Riding the Rails – A Modern Day “Gold Rush City”

Reading in our compartment, I felt the train slowing down, so naturally I stared out the window to see what I could see. I purposely was just going along for the ride and not tracking everyIMG_1743 moment on GPS like one couple or diligently following maps like many others. When the train came to a full stop, I spotted the sign for Williston, ND, right outside my window. Our crew had told us that the oil boom there was the cause for the increased delays in the last few years, so I perked up and got out my camera.

IMG_1738Imagine living in a town where the technology of hydraulic fracturing, first introduced in 2008, has made the state the country’s fastest growing economy. A town just under 8 square miles in size, where the population has doubled since 2010, and where there are the highest wages, worst housing shortages, and highest rents–a 700 square foot apartment averages $2,394.00 per month.

Imagine what that influx would do to your neighborhood.  Perhaps you saw The Overnighters on public TV last October. It’s a film by Jesse Moss that won the 2014 US Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking. I haven’t  seen it–we were on the train when it aired–but hear that viewing it was helpful to understand the many aspects of change that an oil boom can cause in a small town. A review says, “The Overnighters almost casually establishes a lingering sense of place, juxtaposing natural beauty against the blight of industry.”

Williston is 18 miles from the Montana/North Dakota border and 60 miles from the Canada/US border. Note the wide-open landscape in the following photos, and imagine what it’s like, both for long-term residents and newcomers, to adapt to the changes that the fracking industry has brought to their everyday lives: oil drilling, oil tankers, line-ups of new mobile homes–all drastically changing what once was.

I would have loved to stop, hang out in a coffee shop, and talk to the locals. But the best I could do was read more about this interesting town once I got home. I’ve cited some resources below.

Learning about other people who live in our own country, yet under very different circumstances than our own, I believe is the value of local travel. Somewhere I’ve read that exposure of this sort enriches us as a humanity and helps us develop empathy for all kinds of people. I agree.


City of Williston, North Dakota – Homepage.

Welcome to Williston, North Dakota: America’s new gold rush city | Cities | The Guardian.

What Life Is Like in Williston, North Dakota, the Most Expensive Place to Rent an Apartment in the US – ABC News.

‘The Overnighters’ shows dark side of North Dakota oil boom | Reuters.

Williston, North Dakota – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Have you ever felt stranded?

Lois Roelofs:

If you’re not aware of Palliative Care nurses, here’s a wonderful example from a blogging friend of mine what they can do for you. The whole you.

Originally posted on marysarthritis:

Have you ever felt stranded?  Sick …Painfully so…But did not know who to call. Maybe too sick to figure it out.

This happens a lot to those of us with autoimmune disorders. I am seeing many doctors, each a specialist who oversees a section of my body.  For me, I have a rheumatologist, an oncologist, an endocrinologist, an ENT Doc, an internist and a podiatrist. However, there is no one who looks at the total me.

This week I am in trouble. Things just are not working well enough. The protocols that are to be followed when I am in trouble are not working.  What do you do when your painful issue does not fall into the neat little slot of a specialty? When you are plainly worried that all is going to hell?  Who do you call? Unfortunately, not GHOSTBUSTERS.

Here’s what I did. Then I will tell…

View original 495 more words

Riding the Rails – Amtrak’s Empire Builder

Imagine being old and set in your ways and having to live out of a backpack. To me, backpacks are for books, but on our recent rail trip cross the US and Canada, we had no access to our suitcases while in transit on the trains. Imagine, then, living out of a backpack from the time we left home at noon on a Saturday until the following Tuesday at 1:30 a.m.

Our group at Chicago's Union Station ready to roll.
Group, ready to roll, at Chicago’s Union Station

Packing smart is mandatory, so I took along minimal stuff: two books, one magazine, one change of slacks, two changes of tops, a nightgown, some undies, one cosmetic bag with cosmetics and one with medication.

Consistent with being old, I’d had eye surgery a few weeks before traveling and an emergency molar extraction five days before, so my medication bag also contained eye ointments, drops, and pads and an irrigating syringe for the root canal sockets. The oral surgeon had warned me that “dry” sockets are not a good thing, and I, for sure, did not want my sockets to dry up.

IMG_0223Our roomette was 6 feet 6 inches long and 3 feet 6 inches wide. Two seats faced each other, flanking a picture window. At night, the two seats became a berth (6 feet 6 inches) and an upper berth (6 feet 2 inches) folded out from the wall.  There was just enough room to stack my backpack and my husband’s duffel bag on the floor between the lower berth and door. Of course, that left no standing room, but who needs to stand at bedtime?

