Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

May you find peace an joy this winter
No matter how/if you celebrate

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Last week, I had a birthday! The celebrating started a little early when we visited my family for Thanksgiving.  My Grandparents gave me delicious home-made cake and some nice gloves, and my parents gave me Downton Abbey Cookbooks!

Image Source: Amazon (1st book, 2nd book)

Closer to my birthday, I got the usual things: lovely cards, well-wishes on Facebook, etc.

Lovely Cards

My housemate Kate got me the TARDIS cookie jar I've been wanting forever. She and housemate Kira made cookies to go inside too. It lights up and makes noises when you close the lid. I smile compulsively every time I hear that "whoosh, whoosh"! (For the uninitiated, this is from the Dr. Who TV show. And by "uninitiated", I mean "not nerdy".)

Ooooo Eeeeee Oooooooo!

On the big day itself, I was home sick. No fun. But housemate Beth came to the rescue with cheesecake! Thank goodness it wasn't a stomach bug! (Yes, there are three housemates. I promise, no more.) 

Ambrosia from the gods

At the end of the day, it was time for my husband's big reveal. He's been nervously referencing his gift choice for weeks now. I was more intrigued than concerned by his worrying I might not like it. Still, when I opened the wrapping and saw this, I was at a loss for words:

Yes. Bidet. Here's the whole package unwrapped:

It attaches to the back of the toilet bowl between the seat and seat cover. 

What do you say to that? I mean really? Yes, I've been curious about them for a while. I read a great defense of the bidet this year on curbly. But for my birthday!? 

After the surprise wore off, I laughed for a long while. I am so glad to have such a quirky husband! How else would he be able to put up with all the wonky things I do? The best part by far is the operation instructions:

We have yet to install my birthday gift. Maybe I'll let you know how that goes. But one thing is for sure; these instructions are getting framed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Train Ride!

This Thanksgiving, my husband Shane and I needed to get from Pittsburgh to Omaha. So for the first time in my life, I took a train!
(Okay, it was actually my second. But a two-hour sight-seeing circuit in the Black Hills when I was seven hardly counts.)

Our first train departed from Pittsburgh at midnight. We took a city bus downtown, and followed Google maps to the Amtrak station. Google made it look like the station was in this beautiful building:

The Pennsylvanian
After a bit of walking, we figured out it's actually the parking-garage-looking thing in the lower left there. Here's a better picture:

I wish we'd taken one ourselves. This is from 2008 and doesn't do its scariness justice. At midnight, downtown Pittsburgh is nearly deserted. You'll notice there aren't any street lights in this picture. There were also no signs save for the logo on the roof there. Paint was peeling everywhere, and my husband compared the inside lobby to a poorly maintained prison waiting room.

On the bright side, security was a breeze! We took all of our Christmas presents for my family with us in an IKEA shopping bag. Many of the items were fragile, but they all made it to Omaha safe and sound.

On the train itself, we found our accommodations to be much friendlier. We got a sleeper car for the first leg of the trip. Here's the diagram from the Amtrak website:

Night and day set-ups for a sleeper roomette. Source
The thing I didn't think about is that the front of this image is a wall. That means that with the beds down and the door closed, the floor space was about two feet by six inches. Once I stopped giggling and my husband picked his jaw up off the floor-patch, we settled in nicely. 

An attendant knocked on the door before the train started moving and explained that he and another attendant would help us with anything we needed. There was a button built into the wall to summon them (which I affectionately think of as the "panic" button). Next to that was climate control for our room. And there was an endless supply of free juice and coffee at the top of the stairs. Did I mention there were two floors!? There were totally two floors.

I took the top bunk and slept well enough. I woke up every time we stopped or hit an especially bumpy section of track, but I think it was better than a chair would've been. It was certainly better than taking a car! Not pictured above is the net made of seat-belts which hooked into the ceiling to keep me from rolling out of bed. I thought it was silly at first, but I ended up waking a few times to make sure it was still there.

