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Home Planet

Posts tagged: women

Travel: Home Cooking

   The routine is always the same.

   I walk into our kitchen, a place that is deeply familiar and filled with all the pleasant associations of my family, and I pull out everything I will need. Methodically, listening to the radio or letting my mind wander, I chop onion, celery and carrots into the mirepoix that will form the base of a pot of homemade soup. Sauteing the vegetables, I separate two, three, sometimes four garlic cloves and chop them, tossing the aromatic pieces into the olive oil and butter with the other ingredients. Then I fill the big pot with stock, chicken or vegetable, add seasoning and put it on the stove to simmer. Sometimes I add leftover chicken but usually it is meat-free. In an hour or so our meal is done. I slice the bread, set the table and call out that dinner is ready. We pick up our spoons, take the first sip, and I know I am home.

   Food, as we all learn quickly enough, as newborn babies crying out in hunger and frustration, does more than just feed us. Food comforts. Food connects and unites us. It brings us closer and broadens our tastes. Food carries us forward and, as we get older and years escape us,  reminds us of the past.

   In some elemental way, soup captures all of that for me. It is simple, inexpensive and quickly prepared but it carries so much more than just flavor.

   For years now, after returning home from a trip, especially when no one could get away to come along with me, I’ve made soup when I got back and I’ve come to realized it is more than an act of putting food on the table. Sometimes, when I grabbed a cheap fare and took an impulsive journey, giving in to the temptation to travel, the meal is part apology. Other times, when my work took me away and I was busy and frustrated, it is part recompense, a way to make up for my short absence.

   But always, whether anyone sitting around the table knows or even cares, the act of making and sharing a pot of homemade soup, of gathering over the savory fragrance of simple ingredients, is an act of love. It is a way to say leaving this place and these people always hurts a little. And that coming home to chop and and stir and season a meal to feed them, somehow feeds me more.


For more about travel and homecoming, read Traveling Mothers

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose 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: Searching for the Perfect Suitcase

I don’t want much. I just want the perfect suitcase.

I spend hours looking at suitcases and duffles and carry-on bags. I shop online, in department stores and at specialty shops. I read reviews and ask my friends for recommendations. I weigh the merits of outdoorsy rolling duffles, high-tech polycarbonate and ultralight nylon bags.

Occasionally, I make the sacrifice and buy the expensive bag and get my heart broken when it comes back to me with a broken zipper or missing wheel. Sometimes I make an impulse buy, snagging a bargain at an outlet or discount store and usually, but not always, after only a few flights, I’m disappointed.

Finding a good bag is no easy task. A suitcase has to be heavy enough to survive the battering it will take just getting through the airport and into the belly of the plane. But, it has to be light enough that I can manage it if I have to run through a busy terminal to catch a flight. It needs to fit in the overhead bin when I don’t want to pay a fee to check it. It has to be practical, with a place for everything. It needs wheels, but not just any kind of wheel. The perfect suitcase needs to roll in every direction, with only the barest touch. Oh, and I’d really like it to cost less than a week’s salary.

Of course, If I’m completely honest, there’s more than practicality involved. As with anything we wear or carry, a certain amount of vanity comes in to play.

I hate to admit it, but I think a suitcase can say something about its owner. Spend enough time in airports and you start to notice people and the bags they carry. You know what I mean. They don’t have to be in uniform; when you see men and women who have stacked and strapped their TravelPro bags into a tower of portable efficiency, you know it’s a flight crew.

Watching the older couple with the Avocado Green hard-body Samsonite you get the feeling they’re still using the suitcase they carried on their honeymoon, an investment that obviously paid off. And the woman who is holding the knockoff “Louis Vuitton” duffle while she scarfs down a Big Mac and waits with the crowd until time to board and squeeze into her economy seat? Well, she’s not fooling anyone.

I have a closet full of suitcases that promised great things and didn’t live up to expectations, but I keep on looking. Like I said, I don’t want much. I just want a travel companion that didn't cost an arm and a leg and won’t let me down. Oh, and if it happens to say to anyone who’s watching that “Here is a woman who
is really going somewhere,” well, so much the better.

