getting a little dull.  Fortunately (for us), she has never been a food thief, not even of her treats we keep on a side table used daily for brief training sessions.  Perhaps we counted our chickens (or our treats) too soon, as we proudly bragged her up at Christmas that she might sniff  but never actually helps herself to food without our permission, not even her own meals.  Perhaps, we need to be more humble; perhaps we need to learn never to say 'never'.

Only two nights ago, Eric made a deliciously spiced mix of burger, onion, dried bread crumbs and egg.  After a number of consecutive days of bitter - 40+C days, he excitedly went to fire up the bar-b-que in our -10C heat wave, only to return to find Quinn, forepaws resting comfortably on the counter, two burgers missing and confidently working on a third.  Suffice to say, he was not pleased.  Not only was this our supper; not only was this tasty little meal well outside Quinn's elimination diet; it also contained onions, known to be toxic to dogs.  After a bit of research we came to understand that one small dose is unlikely to create a significant problem, whereas several small doses over time would.   

While we were still not pleased with this new behavior, who can stay mad at a face like this?  'To err is canine. . . to forgive is devine,' and all that stuff.  

The incident was all but forgotten when, the very next day, Eric left a butter tart on the table unattended for a total of two minutes when it literally vanished.  Quinn was contentedly working on her moose-stuffed kong at the time. While looking somewhat guilty, when he returned, she was back on her bed, kong between paws.  But, as there were only the two of them on the floor, and one was sure he didn't eat the butter tart, there was only one place to turn. . . 

Here is where the story gets really crazy.  While we knew grapes and raisins were not good for dogs, we had NO IDEA just how toxic they can be.  We read several articles, every single one of which insisted the consumption of even a single raisin is sufficient cause for an immediate trip to the vet. We then phoned the after hours emergency clinic, only to be assured that everything we have read was correct.  Off we went!

The first step was to induce vomiting which would hopefully produce the offending foods.  Sure enough, Quinn threw up 12 wee raisins, which were then weighed to determine the potential level of toxicity.  We now know that there is no real understanding why a grape or raisin can be lethal to a dog.  Indeed, some dogs die from ingesting a single fruit, while others can get away with a handful and be unaffected.   What we do know is that there is no antidote; prevention is the best route and, when that doesn't work, it's a matter of purging the system of any offending substances,  and observation.  After sharing my experience with an on-line international dog group, I received myriad food-related comments that demonstrate just how toxic some things can be to our four-legged friends.  One woman who lives in an area where vineyards flourish said she has seen dogs eat grapes right off the vine and yet, her friend's dog ate some of the fallen grapes and died within 24 hours.

We now know that grapes, raisins and currants (Vitis species) can cause kidney failure in dogs.  Foods such as raisin bran cereal, trail mix, granola or, as in our case, baked goods, all have the potential to be toxic.  While dogs that ingest large volumes are more likely to suffer more severe consequences, and some dogs have more tolerance than others, there is no way to predict which dogs are more sensitive.

The most common symptom of toxicity is vomiting, usually within the first 24 hours, followed by lack of appetite, lethargy and possibly, diarrhea.  More severe signs are not seen until 24 - 48 hours after ingestion, when acute kidney failure begins.  The kidneys may shut down, the dog will not produce urine and blood pressure will increase dramatically. The dog then lapses into a coma. By now it is obvious that outcomes are poor.

So here sits poor Quinn, confined to a cage in a place with strange smells and too many bright lights.  In our ignorance, we did not immediately research the toxicity of raisins; it was a full 3.5 hours before we were standing at the door of the emergency medical clinic. As stated, induced vomiting produced the offending 12 raisins, after which Quinn was administered activated charcoal to prevent further absorption of the toxin. Intravenous fluids are being administered to flush any remaining toxins out of her body as quickly as possible.  After 48 hours her kidney values will be assessed to determine whether the treatment needs to be more aggressive.  Blood work may need to be repeated at 72 hours and even two or three days following. 

