Sunday, November 13, 2011

You Don't Catch an Elk, You Shoot It

I was so excited for this next train ride, the California Zephyr. It had been recommended to me by so many people, both Amtrak riders and employees. For this trip I had a sleeper car. I was back to my snobby ways! Here's how snobby I am, though: I was sad that I didn't get that little bag of toiletries, like the bag I got on the Empire Builder.

It is true that the California Zephyr goes through amazing scenery. I spent a ton of time in the observation car just watching. The Rockies were outstanding. We rode switchbacks all the way up. I could see the front and back of the train at every turn. We went through a bunch of tunnels, too, including the Moffat Tunnel, which is 6.2 miles long. In fact, when you're in the Moffat Tunnel, you're not allowed to go from train car to train car. The exhaust from the train is trapped in such a long tunnel, so they try to keep the train sealed as much as possible.

As we were going through all of the ski areas I was eating lunch with some really interesting people. One was a guy from Alabama who spent about 4 months of every year in Colorado ski country when he was young. A couple of his brothers and a lot of his friends still live there, so he goes up multiple times a year for various reasons. Anyway, he was recently up for elk hunting. I was asking all kind of questions, and I started one question with, "So, when you catch your elk," This guy got a very pained expression on his face and said, "Shoot the elk. I don't catch an elk, I shoot it." Whoops. Although to give the guy his due, he did shoot it with a bow and arrow, which I find amazing. And in case you're wondering, elk are so big that once you shoot one, you cut it up where it falls, and it took this guy and two friends three trips out to carry the chunks out. Whoa.

Once we stopped in Reno, two guys from the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento got on the train to narrate what we were seeing. That was really cool. They told all about the history of the railroad and various towns along the way. They also narrated the story of the Donner Party, since we went through the Donner Pass. I was actually hoping I'd be eating a meal as we went through the Donner Pass, just because I thought it would be funny, but no such luck. Ha!

One last observation about the California Zephyr. There are almost no mailboxes at any of the stops! Along the Empire Builder, I swear there was a mailbox at the train station of every tiny, bitty town in which we stopped. Along the California Zephyr route, I had to check out six stops before I found a mailbox. When I got off at the golden stop, I asked a passing train station employee if there was a mailbox. He gave me a look like I was an idiot, and told me there was one at the front of the station. I wanted to yell at him, "Don't act like I'm insane! I've checked at the last six stops where we were allowed to get off the train, and there was no mailbox at any of them!!!" But I refrained. With difficulty. So if you ride the California Zephyr, don't assume you'll find a mailbox!

And then we arrived in San Francisco (or, to be exact, Emeryville).

The Problem with Wind in the Windy City

On my second day in Chicago I decided I was going to take the Architecture Cruise Tour and go to the Navy Pier. Well, I kind of screwed myself by not looking the tours up ahead of time. When I got to the cruise kiosk, I found I had missed the early cruise, and the later cruise wouldn't allow me to make my train. Sigh...

Onward to the Navy Pier. Let me preface this by saying I was there on a weekday in November, it was pouring down rain, and it was truly windy. I'm not surprised that the Navy Pier, which is mostly an outdoor thing, was shut down for the most part. It seems like it would be more of a spring and summer thing. But I was really looking forward to the ferris wheel, which was closed due to wind. Now I ask you, in the Windy City, doesn't it seem like a ferris wheel affected by wind might be a bit of a problem? I mean, I wonder how many days a year it must be closed. But I did wander around, and it was fun to read about the Navy Pier.

Apparently I walked around a lot longer than I thought, because I realized that I needed to head back to the hotel to get to the train on time. I had time to meander, though, and Chicago is so gorgeous that I really enjoyed just walking around and looking. It is a miracle that I didn't trip, though, or walk into something since I was looking up more often than not. As I looked up, I saw a Weber Grill actually hanging from the side of a building. It indicated the Weber Grill Restaurant. I had never heard of such a thing! Of course I am curious about whether they grill everything on an actual Weber Grill. And if they do, do they use an old-school one like the one hanging on the building, or a snazzy Weber Grill?

As I was almost back to my hotel, I saw the coolest thing. There was road construction (surprise!), and one small area around a manhole was repaved. There was a construction worker who had this thing like a jackhammer, except it was an asphalt slammer. It pushed the asphalt down, just like a big roller truck would, except for a small area. It was so cool, and I really wanted one. For what, I don't know. But I was fascinated. Could it be that the small kids at the library who are fascinated with construction are wearing off on me?

The other thing that made me really happy in Chicago was the honking. I really miss car honking in Seattle. All of the drivers are so polite that they never honk. I am not kidding. You might find yourself behind someone paying so little attention that they sit through an entire stop light change. Seattlites don't honk. They just sit there patiently. I am a honker, and I think I've given many Seattlites heart attacks by honking at them. Anyway, in Chicago there was honking galore! It made me so happy.

So a taxi picked me up lickety-split. Normally I would not bore you with tales of my taxi ride except that it was so windy that when we crossed a bridge, the wind was actually blowing the bridge around! For those of you in Seattle, have you ever crossed the 520 bridge over Lake Washington when it's super windy? The bridge (which is a pontoon bridge, for those of you who are not Seattlites) actually flings back and forth on the water, and even though you are driving in your lane, it feels like you are driving like a drunk or crazy person. Anyway, my point is that this bridge was like that. It was a tad unsettling.

When my driver dropped me off at Union Station, I walked down the sidewalk to the entrance. I was literally walking at a 90 degree angle pulling my luggage behind me. A couple of times I could not move. I honestly could not move. Good grief! Thanks for the demo, Chicago!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Odd and an End

Here are just a few things that I've forgotten to mention over the course of my trip, but that I found in my notes.

- I've lived in Seattle for 11 years now, and sometimes I don't notice things that are peculiar to Seattle until I'm out of town. Here in Chicago it's pouring down rain, and every single person in Chicago is carrying an umbrella. As I walked down the Magnificent Mile I felt like I was the prince in "Sleeping Beauty" as he chopped through 100 years of thorny vines to get to the castle. With every step I took, I was afraid I'd lose an eye. Seattle may not be the heart of the fashion world, but three cheers for raincoats with hoods and leaving umbrellas at home! Geez Louise.

- I'm not sure I mentioned the intersection crossing times in Charlotte, NC. In downtown Charlotte, pedestrians have between 40-60 seconds to cross a normal-size intersection. It was forever! I could have ambled across those intersections. I could have meandered. I could have crawled across those intersections! Wow!

- Here in Chicago, I am staying at the Best Western Plus River North. They provide free wifi here! I bring this up because a lot of hotels charge a fee. I think that is so weird. Don't they know that I can probably find a coffee shop, bookstore, or cafe within a block that would provide free wifi? Yes, it's a little less convenient to go to one of those places, but for some people, it's worth it. When every little hole-in-the-wall place providing free wifi these days, I feel like hotels are very behind the times. Good job, Best Western!

They Have Their Own Hershey's...

I arrived in Chicago this morning without incident and actually checked into a hotel! From now on, I'm not making any stops to visit people. I'm spending 24 hours here in Chicago to explore, and then I'll take the California Zephyr to San Francisco. I'll spend 24 hours in SF, and then take the Coast Starlight back to Seattle.

I arrived in Chicago in the pouring rain. It was so, so tempting to curl up in my hotel room, but no! I forced myself out and about. I decided to spend most of the afternoon/evening on the Magnificent Mile. I had heard from lots of people about American Girl Place, and as a children's librarian I really wanted to see it. Good gravy! What a place! Two stories of American Girls. While I myself am neutral about American Girl, this store blew me away. If I did love American Girl, I would have found the mothership. Of course there are trillions of dolls and books and accessories to buy, but there is also a hair salon for the dolls, a "pet store," a cafe, dressing rooms, and more. Wow!

