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Home Planet

Archive for May 2013

Travel: Morning on St. George Island, Florida

I woke up early, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, slipped into a sweater and walked out into the cool morning, closing the door behind me.

Following the short path to the beach, I stepped onto the soft, damp, sand and began to walk the curving edge of St. George Island, the small, uncrowded, barrier island off the coast of North Florida. The sun was just peeking over the horizon. I could see someone far ahead throwing a stick for the dog at his side, but other than that I didn’t see another soul. Looking the other way I could believe I had the island to myself.
    
The tide had come and gone before the sun rose and the tideline was littered with what the water had left behind. The compacted sand at the water’s edge was carpeted with a layer of shells, or the bits and pieces of what had once been seashells before they were tumbled and broken by the surf.

As I walked, my head down, my eyes on the sand in front of me, I occasionally stopped and picked up something that caught my eye. The sound of the waves cancelled out any other sound and my mind wandered as I strolled.

When I got back to the beach house, while the coffee brewed, I emptied my pockets onto the counter in the kitchen and examined what I’d brought back with me. I’d liked one for the soft band of pale pink that ran across the widest part, another for the curious curves and and chambers that were exposed. Looking closely at the shell fragments I’d picked up, I realized that each had been chosen, not because it had been part of a more beautiful whole, but because even in its brokenness it was still something unique and exquisite and worth a second look, Worth slipping into a pocket. We put such emphasis on perfection, but time and time again nature reminds us that beauty is more than the surface of any object. True beauty is in the bones and the scars and the brokenness that remains after stronger forces work against us.
    
I put the handful of shells into a plastic bag and slipped it into my suitcase. Years from now, when I run across them in a drawer or on a shelf on the patio, I may have forgotten where I originally found them, like so many of the sticks and stones I’ve gathered and brought home with me. The soft morning on an quiet island just beginning to warm under the morning sun will have slipped from my memory, but I am willing to bet that as I hold the broken shells in my hand I will turn them this way and that, looking closer at the soft colors and the delicate shapes, and I will find them beautiful again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio 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: Four Good Reasons to Consider a Family Cruise

   The family vacation season is almost here. Soon, the kids will be out of school and families will set out to spend some time together and see a few things along the way. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional road trip (‘Don’t make me pull this car over!) but more and more families are opting for cruise vacations. Here are a few reasons to consider taking your family on a cruise adventure:

Save money, see more: Traveling with a family adds up. Flights, hotels, meals and all the other expected—and unexpected—expenses can take a toll on the budget. The beauty of cruising is all those expenses are bundled. Many cruise packages—often deeply discounted—include airfare or car rental and, of course, lodging and meals are all part of the deal. A cruise can be the most economical way to see a destination or part of the world. (Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for single cruisers but more lines are offering single cabins or designated single supplement-free itineraries.)

Time together, time apart: Think about it. Your meals are prepared, the housekeeping is done while you’re out at the pool and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world is right in view. All that’s expected of you is to relax and enjoy the ride. Of course, there are times when too much togetherness can be tough on families. That’s the time to take advantage of the ship’s amenities. Let the kids spend some time in the designated children’s center and enjoy a few hours at the ‘adults only’ deck and pool option. Book a date-night dinner at the ship’s premium dining restaurant. There is an additional charge for these meals but the food and wine options are usually topnotch.

Peace and Quiet: Is it really possible to find quiet moments while trapped in a floating hotel with thousands of other people? Absolutely. When choosing a stateroom, a balcony is almost always worth the extra cost; it gives you a private view and a place to get away from the crowd. If your travel budget is tight, put your money toward a small piece of personal cruise-ship real estate and forgo expensive pool-side cocktails and soft drinks.

Let the World Come to You: Travel, even for those of us who love it, has become a complex and frequently expensive proposition. Airfares are high, highways are crowded, gas is expensive and navigating crowded and sometimes unfriendly airports can elevate stress. Just getting from one place to another can be exhausting. But the beauty of cruising is that once you board you can relax and enjoy your vacation while all the details are taken care of by someone else.The ship gets you from one port to another, excursions are organized and arranged for you, room service is almost always complimentary and transportation to and from the airport is a snap. Tip: Work with a travel agent to help you find the perfect fit for your family budget.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio 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: Kayaking the New River in Franklin County, Florida


    The dark water of the New River slips silently downstream, continuing to carry my kayak forward whenever I lift my paddles, allowing me to float quietly for a few minutes absorbing the sights and sounds and the lush North Florida landscape around me.


    Tall Tupelo trees, with their bright green leaves and graceful branches, reach out over the orchid-like blooms of flowers that bloom along the riverbanks.


    The air is heavy with moisture but the morning is cool, the sun hidden in the low clouds. The sound of birds is all around us.


    We put in at a bend in the river at Tate’s Hell State Forest, near the small town of Carrabelle, beside a narrow steel bridge that rumbles and whines when vehicles cross on Gully Branch Road. Knobby cypress knees poke up out of the thick black mud that sucks at our sandals as we step into our kayaks.