Prognosis depends on many factors, not the least of which is, how sensitive the dog is, how significant the poisoning, how soon the dog was decontaminated and whether there was any clinical signs of kidney failure. Because Quinn ate only a few raisins, this combined with her size, our relatively quick response and the medical treatment she is receiving, her prognosis is very good and we are cautiously optimistic.  As of a few hours ago, we have been advised by her veterinary caregivers that she is doing well and shows no signs of kidney damage.  If the kidneys become damaged and urine is not being produced, the prognosis is indeed poor and fatality becomes likely.

While it's all well and fine to joke about our beloved pets getting into mischief, we are painfully aware that our negligence can easily have outcomes that are not even remotely laughable.  Common foods that are toxic to dogs include onions, garlic, alcohol, chocolate, cocoa, macadamia nuts, fatty foods and all foods containing the sweetener xylitol to the list, all of which can be fatal.  In Quinn's case, ingestion of onions in the burgers she helped herself to the evening prior, may easily have compounded the problem.  And if her health (perhaps her very life) doesn't inspire us to take better care, perhaps the bill will; the estimate received starts at $1,200CAD, with the potential to double over as many days. We feel fortunate that we do not have to ask ourselves whether this is, in fact, an expense we can easily absorb.  Many would not only find this a significant hardship; they simply could not do it!

Grapes and raisins have only been identified as a potential problem for dogs, though there have been some anecdotal reports of cats and ferrets being affected so the best advice is to keep them away from all your animals.

We anxiously await the results of Quinn's kidney function tests, scheduled for 11pm tonight.  As with any other beloved family member, we are likely to be found at her side. If it's good news, we may get to bring her home with us!  I think it's fair to say, two nights without her near is two nights too many, for us and for her; while we know she is being cared for, it's certainly not home. . . and there is no place like home, right?

UPDATE:We brought Quinn home and she seems none the worse for wear except that her poop is like black tar (due to the activated charcoal) and she must not have enjoyed it going down because her coat is full of charcoal too lol. The bill was even slightly less than the original estimate so that's a good thing too! so here are a few other things we learned last night:
1. vets see a whole bunch of dogs over the christmas season, mostly due to being fed turkey or ham; either the bones cause a problem (cooked bones can also kill a dog) or with pancreatitis due to the fat.
2. if you have a dog that gets into something you should phone for advice. If you absolutely CANNOT get the dog in, you can induce vomiting but it is rarely recommended as it isn't always successful, which compounds the problem and there is only a short window of opportunity (about an hour)
3. the issue of toxicity is very complicated and not well understood for all substances. some dogs are highly sensitive to chocolate, while the one vet assistant talked of her little dog getting into the Halloween candy, eating many chocolate bars, and none the worse for wear. In other words, it's a crap shoot. We chose to err on the side of caution.
4. as with most things, prevention is the best option. We learned a rather expensive lesson; the fact that it pinches a little isn't such a bad thing.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Cape Forchu: Perhaps Acadia's Best Kept Secret

We didn't so much as stumble upon Cape Forchu; moreso, we were guided by a friend involved in the lighthouse restoration; otherwise we would likely not have found it.  Cape Forchu, meaning 'forked cape' was so named by Samuel de Champlain in 1604.  Shipwrecks were common along this shoreline; also known as the Yarmouth Light, constructed in 1839, the light station became one of a chain of lighthouses which protected vessels along this coast.  

Standing on the headland of the most southwestern tip of Nova Scotia, the structure stands almost 23 metres high and 37.5 metres above sea level at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia's only intact lighthouse open to the public, the light station was the first 'applecore' style lighthouse. The original light, lit in 1840, consisted of ten carefully placed oil lamps which was later changed to kerosene.  Later, a mathematically precise globe, built in France by physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, refracted and reflected light to send rays visible up to 32 kilometers. The lanterns were eventually replaced when electricity finally came to the Cape, in 1940.  From 1840, to 1972, there were no less than twelve lightkeepers. The last three were not lightkeepers in the traditional sense but monitored the Coast Guard equipment.  With computerization and modern technology the station was no longer required and was decommissioned in 1994.