Next door to American Girl Place was a Lego Store. In their story-high front windows was the Chicago skyline made of Legos. It was absolutely amazing.

And then I discovered that Chicago has its own Hershey's Store. Why? Why does Chicago have its own Hershey's Store? Why doesn't Seattle have one? Aarrgghh! I restrained myself and only had one treat. Impressive, huh?

And now I'm back in the hotel room all cozy and warm.

Home of the St. Louis Cardinals -- World Series Champs!

I had a really busy time in St. Louis. I always stay with my Grandma, which I love. For some reason I am so relaxed at my Grandma's. Inevitably I sleep for hours and hours at her place, which has turned into a bit of a family joke. As it is, I'm very talented at sleeping, but at Grandma's I'm a true champ!

I had a few very special things happen during my stay. I got to see two of my friends from Grad School. Working in Seattle, I'm one what seems like the few librarians who didn't go to the iSchool at the University of Washington. I went to Mizzou -- the University of Missouri-Columbia for library school. Two of the best friends I made still live in Columbia and were willing to drive all the way to St. Louis to see me.

I met Karen and her family at Faust Park, which I had never been to before. It's a fantastic park, by the way, if you're ever in St. Louis with kids. Karen brought her hubby and her daughter and son. I had never met her son, Alex, so I was really excited. We all hung out, and I just had the best time! Karen and Mike, thank you so much for making the trip!

On another day, I met up with my friend, Cindy. We had a great, luxurious day. We started by going to the Jewel Box in Forest Park. It was gorgeous, as usual! We had lunch at Joey B's on the Hill, and then went to a used book store, where we spent an easy hour-and-a-half. We ended the day with pedicures. Doesn't it all sound lovely? Thanks for coming to St. Louis, Cindy!

We also had a mini-family reunion while I was in St. Louis. In addition to all of the St. Louis relatives, we had relatives coming in from Texas, Ohio and Massachusetts. My Grandma was over the moon. It's hard for me to express how much she loves babies. She is obsessed with babies. She thinks everything about them is adorable. Their poop? So cute! Their spit-up? So sweet! Anyway, there was a 2-month-old baby at this reunion, and my Grandma held her as much as everyone would allow her. I think the baby (Camille, by the way) made her year!

I was only in St. Louis for a few days, so meeting up with my two friends and the reunion pretty much filled my days. This morning (and I do mean morning -- I got up at 4:30am) I headed back to Chicago.

Drama on the Rails!

On the train from Chicago to St. Louis I experienced my first train drama. Allow me to set the scene: On long-distance train trips, the seats are on the upper level of the railcars. In the lounge car, the lounge is upstairs, and you take a staircase down to the lower level to find the cafe. I was in the cafe in a booth directly at the bottom of the stairs.

A big guy comes down the stairs, slides right into the booth next to me, and gives me a nudge with his shoulder. I honestly thought that he mistook me for someone else. I looked at him and asked, "May I help you?" He looked right at me, stayed where he was, and then -- I am not making this up -- sniffed me. And sniffed me again. I was trying to figure out what to do (since I was pinned next to the windows), when I heard the cafe employee call for the conductor. This is your official thanks, cafe employee! Then the guy got up, started banging on the walls, and tried to open a bunch of cabinets.

This is when I started to suspect he was drunk or high. But I hadn't smelled anything on him at all, and he was definitely sitting close to me. The conductor came down and tried to talk to this guy, but the guy was making no sense, getting belligerent, and not following any instructions. At this point, I thought it prudent to go upstairs. Of course, I sat right there in the lounge car because I wanted to see what would happen. I've never had any drama on the train!

More railroad employees were called on the PA until I counted six down there, and they evacuated the cafe. And then things got interesting. We stopped at a little town. This town was NOT a train stop. The entire lounge was looking out the window, of course, and gossiping. Apparently this guy had been harassing a lot of people. He followed one other passenger complaining that there wasn't enough alcohol, and he stopped and bothered people in almost every car. It seemed almost every person in the lounge had encountered him.

There must be a secret door from the cafe that leads outside, because next thing we know, all of the six Amtrak employees are outside with the guy who is jumping around, bumping chests with some employees, and generally being, well, drunk. Then a Sheriff's car drove up, and all of a sudden, the guy is on the ground with the Sheriff's knee in his back, getting his hands cuffed behind his back! Holy cow! The Sheriff hauled him off, and we continued on our way.

At this point I had questions, which mainly consisted of wondering what would happen to this guy. My guess, based on nothing but my own thoughts, is that he will dry out in a holding cell overnight. But then what? Will they stick him on a train the next day? Will he go to jail? Will he have to hitch a ride home? I'm just so curious!

With the drama over, I headed back to my seat, which took me through about four cars. People were asking me what had happened. When I explained, many people described the guy and asked if that was him. Yet more proof that he was all over the place. But then a situation I thought was actually kind of funny got sad. I talked to one passenger who said that the guy told her he was an Iraq vet with PTSD, and he had just started a new medicine for it. And then he drank heavily after that. That's not funny at all. If the story is true, then you have a guy who fought for our country and came home so mentally injured that it takes both meds and alcohol to allow him to forget, or at least stop reliving the war. So best wishes, Amtrak-riding guy. Get the help you need, and get well.

I do want to finish with another reason I love the train, though. If you have an unruly passenger, you can just stop and kick him off the train! You can't do that on an airplane.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Like a Thief in the Night

My train left Charlotte at 1:45am. My plan was to sneak out of Blair's home like a thief in the night (albeit in a taxi), but Blair's husband, Craig, drove me. Since he had to go to work the next morning, this was very, very nice of him. This is your official, public, and very heartfelt thank you!

I was on my way to St. Louis, via Washington, D.C and Chicago. I had a 7-hour layover in D.C., which was perfect. I slept really poorly on the train, but it was about 60 degrees and sunny in D.C. I was so excited to see that I had this layover, because I really had been wanting to see the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. D.C.'s Union Station is just a block from the Capitol, so I arrived right downtown. After hours on the train, I appreciated the 2-mile walk to the MLK Memorial. I would stop periodically to sit on a bench and read or just look around. The Mall is so beautiful. Anyway, the Memorial was amazing. It was SO much bigger than I realized from pictures. He was 28 feet tall! And the Memorial's location on the Tidal Basin was beautiful. I'm so glad I got to see it. But I did have a few thoughts I'd like to share:

1) As many of you probably know, the artist who created the Memorial is Chinese. There was a big issue after it was unveiled about MLK looking Chinese -- in particular, his eyes. I am here to tell you that MLK does not look Chinese in any way. If you look at pictures, his eyes are almond-shaped. Maybe because the Memorial is made out of solid-colored granite his eyes stood out more. I don't know, but he looks like himself.

2) I thought it was a bit ironic that MLK looks out across the Tidal Basin directly at the Jefferson Memorial. What with Jefferson having slaves, and also having an affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemming, who bore his children, well, it was strange. Huh.

3) I went to buy postcards of the new Memorial, and they were SOLD OUT! That is some seriously poor planning, I must say. I mean, wouldn't they have planned to sell trillions of them at the dedication, and then trillions more as the public flocks to see it? And if they unexpectedly sold out, wouldn't they put in an emergency order for more? That was really disappointing.

