An Amtrak Train Trip Vacation…Reviewed by my Teenager!

Manic:  My son’s schedule with honors classes, travel hockey, Student Council, National Jr. Honor Society, ushering at our church and more!

Managed:  He got away from it all and took a very special trip with his Grandparents on an Amtrak train.  And he offered to blog about it for us, so check out what he wrote and consider taking an Amtrak train vacation!

Jack says:








This past Spring Break, my grandparents and I took a train trip.  For those of you who don’t know much about trains and are thinking “why would they do that” think again.  It was one of the best weeks of my life and being with my easy-going grandparents only made it that much more special.

Our trip began back on the Friday before Spring break.  Though the getaway had been in the books for months, I was anxious, excited, and not knowing what to expect.  I had ridden the Amtrak trains before, but only for a couple hours.

During our trip, we planned to travel 2,685 miles across the western United States.  My grandparents live in southern New Mexico, so I flew from Phoenix to El Paso, TX.  After spending a night at their house, we headed back to El Paso to board our first train.  Our plan was to travel from El Paso to Los Angeles, CA.  From there we would transfer trains and head north from LA to Sacramento.  After spending two nights there, we would head back west to Denver and spend a couple nights there.  Finally, after almost exactly a week, I would fly home from Denver to Phoenix and resume my normal life.

So we were off and we boarded our first train, the Sunset Limited, at the El Paso Union station and embarked on our adventure!  Once aboard, and over my initial excitement, I decided to explore our 8 car long train.  The train had 2 locomotives at the front, followed by three sleeping cars, a dining car, a lounge/sightseeing car, and four coach cars.  Since the first leg of our trip was overnight, we paid extra to be in a sleeper.  The room was roomy enough for three people, and windows on either side gave everyone a chance to see the desert scenery.

Soon, we left our room and moseyed our way to the dining car for dinner.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the dining car.  From the first meal to the last (and the countless number in between), not once was I disappointed with my meal.

After dinner we returned to our car for the night.  With just a press of a button, the porter for our car came and turned our chairs into beds.  My grandparents slept on the lower beds and I slept on the bunk.  Never was I worried about falling, for harnesses banked the side of my bunk, and the slight rocking motion of the train instantly put me in a deep sleep.

The next morning, we detrained at the historic Los Angeles Union Station in downtown LA.  The building was massive and very elegant.  Added with the rush of a weekday morning, I found a seat and took in my surroundings. It wasn’t long before we had to catch our next train, the Coast Starlight.





Walking along the Coast Starlight, my favorite Amtrak train!

Ah, the Coast Starlight, Amtrak’s most elegant train.  The seaside route provided breathtaking ocean views while you sit back in the lap of luxury.  From the Pacific Parlor Car, to even the simplest coach seat, this train had it all. 


Maybe the most memorable part of the trip though, wasn’t the lavish seats or the amazing views, but meeting a young Amtrak waiter.

After our first encounter, when I “took charge” and decided when our dinner reservations should be, our waiter, Dustin took right to me.  By the end of dinner, we had chatted with him and a San Francisco mom we had met over the meal, for almost three hours!

Don’t think that this was the only pleasant employee we met.  Almost everyone that assisted us was not only friendly, but open to talking or giving us anything we need.  My only thought, “My mom would love chatting with them.”

Finally, it was time for the final leg of our journey.  After arriving in Sacramento and exploring California’s capital, it was time to get back on the road.  The California Zephyr would be the name of our last carrier.

After seeing desert and ocean, the only type of scenery yet to be found was the mountains.  The Zephyr resolved that “conflict” by going through not one, but two mountain ranges (the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies).  We saw snow, peaks, and followed along the banks of the Colorado River.  The scenes I saw were unforgettable.  After climbing, descending, and going through five mile long tunnels, we reached the heart of Colorado.

Denver was great, and a quick visit to Golden, Colorado (best known for being the home of Miller Coors corp.) made everything magnificent.  Unfortunately, our getaway didn’t last forever, and before I knew it, I was boarding the blue Southwest plane that would take me home.  I said my goodbyes to my Grandma and Pop Pop, and walked down the jet way to return home.  A week I would never forget was over, but exceeded my wildest expectations!


Amtrak Review:

Hopefully  this article has got you interested in train travel as a future vacation.  Here is my review of the Amtrak experience.