In much the same way as Western Canada's prairie sentinels, the grain elevators, in the mid 1990's, lighthouses were being decommissioned and still remain today in grave danger of being demolished as societies scramble to raise funds for restoration. In 1996, spearheaded by resident volunteer Craig Harding, the Friends of the Yarmouth Light Society was formed and in June 2000, it became the first operating lightstation in Canadian history to be transferred to a municipality and entrusted to the care of the Society.  In 2003 Cape Forchu Lightstation was designated a Provincial Heritage site.  

Along with the countless hours of volunteers and gifts of corporate sponsorship, private donations play a vital role in funding required for maintainance and operations.  The keeper's house, built prior to 1940,  has been transformed into a museum and cafe.  A second house is now a gift shop while the grounds have been developed to form Leif Ericsson Park, with walking paths, picnic sites and benches, not to mention fascinating geology.  Here's an interesting tidbit: The rocks that form the Cape were originally part of what is presently North Africa, joining Nova Scotia through the processes of continental drift! They were, in fact, already 200,000,000 years old when dinosaurs began roaming our planet!  

While you might be tempted to explore these rocks, beware the power of the mighty Atlantic.  On clear days, rogue waves have been known to crash over the rocks to the right of the lightstation and spill into the parking lot below.  That may mean nothing to you now but when you get there, you will see that the parking lot is a significant distance from the water's edge!

While the Lightstation may be the attraction, getting there is not only scenic but a reminder of Nova Scotia's coastal heritage, as one meanders through the charming and active fishing village of Cape Forchu.  The Cape may not have received the same level of fame as Peggy's Cove, on Nova Scotia's South Shore, but it is not without it's charm. Home to the largest and most diverse fishery in Atlantic Canada, Cape Forchu, is culturally and historically tied to fishing and its related industries. In the 1930s and '40's about 30 families lived on the bar.  While most of the homes are gone, the Cape still remains active.  

The stunning seaward vistas is what first catches the eye, however, if you take some time to meander along the docks, and chat up a few of the locals you will find a vibrant community of hard working and friendly fishermen willing to take a break from their chores and share a bit about their lives and their community. It is their kindness, their stories, that captured my heart.  

Incidentally Cape Forchu, along with the  Yarmouth, Digby, Annapolis, Shelburne and Queens Counties form the UNESCO designated Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve.  One of only 18 biospheres in all of Canada, there is a plethora of information on the website (link below).

If you are in the area, plan to spend a few hours on this seaside adventure. 


Monday, 28 August 2017

A Throwback in Time: Priddis & Millarville Fair

Do you remember waiting, with eager anticipation for the local annual fair to commence?   As the date grew ever closer, it was a time that my parents found themselves with children eager to clean house, weed the garden or anything that might earn them a little extra pocket money.  While the fairway, petting zoo, grandstand show and pony chucks were often the main attraction, equally important were the many competitions, ranging from pie eating and rooster crowing contests, to heavy horse pulls, light horse shows and other livestock competitions, and let's not forget the bench exhibits, from field crops to flowers, vegetable gardens, arts and crafts, home cooking and baking, and woodworking.

Competitors took their competition very seriously.  The fruits of your labour, so to speak, not only had to be expertly crafted, but skillfully displayed as well. I can remember thinking how wonderful being a baking judge must be, if only because they actually got to sample every single entry! In hindsight, it was probably more of a challenge, knowing full well that each contest literally pitted neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend.

When all was said and done, there were important lessons to be learned from these experiences. Above all else, it was imperative to maintain the spirit of good sportsmanship and, if you were lucky, perhaps the proprietor of the winning entry would be kind enough to share a secret or two, that could be applied to your own arsenal of skills.

The Priddis & Millardale Fair, one of several events hosted by he Millarville Racing & Agricultural Society, has successfully lived up to its vision of preserving its history, traditions and natural environment while promoting rural and agricultural experiences in a welcoming and cooperative manner.   