 

Question: Have you found the perfect piece of luggage? I'd love to hear your recommendation!

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, 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: Roanoke’s O. Winston Link Museum Chronicles the End of America’s Steam Engines

(Photo courtesy O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia)  

   Once you see one of his photographs, you never forget it. Inky darkness is frosted and silvered by pools of light. People and places, most in small towns in rural Virginia, are frozen in the moment. And always, dominating the scene in sometimes startling ways, is the presence of a massive engine, billowing a plume of smoke and steam.


    O. Winston Link was born in Brooklyn, New York, 1914 and like most boys of his time, he had a fascination for the big steam engines that roared down the tracks through small towns and big cities across the United States.  But it wasn’t until after World War II that he found an outlet for that fascination. While on an industrial photography assignment in Staunton, Virginia, Link traveled to Waynesboro to take photos of the Norfolk & Western Railway steam engines, the only railroad still running steam engines at that time. For the next five years he would spend more than $25,000 of his own money and countless hours photographing the trains and the people who worked and relied on them.
    
    Today, the exhibit at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia perfectly illustrates the power of Link’s single-minded devotion to chronicling the last of the giants.

    When you see the photos, most taken at night and almost all done in black and white, they at first look like moments of photographic good fortune; being in the right place at the right moment to capture a tableau of ordinary life in the mid-1950s. Light casts strange and eerie shadows on the gigantic engines as well as across the land, houses and people in the photos.


    But Link, who studied engineering before going on to become a professional photographer after World War II, and who was a skilled craftsman in his own right, was more than just a man with a camera. Nothing in his photographs was left to chance. He captured larger images by rigging a line of cameras to fire at exactly the same moment and then stitching together the photos.The people were placed, the composition worked out as elaborately as the lighting that illuminated the scene.


    “You can't move the sun, and you can't move the tracks, so you have to do something else to better light the engines,” Link said. He chose to take his photographs at night and controlled every aspect of the photos. Through his lens and his genius with lighting, wiring dozens of bulbs to fire at exactly the right moment, replacing lanterns in the hands of railroad men even lamps in nearby homes, he conjured exactly what he wanted to see. And, ultimately, what he wanted us to see.


    When the last steam engine ran in 1960, Link photographed it from behind a couple standing on the front porch of their home. It was the end of an era and the end of his project.


    At the time no one was interested in photos of steam engines. That was yesterday’s technology. Photos, when he could sell one, went for next to nothing. He did better selling high-quality recordings of steam engines and whistles and it wasn’t until the 1980s that Link got the recognition he deserved.

    Today, strolling through the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, next to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, studying the images he produced you are drawn into the scene, compelled to look closer for the tiniest details of the composition.


    Link painted with light on photographic paper creating stark, indelible, dramatic images of mechanical dinosaurs rolling and belching clouds of steam on their way to extinction. To stand and look at his work is like being taken along on that historic ride.



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




  

Forget the app, there’s a map for that

   In the jumble of odds and ends I carry around in my purse, a mix of grocery store receipts, loose change, lipgloss, hairbands and bobby pins, mints, a small leather notebook and a pen, there is an honest-to-goodness map of the world. And I don’t mean the Google Maps app on my iPhone.
   

   The portable, purse-size Oxford World Atlas was a gift from my daughter, something I asked for last December, when, for once, I had an answer ready when asked what I would like to unwrap on Christmas morning. She bought it, brought it home and put it under the tree and now it is almost always with me.
 
   I pull out the book often and I am never disappointed. In less time than it would take to type in a keyword and track the tiny virtual map on the tiny screen on my phone, I can check the milage from Tokyo to Mumbai. I can, using the graph, measure the distance in miles or kilometers from one side of Paris to the other. I can daydream and make plans. I can follow along with the BBC or NPR news anchors when they’re talking about a drought, or disaster in some distant part of the world. Or, if I’m in the mood for something closer to home, I can look for unexplored places just a day’s drive from my backyard. And it isn’t all maps. At a glance, I can see what the national flag of Luxembourg or Montenegro looks like. I can find the capital city of the Slovak Republic, the population of the Mariana Islands, a list of the world’s busiest airports, the annual rainfall in Rome and even the average income of residents of Berlin.