When we were both seated, we alternated knees to avoid knocking them together. Otherwise, the space was comfortable, and we could slide a door shut and pull curtains that would give us privacy from passersby.

Restrooms and a shower were at the end of hallways. I was happy I did not encounter some Don Juan on my nightly trips dressed only in my black floral nightgown and black windbreaker with my bare feet in sandals. There was no room in my  backpack for a robe and slippers. I thought I looked stylish with my color-coordinated nightgown and jacket, but wouldn’t have wanted to take a chance meeting some exciting new man in my life while my husband hung on for dear life back in the top berth (a fish net thing hooked into both the berth and the ceiling caught potential falls).

IMG_0222We stopped over 30 times, most of the times while we were sleeping (due to delays, we missed daytime stops in Glacier), but the few times during the day when we were allowed out, we jammed the exits to escape, and I race walked the platform, trying to log as many steps as I could on my pedometer. Difficult to do, though, as stops were only five minutes, and maybe twenty minutes during refueling. My husband would use the time to stretch his limbs against the train car. Crew cheerfully cautioned us not to leave the platform, not to enter the station, and to listen up for the “all aboard’ announcements.

Once, in either Idaho or Washington, we were stopped for almost two hours. The Amtrak crew told us that some of their members had worked their twelve hours, so wherever we were at that IMG_0219point, we had to stop at exactly the twelve-hour mark and wait for replacements. They had notified their superiors about the time running out, but something must have gotten mixed up with availability of Amtrak crew, because we finally got crew from Burlington Northern (owner of the tracks). We were stopped at the edge of a town, so there was no getting out (at least legally) and exploring, so I made the most of the views. This charming blue home with a red roof was home to several cats. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you’ll see them lounging around on the front porch. I wondered what they thought of us: staring people on a stopped train, trying to find a distraction. Did they worry about us going nowhere when they had the freedom to scamper about? Or was this a common sight for them? Our presence didn’t seem to bother them, so maybe they were used to being the object of trapped people.

Moving down a few cars, I came upon this wonderful view of a lake. So peaceful. If I could have gotten out, I’d have loved to have taken along a hammock, strung it between some trees, and read a good book.

IMG_0220The day continued to slow down from there, time wise. The Empire Builder schedule says we were due in Seattle at 10:25 am on Monday. And, since we have children there and have been there many times, we had arranged to skip the three-hour tour of the city and meet up with our kids and a grandchild. As the delays heaped up, I texted. And texted. And texted. Until I finally told them to go ahead and eat lunch, then afternoon tea, then dinner, and we’ll see them in few months. We arrived in Seattle around 9:00 p.m and boarded a bus immediately for Vancouver, Canada.

Because the Amtrak crew had not planned on us after breakfast that Monday, we were offered hot dogs, hamburgs, or canned stew around 1:00 p.m.  The next time we ate was when our bus stopped at a McDonald’s at 11:00 p.m. Those of us that wanted food hustled out in the rain. I was very hungry for something other than carb snacks, so bought a chicken salad. We had to keep moving along, so we ate on the darkened bus. Try successfully stabbing salad pieces in something like a closet with the door closed. Without spilling. Since some were trying to sleep, I didn’t want to turn the light on and was thankful that a man kiddy-corner from me was reading from his lighted iPad, allowing me to aim my fork for the plastic container and not my thighs.

Imagine then, after a stop at customs where we all had to get out, how overjoyed we were to reach our lovely hotel in Vancouver, the Blue Horizon, at 12:45 a.m. With our suitcases finally arriving atIMG_0224 1:30 a.m. and instructions to have them out for pickup by 8:30 a.m., we fell into bed for one of the most luxurious half-nights I’ve spent in my life.

I think it was about that time that our fearless group started using the word “adventure” to describe this trip. Those really wanting to see Seattle had to be satisfied with only a fleeting view of the Space Needle as we bussed up I-5 in the dark rain of night.

To be continued!


Riding the Rails — Bonuses Galore

If you’ve been looking for the trip of a lifetime, do I have the trip for you. We’re just home from a 12-day Trans American/Canadian rail trip that I want to tell you about in the next few posts. But, first, and most importantly, I want to tell you in the most positive way that if you are thinking of making this a dream trip of yours, now is the time to do it. Our trip was full of bonus experiences. The biggest being that we had over twenty extra hours on the rails that we didn’t have to pay for! Imagine something FREE in today’s economy!


Now, in railroad terminology, these extra hours are called delays. Seems the railroads value oil and grain much more than folks named Ollie and Granny. You see the latter don’t make them any money, so which train cars do you think get to sit on side tracks while the money-makers get the right-of-way?