The next morning, we took turns dressing and freshened up in one of the tiny bathrooms. They're like smaller airplane ones, but there are more than enough to go around. Then we headed to the dining car for breakfast. I was very happy to find that it looked just like the "Snow" song scene from "White Christmas"!

"White Christmas" is a really fun old movie.
You should watch it sometime if you haven't before.
I think the word they used for the seating style was "communal" which has such a profound ring to it. What it really meant was that we got to talk the ears off of some stranger from Virginia while we ate. The food was like good diner food, which I found impressive considering it was prepared on a moving train. The prices seemed reasonable too, but breakfast was included with our sleeper car. 

The waitress was very nice. They had Scantron-style sheets for us to fill out with our orders, and she was patient about helping us figure them out. While we were eating, the attendant from the night before found us and told us he had tidied up our room! I think he would've put away the beds if we hadn't already done it ourselves. My deepest regret for the whole trip is that it wasn't until a full week later that I remembered we should have tipped the waitress* and the room attendant. Sorry Amtrak employees. We'll be better next time.

(*Correction: Shane tells me he did tip the waitress. Way to go, Hubby!)

Me in the sleeper after breakfast

After the first train arrived in Chicago, we had about five hours to kill. We rented a locker at the station and took to the streets. I'm a very worry-prone person, so I always have a binder full of maps and itineraries when we travel. Having good maps allowed us to wander without being lost!

Beautiful! Quaint! The Chicago train station was a refreshing contrast to Pittsburgh's.

I should mention that while the Chicago station was much prettier, it was also much larger and more crowded. The commuter trains go through here too, and we had to ford a river of morning rush travelers when we arrived. Later, we got lost twice trying to find our departure gate. They could probably do with a major make-over to improve traffic flow and seating space. 

We visited the bean (cloud sculpture) in Millennium park. Shane thought the underside reflections looked like the inside of a tornado! We looked in vain for a local coffee shop, and settled for one of the half a dozen Dunkin Donuts instead. We enjoyed authentic Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, and got back to the station with time to spare!

For the second leg of our voyage we traveled in coach. I didn't take pictures of it, but it was like super comfy/roomy airplane seating. Seriously roomy. I could stretch my legs straight out in front of me and not hit the next seat! The daylight journey made me more acutely aware of the occasional bumpy patches. I was surprised by how the bumps weren't an up-and-down feeling but a side-to-side sway. Daylight also provided more views of the countryside.

Views from the train

Our seats had their own electrical outlets! We watched several movies on our netbook to pass the time. Dinner was concession snacks and breakfast bars as we didn't need much after that giant pizza. Concessions were a bit spendier than I'd like, but they also had individual-serving-sized bottles of wine, so I was happy. Here's one of my favorite pictures from the trip, taken just before nightfall:

Rural Illinois at dusk.

We arrived in Omaha twenty minutes early. The station there isn't much to talk about. It was dingy, and remote, but I feel like it was more honest about it than Pittsburgh was somehow. Anyway, we didn't stay long because my grandpa and sister were waiting to pick us up.

We took a plane home because the Amtrak lay-over in Chicago would've been less long, and we no longer had Christmas gifts to transport. We threw out all of our toiletries at Grandma and Grandpa's. At the airport, we passed through the new security scanners, slightly increasing our chances of getting cancer. It was faster, and way less bumpy. But the train was roomy, and friendly, and charming. I think the two vehicles are about even in my book. What I choose in the future will depend on the kind of trip I'm taking. But from now on, I'll always try to make time for the train.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Neil Gaiman: An Evening of Stardust

Late last August, the four lovely people I live with and I bought tickets to see Neil Gaiman speak. There are few warm fuzzies as warm as a collective "squee" with four of your favorite folks! Mr. Gaiman is my favorite author, and I've been following his tweets for almost as long as there's been a twitter. On Nov 14th, (three Wednesdays ago) the long-awaited event took place; and it inspired me, in part, to make this blog.