   The information in the atlas is random and immediate. No searching for service or wireless. Just as men and women have been doing for centuries, I open a book and find a place that sparks my imagination. I like the satisfactory sound and feel of crisp, glossy, paper when I turn a page or trace my finger along printed highways, railways and rivers. I get swept away by possibilities and before I know it I’m connecting the map-dots of cities and countries. 

   I know a few facts may have changed since the book was updated, in fact, I’m sure of it. The world in always in flux. If I need to confirm the data, I do. But, for the most part, I’m sure of what I see. The socio-economic situations, politics and migratory habits of people are constantly changing but, and I find this immensely comforting, the continents, islands and land masses that make up the physical world as we know it are all still, barring any meteor strikes, volcanic eruptions and other cataclysmic surprises before this goes to print, exactly where they are supposed to be. And thanks to my daughter, I’m happy to say they are right at the bottom of my purse, between yesterday’s to-do list, a white shirt-button and my phone.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, 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

Ticket for One: Riding the Rocky Mountaineer

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


    I had a single ticket for the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxurious train that crosses some of the most scenic routes in Canada. So did the woman in the seat beside me.

    We boarded in Vancouver, British Columbia and for two days on the First Passage to the West route, as the train climbed across British Columbia and into Alberta, we swapped stories and shared a table in the dining compartment. We saw the gold-leafed Aspens and the bald eagles perched in the tops of trees by the river as the train swept across the countryside. We passed through small towns and through tunnels cut into stone mountains. Wrapped in the intimacy of train travel, we talked about who we are and how we each came to be on the train. She’s a nurse and I’m a writer. She is single. I’m married with grown children. I was just up from Washington State but she’d come from the other side of the world, from a small town a 7-hour train ride from Sidney Australia.


    We are different people in so many ways but we soon realized we share one quality: we want to see the world while we can. I spent 20 years at home with my children and only started traveling again when they were launched. Sometimes I leave for a trip headachey and groggy from lack of sleep because I’ve stayed up all night meeting work deadlines so I could get away. But I get away. For now. When the grandchildren come along, they’ll again be the ballast that keeps me from flying away and I look forward to that. But for now, I get away as often as I can.


    The woman on the train has serious heath concerns that could hold her back if she let them, but, as she pointed out, we only have so much time. So she works and saves and gets away when she can.
    We discovered that we are both women who, if that’s what it takes to get to a place we want to see and we can find a way to get there, aren’t afraid to go it alone.

    When the train pulled into Banff, Alberta we took a photo, exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes. She was off to visit her brother before boarding another train that would take her all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was staying in Banff for another day before flying home.

    The next morning, after a night in the beautiful historic Canadian Pacific hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs “castle”, a place I’ve always wanted to stay, I dressed and walked into the small town of Banff. I caught the bus to the base and then stepped into one of the small cars of the gondola that climbs Sulfur Mountain in a matter of minutes. I’m not particularly afraid of heights but I do have a secret anxiety about riding things that dangle on wires or rails stretched to the tops of mountains. But this shames me so I usually opt to ride the  gondolas or inclines or funiculars - whatever they’re called wherever they are - to push past my uneasiness. I don’t want fear to get the better of me.

    As usual, once the ride was underway, I relaxed. The view from the summit, overlooking the valley and the town of Banff below, was spectacular. Mountaintops stretched as far as I could see. The wind was crisp and light and the air was thin and clean. I followed the trail to an even higher overlook and looked out at the breathtaking scene wishing I could share it with my family; wishing their lives and schedules were as flexible as mine. But, since the moment was mine alone, I embraced it.