Another grand bonus is you don’t even have to see the cities you signed up to see! You can just skip the notion that you will see Seattle, Toronto, or Montreal, because all the bonus hours on the train ensure that you arrive too late to see those cities. They also ensure that you only get four to five hours in the really nice hotels that are included. But why would you want more time in a luxury hotel with a thick bed and thick linens and thick pillows when you can enjoy paper-thin mattresses and limp-noodle linens and pancake-flat pillows on some trains?

You just remind yourself you didn’t really want to waste time sleeping on this vacation anyway, nor did you want to waste time walking anywhere when you can just sit, idling on tracks, and stuff your face with bran muffins, short bread cookies, and some nondescript semi-sweet eatable discs (available for FREE for the lucky sleeper car folks).

You don’t even have to think about getting your 10,000 steps in each day because there aren’t even that many steps to be had in the two sleeper cars in which you are quarantined, along with lurching visits to the observation or dining cars.


I say lurching because often rails are uneven in height and are not continuous, so if you’re really lucky, you can come home with free black and blue marks on your shoulders and sides from bouncing between the walls as you attempt to move from Point A to Point B. I said FREE again. Did you catch that?


Honestly, I can truly say, you won’t know what you’re missing unless you try it! Sign up now! I’ll be telling more positives, actually real positives, later. But for now think bonuses: extra hours, tasty carbs, and colorful bruises. What’s not to like?

Fall Brings Horses of Honor to Michigan Ave – 2014

Many surprises await walkers on Michigan Avenue. After having cows and sofas in the past, you will now find horses. Not live ones, but sculptures, tributes to Chicago Police Department officers killed or disabled in the line of duty since 1853.







And more. Plus, fall flora shouts from the median strips:


And pumpkins and scarecrows beckon along the sidewalk:


And more changing of the leaves amaze at Millennium Park:


All too soon, those leaves will fall. A few boats are still in the harbor. It won’t be long until they travel down the Chicago River to dry dock for the winter.

I’m not ready to get ready for winter. And, since we don’t have to rake leaves like we did in the suburbs with sixteen oak trees on our lot (or should I say my husband doesn’t have to), I can simply saunter up and down Michigan Avenue and enjoy its splendor, while honoring the services and sacrifices of our police department…along with all the visitors that enjoy our city.

Come! With the crispness in the air, it’s a refreshing time of year.


See more horses at http://www.horsesofhonor.com/gallery/

With Gratitude to God…

One of our brothers-in-law passed away suddenly last week, and, just like that, many lives stopped to mourn, and we found ourselves traveling across Wisconsin to attend his funeral. We were comforted by the muted colors and tranquility of the changing leaves, splashing across the forested backdrops of fields at this time of harvest.


As we drove along hour after hour winding through the rolling hills, I could not help but hum along to a favorite song on CD, How Great Thou Art:

  • Verse 1:
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
  • Verse 2:
When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
(Repeat Refrain.)
  • Verse 3:
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin:
(Repeat Refrain.)
  • Verse 4:
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

Our brother-in-law, George Sportel, joined our family later in life when he married my husband’s sister Marcella. The couple was seventy-ish at the time. God gave them, and us as family, thirteen years with this gentle man whom every one loved and who loved the Lord and lived out his life showing his humor and warmth and grace to all.


We last saw George on Labor Day weekend. When we left, he hugged me and said his famous line, “See you, kiddo. Thanks for coming. We sure do appreciate it.”

Me too.


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_Great_Thou_Art


Fall, Millennium Park, Chicago – 2014

2014-10-05 13.43.37

Yes, I know we feel like summer has passed us by, but it is time to enjoy this season of change. Fall is on its way. The Chicago Marathon yesterday. The nippier temperatures. The leaves changing outside our window.

I didn’t know that leaves on top of trees change color first until we moved into our high rise nine years ago. See the photo above taken a week ago Sunday, the 5th.

2014-10-08 06.55.19

And, I rarely get a chance to photograph the sunrise. The reason is obvious. Even though many days bring breathtaking views, I’m still asleep. But last Wednesday, the 8th, I happened to be up long enough to grab my camera…before I went back to bed.

2014-10-12 12.09.39

Yesterday’s view, Sunday, the 12th, showed a lot more redness than a week ago. Boats are still in the harbor, though, so a remnant of summer is still here. I plan to hang on to those summery pictures in my mind while starting to pay attention to the new ones that fall brings. And to thank God for the beauty in our changing seasons.

I hope you do too.