As I had left Union Station and was spinning in circles orienting myself, I saw the National Postal Museum! I had never heard of this Museum, and since I am a little obsessed with the Postal Service, I made plans to see it after the MLK Memorial. Luckily I had a bit of time, so in I went.

Allow me to put a little appreciation here for all of the free museums and things to do in D.C. The Smithsonian is just a force, and the fact that anyone can go see any of the museums for free is just remarkable to me.

Anyway, I loved the Postal Museum. It was interesting and very kid-friendly. There is a lot to see and do, to walk through and touch and play with. I highly recommend it! But the thing I loved the most was learning the story of Owney. To summarize, one day in the late 1800s, a little stray dog wandered into the Albany Post Office, where he was adopted by the employees. He soon took to riding on the delivery wagons. One day, a sack of mail fell off a wagon, but the driver didn't notice. Owney hopped off and guarded the sack until the driver returned. At that point, he became the unofficial postal dog of the Albany Post Office. Eventually, Owney started traveling the entire country with the mail, and even went overseas! The Albany Post Office made him a little tag so that if he ever got lost, he could be returned. As Owney traveled the world, every post office he visited gave him a little medallion that showed where he had been. By the end of his life, he had an entire doggy jacket filled with medallions proving his travel! Isn't that an excellent story?

Then it was time to get back to Union Station and board the train for Chicago. It was an uneventful ride, it was pouring down rain in Chicago, and I was tired from a poor night's sleep again in coach. Once again, I must be a huge train snob, because sleeping in coach just doesn't work for me. So I spent my layover in a Starbucks working on this blog.

Which leads me to a final observation. I love Starbucks. Here is why. I arrived in Chicago, and all I wanted was Starbucks. I wanted yogurt, hot chocolate and wifi. Amazingly, the train station didn't have one. So I walked outside, slowly turned around, and saw two homey green Starbucks signs beckoning me. Thank you for being everywhere, Starbucks.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shannon Schinagl: Big Ol' Library Nerd about Town

Okay, once again, these photos are in no particular order, since Blogspot is quite a bit smarter than me.

First things first: as I was wandering around Charlotte, I came across this building. You probably can't read that big banner hanging on the side of the building, but it says "Home of the Steelers!"

For those of you not in the know, most every city has a Pittsburgh Steelers bar. This is a bar or restaurant that promises Steeler fans that they will always have the Steeler game on the big screen AND that the Steeler game will get sound. In Seattle, that place is Fado. Apparently, in Charlotte that place is...get ready...Dixie's! For some reason, the fact that the Steeler bar is called Dixie's cracks me up. It's kind of an oxymoron or something. If it was, you know, Bubba's Bar or something, fine. But Dixie's? I was insanely jealous of their big banner. I've never seen that before.

So anyway... I was walking around and stumbled up on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. The first thing I noticed were the below posts with quotes about libraries on all four sides. I thought that was very fun!
Of course, I had to go in to investigate the children's department. I walked all around, but all I could find was a tiny corner, no more than 5 feetx5 feet, with a few picture books in it. I couldn't believe that that was all there was, so like a good library patron I went to the reference desk. That's where I found out that the children's department is in a completely different building with the children's theater. It's called ImaginOn. So I scurried over there, and it was a source of wonder! The combo of library and children's theater was so much more than two organizations sharing a building. They both had things that, alone, neither would have had. Here are some highlights.
The second floor housed the teen area. After I introduced myself to the teen librarians, one of them gave me a little tour. She took me into Studio i -- their teen video and audio center. I was blown away. This picture shows the stage where teens can film whatever they're filming. Studio i provides the cameras, tripods, lighting -- everything!






Then there are computers all around for editing, and the cube in this picture is the audio recording studio. So teens could record a song, and then make a music video to go with it at the library. It was so cool.







Also in the teen department were these booths. I just loved them. What you probably can't see well are the plexiglass windows between each booth. They are equipped with dry-erase markers, and the teens can just graffiti up a storm.







This chandelier/sculpture (see, this is the kind of thing I thought would be at The Light Factory) hung three stories high in the middle of the lobby.








I adored this. These are actually stained glass windows!










I thought this was genius. You can't see well because of the light coming in the windows, but this is how they display both children's and teen magazines: by hanging them over a rod. This is brilliant. The magazines are easy to see, you don't have to buy pricey magazine covers, and hanging them on a rod doesn't create much wear-and-tear on the magazines. The older mags are stored in the cabinets below.



Okay, a quick bit of explanation. I broke my camera and learned my Airbook can take pictures. But apparently it takes them as mirror images. Any writing is coming out backward.

Anyway, this display reminded me of the Green Sheep display that the children's staff of the Central Library of the Seattle Public Library did.

This sign says "What do you see? Can you find the characters that belong in this book?" Then paper copies of the characters are spread throughout the children's department for kids to find. So fun!

Shannon Schinagl: Girl about Town

As I stated in my last post, I ended up spending an entire day in Charlotte while Blair was at work. So here are my thoughts, beyond the McGill Rose Garden.

After the Rose Garden, I was tired from walking all that way, plus I didn't want to waste time walking back the same way when I could be looking at other things. So I stopped at a bus stop. Luckily for me, a bus driver was there waiting to start his shift! He was really nice and helped me get all prepared. I know that Seattle relies on tourism a lot, but I find it very irritating as a resident when a tourist spends what seems like an hour hashing out an entire agenda with the bus driver. Since I got to talk with this driver, I was all set with correct change, which bus to catch, and which stop to look for. Thank you, Mr. Charlotte Bus Driver!

I met Blair for lunch. She is so nice. We don't have Chick-Fil-A in Seattle, and I really love Chick-Fil-A, so she agreed to meet me there for lunch. It was probably not the local Charlotte eatery she was planning on. She asked me a very intriguing question: How does Charlotte compare to Seattle? Blair wasn't asking which was best; just what the similarities and differences were.

So for the rest of the day I compared. [Disclaimer: All of my observations are based on a single day of visiting.] Some of my observations were really surprising. For example, Charlotte is new, new, new! I guess I was expecting a Southern city more in line with Richmond, VA, or Savannah, GA, or Charleston, SC. But no! There was almost nothing historical to be seen, other than a few churches. I mean, Seattle, a very new city, has more historic buildings than I saw in Charlotte. Also (and this is a good thing), it was clean! Shiny and clean. I subconsciously noticed a lot of other things, too, but didn't actually figure them out until talking with people later. As I was walking around, there was just a completely different vibe from Seattle. I finally figured out a few things:

1) Charlotte appeared less diverse than Seattle. African-Americans and Caucasians dominated, with a sprinkling of other folks. And of the other folks, everyone spoke English. My conclusion is that Charlotte doesn't have many new immigrants or refugees.

2) There were almost no homeless people! I was asked politely for change only once, and in an entire day of walking around saw only one man yelling his opinions to the general world.

3) There were also very few non-working people downtown. By this I mean people living in the city, or down for shopping or a movie. Almost everyone I saw was a professional. I did see stores as I walked around, but no department stores like Seattle's Nordstrom or Macy's. I also didn't see any movie theaters. Now, I did see live theaters galore, and there were lots of museums and such. But it made me wonder if Charlotte was one of those cities where most people do their non-work living and get their entertainment out where they live, as opposed to downtown. I've lived in several cities like that: Pittsburgh was like that, though it is reviving; Richmond, VA, was also like that.

Anyway, after lunch I bopped around to various places. I was heading to Discovery Place (a children's museum) when I was distracted by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. But I will leave that for now, since I am devoting a whole, nerdy post the library.