    A man was climbing the same trail and we took one another’s photos so each could bring home a souvenir, proof that we’d been there. Something else you learn to do when you travel alone.

    Later, back in my room, I looked at the photo the man had taken.  I thought about my seat mate on the train. I hope her day in Banff was as good as mine. I hope someone snapped her photo and captured for her the image of a woman who was - at the instant the shutter clicked - just happy to be standing where she was. I hope she has that recorded forever so she can look at it again and again and remember one perfect day. 

    Because, as a wise woman once told me, we only have so much time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. 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

 


  

Well-behaved Women Didn’t Make New Mexico’s History

(Photo courtesy Georgia O'Keefe Museum)

 


Coronado led the expedition to what would eventually become the state of New Mexico seeking a king’s ransom in gold. But what he found instead was a wide, burning landscape of stark contradictions and unique natural beauty; a land of painted desert, rolling hills, jagged mountains and endless blue skies ornamented with picture-perfect cloud formations.


The Pueblo people, unaware they were reputed to be wealthy beyond imagination, lived in houses made of mud bricks baked in the hot sun. Flakes of Mica and bits of straw embedded in the surface glinted in the hot sunlight.

In time, important trade routes were established and in the centuries that followed the cultures, beliefs and traditions of the native people, the conquering Spanish and Anglos who followed rutted paths and broken roads, blended.


 The result is a place like no other.


I was just in New Mexico, spending most of my time along the road between Santa Fe and Taos. And I discovered, wrapped in all the history of the region, the natural beauty and the contemporary focus on wine, food and art, the unexpected legacy of more than a few determined women. New Mexico may have been shaped by the men who laid claim to it, but it was made even richer by a flood of stubborn, demanding and eccentric women who took one look at the mountains in the distance, the pinyon trees and the wide open spaces, and never left.


The list is curious and impressive: Movie star Greer Garson—the implacable Mrs. Miniver— married into a ranch outside Santa Fe in the late 1940s and by the time of her death, in her 90s, she’d funded and endowed what would become Pecos National Park.  


New York socialite Millicent Rogers swept into Taos in 1949 and, consumed by a passion to conserve - while immersing herself in it - the culture of the Southwestern Indian, amassed an enormous collection of native turquoise and silver jewelry, pottery, textiles and paintings that would eventually, after her death in 1953, become the Millicent Rogers Museum of Taos.


Earlier, Mabel Dodge Luhan purchased land and a rambling adobe house and set out of to create a desert salon, a writers colony. Her tempestuous personal life became the stuff of literary legend, but her house still stands as a retreat center and bed and breakfast.


Georgia O’Keefe’s life and art changed forever when she planted herself—already in midlife—in the dry soil. Her home sits high on a hill in the Village of Abiquiui and looks out on a wide view she captured on canvas again and again.


Willa Cather, Frieda Lawrence, Edna St. Vincent Millay were all drawn to New Mexico, and so many other women—some rich, some rich only in talent and vision—came and stayed to sculpt a new life in a wild place. They played by new rules or their own rules. and they all possessed a restless energy that matched the place they’d settled.

In the dazzling New Mexico light, fed by the raw elements of sun, sky, earth and water, women blossomed like the cacti and golden Chamisa that blooms across the desert.   They proved that sometimes - to paraphrase Virginia Woolfe - all a woman needs is money and a territory of her own.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. 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
  

The Loss of a Familiar Face

   I was sitting in an airport, somewhere, I don’t even remember which airport it was, watching two women in the row of chairs across from me.


    Like most travelers these days, they were surrounded by all the necessary carry-on items: purses, a takeout bag with sandwiches for later, magazines, inflatable pillows. One of the women was in her late fifties and the other was a good bit older. And they spoke to one another in a way that made it clear they were close. The younger one was deferential to the older, caring for her, making her comfortable, asking if she needed anything.