  • On-time: You may have heard rumors that Amtrak is never on time.  We rode three different trains, and never did we arrive at our destination more than an hour late.  For train travel that’s great.  And if you are in a hurry, the train ISN’T the way to go.
  • Service: I couldn’t believe all the friendly employees that I met during our trip.  Dustin was only one prime example of the Amtrak spirit.  Our porters, waitresses, and conductors treated us with respect and helpfulness.
  • Amenities: The amenities on the train were better than I expected, but not over exciting.  For sleeping car passengers, showers are available.  Though the showers aren’t as easy while moving, the results were the same as if I was at home.  Bathrooms were numerous, outlets accessible to everyone, and lounge cars had snack bars with various Pepsi products, snacks and small meals.
  • Comfort: Ample leg room on coach cars, soft beds in sleepers.  The comfort of the train is second to none.  You can relax, have a drink of any sort, and take in your surroundings.  If you are looking for a peaceful, beautiful getaway, the train is a great option. 

If you are looking for a relaxing way to travel, or take in amazing sights, the train is the way to go!  I highly recommend an Amtrak train trip!

 ***A big thank you to my son, Jack for writing this terrific review.  I am a proud Mama!  And a huge thank you to Grandma and Pop Pop for taking our son on such a special trip!  This trip was taken on the Grandparents’ dime with no compensation from Amtrak.  The opinions are 100% owned by my teenager!***

Does Your Pediatrician Do This?

Manic:  Discovering that our long-time pediatrician had retired!  And this was at the start of the school year last August!

Managed:  Asking my great gal pal, Liz who she takes her kids to see, and wow…what an amazing doctor!  I have to tell you about her because if your pediatrician isn’t doing this, you should be doing it yourself.  Read on to see what I mean!

We loved our pediatrician.  My kids adored him, so we were surprised to find out that he had left the practice.  Really surprised, so now with the new school year in full swing, I had to quickly find a new doctor for my now teen and tween.  I really had needed to find a new doctor, only because our beloved physician was quite the drive from our home.  But we loved him that much.  Would we find a new doctor that our entire family liked that much?  Well, I knew who to ask and that is my good friend, Liz!

She has two kids the exact same age of my two and through the years we had taken our babies to infant massage together, supported them through their church confirmations and most recently attended the big high school orientation.  So she looks for the same qulities I do when it comes to the folks who care for our kids.

Without hesitation, Liz told me that Dr. Diane Matsumoto with TLC Pediatrics was the pediatrician of choice in our neighborhood and wow, was Liz right!  At the first physical, Dr. M. took her time with both of my kids and really listened to their questions and concerns.  And she knows how to get the teens talking.  That is important!  Now here is what she did that I’m wondering if your pediatrician does….

When it was time for my oldest, my teenage son, she asked little sister to step out of the room.  She then asked my boy if I could stay or if he wanted Mom to step out, too.  Lucky for me, he said that I could stay.  After the physical exam, she asked my son a few questions…

1.  Do you do drugs or smoke pot?

Whoa, I thought!  He doesn’t do those things.  He is a straight A student in honors courses and he is very committed to his hockey team, too. 

He told her no, that he has no interest in that stuff.

She then looked at me and told me that she has to ask that question because she is seeing a lot of that with today’s teens.  Fair enough, I thought.  And then I realized that these are questions that I should be asking, too….even if I’m sure that he doesn’t do any of that and even if it makes me uncomfortable to ask those questions.

2.  Do you have a girl friend?

I thought to myself, no, not yet, thank goodness. 

He kind of smirked and told her no.  She then went on to tell us that even if he wasn’t ready to ask a girl out yet, to know that the girls are indeed interested in him and to be aware of that, Mom.

This I know because I have a girl, too!  Again, another good topic to discuss, just so he knows that when he does become interested in a girl, we can talk about it.

3.  Do you have a Facebook page?

When he answered yes, her next question was for me…..was I a friend on his Facebook page and do I check it?  Yes, I told her and I let her know that we didn’t allow him to have a Facebook until he turned 13, which is Facebook’s minimum age.  She liked my answer.

4.  Do you have a cell phone that you text on?

Yep, he told her and again she directed her next question to me….do you check his texts, Mom?  I sure do, I told her.  And then I realized that it was pretty cool that she was asking me these questions in front of him so that he knows that we check his phone, his Facebook and that it is our job to ask questions during the tricky teen years.