As I visited the many displays I couldn't help but be reminded of the myriad talent and an eye for beauty that surrounds us in any waking moment of each and every day. While I studied the children's crafts, I knew there was someone in the background helping small hands mold one material or another into a work of art.  

How difficult it must be to come up with an original idea displayed in such a manner that will be sure to catch the eye of a judge or two; but to be the one who had to determine the winning entry must be challenging indeed!

2017 marks the 110th anniversary of the Priddis & Millarville Fair.  One of Alberta's oldest and largest country fairs, it has become a place where one can learn about the area's vast agricultural history, hold and pet animals, view the creations of local artisans, gardeners, photographers and wood workers.  From field crops to honey bees, these products are made, baked or grown in Alberta. 

While remaining true to its roots, the Fair has also evolved through the years. I'm not sure that someone would have deemed a salt lick a work of art but, I admit, it was one of the many competitions that caught my eye.   Nor would it have occurred to me that someone could build an electric guitar out of old fence boards but, now that you've seen it can be done, it's rather eye-catching, is it not? And I don't even know what to say about the cleverly crafted owl made of dryer lint!

If you enjoy rubbing shoulders with a close-knit community; if you take pleasure in admiring the fruits of someone else's labour of love; if you feel the need to share a walk down memory lane with someone, the Priddis & Millarville Fair is deserving of your time. There's something of interest for everyone.  Who knows; perhaps you'll be inspired to enter something yourself. . . everybody's welcome at the Fair. . .



Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Springtime in the Rockies. . . And a Corvette

We have been on one-day cruises with some of the Central Alberta Corvette enthusiasts but this was to be an entirely new experience.  This was to be an overnight jaunt with people from across Alberta, the vast majority of whom we were not familiar with.  I'm always up for meeting new people and for a first time experience, I have to say it's going to be a hard one to beat. Suffice to say, it was a darn good group of folks we were mingling with.   We met people from every walk of life but many of us were in retirement and those that weren't could clearly envision it just around the corner and even seemed to be licking their lips in eager anticipation.  That is not to say younger blood would not be welcomed; I think it has more to do with the amount of expendable cash and time, more than anything else.  In general, people were pretty friendly and it didn't take long before barbs and digs were flying around, followed by peels of laughter. . . so you know we had a good time, right!

While I don't think Eric has ever considered me to be high maintenance, I feel confident in saying that I am nowhere near as high maintenance as the other woman in his life.  Not only does Ginger take up a whole lot of space in the Man Cave, she doesn't need a special invitation to enter.  And whenever she leaves it, she heads straight for the spa where she is lovingly stroked by her man. . . do I sound like a jealous wife?  I'm really not, but perhaps that's because I know where Eric sleeps at night and it's not in the Man Cave. . . at least not so far.

It was one of those typical Alberta weekends that no one knew for sure what the weather would be but there was definitely some rain in our forecast.  If you are like me, and not really a true blue car enthusiast, you might not realize that rain can be considered a significant threat.  Frankly, I don't understand the point of owning a fair weather vehicle but I understand that there are those that feel quite differently and I respect that.  At any rate, we either struck it lucky or someone was doing some heavy duty praying to the Rain Gods; while we saw our share of clouds and, for most of us, it wasn't really a top down kind of weekend, we arrived back home Sunday afternoon high and dry.

We were all up bright and early, but those of us from Central Alberta had it pretty easy since the muster point was on the north side of Red Deer, with a second point at Rocky Mountain House.  

Those coming from Edmonton and Calgary were on the road bright and early and one couple from Hinton earlier yet. But everyone seemed to be in good spirits as we gathered 'round with coffee in hand, to introduce ourselves to attend our driver's meeting.  After a brief stop in Rocky to refuel and connect with a few more Corvette enthusiasts we were off!  