    I finally realized that the pair were mother and daughter. The daughter had had, as they say, some work done. She’d actually had a lot of work done. Her nose had been shaped and planed, bobbed just a bit. Her face had been lifted, stretched, pulled back into shape in an attempt to erase the effects of gravity and years. Her eyebrows arched upward, giving her a surprised look even as she sat staring off into space, bored, waiting for the call to board the plane. The older woman looked exactly the way you would expect a woman of her age to look. Her face had settled into a pattern of lines and shadows that told the story of a lifetime. Her skin was creased and the corner of her eyes drooped. She was still attractive but there was nothing harsh or artificially youthful about her.  


    Sneaking glances at them from time to time, I couldn’t help but wonder what the older woman thought when she looked at her child, at the dramatic changes in her appearance.  I know when I look at my own children I see the way they’ve changed, the way they’re still changing as they mature. But even as I look at them as they are now, I see the babies they were. I see the familiar tilt of a chin, the combination of features inherited from both of their parents and from relatives they never knew. I see the way each of my children, even as they are distinctly different, bear some indefinable resemblance to one another. And something deep within me reacts, softens and warms as I look at them, responding to the familiar faces of beloved babies even as I take in the faces of young adults.


    I suspect the same is true for my children, that when they look at me they mark the way I am no longer the young woman I was in the photos that hang on the wall or in the scraps of childhood memories they carry, but I am still, even as I grow older, me.


    The women boarded their plane. I got on mine. But they left me wondering about the grace of aging, and how sad it might be to lose a familiar face.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. 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

Broken Wings

Walking to an early meeting, the sharp tapping of my heels on the sidewalk ricocheting off the stone walls of the old cathedral on the corner, I looked down at my feet and I was shocked by what I saw. I’d almost stepped on two tiny wings.  A sparrow’s wings.  The sad, singular remainder of a deadly battle between predator and prey.

 At that moment, I looked up to see a woman coming toward me. She’s a familiar sight downtown. Small, with a quirky rolling gait, like a little sailor listing from side to side as she moves, she walks her city like a tourist. She peers up at window washers hanging from scaffolding. She peeks into buildings that are under renovation. She studies parked cars as she walks slowly past them. She looks up to follow planes as they pass low over the city. She turns to watch bicyclists and skateboarders rocket by.

I see her often and she always reminds me of a bird in an urban cage. She lives in the senior apartments near the Cathedral where I was standing. Her world is an orderly grid of streets and avenues: Six blocks to the drugstore.  Four blocks to the market.  Five blocks to the mall.

Every day, she walks, listening and watching the rest of the world; men in starched shirts and silk ties and women in heels and power suits, all hustling from one meeting to another, on their way to coffee breaks and corporate lunches.

I can’t help but think she must have been something when she was young. Even now, in old age, there is a hint of the petite, curvy, young woman she must have been. Now, even in elastic-waist pants and sensible shoes, I see a girl who wore a flower behind one ear. A girl who danced at the USO.
I wish I knew her story. Is she a widow? Or, perhaps a divorcee, from a time when divorce set a woman apart, leaving her to live on pennies and prayer.Did she raise a family, taking car vacations to National Parks or the train to big cities? Did she work? Does she miss all that?

How did she lose her wings, I wondered to myself. When did she turn into a solitary figure who walks the city as an observer?

The woman walked up to where I stood and stopped beside me, looking down at the feathers at my feet. Then she peered up at me, cocking her head to one side in that birdlike way she has.

 It was all I could do not to ask, “They aren’t yours, are they?”

I couldn’t see her eyes behind the dark, oversized glasses she always wears, as she smiled and shook her head in pity.

“Poor thing,” she said, and walked away.

Watching her, it struck me that a bird can’t survive without its wings.  But people? Well, people do it all the time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. 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
  

Are you an EPL princess? Check your panties and Band-Aids.