So, after his exam concluded, little sister came in for her turn.  Since she is younger, she didn’t get the same questions.  The conversation turned to sugar.  How did Dr. M. know that my girl loves and sneaks sugar?  She explained to my little lady that her plate should be 50% fruits and veggies and very little sugar.  Thank you Dr.M.  My girl gets tired of hearing that from me, so it was nice to have her doctor tell her this.  And it got my tween thinking about her food choices.  Good stuff!

So does your pediatrician do this?  With the world we live in filled with drugs, bullying and more, these are important questions to ask your teens and tweens and having a good dialogue with your kids helps to guide them to make good decisions.

Kudos to Dr. Matsumoto with TLC Pediatrics!  Oh and did I mention that she has five kids?  That experience certainly helps!  I do believe that it takes a village and so far, my kids are behaving pretty darn good, but we take it day by day and we remember to ask questions and communicate with our precious children.

Stand Up to Bullying

Last week was No Name Calling Week and the post, that our writer Lisa Walton wrote, received a strong response from other parents and teachers who want to put a stop to name calling and to bullying.  We received a letter from one of our readers named Sarah Fudin.  She emailed us with a request to share this graphic below.  Take a look and do what you can to help put an end to bullying.  Being educated about this severe problem is a great place to start.  Read below for some startling statistics and some signs to look for if you think someone you know is either being bullied….or is doing the bullying…..

Bullying Awareness Week took place two months ago and the theme, “Stand Up!” (to bullying) must continue to resonate with our teachers, students, parents and within our own communities.  So take a look at this and share with others and thank you, Sarah for sharing this very important information with


School Bullying Outbreak MAT@USC
Via [email protected]: Masters in Teaching

Parents Read This! No Name Calling Week Is This Week reader and school teacher, Lisa Walton, asked me if she could write this week’s post about an important initiative happening this week called No Name Calling Week.  With all of the articles that I see about the problems with bullying, I readily agreed that this is a good topic to write about.  So read on for some good information on what to do if this becomes an issue at your child’s school or at your kid’s after-school activity location, because it can happen anywhere and at any time.

Lisa says:

Sticks and stones

may break our bones,

but names

will break our spirit.


“No Name-Calling Week” was inspired by a young adult novel entitled “The Misfits” by popular author, James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Motivated by the inequities they see around them, the “Gang of Five” (as they are known) create a new political party during student council elections and run on a platform aimed at wiping out name-calling of all kinds. The No-Name Party in the end, wins the support of the school’s principal for their cause and their idea for a “No Name-Calling Day” at school.

Motivated by this simple, yet powerful idea, the No Name-Calling Week Coalition, created by GLSEN and Simon & Schuster Children’s publishing, consisting of over 40 national partner organizations, organized an actual No Name-Calling Week in schools across the nation. The project seeks to focus national attention on the problem of name-calling in schools, and to provide students and educators with the tools and inspiration to launch an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate name-calling in their communities.

Ideas for Celebrating No Name-Calling Week

Wondering how you can participate in “No Name-Calling Week” events for this year?  Here is a list of hands-on and ready-to-use ideas for ways to take part in eliminating name-calling and bullying.  These can be done at your school, community center, neighborhood, youth group, or even in your own family.


  • Have students/children write any names they’ve been called that made them feel bad on paper, and then together shred those papers and dispose of them.
  • Have children cover a large cut-out of a person with post-it notes that list names that make people feel good or that people like to be called.
  • Simplify the ideas behind No Name-Calling Week into easy-to-use phrases such as “We don’t say that,” or “We don’t do that.” Model using these phrases when name-calling or bullying occurs so that they become entrenched in the culture of the school, community or household.
  • Create posters and display them on bulletin boards, in the hallways, or in the cafeteria of school or places in your community.
  • Read poetry or stories that show positive behavior, kindness and tolerance.
  • Wear/Pass Out heart stickers that remind people to “Be Kind.”
  • Create name-tags with their given name to remind everyone to call people what they ask to be called, not by other names.
  • Assign each day of the week as a theme day for one of the “Pillars of Character.” Encourage students/children to wear the color of the day.
  • Make bracelets to represent a commitment to not call names.
  • Create “Kindness (Paper) Chains” to string around the building, school, or house.
  • Have coaches or PE teachers discuss sportsmanship
  • Involve parents & friends by informing them of No Name-Calling Week and encouraging them to share their own ideas with their children about how people should treat each other.
  • Let children produce and star in skits, poems, stories and puppet shows for a No Name-Calling Week show that they can present at school, at home or in the community.