We stopped first at Abraham Lake, giving everyone an opportunity to stretch their legs, meet a few more people and, of course, the perfect location for a photo op.  We were 23 corvettes strong, which equated to about 45 people.  While the men were discussing things like coupe vs. convertible, generation and engine size, the women were more likely discussing the myriad color variations:  it wasn't merlot, it was Long Beach Red; it's not simply orange, but Daytona Sunsrise.  And the blues. . . oh the songs I could sing about Laguna Blue vs Admiral Blue. . . My point is, even though most of the women do not have the same love affair with their car as their men, we still admire them, in our own but clearly different way.

We arrived at the Crossing about 2pm where our organizers had arranged for us to park and have lunch at the Parkway Pub where diners are invited to cook their own steak, burger or dog.  We were lazy; nobody felt like cooking so our table we opted for the already made chili.

We were off, once again, arriving at our overnight destination at the Lake Louise Inn. The Inn had parking reserved for our group and were ready and willing to check us in.  Eric and I were more than happy with our accommodation and, considering we were in the mountains at the start of tourist season, pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices for food and lodging.  I need to give my man a little extra credit though; he booked our room early and chose to upgrade to a Deluxe King room.  Many of those that booked late had no recourse but to take what remained; between tossing, turning and hot flashes, not everyone had a restful sleep in their double bed. But now we know, and it's only one night, right?  

The evening gave us a chance to get better acquainted with some of our travel partners and, I dare say, more than a few friendships began to blossom.  There are several couples I know we are looking forward to taking a future run with. 

After a hearty Sunday morning breakfast, we were back on the road again, headed for Moraine Lake.  At an elevation of 1883 metres, the lake is only beginning to thaw in early June but, even on a cool, cloudy day, one can't help but be smitten by the beauty of this literal jewel in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

And here's a little tidbit of information I bet you didn't know. While Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks is more than a million dollar view, it is often referred to as the Twenty Dollar View because it graced Canada's $20 bills from 1969 to 1979.  It's also one of the most photographed spots in the Rockies, don't you know!

The group then carried on to Banff and Tunnel Mountain and I have it on good advice that the Corvettes continued to attract the same amount of attention as they did everywhere we travelled. How do I know this? Facebook told me so, when one of my friends commented on being in Banff and seeing this rare spectacle.  

Because of our other commitments, we bypassed Banff and made our way home but not without stopping at the McDougall Church, at Morley. Built in 1875 by Reverend George McDougall, during a period of discontent among the First Nations population, the Morely mission was received with mixed feelings. Many welcomed the arrival of missionaries while others were less receptive. 

A designated Provincial Historic Resource, representing a story of human endeavor, courage and inter-racial cooperation, it was destroyed by fire only a few short weeks ago.  There is a Spring Commemorative Event planned for June 11th at 3pm and funds are already being raised for rebuilding through

And here I will end my little diatribe.  While I was simply a passenger enjoying the weekend to the fullest, it took time and effort to make our journey together a pleasant one.  Thank you to Paul, Brian and others for organizing and coordinating this event. You did an awesome job!  Thank you to the people who took time from busy schedules to come out and and play this weekend.  While Corvettes may be what brought us together, we found other common ground from which to build friendships upon.  

While this photo epitomizes one couple's sentiments about their Corvette, I suspect it speaks for many of us about our weekend joyride.  Until we meet again. . .


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Eating Well in the Crowsnest

Remember my blog about all the cool things we found to do in the Crowsnest Pass?  No? Perhaps this will refresh your memory:  One of the other things we did was eat. . . a lot. . . and really really well! We planned on having a few meals out but, honestly, we enjoyed our own cooking so much we chose staying in!  Here are the recipes.

