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Home Planet

Archive for January 2013

Travel: And All the Boys at Sea

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    Crossing the deck of the busy cruise ship, on my way to get something for lunch, I noticed a little boy crouched quietly, oblivious to the crowd around him as he bent over his shoe. He’d dropped to fasten the buckle and his mother stood patiently by, parting the sea of passengers that streamed around them. That, as every mother eventually learns, is what you do when you have a preschooler. You stand and wait while they master each new, seemingly monumental task. To do anything else is to invite tears and tantrums.

    I watched the boy’s fingers, small and deliberate, as they worked at his task and I remembered my son doing the same thing at that age. I remembered the way my breath caught at the tender vulnerability of his neck, his thin back curved over knobby knees, his concentration evident by his frown and the tip of his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth.

    I was on board the big ship to cover the launch of the brand new Carnival Breeze but the ceremonies were over and we were underway, already out to sea. I had nothing but time so I stayed where I was, watching the boy while fragments of other conversations drifted around me.

    “We’re on our honeymoon,” I heard a man’s voice say, and I turned to see two couples, one young, the other old, on lounge chairs by the pool.
 
    The old man replied that he and the old woman beside him had been married more than 50 years.

    “Wow, that’s impressive,” the young man replied, his voice lacquered with a gloss of interest and respect. “So, what kind of advice would you give us?”

    I knew, and the old man knew, it was a superficial question.  Still, the old man seemed to take it seriously and was silent for a long moment and I waited to hear what he would say. The little boy worked on his shoe. The young woman smoothed sunscreen over her flat belly and along her arms. The old woman, her skin browned and leathery from years in the sun, rummaged through the basket on the deck beside her chair until she found her sunglasses. The young man sipped his beer.

    Finally, the old man, his voice rough and graveled by years, spoke.
    “You got it pretty good right now, son,” he said, nodding his head toward the young woman. “But one day, when the sun ain’t shining on you, and you’re mad at your pretty little bride over there and you hate your boss and the kid needs braces, you might think about doing something stupid. You might think about walking away.”

    The young man looked a little shocked at the old man’s plain words.

    “My advice is to remember how you feel right now because one day you might need it.”

    “Yes, sir,”  the young man said. “I sure will.”

    The old man, having said his piece, closed his eyes and the young man went back to his beer.

    I looked back at the little boy just as he finally slipped the strap through the metal buckle. Dusting his hands on the back of his swimsuit, he stood up and said “Okay,” in a satisfied tone. With his mother beside him, he walked on and disappeared in the crowd.

    I moved on too, got my food and walked back to where my husband was reading. He looked up from his book. “What took you so long?” he asked, and I realized I’d lost track of time. Again.

    “Oh, you know me,” I teased, sitting down beside him. “I was just watching all the boys.”

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of  'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Emergency Smartphone Power

A decade ago, when I started freelancing after a long hiatus at home with my children, I realized that in order to be competitive and to produce work professionally and independently, it would be important to be as mobile as possible. So—before I’d even heard the term “backpack journalist”— I carried in my work backpack a good digital camera, a digital audio recorder, a cell phone and, because I needed it for a regular newspaper assignment that made it necessary to duplicate readers’ family photos, a small scanner. And a reporter’s notebook, of course.

Now, most of those and the other regular tasks are done with one small tool. My iPhone. 
I can take notes, photos, audio and even scan with it. I use it for research, editing, texting and other forms of communication and, once in a while, to make a phone call. The downside is all that use requires a lot of battery power. I’ve learned a few hard lessons along the way, when the phone died just as I needed it, and I'm not alone. (The traveler's joke is you can spot the iPhone users because they're always clustered around the nearest outlet at any airport.)

But smart phones are more than work tools and entertainment hubs. With more and more people dropping traditional land lines, the cellphone is a lifeline. Recent events have made that obvious.
After Super Storm Sandy hit the Northeast, in addition to the other aspects of the natural disaster, people were left without any way to charge phones, laptops and tablets. That meant they weren’t able to reach family, friends and coworkers. Communication was lost just as it was most needed.

Red Cross officials and other emergency preparedness officials urge us all to keep emergency supplies, including food and water, batteries, copies of important documents, medical records and other necessary and difficult to replace items at home. We’re also encouraged to keep a similar kit in our cars for weather and other travel emergencies. It’s a good idea to add an instant cellphone power source to that list.

I use a Mophie battery case for my phone every day which gives me a complete battery charge when necessary. I bought it at an airport kiosk and it has saved me more than once. My FatCat PowerBar holds a charge for as long as one year and can provide necessary power for a phone or camera in case of emergency. I keep it on hand to make sure I don’t run out of juice exactly when I need it most and I’m going to add one to our home emergency kit. I just gave one to my son to keep in his mountain cabin so he’ll have power in case of emergency.

I’m not just dependent on my phone to meet deadlines, post photos, keep in touch with my children and play Words with Friends. Like many people, it’s my link to the rest of the world.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country.

  

Travel: Sail Away From Winter



   We weren’t even on the ship when the party started. I was still making my way through the embarkation process, listening to piped-in dance music and having a welcome photo made when the 70s dance anthem, I Will Survive filled the air.

   Almost immediately, one of the Carnival Cruise Line employees joined in (Is it even possible to listen to Gloria Gaynor sing that song and not sing along?) In the next moment a group of women, all traveling together on the 8-day Caribbean Cruise, turned the corner and someone in the group started singing with the attendant.
Another woman, then another, joined and soon they were all standing side by side, arms linked, belting out

“Oh no, not I
I will survive
As long as I know how to love
I know I’ll stay alive…”


   The song ended. In minutes we were crossing the gangplank and stepping on board the brand new Carnival Breeze and I realized I was still smiling.

