Charmed Living

Month: September 2017

Come along for a breathtaking ride on the lavish Empire Builder

Come along for a breathtaking ride on the lavish Empire Builder.

Prince Charming and the gleaming Empire Builder

So many of you responded to the Facebook posts about riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder out west I thought I’d write about the first leg of our journey.

Go pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in, this is a long post.

Prince Charming grew up riding the rails during the heyday of rail travel in the 1950’s.  He remembers the romance of the observation car, sitting with his father and the other men in business suits smoking cigars and drinking whiskey in the smoking car, falling asleep to the gentle rocking of the train.

As we discussed our plans to travel west for a late summer/early fall trip, we opted for travel by train.  From our home in Iowa, we’d need to catch the train in either Chicago or Minnesota.

Downtown Seattle skyline

Ferry dock downtown Seattle.

It was a two-night train ride to Seattle, our final destination.  The Empire Builder stops makes two stops in Glacier National Park which has long been on our wish list of travel destinations.

Coach or Sleeper?

The wonderful thing about living with Prince Charming is that he’s such a romantic.  However, sometimes his romanticism gets in the way of reality.  He was all for riding the train just as he had as a child: in coach!

Woman boarding train

My romantic notions of train travel

I had a much more romantic (expensive) notion in mind.  I imagined being ensconced in my private car. Cary Grant in the next sleeper, eyeing me as I passed through the swaying, narrow passage.

After our flight to and from Europe in June, it wasn’t hard to convince P.C. that the wisest and most romantic choice for us was the sleeper.  We opted for the “Superliner Roomette”.


The Roomette is 3.6 x 6.6. It has two comfortable seats on either side of a large picture window.  The seats fold out to a bed and a bunk lowers from the ceiling.

It looks like this:

Superliner Roomette

Photo courtesy Amtrak

If you wonder if you’d like riding like this. Push two comfortable kitchen chairs together, facing each other. Take a TV tray and put it between you and that’s about how much room you’ll have.

While the description says you have room for two adults and two bags, it’s not true.  There is NO room for luggage. We learned this only after boarding.

On our return trip we will pack a small overnight bag, checking the rest of our luggage. The small bag will sit on the step I’ll use to climb up and down to the bunk.  That’s right.  I’m sleeping in the upper bunk.

I often wonder about the power dynamics in a relationship and what determines who sleeps in the upper or lower bunk.  It was decided that I should sleep in the upper. P.C. claims I’m more agile, need to get up during the night less and am a better sport about inconveniences than he is. I take my compliments where I can get them.

Checking in

Arriving night train

Empire Builder pulling into station at Red Wing, MN

We got on the train around 9 p.m. in Red Wing, MN.  We chose Red Wing because we wouldn’t have to negotiate the St. Paul/Minneapolis traffic and parking cost less. The sign telling us to “register” ourselves and our car with the local police surprised.

The sheriff sent two polite, young officers out to “interview” us.  Where were we going? How long would we be there? Who were we seeing? Relieved when we passed muster, they gave us our free parking pass to a parking area about a block from the station.

“Park under the overhang in case we have a hail storm while you’re gone,” one officer directed us.

We arrived in Red Wing early, planning to have a lovely dinner near the Mississippi River from one of the fine dining establishments downtown.  But waiting for the police to arrive and going through the interview process ate up all of our dinner time.  So we grabbed a quick bite and ate in the train station.

About 30 to 40 minutes prior to the train’s arrival the station fills with passengers. Eight of us waited with the giddy anticipation of adventure.

Waiting to board

P.C. guards the bags on the platform

An older gentleman from Red Wing, I didn’t think to get his name, visits the station daily for the 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. arrivals. He comes to bless those arriving and departing.  He enjoys finding out whether you are going or coming and offers a specific blessing either praising your safe return home or wishing you well on your journey.

The ride

The train moves in with a whoosh, just as you’d imagine.  Two figures stepped off the train and called out our names.  We were introduced to Dorothy, our porter for the next two days.