   We push away and the world immediately closes around us.


    When most people think of Florida, postcard images of broad white beaches, high rise condominiums and crowds come to mind. And that is certainly true for most of the state. But the northernmost part, the panhandle of the peninsula, is a unique blend of pinewood forest, smooth sandy coastline and fertile estuaries. Green, lush, forest gives way to sandy beaches and streams and rivers, like the New River, feed fresh water into surrounding watersheds and eventually into Apalachicola Bay. This part of Florida, Franklin County, is sometimes called 'the forgotten coast' and it does feel as though the worst of progress—the noise, the crowds, the congestion and careless treatment of the natural world—has raced past. A blessing, I think, in this case.    


     I realize the rest of my group has moved ahead, around the next bend, and I am alone. There is a sense of mystery in the moment. Paddling along the surface of the water, even though the morning is cool, I watch for snakes at the edge of the river. On the drive to the park I caught sight of an alligator in a small stream beside the road and I know alligators can be found in the water but I’m relieved that they stay out of sight while I am there.  I see an eagle flying overhead, one sharp eye trained on me, I’m sure. Black bear, cats and countless other wild creatures call this place home and I wonder what they make of the people who come to play.


    We pull out of the water just as a soft rain begins to fall.  After the kayaks are loaded and we are back in the river guide’s van, I look out the window. Already there is a break in the sky and a patch of bright blue shines through. And the black water of the river, relieved again of the weight and interruption of interlopers, moves silently on.
    
    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio 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: Five Things You Should Always Pack

It shouldn’t cost a fortune to outfit your travel kit and many of the most practical items you can pack are things you may already have around the house. I sometimes fly out on short notice so my bag stays ready to go. Here are five inexpensive items I don’t like to leave home without:

Duct tape: I pick up small rolls in the hardware store $1 bin. The strong tape has helped me mend a broken sandal, patch a tear in my day pack and keep my sunglasses together long enough to make it home.

Small bar of hotel soap: The soap does more than lather up. I keep a bar of good soap in my my luggage to keep it smelling fresh and occasionally slide a bar along the zipper on my suitcase to keep it zipping smoothly. (My favorite scented hotel product has to be the Time to Chocolate line offered by the historic Sacher Hotels. Yum!)

Sewing kit and folding scissors: Buttons fall off, hems come unstitched. I’d rather do almost anything than sew, but sometimes a stitch or two is necessary. Most upscale hotels provide a tiny sewing kit. It there isn’t one in your room, just ask. The tiny pair of folding scissors can help with everything from opening packaging to a quick trim of the bangs.

Wet wipes: It’s been years since I changed a baby’s diaper on the road but I still keep a small packet of fragrance-free wet wipes with me to use for everything from wiping down the germy airplane seatback tray to cleaning mud off my shoes.

Extra reclosable plastic bags. The TSA isn’t the only reason to have a stash of extra baggies around. They’re handy for bagging up sandy beach souvenirs and separating prone-to-leak toiletries. Larger bags can be used to sort and compress clothing to create more room in your suitcase.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio 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: Five Tips for Travel with Teens

   Packing up the kids for a family road trip is one thing, but flying off to Europe with a teen is a totally different experience. With a little planning and patience you can share a travel experience that you’ll both cherish.
Here are five tips for international travel with a teenager:  

Think ahead: I ask my teen if she wants to sit with me or have her own space before I book the tickets. Then I pack a large ziplock bag with everything she will need to help her stay comfortable during the overnight flight. The kit includes an eye mask, a small inflatable pillow, a pair of lightweight socks and several sets of disposable ear plugs. All she’ll need is an airline blanket.

Take it easy:  Traveling on my own, I usually push on after an overnight flight and crash at the end of the day. But traveling with teenagers is different. Teens need a lot of sleep and you don’t really know how well he or she rested before departure. After checking into the hotel I usually suggest they nap for an hour or so while I unpack, go over guidebooks or catch up on emails.

Please feed the bear: We usually eat a good breakfast before we set out each morning (a hotel with a hot buffet is always a good thing) but I pack nuts, chocolate and fruit (dried or fresh) for those moments between meals when we need to sit down (sometimes in separate places) and recharge our batteries.

Be flexible: Give your teen (some) freedom to wander. They crave independence and it helps young travelers develop the skills they’ll need when they go out on their own adventures. Be sure your child knows the address and location of your hotel and can reach you in an emergency. (I keep the texting function open on my phone when I travel.) Bonus: There can be unexpected benefits to letting your teen pick the itinerary for the day. One of my daughters read about a small designer outlet on a side street off St-Germain.  She led the way and we spent an hour browsing with the oh-so-stylish locals and scored the jacket of her dreams.


Practice patience. Teens play it close. It might be a few years before you get to realize just how much they enjoyed themselves, but eventually the poker face will disappear and you’ll hear them admit it was the trip of a lifetime.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio 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

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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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