I found the Settler's Cemetery, which is, well, a cemetery of original Charlotte settlers. (Well named, yes?) It was gorgeous. It was a beautiful cemetery/park about a city block large. The grass was beautiful, there were paths all throughout, and benches filled with people reading or talking. You can even walk your dog there! They provide plastic doggy doo-doo bags for dog walkers. I thought that was a little surprising. Even if dog owners clean up their dogs' doo-doo, should they really be pooping on Jeremiah or Lucy or John in the first place? I'm undecided. I also wondered about the cemetery itself. It's owned by the city, and there is a big sign at the entrance listing everyone in the cemetery, and numbers next to each plot match with the person on the sign. All of the signs seemed new, and the park was in excellent shape. But the gravestones were so delicate that another sign forbade grave rubbings. And the above-the-gound graves, those big rock or brick coffins (what are those called?) were literally caving in from lack of maintenance. So I wondered what the city's policy was about this cemetery. To me it seemed like: take care of the park, but allow nature to take its course. Fascinating.

I got very excited about the Mint Museum Uptown, thinking it was a mint/money museum. I love stuff like that. But no. It was arts and crafts, which is great, but not for me. I also got excited about The Light Factory, because the name sounds cool. What could it be? A place where they make lightbulbs or fancy chandeliers? Who knows? But no. It was a photography gallery/museum. Now, before you all think I am an uncultured anti-art person, please know that...I am uncultured. And while I am certainly not anti-art, I can usually take it or leave it. There were about a million art museums in Charlotte, and if you love art, you should definitely go there. But that is not my cup of tea, so I can not offer you any insights, and I must complain that their galleries and museums have very cool names that, for me, to not live up to their innards.

Those are the big highlights. It doesn't seem like much, but keep in mind that I love to just walk around new cities, sit in parks or at coffee shops watching people go by, and experiencing fewer things thoroughly rather than more things quickly.

Okay, the next post will be all about the library, plus a little surprise I found.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

McGill Rose Garden



Today I walked through Charlotte to the McGill Rose Garden. It was absolutely gorgeous. I guess I wasn't aware of when roses bloom, because I was amazed at how many roses were still there, even though it's pretty chilly.

I loved this area. I guess an old railroad used to go right through the garden, because there's an old freight car sitting on rails right in the middle of the garden! I mean, look at this! Chairs, freight car, roses in bloom, and a mosaic vase. This garden was beautiful.





Here I am playing leapfrog (or should I say "leaproo"?) with a kangaroo.








I'm playing peek-a-boo with another sculpture with an herb garden behind me.








I would like to tell you how much I love my new Mac Airbook. So, I keep my camera in my purse. Inevitably, I pull it out only to find out that somehow the camera has been turned on. When I got to the Rose Garden, I discovered the battery was dead. After being really annoyed, it occurred to me to see if my laptop could take pictures. Lo and behold, it can! Who knew? I swear this thing can do anything. The only challenge was that it only gave me three seconds to get myself in place. There was a lot of sprinting going on in the Rose Garden.

As you know from the previous post, I got up very early to come with Blair to work. We were here by 7:15. That's early. So early, in fact, that many things aren't open. When I got to the Rose Garden, it wasn't open yet! It felt like I had been up for hours (which, actually, I had), and yet it wasn't even 10am! It was a very weird feeling. So I just sat in a lovely park and read, waiting for the Garden to open.




Halloween in Charlotte!

The modest geisha girl, Jane Conway!

















Look! Tinkerbell is flying!













Tinkbell and Geisha Girl (aka Katherine and Jane Conway). Soon, those girls will literally have pounds of candy!

Stewartstown, PA, Pictures!


These pictures are backwards, but I think I'm getting better at this!

These are my friend, Angela's, daughters in the snow we had. 6-year-old Ellie is on the left, and 3-year-old Annalist is on the right.









Me with sweet, sweet Annalise.















This is my friend, Angela, reading to her youngest, Annalise, at the gym while her oldest, Ellie, is taking gymnastics.












Angela and I when she's dropping me off at the train station at the end of my stay. We are smiling, but it was actually really sad to leave.










This is Angela's oldest daughter, Ellie, and I at the train station. Isn't she so cute?














I said it snowed, and you can see I wasn't kidding! This is Ellie and Annalise playing in the snow. I didn't play in the snow because I wasn't expecting 8 inches of snow in October and didn't bring the right clothes. Although I went out on the deck to take this picture, and promptly wiped out. Ha!










Ange and I got an afternoon free to go play Scrabble at Starbucks. Look at the lovely way we spaced the board! And we had some excellent words, if I do say so. Angela won, as usual.










Elevators and Walkways and Hot Chocolate

I promise that pictures are coming soon!

I arrived in Charlotte, NC, Sunday night to visit my friend, Blair, and her family. Blair and I went to college together, though we didn't know each other. After college, a mutual friend introduced us when we were each looking for a housemate. I must say, we were the best housemates EVER.

I haven't seen Blair in forever. In fact, her eldest daughter is 6, and this is the first time I'm meeting her!

Last night we went trick-or-treating, and I'm so glad I was staying with a family with kids on Halloween. I'll have pics for you. Blair's oldest daughter, Jane Conway, was a geisha girl, and the littlest, 3 years old, was Tinkerbell. This is a great neighborhood. After counting very carefully, Jane Conway determined she had -- no joke -- 194 pieces of candy. Holy cow! She gets one piece a day, so she has 6 months of candy. Whoa.

Today I got up at 6:00am (those of you who know me know that that was very hard :) and came to work with Blair. While she works, I'm going to explore downtown Charlotte. I am already in love. I just adore silly little things. For example, years ago when I was in Taipei, Taiwan, I fell in love with their "Walk" signals at intersections. Unlike the boring, ol' United States, their little "Walk" man actually walks. But here's the best part: when you have 7 seconds left to cross, he breaks into a run! I'm not kidding! He runs! I made my very patient friend stand at the intersection for three light changes so I could watch.

In Blair's building, they have these fantastic elevators. On a digital screen, you tap in the floor you want. Then the screen tells you which numbered elevator to get on. THEN, and this is the best part, it automatically takes you to your floor! You don't punch in a number or anything! It just goes. Blair says she's so used to it that when she uses an elevator outside of work, she walks into the elevator and just stands there, waiting for it to magically take her to her floor. Then, when people stare at her, she remembers to hit the floor button. Love it!

The next thing is this awesome walkway called the Mall. It is a raised, enclosed walkway that connects a whole bunch of office buildings, and inside are retailers and restaurants. It goes for blocks! And you're always inside! It reminds me very much of an underground mall I was in once (Toronto? I honestly don't remember where that underground mall was.). Except it's not really a mall, but a connecting walkway. I just love it.

Also, I have discovered Caribou Coffe. Now, they much have done some new stuff. I've been to Caribou once or twice in airports and was not impressed. But yesterday I was out with Blair's mom, Pat, during the day, and we went to Caribou Coffee. When I ordered hot chocolate, they asked, "White, milk, or dark?" and I was in love. Could a better question be asked when ordering hot chocolate? Not likely, though if I ever have a chocolate shop, I hope to ask, "Godiva, Ghirardelli, or Dilettente?" That's once I find someone who wants to finance my chocolate and mail shop who is rich enough to not care if my shop is always in the red. If YOU are rich and would like to subsidize my chocolate and mail shop, please let me know!

Okay, that's all for now. I'm going to try to load pictures now.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been so busy!

