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.