Books for Children & Teens Related to Name-Calling


“Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully” by Audrey Penn






“Chrysanthemum”  by Kevin Henkes





“Hooway for Wodney Wat”  by Helen Lester





“Blubber” by Judy Blume

“Bullies are a Pain in the Brain” by Trevor Roman





“Loser” by Jerry Spinelli





“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson





“The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier





“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton







About the Author…Lisa Walton:

Lisa Walton–Parenting tips
Valley Teacher and Mother

Lisa Walton has been a teacher in the Valley for over 18 years. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Deaf Education from Illinois State University; and Master’s Degree in Special Education from Arizona State University.  She currently works as an itinerant teacher, collaborating with regular education teachers in the public schools.

Read more about Lisa on our team bio page



Childhood Depression: Know the Signs writer Lisa Walton takes on a difficult topic today and she does a great job with it.  Read on to learn about the signs of childhood depression because our kids don’t come with manuals and they don’t come with revised manuals when they become teenagers, either.  Lisa did her homework and learned about signs we parents should watch for in our kids because childhood depression can happen to any kid and to any family.

Lisa says: 

Our community is still reeling from the news of a local middle school student who took his own life a few weeks back.  It gave many educators, parents, and students pause for thought.  It breaks my heart to think of what that family is going through, and it really forces you to take a closer look in your own home.  This could have happened to any one of us.  Would we know the warning
signs?  What’s the difference between normal childhood moodiness and childhood depression?

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, about 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression at any given point in time. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attention, learning, behavior or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

The behavior of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behavior of depressed adults. Psychiatrists advise parents
to be aware of signs of depression in their youngsters.

Know the Signs

If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness
  • Persistent boredom; low energy
  • Social isolation, poor communication
  • Lack of enthusiasm or motivation; low energy and chronic fatigue.
  • Low self esteem, feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns (i.e. significant weight loss, or insomnia)
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Recurring thoughts or expressions of death, suicide or self destructive behavior
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

Clinical depression is more than just “the blues” or having a bad day.  It is different from the feelings of grief or sorrow that might follow a major loss, such as a death in the family. It’s not a personal weakness or flaw of their character.  Children and
teens with clinical depression cannot simply “snap out of it”.

Depression is a form of mental illness that affects the whole body.   It influences the way a person feels, thinks and acts. If left untreated, depression can lead to school failure, alcohol or drug use, and even suicide.

What Can Parents/Adults Do?

If parents or other adults in a young person’s life suspect a problem with depression, they should:

  • Know the warning signs of depression.
  • Take note of how long problems have been going on, how often they occur, and how severe they seem.
  • See a mental health professional or the child’s doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.
  • Get accurate information from libraries, hotlines and other sources.
  • Ask questions about treatments and services.
  • Talk to other families or find a family network organization.

It is important for people who continue to have questions to discuss their concerns with their provider.  For those who are not satisfied with the health care they receive, they should ask for more information or seek help from other sources.

Help is Available

Depression is treatable! Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for children with depression. Children who show signs of depression should be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional that specializes in treating children and teens. Their diagnostic evaluation may include psychological testing, lab tests and consultation with other specialists.  A comprehensive treatment plan may include psychotherapy, ongoing evaluation and monitoring, and in some cases medication. Ideally, this plan is developed with the family, and whenever possible, the child or teen is also involved in treatment decisions.

Parent’s Role

If you suspect that your child is depressed, take the time to listen to their concerns. Even if you don’t think the problem is of real concern, remember that it feels very real to them. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, even if your child seems to want to withdraw.  Don’t try telling your child what to do.  Instead, listen closely and you may discover more about the
issues causing the problems.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to reach your child, or if you continue to be concerned, seek help from a qualified
health care professional.  Don’t allow guilt, embarrassment, or the stigma of mental illness; prevent you from getting
your child the help they may need.

About Lisa:

Lisa Walton–Parenting tips
Valley Teacher and Mother

Lisa Walton has been a teacher in the Valley for over 18 years. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Deaf Education from Illinois State University; and Master’s Degree in Special Education from Arizona State University.  She currently works as an itinerant teacher, collaborating with regular education teachers in the public schools.

Read more about Lisa on our team bio page























3TV Segment: Family Road Trip Ready Tips

A Website That Every Parent Should Know About!