When last I left you, I was in Philly. Tuesday morning was my last day. Sarah took me to one of the most unbelievable chocolate shops I've ever been in: Lores Chocolates. I was quite impressed with myself; I restrained myself pretty well. I have to admit, though, that part of that was due to luggage space. Ha! Sarah and I went to MilkBoy for brunch, and then it was off to the train station! I just have to say again that the Philly train station is remarkable.

Then I was off to Baltimore! I wasn't really staying in Baltimore, but it was the closest train station to Stewartstown, PA, where my friend, Angela, lives. Angela's hubby, Dan, works in Baltimore, so he picked me up and drove me home. Stewartstown is about 45 minutes from Baltimore, and is sort of out in the country. The fall colors were absolutely stunning!

Once I was in Stewartstown, I was so busy! Ange has two little girls: Ellie, who is 6, and Annalise, who is 3 (but almost 4!). I spent a lot of time reading books and playing school! Ange and I got in some games of Scrabble (which we played incessantly in college), and she beat me twice (which she always did in college).

Then, weather struck! Yesterday, Saturday, it began snowing in the morning and didn't let up until late at night. I don't know how many inches we got. We were supposed to get 6-10, and we were definitely in that range. In fact, when Ange drove me to the train station this morning, there were huge tree branches all around that had fallen from the weight of the snow. It was absolutely gorgeous, but...we lost power around 5 or 6 yesterday. It was nice and cozy until the house started getting really cold. Dan rigged up an inverter from the car (I have no idea what that is) to get the gas fireplace going and to plug in one lamp. Those were turned off when we all went to bed, and we dug down deep in our blankets.

When I woke up this morning, I couldn't believe that the power was still out, but when I called today (Sunday), Ellie told me it was back up later this morning. Thank goodness!

Now I am back on the train and on my way to Charlotte, NC, to visit my roommate from Richmond, VA, right after college. Her name is Blair, and she has two little girls also. I haven't seen Blair in so long that I've never met the girls! I can't wait.

Pictures and more later.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Philly Pictures!

Pictures! But first, some confessions. I have a terrible time putting pictures in this blog. I can't figure out how to control picture placement, so these are in no particular order. Also, some of the text came out mysteriously blue and underlined. I have no idea why, and I can't figure out how to fix it.

Given those two things, enjoy! You can click on a picture to see it in a larger format.


Nothing to see here. Just me and the sculpted fountain people. Move along, folks. Move along.









I am trying to rebuild this amazing Lego bench that I really wish I had in my own home! Heave!













The famous sculpture in the City of Brotherly Love!


























Do you read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books? This is in Trenton. No Cluck-in-a-Buckets, but look! Cluck U Chicken! Ha ha ha ha ha! Also notice the awesome Jersey car with flames in the parking lot.











Of course I am a big library nerd, so here I am at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
















Sarah and I with the Liberty Bell!












Rocky has nothin' on us!

















(Below) Holy crap! The Liberty Bell has a crack! Does anyone know about this?!

Just call me Stephanie Plum

I'm in Philly! I am having such a good time. I arrived in Philly, and let me tell you that train station is gorgeous. By far the most beautiful train station I've been in so far. Nice job, Philly. Sarah picked me up, and we headed back to her place.

Since then, I've been quite the tourist. After I arrived on Saturday, we went to see the Liberty Bell. It's quite the job to get in. We had to lift up our coats and twirl around (I guess to make sure I wasn't packing in the back of my pants, or strapped with bombs), and they search all of our bags. Luckily I was not branded a terrorist, so in we went. The Liberty Bell is very cool to see. I will have a picture, but I am currently in a Starbucks and forgot my camera cord. Sigh... This evening I'll have an entire blog post of pictures.

Sarah walked me around to see different neighborhoods. My favorite was Old City, and I have determined that if I ever moved here, I would live in Elfreth's Alley, which is the oldest, continually occupied residential street in the US.

On Sunday I got a great tour, with pictures to come. Occupy Philadelphia is camped outside City Hall. And props to them, since they are all camping on cement. The City Hall is gorgeous, by the way. I have been in Seattle for so long that I forgot how much I love old (relatively speaking -- "new" to Europeans, of course) buildings and history. We saw the famous "LOVE" sculpture. I stopped in at the Free Library of Philadelphia, the main branch downtown. As expected, it's a gorgeous building. I wasn't a huge fan of the children's department. It's an old branch, but I felt there was a lot more they could have done. But it was packed, and I was insanely jealous. The space was not particularly big, but they had FOUR staff people at the reference desk, and another one shelving. And they had their OWN SECURITY GUARD. Sigh...

We went on to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Again, the building was gorgeous, and even more amazing as we got closer. There was beautiful, detailed painting on the building that you can't see from a distance. And of course, at the bottom of the stairs, was a statue of Rocky. I hope it goes without saying that we took a picture. Behind the museum was the Fairmount Waterworks, a hydroelectric plant on the river, and a lovely park. Actually, I loved this historic center of Philly. It's sort of a massive park/mall surrounded by historic and/or old landmarks: the art museum, library, the Benjamin Franklin Institute, the science museum, the natural history museum, a gorgeous old cathedral, etc. It was very beautiful and fun.

On the way home, I saw the most hilarious thing. There was a couple standing on the sidewalk. I think they were waiting for something. Now I am not kidding about this: the woman was standing there squeezing her boyfriend's manboobs. Just standing there, squeezing away. Her boyfriend gave her an irritated look and stepped away. Then she says, all whiny, "Why are you mad at me?" Well, gee, I don't know? Maybe because you are out in public squeezing your boyfriend's manboobs?!?! You think? I thought he was actually very restrained. If I was him, I would have had a bit of a stronger reaction.

Then, of course, it being Sunday we went to a bar in Society Hill, which I also loved. It reminded me a lot of Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, except a bit newer. The Steelers won (Go Stillers!).

Today, Monday, is a fantastic day. Sarah is working...in Trenton, NJ! Those of you who read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books can imagine the heaven I'm in. We were early, so we got to drive around. Most of Trenton is exactly like I imagined it. Of course, Sarah and I were looking for specific things, one of which was Cluck-in-a-Bucket. We didn't find it, but we DID find "Cluck U Chicken." I was just as happy with that. I took a picture, which will be posted later. I also noticed what seemed to be an awful lot of fire stations in a relatively small area, but Sarah reminded me that this IS the hometown of Stephanie Plum, so of course. Now I am sitting in a Starbucks, which isn't very Trenton-like (although this place is busy), so my dreams will probably not come true, but I am waiting to see a Grandma Mazur, Lula, or, in my beautiful, beautiful dreams, a Ranger. We did see a black SUV with tinted windows, and I choose to believe Ranger was in there, although I would have been happy with Tank, too. Later I'm going to take a walk to the Public Library, which is just a block or two away, so maybe I'll get lucky.

Okay, pictures later, but I'll let you know if I have a Sighting.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Pillow Fight of '95

What a difference being on time makes! I actually made it to the Pittsburgh train station on time and learned a number of things:

1) Another reason I love the train is that loved ones can go right up on the platform with you! In fact, remember how great it was when people could meet you at the gate at the airport? You can get that feeling on the train! In fact, I even saw someone with no ticket at all help a family member on to the train and then get back off once the family member was settled in. Right on the train! With no ticket!

2) Do you remember how I wondered how people know which car to get on, on the Capitol Limited since the cars weren't labeled? I found out! It turns out there are nice, helpful people stationed along the platform who ask you where you're going and direct you.