   It was an excellent way to start the trip.

   Even on a ship as big and busy as the Breeze, with more than 4,000 passengers of all ages and another 1,300 crew, I saw the girlfriend group once or twice— all dressed up on “elegant” nights or gathered in a circle of deck chairs, chattering and laughing—and each time they looked like they were having the time of their lives. I asked and they told me they were from Chicago and like those of us who live in the Northwest, they were already tired of slogging through wintery gray skies and cold winds.  They’d been counting the days until they could turn their back on winter and spend a week sailing to the Caribbean with nothing to do but sit in the sun, a glass of something tall and cool in hand.

   Winter has its pleasures, of course—skiing, sledding, hot chocolate and marshmallows—but for the most part it is a season that requires us to bow and surrender or, once in a while, escape. That’s what I was looking for. While the Windy City ladies were partying, I planted myself on a deck chair, my husband beside me, and simply soaked up the Vitamin D, hoping to store enough sunshine to see me through until spring.

   I figured out pretty quickly that the Carnival approach is to pack up the party and hit the waves. All you have to do is relax.

   And always, right overhead, shining down on the ship, there is the star of the party and the secret to surviving the greyest days of winter in this part of the world: that big hot Caribbean sun.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

    

  

Travel: Paris in Winter

   Most people dream of Paris in the springtime, when the city blooms and leaves unfurl like tiny pennants on tree-lined boulevards. Or, they look forward to a summer vacation in the high season, when the grass in the parks is lush and green, the warm breeze ruffles your hair as you cruise down the Seine and the sidewalk cafes are crowded with people-watchers and those who love to be watched.


    But I long for Paris in January, when the weather is unpredictable and, on occasion,  unfriendly.
    In winter, Paris is imbued with a faded, elegant, melancholy romance. The sky is low and the air is heavy and darkness falls early. The river looks dense and cold and the top of the Eiffel Tower is occasionally shrouded in fog. Walking down narrow streets the aromas of the bakeries and tobacco shops and coffee houses linger and capture you as you walk past, drawing you in.


    In January, Paris is a study in shades of gray and black and walking down the rain-slick cobblestones, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time, back into an iconic Henry Cartier-Bresson photograph. I marvel at the architecture, the beautiful Hausmann buildings, Art Nuveau Metro stations and arching bridges, all somehow more prominent without the foliage and crowds that will come in warmer weather.


    I took my middle daughter to Paris just after the first of the year in 2011. We arrived early, just as the weak morning light was stealing across the city.  I watched her face as she looked out the taxi window and caught her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.


    We stayed at a small pre-war hotel in the 6th Arrondissement, a short walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg, and each day after breakfast we walked the streets of Paris. From the Latin Quarter to the Champs Elysse  to the banks of the Seine we explored grand avenues and winding side streets. We stood in the hushed Cathedral of Notre Dame. We gazed at the paintings and sculpture at the Musee D’Orsay, buying postcards to bring home as souvenirs. We stopped at the sidewalk creperies and sipped espresso in tiny cafes watching the city go on about its business. And all the while a soft rain fell, washing the city in soft hues. We spent a companionable week that I will always remember.


    This is not to say Paris in winter is without its flaws. The noise and congestion and the ubiquitous dog waste on the sidewalk are still there, just as they are any time of year. But for an incurable romantic, the dark and mysterious days of January are the perfect time to experience the city of light.


    I loved it so much I returned this year with my youngest daughter. She’s been to Paris before on a school trip, but it was hurried and only superficial. This time we explored the city on our own, the way I did with her sister, visiting the places she chose. And once again I got the chance to see one of the world's most beautiful cities through a daughter’s eyes.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. (Portions of this essay were first published in Spokane Cd’A Woman Magazine.)
  

Travel: Starting the New Year with Edible Souvenirs

We were fortunate again this year, the whole family was together for Christmas. We gathered, exchanged gifts, caught up on one another’s lives and enjoyed one another’s company. And we ate. We ate a lot.

When we weren’t sitting down to our traditional Christmas dinner, we were snacking on things I’d gathered on my travels and brought home to share with my family. That’s come to be one of my travel traditions and now wherever I go I spend time looking for goodies to bring home with me.

This year, while playing board games or working on a jigsaw puzzle we opened a can of Virginia peanuts that traveled back from Roanoke tucked into a corner of my suitcase.

We made pots of good Door County Coffee & Tea Company coffee and nibbled peanut brittle from Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri.

I passed around a can of delicate and delicious Clear River pecan pralines I bought in Fredericksburg, Texas and hand-carried home. And we cracked pecans I gathered from where they’d fallen from the trees around the same city.

I spread tart cherry jam from, also from Door County, Wisconsin, on our toast at breakfast. In the afternoon I sliced a block of Wisconsin's Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese to go with the bottle of crisp white wine I brought back from Rhine River valley in Germany.

One night I made a big pot of chili and seasoned it with heritage chili pepper powder I bought at the Chili Pepper Institute in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I made a batch of brownies with brownie mix spiced with the same chilis.

We warmed up with mugs of hot buttered rum, savoring the bottle of Koloa rum I picked up in Kauai and saved especially for this holiday season.

This is the time of my life when I can travel freely and I don’t take it for granted because I know that could change at any time. My children are mostly grown and my work takes me around the world. I can’t always take them with me, but I can bring the world back to the ones I love and share it with them one delicious bite at a time.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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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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