Wicked Thai Chicken Soup
1 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
4 c. chicken stock
2 tbs lemon grass herb paste
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. high quality coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp chili paste or sriracha
1 tb. cornstarch
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1 1/2 c sliced mushrooms
2 diced chicken breasts
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1 c half & half (10%) cream
2 tsp red curry paste
2-3 tb. tomato paste to taste
2 c cooked rice
Fresh cilantro, parsley or shredded green onion for garnish

Saute mushrooms in 1 tbs. oil.  Remove to a plate.  In the same pot, add remaining 1 tb. oil, onion, red pepper and saute.  Return mushrooms, add broth and chicken and heat.  Add lemon grass paste, fish sauce and worcestershire sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add coconut milk, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 minutes.  In a small bowl, add curry paste, tomato paste, sriracha, 2 tbs. water and cornstarch and mix until incorporated. Stir into soup until combined and summer until it thickens very slightly and has a velvety appearance.  Add cooked rice, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with cilantro, parsley or shredded green onion strips and serve with additional hot sauce for those who prefer a hotter soup.  Serves 8 (or 4 hungry people).
Notes from the cook (Mary Jane Porter Morrison):  I add 2 garlic cloves to onion and red pepper.  Always use a good quality coconut milk, such as Thai Kitchen.  It comes in a tetra pak or can.  You may need to stir it very well before using it as it can separate.  You only need a half cup for this recipe but it can be frozen in portions.  Use a fine grater on the lemon grass if you use the plant.

Lemongrass Chicken 
Secret Saute:
8 boneless chicken thighs or breasts (it's good with beef too)
1/4 c minced lemongrass, fresh or frozen
2 shallots or 1/4 onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves
1 - 2 fresh red chilies, sliced or 1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
1 thumb-sized piece galagal or ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp tumeric
2 tbsp. ground coriander
2 tsp cumin
3 tbsp. dark soy sauce
3 tbsp. fish sauce (optional)
6 tbsp. grown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Peanut sauce for dipping

Place all marinade ingredients in a food processor or chopper and process well.  Marinade meat for at least 2 hours or longer. Serve with Coconut Rice.

Notes from the Cook (Jane Friesen):  Meat can also be frozen in the marinade; and it's best on the BBQ or broiled.  

Coconut Rice
1.5 cups basmati rice
1 - 400 ml can coconut milk
250 ml chicken broth

Pulled Pork Sandwich

1 tsp vegetable oil
4 lbs. pork shoulder roast
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c chicken broth
1/4 c brown sugar
1 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp chili powder
1 large onion chopped
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1.5 tsp dried thyme

Mix all ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on high for a minimum of 5 hours or until pork will easily shred using two forks.  Once shredded, continue to cook for at least another hour.  Serve on hamburger or other style of large bun.  

Notes from the cook (me):  This recipe is very forgiving.  I use various types of vinegar, including balsamic or red wine vinegar.  Depending on who I'm making it for, you can also add heat, with any variety of hot sauces, or by adding hot chili peppers.  I usually make it with a side of coleslaw which some people add as a topping to the sandwich.

And now you have it!  ENJOY!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Travelling with the Sisterhood - Manhattan, NYC

Last fall, I was invited to join the Facebook group, 'Girls In New York City'. Inspired by a previous trip some 19 years ago, some friends from Canada's East Coast decided they were overdue for a repeat performance.  As it turned out, their timing coincided perfectly with my initiation into retirement and a commitment to myself via my bucket list to see more of the world and spend more time with the women in my life.

Eventually, the group narrowed down to five savvy women and, yes, I'm counting myself in that demographic.   I was more than a little curious--one might even say a tad apprehensive--about how I would fare on this adventure. My two primary concerns were whether I  would enjoy the constant exposure of four other human beings over five days; and, as much as I love women, we can be pretty intense at times.  I also wasn't sure how I would handle the sensory overload that is NYC.  I am a prairie farm girl, after all and, if that in itself, doesn't suggest copious amounts of 'alone time', I've been running a home business as its sole employee for the past 11 years!   

At about the same time I realized our little travel group had an abundance of strong personalities, it also became apparent that there were diverging interests.  We found agreement on some of the key items such as what part of Manhattan we wanted to stay in and what Broadway show we should book.   As I was in charge of booking accommodations, I admit a moment or two of panic when my travelling companion received a text suggesting that my choice was dangerously less than satisfactory (emphasis on dangerous).  We soon realized the hoax when the the following order was to arrive with food and more wine, tagged with a photo of a building that was clearly not where we were staying. It seems we had at least one, if not three, pranksters in our midst!