3) You get to choose your own seat! But the experience isn't all panicky like when you fly Southwest Airlines. Why? Because every seat is huge. Every seat has so much leg room that I (at 5'2") can only reach the seat in front of my by stretching out my tippy toes. And there are no middle seats. Basically, the only choice you have to make is aisle or window!

To make this train, I had to get up at 5am. Those of you who know me well know that such an hour is torture for me. Well, I'm learning each time I have to sleep in coach how to do it better. This was the second time. I brought earplugs, first of all. They made a huge difference. Luckily, the train wasn't full, so the seat next to me was empty, and I knew just how to set myself up to snooze! By the end of 30 days, I'm going to be a total pro.

Those of you who know me well also know that I am almost never cold. As I tried to go to sleep I was freezing cold. As a car attendant walked by, I asked if there were blankets and pillows available. Here was his awesome answer: "I'm sorry. We haven't had pillows and blankets since the Pillow Fight of '95. It took two days to clean that car." He was dead serious. Of course, I was immediately filled with questions: How did the pillow fight start? Did everyone join in? Was it violent? Did anyone get hurt? Anyway, I love that there is an event in history called "The Pillow Fight of '95."

As the car attendant walked away, he turned back with a twinkle in his eye and said, "The reason it's so cold is to get people buy more coffee and hot chocolate. It's a marketing ploy." Then he turned and walked away. What?! Was he kidding or serious? I have no idea. If it is true, it's mean and brilliant all at once.

Just a quick note, FYI. On the train, I ate my Double Trouble cupcake from the Oakmont Bakery. Oh, my heavens to Betsy. People, this may have been the best cupcake I've ever eaten in my life. It was a moist chocolate cupcake, infused with chocolate mousse, with a mound of chocolate mousse on top, covered in a chocolate shell. Holy Toledo.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Burgh

I am at the end of my four days in Pittsburgh already. Sigh... Allow me a small rant really quick. For those of you not familiar with Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh is NOT "right next to" Philadelphia. It is a six-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Philly. The cultures are completely different, and they really have nothing to do with each other except for being in the same state. Got that? Pittsburgh. Philly. NOT the same city.

Anyway, right now it's gorgeous here. The fall leaves are fully on display. However, for every beautiful leaf, there also seems to be a construction cone. Good grief, there's a lot of road construction! Much more than in Seattle. It was a pain to get anywhere. I have never seen so much construction!

Some highlights of my trip include lunch at the Harmony Inn (it's haunted, Blythe!) in historic Harmony, PA. To anyone traveling through Western Pennsylvania, I strongly recommend visiting Harmony! My Dad and I went to see the movie "The Ides of March." It was fantastic, and really depressing (just FYI).

Today was a really fun and busy day. Through sheer chance, my Mom is in town for a wedding and to visit friends. I met up with her and family friends at the Chelsea Grille in Oakmont (Killy, look! Their home page has a squirrel on it!), which is just about the cutest town I've ever seen. It may also be the home of the most amazing bakery I've ever been to in my life: the cleverly named Oakmont Bakery. It may have been the hugest, most filled-with-baked-goods bakery I have ever seen. People, I could easily live there. And eat there. And live there.

This evening I met two high school friends, Kim and Chris, for dinner so we could catch up. Later this evening my Dad, his wife, Sue, and I all went to the 3rd Anniversary Party of the Bottlebrush Gallery, which is owned by my friend, Miranda. All of the art they sell is made by Pennsylvanian artists and craftspeople, and most of it is made in Western Pennsylvania. As usual, I bought way too much stuff. Please notice they have an online store!

My visit to Pittsburgh was very relaxing, but way too fast. Tomorrow already I leave for Philadelphia (yes, Philly, despite my above rant) to visit my friend, Sarah, who just moved there from Seattle (Kirkland, actually). Sarah is originally from Pgh and, in an interesting twist, the sister of the husband of the high school friends I had dinner with this evening. Did you follow that?

The oh-so-aptly-named Pennsylvanian leaves at the disgusting hour of 7:20am. Yuck.

Onward to the Burgh!

I didn't have a sleeping car to Pgh; I was in coach. Let me tell you, coach is lovely during the day. The seats are huge and are actually recliners with leg rests and all. The train provides pillows and each car has a water dispenser and cups. However, coach sucks overnight.

I got on the Capitol Limited so late that there were no dinner reservations left, so soon after leaving I headed down to the cafe to eat a little pizza. When I got back to my seat, I read a bit and then tried to sleep. The key here is "tried." Sleeping in coach was really hard. Even with the recliner sleep was impossible! We were told that the car attendants would wake us up when our stop was imminent, so we had to be in our seats at that time. After we were well on our way, I moved across the aisle to two empty seats. I set my cellphone alarm clock for 4:10am so I would be awake and back in my seat in time, and was able to fall asleep cuddled up in that pair of seats.

When I woke up, I had 20 minutes before my stop, so I went down to find a bathroom to freshen up. The bathrooms were amazing! They were huge, with a dressing room, toilet, sink with vanity. There was tons of room in there!

Despite leaving a half-hour early waiting for those of us transferring from the Empire Builder to the Capitol Limited, we were 20 minutes early to Pgh! In fact, my Dad was just arriving to pick me up, walking up the stairs to the platform, as I was going down the escalator.

On the way home, Dad and I stopped at Eat 'n' Park, a Western Pennsylvania restaurant that 'Burghers love. I don't know why it's special to us; it just is. After a delicious breakfast, we headed back to my Dad's place and we both went back to bed. My visit to Pittsburgh had begun!

Will we make it?!

When I woke up on the last day on the Empire Builder, we were still 2.5 hours behind. At this rate, I was going to arrive at the Chicago train station just when the Capitol Limited was to depart. Midday, the conductor got on the PA and announced that two groups of people heading north to different parts of Michigan would be taking buses instead of trains, because they'd be missing their connections. Then he ominously announced that he didn't know the status of the Capitol Limited, and would let us know.

That day at lunch I ate with two very interesting people. One is an author! I checked, and Seattle Public Library doesn't have his book, so I put in a purchase request. The reviews on Amazon were really good. His name is Peter Olsson, and he's a Doctor of Psychiatry. The book he talked most about was "Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time."

After lunch, all of the Capitol Limited passengers were on pins and needles. I wouldn't have worried so much, but I did NOT want to ride a bus overnight from Chicago to Pittsburgh. Only a half-hour outside of Chicago, the conductor announced that...the Capitol Limited was being held! Yahoo! The minute we pulled into the station there were red caps waiting for us in their trolleys. I hopped on one, and I'm so glad I did. The red cap asked to see our tickets, and let us out at the appropriate car. I didn't see any signage at all, so I have no idea how I would have found the Pittsburgh car on my own. Others headed on to the South Bend, IN, car, or the Cleveland car.

Life. was. good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Still not a morning person, even for Glacier National Park

I realized that yesterday I didn't give as much context as I should have. As I wrote, I bought a 30-day Rail Pass from Amtrak. After leaving Seattle, I was taking the Empire Builder (I love Amtrak line names!) to Chicago, where I'd transfer to the Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh, my first destination.

So, before I went to bed in my awesome sleeper car Saturday night, Noelani, my sleeper car attendant, recommended I get up really early for breakfast so I could get a seat in the observation car as we went through Glacier National Park. I tried, I really did! I got up at 7:30am, went to breakfast (pancakes and bacon -- yum!), but I was so tired. So, so tired. So...I went back to bed. So long, Glacier National Park! Maybe next time.

That breakfast was also where I met one of the only cranky passengers. All he could do was whine and complain about Amtrak. Then you know what, Mr. Crankypants? Fly!

When I finally got up, I used the little shower. Let me tell you, that's an experience on a rocking train!

