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Travels by Amtrak!

August 29th, 2019 — 4:06pm

Guys! Guys!

I’ve just come home from a Big Travel Adventure and I am in love with train travel and I will now tell you all about it! This post will be about my journey, not my destination — for that you will need to wait for another day.

Background: my disabilities have made travel uncomfortable/impossible for years. I can’t walk far or fast; I can’t carry anything heavy; I am easily fatigued and need to spend lots of time lying down; I require supplemental oxygen; I have an insane amount of medication to take every day, a medication pump to refill every three days, and lots of vital medical supplies that I need to have handy all the time.

I’m an extreme introvert and slightly claustrophobic. I’m also tall, thin, and bony. :)

Air travel is a nightmare for me, between the stressful time-wasting unpleasant airport experience, the humiliating security theater process, the dry, thinned-out air, and the feeling of being trapped in a tin can with no way to move about or unfold myself from a painfully uncomfortable seat. Driving long distances is just impossible.

But I have discovered the wonders of long-distance train travel and I am in loooooooveeeeee with Amtrak!

Here’s the story of my journey.

I traveled by Amtrak’s “Coast Starlight” train from my home in the SF Bay Area to visit my son and his family in Vancouver Washington. On the northbound trip, I bought a regular Amtrak coach ticket ($94). The seats are wide and very comfortable, there’s tons of legroom, and they recline quite a bit. It’s easy to keep your carry-ons close by, as there is plenty of space by your feet, an overhead bin, and some sturdy shelving for anything that won’t fit in the overhead bin. You’re allowed two carry-ons and two “personal items” with you, and you can check four more suitcases, I think, though two carry-ons are all I need plus my small portable oxygen concentrator and my purse.

In coach, there are two big seats on each side of the aisle. There’s no armrest between seats, so if you’re lucky enough to have no seatmate you could curl up across both seats to sleep. There are two power outlets for every pair of seats. I kept my oxygen machine plugged in, and my seatmate and I shared my long iphone charging cable.

Sleep was possible. Not great for a side-sleeper like me, but possible. I slept well enough that I felt ok the next day. I had all my meds, snacks, books, and knitting handy.

I was very lucky that my seatmate wasn’t chatty, but if you are sociable, you’ll find lots of friendly happy travelers just waiting to make friends with you!

Although I asked for and was promised help managing my luggage and getting from the station to the train and vice versa, it was all quite disorganized and there was a lot of waiting about for someone in an electric cart to come get me. Other passengers were kind enough to carry my luggage up and down the stairs to my upper-floor seat, thank goodness.

I boarded my train on a Monday evening and arrived in Portland (the stop closest to Henry’s house) the next afternoon. I ate lunch in the dining car which was a thrill! Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer!

I spent most of my time just looking out the window at the beautiful mountain scenery and the day flew by.

For the return journey, hoping for better sleep and more help, I splurged on a “roomette” ($259), which is a teeny-tiny room with two big cushy seats facing each other, a huge window, and a sliding door (with window and curtain) to the aisle. The seats convert to a comfortable bed, and there’s a pull-down bunk for the second person, if two are traveling together. If you’re just one person, like me, there won’t be a stranger sharing your roomette. Just you. If you are traveling as a couple, the cost is not doubled — the roomette is one charge, and the actual travel ticket is another charge. So in my case it could probably be broken down to something like $165 for the roomette plus $94 for the travel ticket, so for two people it would have been $165 + $94 + $94. Make sense?

In a roomette there are lights, temperature controls, and ONE electrical outlet — next time I will pack a splitter!

It was a cozy little heaven. It was private and comfy, and I could partly recline my seat and put my feet up on the other one. People in sleeper cars are automatically traveling First Class, so there was MUCH more help for me! A Red Cap carried my luggage right to my roomette. I kept my bag full of oxygen stuff, meds, sleep needs, and amusements in my roomette and my other bag (clothes, shoes, spare meds) on the luggage shelf in my sleeper car.

The bathrooms in coach were perfectly adequate, but the sleeper car bathrooms were a couple notches nicer and there’s even a shower compartment for longer journeys!

Coach passengers must pay for their dining car meals (the food is quite good but pricey) but when you travel First Class all your meals are included — entree, drink, and dessert. There are maybe five or six choices per meal, including a vegetarian/vegan option if that’s your thing. I had a nice fresh salad for my lunch and salmon for dinner, with green beans and a baked potato. And flourless chocolate cake for dessert, which I took back to my roomette for a before-bed snack. Omg it was amazing.

Breakfast is a free-for-all, but they take reservations for lunch and dinner. If you’re in a sleeper car you get first dibs. :) A conductor comes along, asks when you’d like to eat, and gives you a slip of paper with your reservation time on it. On my northbound coach journey the train was PACKED so we filthy coach passengers were really last on the list — but I still got my lunch at around 12:45. :)

Here’s an amazing, wonderful, unexpected thing about train travel: it’s quiet. Or maybe not quiet, exactly, because you can hear some comfortable train-ish rattling and rumbling some of the time, and the far-off train whistle, but there’s no constant roar or hum or whine. All cars are quiet zones between 10pm and 6am, so even in coach it was very peaceful — and even when people were having conversations in the daytime, they weren’t shouting to be heard so it wasn’t annoying! In my roomette I heard only the right-and-proper clickity-clacking and the infrequent station stop announcements. I have EXTREME sensitivity to background noise so this low noise level was a huge benefit.

I slept very well in my roomette. I woke up a few times when the train was extra-rumbley or went briskly around corners, but I was very comfortable all night and felt well-rested when I woke up.

Also! After my train trips, I arrived at my destinations feeling cheerful and refreshed. When I fly, I arrive feeling exhausted and miserable.