Manic:  Quickly sorting through the sea of kids movies, music, books and more to make sound decisions about what they watch….and sometimes making the wrong decision.  At times, I’ve screwed up because I decided too quicky or I gave in to the common argument from my kids that goes like this….”well my friend’s mom let them see it”…..has this happened to you?

Managed:  Finding a terrific website that tells parents exactly what to expect in a movie, book, song or other types of media that are all competing for your kids’ attention…and your mighty dollar. ( is a wonderful resource for parents.  The website advises parents on the content that is included in movies, books, websites, video games, apps, television and music. 

In the media overload world that we live in, this site is a great partner to have when making decisions about appropriate viewing for children.  I especially like just how many mediums are included.  Even apps that can be purchased for cellphones are discussed.  Smart thinking!

The site is non-profit and is run by parents and professionals who work in the areas of entertainment, education, media, public policy and child advocacy.  Plus parents can leave their own reviews on the site, too. 

I especially appreciate the movie rating system that this site offers.  My kids love to go to movies.  And our busy family likes to unwind to a movie at home after a long week of school work and all of the extracurricular activities that fill our calendar.

In addition to covering content in films that include violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking, drugs and smoking, the site also gives age specific recommendations.  Instead of the typical PG-13 rating, movies are broken down by exact age.

For example, I took my 9-year-old daughter to see “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2” and I agree with the site’s recommendation of 9 years old and up. 

If you are interested in my own review of the Wimpy Kid movie, I give it a thumbs up.  Fun and clean humor with the right messages about bullying, working through sibling conflict and even the tough choices that parents have to make daily. 

Told in a funny and zany story that had both my daughter and I laughing out loud, this was one kids’ movie that Mom enjoyed, too!  I absolutely loved Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn’s mom and dad characters.  I found some of the parenting issues to be quite humorous…and even a little relatable…I must admit!

However,there is one interesting note about the movie that I haven’t read in any of the reviews I’ve checked.  I have to wonder if an only child will feel a little sad about not having siblings if they see the film. 

The first half of the story will probably have kids feeling lucky that they don’t have the mean siblings that are portrayed!  However by the end of the production, as the brothers work it out and realize the value and special love that can exist between siblings, I did ponder if an only child would leave feeling a bit depressed about that.  You just never know with kids.

But before you take my word about the film, check out ( first.  You will be glad you did.  I’ll take all the help I can get, when it comes to raising kids in today’s manic media world!

Take the Pledge: No Texting & Driving Teens…and All Ages!

Wow!  That is all I can say.  I don’t even watch a lot of reality shows and I usually don’t watch “Extreme Home Makeover,” but when I went to record my favs, “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers and Sisters,” a little voice told me to instead tape “Extreme Home Makeover” tonight.  So I did.

So, as my family watched “Extreme Home Makeover” and I immediately and gratefully understood why I decided, out of the blue, to go ahead and tape that show.  It was all about a family whose first-born daughter lost her life because she chose to text and drive. 

So many teens choose to text and drive.  And let’s admit it, many adults do, too. 

I, myself, have been tempted.  When that little ding goes off and I know that someone is trying to reach me right then and there, boy have I been tempted to take my eyes off the road for a spilt second to take a quick peek.  And I haven’t, but I sure have looked…and texted back…at red lights.  I fully admit that.

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Tips for life with a new teenager!

Two months ago we became the proud, but anxious, parents of a teenager.  Our first-born turned 13 and we have been wondering what these years will bring.  We wonder because we hear funny and not-so-funny tales of teens filling a household with strange new hormones. 

And we also wonder because we remember when we filled our own parents’ homes with our crazy hormones.  And if you believe in karma like I do, then both my husband and I have some exciting days ahead! 

Since I married, had kids and realized the importance of a roof over my head, a dish washer, full fridge and good night sleep, I have repeatedly called my Mom to say three things.  First that I love her, second that I thank her and last but not least, that I am truly sorry for my teenage days! 

She says that I wasn’t nearly as challenging as I remember.  Perhaps it is like labor and she simply forgot the pain!  In any case, I just can’t thank her enough for putting up with me, driving me everywhere, welcoming my friends, maintaining her sense of humor with a very self-centered teenage girl and always being my #1 cheerleader, no matter what!  The mother-daughter relationship is a special one that can be complicated and complex, but very loving. 

Now it is my turn to be a mother to a teenager and my son gets to go first into the world of teen land.  So far, so good, but he is changing and my husband stated it best tonight.  I asked him why our son responded to us in a certain way and he answered because he is 13.  Yep, that’s right. 

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