Dorothy’s been working on Amtrak for 15 years.  She’s efficient, cheerful, and competent.  She had us tucked into our quarters, relieved of our bags and the beds made up within the first half hour. Once nestled in my bunk, Dorothy poked her head in to “strap me in.”


Passengers exit train to stretch their legs

That’s right! A bonus of sleeping in the upper bunk is that you are strapped in each night.  The upper bunk sways more, and the train bounces enough to bounce the person sleeping in the upper bunk right out of bed.  The strapped saved me twice once each night on our two-night journey. Comparing notes with my fellow upper bunk travelers, I learned I wasn’t the only one “saved” by Dorothy’s straps.

Amtrak conductor

Amtrak Conductor mingles with passengers at a stop

Amtrak provides the bedding, a small travel pillow, sheets, and a thin wool blanket. If you get cold at night or want more head support bring an extra pillow and blanket or shawl.

Exploring the train

Before we bedded down for the night, we explored the train.  The sleeping cars were sold out.  In fact they put us in the crew car towards the engine. We peeped into the “Superline Bedrooms” as we tried to get our “train legs” exploring the rest of the train.

All sleeper cars have a long privacy curtain and a metal door with a glass window. We found we got better air circulation and adequate privacy during the day by leaving the curtain closed and the door opened.

The bedrooms are much larger, 6.6′ x 7.6′ and include a sink, toilet and shower in the room.  Everyone in the same car shares a toilet, sink and shower in the Roomette.

No matter how luxurious my accommodations I always want just a little more….a little more room, a private bathroom. How I coveted that private bathroom!

Next we walked through the darkened coach cars with people trying to sleep or talking quietly. The privacy and quite of my roomette seemed grand enough.

The dining staff were doing their final clean-up for the night as we walked through.

Amtrak bar car

Celebratory drink in bar car. I know, it looks like a Scandinavian murder mystery. Is P.C. the hero or villain? Definitely the hero of this story.

We found the bar car below the observation car, had a quick celebratory bourbon. And then made our way back to Roomette #19. Our home for the next two nights.

In the middle of the night I got up and crawled in with Prince Charming to warm my feet up and watch the North Dakota fields and the stars pass by the window.

Sunrise in North Dakota

Sunrise in North Dakota


Morning came and breakfast. Meals are included in the price of the sleeper cars. They fill every table, which guarantees you’ll meet new people. We sat with three different couples (one couple twice) for our two breakfasts, one lunch and dinner on the train.

It’s fun meeting your fellow travelers and exchanging stories. The young couple we met our last breakfast had left families and jobs behind in Indiana for a two-month bike ride from Seattle to Los Angeles!

Eastern Montana

Eastern Montana

You can relax and enjoy the vastness of our country, the changing topography. We dozed, we read, we listened to NPR on the phone.

We spent about an hour in the observation car, but found we liked the privacy and quiet of our little nest back at Roomette #19.

King Station Clock

King Station Clock

Before we knew it, two nights passed and we arrived at the beautiful King Station in downtown Seattle.

Have you ridden a train?  How was YOUR trip?  Tell me about your trip in the comment section below.

Stay-tuned for Part 2: Riding the Rails to Glacier and Home.

  • Sunrise in North Dakota
    Sunrise in North Dakota

Empire Builder: Part One

  • Sunrise in North Dakota
    Sunrise in North Dakota

Friday Flower

From my home garden

This week’s Friday Flower is the hydrangea.

This one blooms in my front garden.  It’s a happy accident that the rose bushes in front of the bush mingle with the cone shape of the hydrangea flowers.  Lovely, no?

This is the small tree form of the hydrangea.  I have loads of hydrangea bushes too.

Deep shade garden

These live in an area of the garden so deeply shaded and wet that before I planted these NOTHING grew here.

The hydrangea’s with over 70 varities means you can find just the right fit for almost any  gardening condition from dry to wet and full sun to deep shade.