Take the train, people. Take the train. Take the train while Amtrak is still operating, and write to your congressperson to support Amtrak’s continued existence, which I hear is on shaky ground. If you are disabled and need assistance, I do recommend that you splurge on a roomette if you possibly can. If you must travel by coach, find a conductor well before your stop and ask him or her to radio ahead for a Red Cap to assist you. (Even if you have already been promised that someone will be there to help you.)

Train travel is slower and more expensive than flying and driving but my goodness it’s so much more FUN! I literally looked out my window all day — mountains, forests, rivers, the backsides of tiny towns, the industrial zones of cities… there’s always something to see.

Since I found out that I have a very short amount of life remaining, my family and friends have asked if there’s anything I especially want to do in the time I have left. Up to now, I only wanted to stay home and be comfortable — but now I want to travel the country by train!

There are no great 1940s songs about Amtrak, so this will have to do:

(Fun fact: I am distantly related to the Atchisons of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railway)

8 comments » | Blog

The Libby App!

August 2nd, 2019 — 10:24am

Time for a post that isn’t about quilts and my health :) I need to tell you something amazing I discovered a few weeks ago!

There’s an app called Libby.

Install, help it find your library, and enter your library card info.

And then BOOM you can check out ebooks and audiobooks right there, instantly. You can listen to the audiobooks right in the app, with a well-designed little player whose features include offline play, bookmarks, easy scrubbing forward and back through the book, and a sleep timer.

If you want to read with your eyeballs, you can read in the app or — get this — you can have your book DELIVERED TO YOUR KINDLE INSTANTLY. I don’t like reading on my phone, which is what has stopped me from checking out library ebooks in the past, so this is thrilling to me!

The Libby app lets you filter your search in sensible ways. You can search by genre. You can search for audiobooks, ebooks, or both. You can search for titles that are available to check out instantly, or ones which are already checked out to someone else, in which case you can put a hold on the item and it will be checked out for you automatically (with an email notification) when the item becomes available.

I tell you, it is such luxury to think, hmm, I’d like to listen to a new crime thriller, let’s see what there is… and then 3 minutes later I’m listening while I sew. Or thinking, hmm, I’ve never read “The Devil Wears Prada”, I wonder if it’s on Libby? And then three minutes later I’m reading it on my kindle.

I installed the app on 6yo Em’s iPad and helped her to find picture books to read and kids’ audiobooks to listen to.

Of course, the selection is limited. It’s not EVERYTHING you can get physically at your library. But I don’t check out physical audiobooks at all, because I don’t own any kind of cd player, so this is the only way I’ve found to get free modern audiobooks. Librivox is awesome but sometimes you want to hear something that was published later than 1923 :)

Through Libby I discovered a fantastic police procedural series by Elizabeth George, starring Inspector Lynley and his pals. I’ve been listening to them non-stop for weeks :) They’re well-written, and very long (like, around 25 hours of audio each). They are perfect for bedtime listening too — not gory or scary, interesting without being too exciting. Just right to help my tired brain fall asleep, and of course I drop a bookmark when I go to bed, so in the morning I can back up to that point and not miss anything. There are 20 novels in the series so far, so if you like ’em as much as I do you’re set for a long time. I prefer the ones narrated by Donada Peters, which is most of them.

Oh! Also I recently listened to “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron. I think I found it on the “humor” shelf. It was read by Meryl Streep!!! She is an absolutely amazing narrator, and the book was great too. While I was listening, I thought, huh, this dialogue really reminds me of When Harry Met Sally. And then I found out that Nora Ephron wrote When Harry Met Sally :)

3 comments » | Audiobooks, Blog, Books

Happy August

August 1st, 2019 — 8:42am

Hi guys, it’s August and I’m still alive, yay! :) Thank you all so much for the sweet comments and emails. They cheer me up when I re-read them on bad days.

Let’s see here… what’s new. Last weekend I went to a Featherweight maintenance workshop put on by Dave of
Of course I already knew how to oil and grease my machine because I am Research Girl, but I also learned many other things, including how to clean out the bobbin casing and how to install a new belt — both of which were much-needed. My beautiful Featherweight is running smoother than ever! It was fun to be in a room with eleven other Featherweights, from the early 1930s to the mid 1960s. I believe mine was the only inherited Featherweight — all the others had been bought from collectors or thrift stores.

Healthwise, I am much the same. Every activity is exhausting and I spend most of my time in bed, but I can still get up and sew or read to Em on good days! We’re working our way through the Mary Poppins series. I’ll have recordings to share with you sometime soon.

Kirsten showed me a wonderful soothing game called Merge Dragons and I am obsessed. It has entertained me though several Tired Days recently.

Here are the things I’ve made recently:

Three Suki Robes,
two of cotton and one of a silk saree that I bought on etsy for $15! I live in these robes, over tanks and tees in the daytime and over nothing at all at night. I have serious temperature regulation issues and these robes let me adjust my warmth level by tiny increments.

Also made a couple pairs of undies (pattern is Bunte Punkte Panty from Klimpergross) and a couple of comfy tank dresses based on the Kirei Cami pattern. With POCKETS. The blue dress has badgers all over it!

And quilts, of course.

This one is the free “Summer Breeze” pattern, for Susan and Jack. Just finished it and am ready to mail it away. I made it slightly larger than the pattern shows.

I invented a pattern for my nephew John and his partner Kim, owners of a massive succulent and cactus collection. I was inspired by their Instagram photos of their cacti in bloom. :) This one is basted and ready to quilt, but I’m still considering how best to quilt it.

Oh, I also made a little quilted needle book. Pattern is by RetroMama on Etsy

And a couple of shopping bags made of leftover/practice quilt parts :)

Right now I’m piecing a quilt for my brother, so you can look forward to photos of that one next time.

1 comment » | Blog, Handmade

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