Then Noelani surprised me. There was a wine and cheese tasting that afternoon for sleeping car passengers! It was hilarious. Noelani was the hostess, and as she said, "It's less about tasting and more about drinking." Ha! After the "tasting," train employees asked trivia questions, and passengers who answered got a bottle of one of the wines. Eventually, passengers got to ask the questions. It got very riotous as the wine "tasting" went on.

That evening, things got interesting. I was sitting in my sleeping car when we stopped really hard, and there was no station. The conductor came on the PA saying that some idiot tried to cross the railroad tracks in front of the train. We had to put on the emergency brake. We didn't hit the person, but after an emergency stop, the train and the tracks need to be inspected because such a stop puts a lot of pressure on both train and tracks. Then, not a half hour later, we stop again. The conductor announces that yet another asshole tried to cross in front of the train ahead of us. Really?! So that train and those tracks had to be inspected. Finally, the conductor got on the phone and asked that people just be patient when a train is coming so things like this wouldn't happen. The silliest part was that these were only passenger trains! About 10 cars long! These weren't freight trains with 10,000 cars.

So here's a trivia question for you: What city in the United States has the most millionaires per capita? I bet you'll never guess...

...Williston, ND! No joke. I guess they have big oil up there. But who would have guessed? A town in ND, more than DC, more than Beverly Hills, more than Manhattan. Huh.

The result of all this stopping and starting was that we were running three hours behind when I went to bed that night. How did this bode for my connection in Chicago? Find out...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Chicken Debacle

This post is completely unrelated to my vacation, but I thought I'd share.

About a month ago, I was housesitting for some friends. One of my duties was to take care of the seven chickens. The first day I went over to the coop to refill the waterers. It was at this fledgling point that my brain apparently fell out of my head. I have no other way to explain it!

I simply left the coop door open. Yes, just left it open. I just did it. I have no explanation. So just take this as a given, and let's move on.

As I filled a waterer in the corner of the coop, I heard some excited clucking and turned around to see that all seven chickens had happily walked right on out. I have very little chicken experience, so I naively thought, "No problem. I'll just herd them back in." Those of you with chickens are probably laughing yourselves to death right now, but the fun has only just begun. Of course, I didn't herd the chickens back in. Pretty quickly, though, I managed to lure Chicken #1 back in with some corn. As she was busy eating, I left the door open and, after about 10 minutes, managed to chase Chicken #2 in. At this point, I slammed the door and realized that I could no longer keep it open, or we'd have a revolving door of chickens going in and out. Chicken #2 was the rooster, and this was when the games really began.

Once the rooster was in the coop, all the five outside chickens wanted was to get back in the coop. Seriously, that was their only goal in life. How can it be that the chickens and I had the same exact goal, and yet we couldn't accomplish it? I think that was the most frustrating part of the entire experience.

As I thought about all of my options, I decided I had a great idea. I'd go in, get a sheet, throw the sheet on the chickens, wrap them up, and toss them all back in the coop! In picture books, foxes never have a problem throwing a sack over a chicken and slinging it over his shoulder, so it should work! (By the way, in those books where the chicken outsmarts the fox? It would never happen.) I got my sheet, and also got the most dramatic reaction of this entire experience. I threw that sheet and everyone went batshit crazy. The chickens scattered like buckshot, and the rooster and chicken in the coop went nuts, flying into the ceiling and against the walls, and the noise was deafening. So...apparently not a good idea. A chicken-owning friend of mine told me later that her chickens go nuts when she just hangs the laundry out to dry. Sigh...

I regrouped and started chasing the chickens around and around and around the perimeter of the coop. They would head for the door as a group, but when I sprang ahead to open the door, they'd scatter. This idea failed multiple times.

I'd like to point out that this entire time, the other house pet, a little cat by the name of Layla Grace (who is all of three pounds fully grown) sat on a coop post watching me. I'm guessing she was laughing hysterically on the inside, but I can't know for sure because that would involve a cat showing emotion. What I do know is that she never left her source of entertainment, and she never helped.

Eventually I found a long stick. I chased the chickens around the coop to the door again, and tried to push the door open from afar with the stick. After several fails there, I managed to succeed, at which time Chicken #3 went in. Yes, folks, I was far away, the door was wide open, and only one chicken went inside. Mm-hm. As the chickens continually circled the coop, most of them tried to get into the coop by squeezing through the chicken wire. What this actually meant in real life is that their head made it through, and that was it. But if chickens have one trait, they are apparently tenacious. They would stick their heads in one hole after another, sure that the next one would work. It was while Chicken #4 had her head in the chicken wire that I snatched her up. I am very grateful that I didn't break her neck, but I did get a wing in the face for my trouble. I tossed her in.

I would like to highlight this chicken behavior: as the chickens came around, I would often open the door, either myself or with the stick. The chickens would walk right around the door and wistfully stare in from the hinge side. Their look said, "How will I ever get back to the harem and my man!" Their actions said, "I have half of a brain cell, and it's tired."

The coop was one big square, but one end had an additional enclosure that stuck out. This created an inward corner. I noticed that a lot of the chickens stopped in this corner. So I grabbed my trusty stick, and when one of the chickens stopped at this corner, I would leap from behind the addition, and bar them in the corner with my stick. I actually managed to catch both Chickens #5 and #6 in this way.

That left me vs. Chicken #7. By this time I was hot, sweaty, covered with feathers and hay and dirt, and I was dreaming of fried chicken, chicken teriyaki, chicken parmesan, chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice, and any other dish I could think of that involved chickens. These chickens, in particular. They are very lucky I don't cook. Anyway, I was angry and frustrated and lost my patience. I just flat-out tackled Chicken #7. Flew through the air like my true love, Troy Polamalu, and tackled that chicken.

People, this post is not that long, but this entire episode lasted TWO HOURS. I almost gave up so many times, and I now hate chickens with a passion. Is there any dumber creature on earth? I mean, there may be, but I'm skeptical.

I have to admit, though, that as I told chicken-owners this story, I got to feeling pretty good about catching seven chickens by myself. Apparently it isn't easy, even if you are familiar with chickens.

But chickens, if you are reading this, I hate you.

And so it begins...

With a trip to New Zealand not working out, but with a month of vacation on the books, I decided to buy a 30-day USA Rail Pass with Amtrak. Planning this thing was like planning...well, I don't know what, but something with a lot of logistics. The trickiest bit was working around the number of travel legs I was allotted: 12. Trust me, 12 is not a lot when it often takes multiple legs to get anywhere.

Saturday afternoon (10/15) my friends Taffy, Aaron and their two sons drove me to the Seattle King Street Station to embark on my big adventure! Issue Number 1: we were blocked by the big Occupy Wall Street protest parade downtown. I don't know how many people were involved, but as we watched them cross the street light change after light change, I swear it seemed like 10,000. Protestors, I completely back your cause, but seriously, tying up traffic downtown while you walk around is not going to win you any love. Could you please stay in one place? Or at least wait while the light changes? You nearly gave me a heart attack.

After some creative driving on Taffy's part, we made it to the train station where I promptly discovered Issue Number 2: I left my purse at home. My purse, with my non-replaceable 30-day Rail Pass, my ID, my wallet, my cash, and my phone. At this point, I nearly had a stroke on top of my heart attack. So Taffy and Aaron drove like NASCAR champs back to my place (while skillfully avoiding the protestors), grabbed my purse, and actually made it back in time for me to catch the train! Taffy even came in with me because I must have looked wild-eyed and crazy. I got my tickets, but it was too late to check baggage.

