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Archive for February 2010

Riding the Amtrak Empire Builder

Special to Pinch

Feb. 25, 2010

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap 

    The lights glowed in tiny pools on the sidewalk, piercing the darkness every few yards or so, reflecting in the polished steel as I walked along the idling train.
    Stepping up into the railcar, I stowed my heavy suitcase in the rack and carried my smaller bag up the narrow staircase to the upper level of the Amtrak sleeper car. I scanned the signs above the doors before coming to my  compartment. The bed, as the attendant had told me when I showed him my ticket, had already been turned down.
    It took me a few minutes to settle in; pulling out my computer, plugging in my phone, gathering all my tools and travel talismans around me. Finally, I was ready. I had everything I needed to work through the night.
     I don’t know why I bothered.

Winter in Glacier National Park

Special to Pinch

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Feb. 21, 2010


      We drove into the west entrance of Glacier National Park late in the clear February morning and our tires crunched into the frozen crust of last week’s snowfall. The cold, sweet, air bit at our faces as we opened the back of the car and unloaded our gear.
    Strapping snowshoes on our feet, we put on gloves and hats and slipping our hands into the straps of our poles, we set out. Our lunch of hearty sandwiches on homemade bread, each as thick as a doorstop, was stowed and ready for a picnic along the way.
    The wide flat trail we followed was much more than a path meant for meandering.  In the summer, which comes late to the northwest, the 60-mile Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park is a busy throughway, carrying hundreds of thousands of tourists from one side of the 1.2 million acre park to the other. But in winter, which comes early, the road closes and becomes a place to play. The only human sounds are the scraping of snowshoes or the gliding sound of cross-country skis. Occasionally a laugh slices into the solitude.

Dear Valentine, You know who you are

Dear… Well, I don’t need to put your names down on paper. You all know who you are…
 This morning when you woke up and stumbled into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee or bowl of cereal, or woke up and stumbled out to open the package sitting on the table in some other kitchen, you found a Valentine.  You knew you would. I always give you a Valentine; a gift that includes a card chosen especially for you. A few chocolates, some little trinket to carry with you to remind you of me, a silly rhyme.

 It’s the same little treat you get every year on this day. And, as always, I meant every one of those little Xs and Os.

 This letter isn’t about that. This little note, a true love letter, is about all the other Valentines I’ve sent you. The ones you can’t see or hear or taste.

A Love That Never Grows Old

True love is truly ageless

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
February 13, 2006

Standing at the window, high above the busy street, I watched them.

The elderly couple walked slowly down the sidewalk. He was tall. His head was bent low over the woman at his side, and strands of his thin white hair lifted in the wind. Faded, shapeless, corduroy pants, a size too big, hung loosely on his spare frame.

The woman was small. Her head was no higher than the man’s shoulder and her open coat flapped around her thin legs and billowed behind her.

His arm was wrapped protectively around her slight shoulders as she clutched his sweater, and they clung together against the onslaught of the gusts of wintry wind. There was something about the way they walked, fitted into and against one another, that hinted of a long history as a couple.

Valentine’s Day? Bite me.

     It looked like a child’s Valentine, a square of red construction paper glued onto a lacy white paper doily. I noticed it on the floor, one edge trapped under the leg of a chair in the coffee shop.
     I picked it up and opened it expecting to see something like “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…signed with X’s and O’s and written in a looping childish scrawl. But that’s not what it said. Instead, I read the words, “You can bite me” printed in ink – by an adult hand - and finished with lots of exclamation points.

Real love, real lives

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another vintage Home Planet Valentine…

Real love is the kind we are surrounded by every day

Chances are you’ve got love, or something like it, on your mind. After all, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Did you buy roses? You need to buy roses. And a card covered with sentimental poetry written by a stranger.

Don’t forget the chocolate, the expensive perfume, something from Victoria’s Secret, a gourmet meal at a five-star restaurant and jewelry. Isn’t that what it takes to show love? Well, one day a year, maybe. But it’s the other 364 days that tell the tale.

The truth is, love doesn’t always come with balloons and words that rhyme. True love usually comes to us just like the groceries – mixed with the necessities and wrapped in plain brown paper.

I can see what they’re doing, but what are they thinking?

Here’s another vintage Home Planet Valentine…

Oh, to be able to read others’ thoughts

February 12, 2007

     I walked down to the card shop and joined the other last-minute shoppers standing in front of the racks of Valentine’s Day cards. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one pushing the deadline.

     The woman beside me had a stack of cards in her hand. I could tell she went for the more expensive valentines, the big ones with extra pages and fancy trim.

     Finally, she must have decided she’d seen enough because she stopped looking for more and concentrated on what she was holding. One by one she looked closely at each card. After she’d been through them all, she did it all over again. Finally, she pulled one card – the perfect love letter? – out of the stack and set the rest down without bothering to put them back.

     Watching her walk over to the counter, I wished for one of those balloons that people in cartoons have over their heads that let you see what they are thinking.

     Had she discovered, in the hundreds of flowery verses and photographs of kittens and puppies and drawings of red, red roses, a valentine that said exactly what she wanted to express? Was it for someone special? A boyfriend she hoped would turn into a husband or a husband she wished would act more like a boyfriend? Was it for a child, or co-worker or friend? A secret lover?

I would never know. Waving to the girl behind the counter, the woman left with her purchase.

All the time in the world

     The older I get and the more I watch the world around me, the more I realize that - good health allowing - eventually we all seem to sort ourselves into one of two groups. We decide to be happy or we don’t. 

      We all know people who appear to have come into this world with an hourglass in their hearts. It’s as though they know from the moment they’re born that time is running out. And they live lives to reflect that. They connect with the world in a unique way. They are present in each moment. They deliberately see the world in soft focus, smoothing the rough edges, the disappointments and inevitable letdowns.  They count their blessings. They give back as much, if not more than they get.

      Some charge into every day, seeking adventure or love - sometimes adventure and love. They make us laugh. They inspire us. They make us want that kind of happiness.

      Some are easily contented. It is enough to simply be here at all. They get their pleasure from the quiet pursuits; a job that fulfills them and keeps food on the table, a home that is safe and warm, not necessisarily grand or fancy, just shelter from the storm. The love of family and a partner. They meet life with a soft smile and make their way through the world staying just outside the limelight.

      Life, they will tell you, is fleeting. It is a gift. It should be appreciated. It should be shared. They forgive and forget and move on. They humble us.


The Sweetest Valentine

I’ve been going over some old Valentine columns and decided to post a few in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. After all, some things bear repeating.


February 11, 2008

Home Planet: Words much sweeter than gifts

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review

I love you. There. Now was that so hard? I just put into writing the three little words that each of us needs to say and hear, and it didn’t cost me a thing.

I didn’t have to buy a card, or a flower or a bundle of balloons. No candy or jewelry. No roses or perfume or expensive meals. No lingerie, no chocolate, no poetry or gifts.

Like every other holiday or pseudo holiday, we’ve invented, Valentine’s Day has become an orgy of hollow sentiment and blatant consumerism. Enough is never enough.

Thinking of giving her a single rose? Try a dozen long-stemmed beauties if you want to really win her heart.

A little taste of chocolate? Cheapskate. Buy the big box to impress your true love.

Bigger diamonds, more gold and silver and the most expensive wine.

Real love, the message seems to be, ought to take a bite out of your wallet, not your heart.

And every year we seem to buy more but we manage to say less.

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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