Admittedly, there were a few times when our individual passions were surpassed only by the copious amount of wine consumed but, honestly, I thought we did amazingly well, considering we had five women, two bedrooms and only one bathroom. . . and did I mention, lots and lots of passion?  Evenings were filled with lively debate and peels of belly laughs and I really couldn't imagine this trip with any other group of women.  Okay, it's true, I loved every single moment of it!

As I had agreed to sleep on the pullout couch in the living-room, I was grateful to see that, while not exactly private, there was some semblance of separation. I'm not particularly shy about my body and, while I tried to maintain at least some modesty for the sake of my room mates, the pretense of a waist high bookcase masquerading as a privacy screen only goes so far.  To my knowledge, no one went home permanently damaged from the full impact of  all or part of my naked body first thing in the morning.  Overall, we were pleased with our clean, comfortable, and perfectly located home-away-from-home, literally steps away from Times Square, the Port Authority and a number of other NYC highlights. If you don't believe me, 52 traveler reviews rate it 4.8/5.  And here's the best part:  there's also a second one-bedroom unit, perfect for a couple or someone traveling with a small child.   AND, there's a jewelry business on the main floor where you can make purchases! If you want to know more, check out the links below.
Our first day in the City we decided we would do the Hop On, Hop Off Bus. . . BIG MISTAKE! Perhaps we should have caught on shortly after we left the condo, when the pouring rain turned to a veritable onslaught of rain, requiring both rain coats and umbrellas, and leaving them both leaking. . . but we didn't.  Perhaps we should have realized we had made a poor choice when we found ourselves slogging through water more than 100mm deep, but we didn't.  Or, perhaps when our jeans were so thoroughly soaked that they literally wicked water up our thighs, soaking us through to the skin; but we didn't.  The dead giveaway was when a dozen or so cell phones went off mid-tour announcing flood warnings throughout Manhattan and NYC.  Suffice to say, the day was a wash, in more ways than one.  While it may not have been raining on the bus, we were definitely not warm, as there seemed to be an aversion to turning on the heaters.  And because there was no heat, the windows fogged up, which meant no visibility.  True, it was not our best decision but we did much better after that.

Everyone was really excited about going to see a Broadway performance. . . everyone, that is, except me. I honestly had no idea what to expect, and therefore, I had no real expectations and, without expectations, it was unlikely I would be disappointed.  I thought it might be good and I knew the talent would be great, if only because one of my travelling sisters is, herself, an actress as well as a trusted friend.  She chose 'Waitress' which I wasn't familiar with, nor was I familiar with the music.  When she excitedly announced that Sara Bareilles had the lead. . . the name meant nothing.  When she directed us to Sara's recent pop hit on U-tube. . . still nothing. But truth be told, I was harboring a wee bit of resentment because the show I really wanted to see what 'Beautiful', based on Carol King's early career. . . and who could possibly not love Tapestry?  Why, I could sing the entire album if they would only let me!  Fortunately, I was not alone in that desire so a decision was made to split up.  Three of us went to 'Beautiful' while two went to see 'The Glass Menagerie' with none other than Sally Field!  Not only did they see Sally perform, they met her too! That, in itself, was a heady experience for them.

I have to say, we were all wowed by our choices and honestly, I couldn't quite imagine how 'Waitress' was going to beat 'Beautiful' but the following night we marched our way into a kilometre long lineup to see Sara Bareilles in the lead and, once again, I was totally amazed and impressed.  A Broadway show is more than just a defining element of NYC, the caliber of every aspect of the production from musicianship, acting, set design, stage lighting, even the theatre itself, is awe-inspiring.  The sets were so slick, I'm still trying to figure out how they so gracefully and seamlessly moved on and off the stage.