We ran down the platform to my car, and this is where things began to fall into place. My sleeping car attendant, Noelani, was the perfect person to meet me. She calmed me down while I was acting like a total spaz, put my luggage on board, I gave Taffy a hug, and Noelani walked me to my roomette (watch the little movie!).

At this point, I'd like to profusely thank the Gallagher-Zapf Family for saving me. I really, really hope Sterling didn't pee on you Saturday night. I really owe you, and will even take care of your chickens again, that's how much I owe you (more on that later). I love you guys!

Noelani, in some sort of ESP mind-reading, somehow knew I'd be in a panic, because she had set my roomette up with a bottle of champagne and chocolate. (If anyone from Amtrak is reading this, please give Noelani a raise.) I was utterly enchanted with my roomette. It was the cutest little thing! It had two big seats facing each other, a huge picture window, two little shelves, and a little folding table (and champagne and chocolate). As I finally began to calm down, the train left at exactly 4:40pm. Exactly. I know this because there was a big digital clock outside the window, and at the stroke of 4:40, we began moving. Impressive, Amtrak!

Soon after we left, one of the dining car attendants came by to take my dinner reservation. Oh, yes. My dinner reservation. Champagne, chocolate, my own roomette, and dinner reservations. I was beginning to feel just a little bit snooty!

Then I explored. On my floor there were four roomettes and two larger rooms. There were also three bathrooms and a shower/dressing room. The cool thing was that the bathrooms were all at the opposite end of the car, so I had easy access to the bathrooms, but didn't have to smell them or hear people going in and out! I went upstairs where there were a TON of rooms. I don't even know how many. I learned I actually access the dining car from upstairs, not downstairs.

When my dinner reservation came around, I went to the dining car. The dining car is communal dining. Each table has four seats, and they fill each table. The trend over the course of the ride was that I ate with a couple and another single person. Almost everyone was really nice (not you, Mr. Cranky Breakfast Guy), and it was interesting to discover the sort of connections I made. For example, the couple I had dinner with were in Seattle visiting their daughter, who just got her MLS but couldn't find a job. She moved to Seattle with AmeriCorps.

All meals were included in my sleeping car cost, and I was shocked by how good the food was! I won't bore you with every menu, but here's what I had the first dinner: side salad, grilled salmon, veggies, rice and rolls, with cheesecake for dessert. Who knew?

That evening, Noelani turned my roomette into its nighttime set-up. The two chairs slid down to make a bed, and the mattress was hidden up in the bunk bed. She brought the mattress down, already made up with sheets and blankets. It was really comfy! It took awhile to get used to sleeping on the train. I had left my window curtains open to see the night sky, but quickly realized we often passed really bright lights, so those ended up closed. The rocking and sound of the train were actually very soothing, but the stops and starts woke me at first. All in all, though, it was very nice.

And that was Day 1! More to come later.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Volunteering

I'm sorry about the two-week lag between posts! My Dad came to visit from Pittsburgh. We had a great time, but I didn't get my blogging done.

In order to make up those weeks, the next two times I draw an activity that I've already done, I'll immediately draw another one.

The last time I blogged, I was going to join a group on Meetup.com. I honestly tried, but never got the e-mail from Meetup to confirm. In order to give it a good faith effort, I'll try again! I'm trying to join a chocolate group.

Exercise has been iffy. The week my Dad was here, I didn't get all of my exercise in, so my second allowable week of not exercising enough is gone. No more buffer zone!

Thanks to the advice of a coworker, I've been spending most of my work breaks walking. There are lovely neighborhoods near the library, and each break is 15 minutes. If I walk for both breaks, there's my 30 minutes right there! I've been listening to the "Artemis Fowl" books by Colfer. The reader is fantastic, and I'd forgotten how good those books are, so I actually look forward to my walks each day.

Okay, on to new business!

Two weeks ago I drew number 44: Find Your Volunteer Niche. I am very happy to say that I already volunteer! I'm in my second year of volunteering at the Seattle Animal Shelter. I love it! It's perfect for me. When I was looking at volunteer opportunities, I wanted to do something that didn't involve helping people. I know that sounds awful, but I help people all day at work, and just didn't think I could do that even more on my off hours. At SAS, I'm on the Critter Team. This is the group that works with all of the animals that are not cats and dogs. I've learned about so many animals! We've had rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, chincillas, lizards, snakes, goats, pigs, chickens and roosters, and even a peacock! It's so fun.

Okay, let me draw another number. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting number 25: Polish Up Your Resume. Hm. This is a good one. I'll work on this and have a shiny resume to present next week!

I'm going to start another related project, too. For a while, I've been thinking that I should create an online portfolio. This will be a lot of work, and not something I can do in a week, but polishing my resume will be a good motivator to start a portfolio. Like exercise, I'll keep you apprised of this project.

A word about my Dad's trip. We had such a good time! For my birthday, we went to Teatro Zinzanni. I had been wanting to go for years, and it was as amazing as I had hoped! If you live in Seattle, or plan to visit, make sure to go. It's expensive, but absolutely worth every penny!

Have a good week!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do I WANT to Meet More People?

Welcome to Week 3 of my New Year's Resolutions.

This week I drew #45, which is to "Seek Out Kindred Spirits on the Internet." I'm a bit torn about this one. It recommends using sites like Meetup.com to meet friends in the area. I've used Meetup before to find my Steeler Group. Also, I already have about as many friends as I can handle, so I'm not sure I want to make more. But I should check it out, I guess.

So, this week I do not guarantee that I'll join a Meetup group, but I will take a look and see if I find anything interesting that really catches my fancy. I'll report back next week.

Do you belong to any Meetup groups? If so, which ones, and do you like them?

Okay, on to old business.

I got my second full star for exercising on the Presidential Fitness website, fitness.gov. Once again, I'm really thankful for these silly stars. They really get me going when I'm feeling lazy.

Once again, I completely forgot to look up any potential employee discounts. Good grief! In my defense, this is only something I can look up at work, and the new library branch at which I work is insanely busy. Busier on a consistent basis than any other branch I've ever worked at. It kicks my butt. So once again, this week I'll look that up and (hopefully) get back to you next week!

In other news, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC Championship and will be going to the Super Bowl...again! This year, the Super Bowl will be on my birthday. Does that mean I get a guaranteed Steeler win for my birthday? Go Steelers!

Monday, January 17, 2011

House-Hunting? Not me.

Hello, all!

Well, today I drew lucky #13, which is "Reconsider House Hunting." Luckily for me, this isn't an issue right now since I already own my home. Though I am in the process of refinancing at the moment. Ugh. Such a pain in the patootie.

It's a good thing I don't have to do a task this week. I didn't do great this past week with my other tasks.

Let's start with exercise. This week I still exercised, but only 4 days, not five. So no completed star for me on fitness.gov. Sigh... I love getting those stars filled in, so this is a bummer. Plus, it only gives me one more buffer week to complete six out of eight weeks. Yikes! But this week, I've already worked out two days, so I'm back on track.

Also, I only completed two out of the three sources of discounts, and not even the one advocated by "U.S. News & World Report"!

First, I investigated AAA discounts. Now that was amazing. I've been really losing out by not having checked this earlier. If any of you have AAA, here are discounts that I'll be using:

I also looked up any discounts through the American Library Association. There were only a few:

  • Avis Rental Cars
  • Books-a-Million

But I didn't look up my work discounts! Work at my new branch has been really hectic, and the time I have when I'm not working at the reference desk has been really busy. So this week, this task still stands.

Until next week!