The hydrangea also sports a number of different flower shapes and sizes from the lacy,

from Marijo’s garden

to the mop head.

Mop head variety from Davids garden

Hydrangeas are typically white. But by playing with your soil’s ph you can get a range of color from blue, purple, and pink.

Hydrangea have the added benefit of blooming from June till frost, making them a great performer in your garden beds.

Have a fabulous weekend wonder ones!

  • Deep shade garden

Occasionally my sweet niece, Melynda, sends me packages of goodies.

Usually the packages arrive as a surprise filled with interesting articles, magazines, clothes and tidbits.

Melynda knows I hate to shop. When I say, “I hate to shop”; I mean I’ll wear rags before I darken the door of store. A root canal sounds like more fun than shopping. Melynda is my own personal Stitch Fix.

Yesterday the newest package arrived. Full as usual of fabulous clothes that fit! Better than the clothes, were three lovely notes. (If you like notes too, read this post about notes from Megan.)

There was the Grand Opus, a four-page letter written over several days.

Melynda changed ink color as the days changed so I could keep track.

She has such pretty hand-writing, don’t you think?

Melynda has a lovely writing style, full of news from family, her “doings”, new ideas to talk over the next time we see each other, what she finds interesting reading right now, and updates on her garden.

Before this letter arrived, I’d been remembering the letters Grandma used to write. She’d pour a cup of coffee, sit at the kitchen table with several sheets of paper and write to family and friends.

What a joyful way to spend 20, 40 or 60 minutes. Thinking about someone you love and writing to them strengthens our bonds.

I’ve got a million excuses why I can’t write the letter. Starting with my handwriting. My handwriting isn’t as beautiful as Melynda’s, but it is legible.

I worry I don’t have much to say of interest. Melynda’s letter shows me that when we’re close to someone, whatever she’s interested in, we find fascinating.

It’s such a pleasure to receive a letter. But I find it difficult to find time for such an endeavor. I think Melynda shows us how to do it! Just grab a lovely piece of paper and write for five or ten minutes. Who says a letter should be written at one sitting?

The cards that she tucked in are a delight too.

I adore this from Mary Emerling’s Home Companion Magazine. It is “darling” as Melynda writes. The hand-written note says, “And a magical summer was had by all.”

This lovely Imagine card is such a delicious visual treat!

And so full of news.

One of the great joys of my friendship with Melynda is that even though we live hours apart and visit each other only a couple of times a year, we are often thinking and doing the same things which we only discover when we see each other or send a note or email.

Melynda’s package full of lovely notes arrived on the same day that the note cards I’d ordered using my watercolors arrived from the printer!

I’d sent out three notes that very morning.

I’d love to drop you a line. Send me an email at with your name and physical address and email address (all three please!) and I’ll send you a note on one of my new cards.

The Friday Flower this week are these lovely Dahlias. This is the first year that I’ve grown Dahlias. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I planted a mix of forced bulbs and bare bulbs. The forced bulbs flowered all summer.

Here are the dahlia’s growing in the garden.

The bare bulbs just started blooming mid-August, normally a quite time in the garden. What a fabulous pop of color.

Our friend Barbara recently gifted me with a treasure trove of sweetly embrodiered hankies, scarf runners and hand towels. I’m using them to anchor my Friday flowers on the little kitchen table in the nook.

I’ve been putting my Friday Flowers on these sweet hand embroderied hankies, a gift from dear friend Barbara.


The Dahlia is related to sunflowers, zinnia, daisy and chrysanthemum. I love sunflowers, unfortunately so do the rabbits, after several tries I’ve given up on sunflowers. The good news is the rabbits ignore the dahlias!

The only downside to the dahlias is that they are annuals here. Which means either I have to dig up all those tubers in a couple of weeks, or let them rot and plant new next spring. My success rate in digging, drying and replanting tubers isn’t very good. So far I’ve failed every time. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks if the angels of my better nature want to try again.

  • Deep shade garden

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