We booked a walking tour through Harlem Heritage Tours, where all guides are born, raised and still live in Harlem. I was hoping for one of the old men that I read often guided but instead we got the youngest guide, Neal Shoemaker.  We soon found ourselves seated in the Canaan Baptist Church singing and clapping and generally having a great time.  We weren't allowed to take photos, and this video doesn't even begin to typify the sound reverberating from the choir, but it will give you a good idea of the experience which we all loved.

It wasn't long before we discovered that Neal was really showing us his Harlem, starting with the projects he grew up in and where his mother continues to live to this day.  He made no secret that there was a time when Harlem was a pretty harsh environment to be growing up in but the Harlem he showcased was anything but.  It was evident that our guide was well known and respected and true to the lyrics of the song, everybody really did know his name! There are myriad tours to fit everyone through this group; if I were to go back, I think I would sign up for a Harlem Jazz Tour.  Neal brings to life the ambiance of that which is Harlem and Harlem strikes me as a pretty talented place.  He doesn't gloss over its history; he openly admits that, while tourism is one of the ways by which Harlem's profile can be elevated, there is also the potential of its destruction as it is slowly but surely transitioning as Manhattan's up and coming community. 

While gentrification may save the brick and mortar of a community, it can be devastating to its character as it displaces low income minority, long time residents.  In Neal's words:  "With each passing day I realize another way in which Cultural Tourism can be used as a double-edged magic wand to expose visitors to the authentic lifestyle of local residents and improve the quality of life for the overall host community – Harlem.  When balanced properly the possibilities are endless – this is what excites the good folks at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center"  It's all about that uneasy balance.

One of the last items on our to-do list was an NBC tour.  We originally tried to get tickets to Jimmy Fallon but, as they were sold out, this was the next best thing. Enjoyed by all, we had a chance to air our own little ditty, which gave us plenty of reasons to laugh at ourselves.  

While Times Square, Broadway and Harlem were highlights of my trip, there were other aspects of NYC that caught me off guard.  I can easily see why people want to return over and over and over again.  

First of all, the architecture is nothing short of stunning . . . everywhere. . . even in structures that have not yet made a full transition. Change is definitely in the wind.

I also discovered I have a fascination for all of the fire escapes.  Where I am accustomed to seeing one or two for each floor, as far as I can make out, there appears to be one for each unit and they really do become part of the living space.  

In every area that we visited, there were numerous churches.  While religious organizations have a role to play in the social fabric of any community, it seems to me that they are vital in many communities throughout the USA as a stopgap for those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.  Neal certainly impressed upon us their importance in Harlem.

Manhattan is not only packed with things to do, it's packed with people! Its population of more than 1.6 million is squeezed into only 59 square kilometres, making for a whopping 28,000 +/- people per square kilometer! In other words, it's a busy little place!  Before our arrival, I read that it was ill-advised to chat local New Yorkers up; that in order to live in such close proximity, a natural coping mechanism is to virtually ignore those around us and carry on about our business as if we were alone. Perhaps that's true. . . but I'm one of those people that chats everybody up. . . and I don't need a special invitation to do it!    It didn't take me long to discover that New Yorkers are just as friendly as the rest of the people I've met in the world.    When we stopped for a New York hot dog, we found ourselves being served up by an aspiring comedian.

When we were lost on the subway, people volunteered to help and those that didn't readily offered advise when asked . . . except a couple of folks who actually worked in the subway. . . we decided that they were simply unhappy in their occupation or, perhaps suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder from working underground to long.  When I needed help getting to the box office of Waitress (with permission) I latched onto the sleave of two passerbys and they happily hauled me right along with them.  And one of New York's finest was quite happy to accept a scratch behind the ear. . . the horse, not the man. 

As you might imagine, we ran out of time before accomplishing everything on our bucket list but that's not such a bad thing.  Now I understand why so many people continue to be drawn back to the Big Apple time and again. While I may be able to cross off NYC on my bucket list, it seems I need to add some specifics to it.  It's a big city and I'm told each of the five burrows has its own distinct personality; perhaps each one deserves it's own separate little mini-vacation.

As for travelling with the sisterhood, would I do it again?  In a New York minute! Perhaps we'll see you there!