The show (can we call it a show?) was hosted by "Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures" which is a joint venture of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. The main library branch and the natrual history/art museum(s) are neighbors. And sandwiched between them is the beautiful Carnegie Music Hall where the event was held.

Carnegie Music Hall Exterior
Before the show, three of us had dinner in the library. (They have special areas for food, and I'd brought Chipotle.) I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Gaiman had taken a tour of the place. (I dreamt of finding him reading in a tucked away corner somewhere.) My housemate who works there said she wasn't aware of him visiting though. That makes me a little sad, because he's such a huge fan of libraries and an advocate for their survival. This is the biggest, prettiest library I've been in, and I think he would like it.

Anyway, the theater is spectacular! I had never been inside before, but I have ogled the lobby from the Museum lobby, and I'd bought a post-card of it. If I were made of money, I would've had my wedding reception here. So Pretty!!

Blurry pictures of the lobby full of Gaiman fans

I was sort of surprised by how young the crowd was. But it's in the neighborhood where all the colleges are, so I guess that makes sense. There was also this fantastic sense of kinship. We were all here for Neil.

Blurry pictures of the theater proper

We arrived super early because our seats were the cheapo, general admission, top balcony kind. I was so excited that it didn't seem like waiting at all! We managed to score front row seats too! I think we had a better view than a lot of folks with spendier tickets, and I felt rather silly for wasting so much time hunting for my opera glasses.

Our view of the illustrious storyteller
(...making a weird face in my only non-blurry picture of him)
The event was called "An Evening of Stardust" because Gaiman wrote a book called Stardust. It's a lovely book which has been made into a swash-buckle-y movie. Originally published in 1997 as a graphic novel with illustrations by Charles Vess, it was later re-packaged as a plain old novel. This year it was released for the first time in hardcover.

Special 15th Anniversary Hardcover Edition

Neil told us how he wanted it to read like a book from 1922, and he asked his publisher to make this hardcover copy look and feel like that too. He read us a passage and told us about how he'd been inspired by a shooting star in the Arizona desert. I love listening to Mr. Gaiman read his books aloud!

Then he read us an excerpt from his newest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane which won't be out until June 2013. It was a special passage which had never before been shared with an audience! He explained that it involves characters he made up as a child, and as such, is a bit more personal than the things he's published before. I am super excited for this book! It is an adult book with a child protagonist, which may confuse some people. But it was charming, and surprising, and exciting, and very pleasantly weird.

After all this talking he took a few questions. Of these, I was most excited about news of his next Doctor Who episode. (It is easily my favorite TV show.) He shared a secret spoiler, and then asked all ~2,000 of us not to tell. I just did a quick Google, and it looks like no one has told yet. Now that's a fan-base!

After I got home, I sent @neilhimself a tweet. I told him it felt like he'd just sat down in my living room for a chat, and it's absolutely true. It wasn't a show. It was just a friendly storyteller doing what he does best.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Check out this post on my other blog about the speech this is taken from.

Hello World!

Since my other blog, BoredAdmin hit a monumental (sarcasm) 500 page-views today, it seems like a good time to start a second one!

Over there, I try not to talk about myself. This place will be different. Like a diary, but with less whining and pining. (But if Pinning is your thing, I've got that going on over here.)

I hope to be entertaining, and maybe funny or insightful. But I expect to be me. And I expect to have even less monumental numbers than I do at BoredAdmin. I also expect to be bad about updating regularly, especially at first. I apologize in advance for that now and I will try not to do so again.

So thank you for reading. Don't hesitate to give me feedback. Here goes!


My background image is from www.colourlovers.com/pattern/3091025/RedGrey_Damask and is used under creative commons license.

The bird image in my title piece is from http://graphicsfairy.blogspot.com/2010/05/free-vintage-clip-art-sweet-red-bird.html and is in the public domain.