    When I was a little girl I loved to read fairy tales. I spent hours with my nose buried in beautifully illustrated books and my favorites were the classic stories of strong-willed maidens and castles far, far away.  
    To overcome whatever obstacle bound them, each woman used her wits, called on magic (there was always some kind of magic) and then fell for the handsome prince who came riding into each story just in the nick of time.
    And each, by the end of the story, walked away with the keys to the castle.
    The first time I opened the pages of Eat, Pray, Love I recognized a familiar landscape.
    In it, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her failed marriage and combative divorce, her depression and tendency to repeat old patterns and, ultimately, her search for authentic self. That search, in case you’ve been on Mars and haven’t heard, took her to Italy for the food and language, India for spiritual solace and Bali for personal direction.  At the end of the year, thanks to the magic of good food, a guru and a medicine man, and - the most magical thing of all - a lucrative book contract to write about experiences she had not yet had, she was whole again. And, coincidentally, in love with a hunk who’d come riding in and fallen head-over-heels for her.
    That would be, by any middle-class, overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated woman’s standards, a fairy tale ending to a really bad year.
    I’m not bashing the book. I read it and enjoyed it well enough when I actually finished it. (It took me two tries.) But at no time did I ever lose my head and believe that I can do what Gilbert did. Because, as it turns out,  I am a middle-class, overworked, underpaid and occasionally under-appreciated woman. I may be able to get out of town for a week or two, when the budget and schedule allow, and if I organize things around the house and call home every night, but how on earth can I run away for a year to simply sit and think? I can’t. I have to take my peace and inspiration where I find them.
    Now there’s a movie and Julia Roberts has made Gilbert’s story even prettier. Entertainment and enlightenment in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Another fairy tale ending.
    The tourism industry is rushing to make Eat,Pray,Love packages available to women who want to retrace Gilbert’s journey. What do you want to bet well-heeled participants don’t have to scrub floors at the Asham.
    Virginia Woolfe told us we need a room of our own and a little money. Those two things on their own are often hard enough to come by. Now, we need even more money and a trip around the world?
    The thing I find most fascinating about the whole EPL phenomenon is that Gilbert, in true modern day princess fashion, has become a brand. You may not be able to book a flight away from the kids (children were a complication Gilbert didn’t have to work around) but thanks to the Home Shopping Network and Cost Plus World Market you can buy genuine Eat,Pray,Love merchandise to give your home that journey-of-personal-discovery look for less. Not to mention the jewelry, tea, candles and journals and perfume. All without a passport.
    I guess the world hasn’t changed all that much since I read old fairy tales and my daughters watched spunky Disney princesses live happily ever after.     
    Can “Eat, Pray, Love”  panties and Band-Aids be far behind?
    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. 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

Savor Every Bite

     Food. Books.
    Somewhere, at some time, the two became intertwined in my mind. It just didn’t seem right to do one without the other. I ate when I read and I read when I ate.
    I remember practicing sounding-out words on the back of the box of Corn Flakes when I was a first-grader.
    As a middle-schooler, I loved nothing better than to spend a weekend on the window seat which ran along the long wall of windows in the dining room, with my nose buried in a mystery, a plate of cookies or crackers by my side.
    When I got older I would make a pot of tea and pour one cup after another as I turned the pages of thick leather-bound classics. I’m pretty sure I absentmindedly ate almost an entire fruitcake when I read Jane Eyre. Even now, just thinking about Mr. Rochester brings on a curious craving for candied fruit and pecans. And I’m not a big fan.
    All this reading and chewing was fine when I was young, but now, well, it just won’t do. I finally realized that my habit of reading while I eat, or, the other way around, often means I take in far  more than I’d intended. Just one more page, turns into another chapter. One serving turns into two.
    So, I’m giving it up.
    It’s funny how things taste when you take the time to savor them. To hear the crunch of celery, taste the burst of sweetness in a slice of watermelon or consider the complex soft-yet-tough texture of a banana.
    I’m not a complete stranger to the mindfulness of paying attention to what you eat. I once attended a retreat, as the guest of a friend.  I don’t remember a single thing about that Saturday except lunch. We were served a tuna salad sandwich on whole-grain bread and we were asked not to talk during the meal. We were to focus on the food that had been prepared for us.  I can close my eyes and see that sandwich, and the dark bread. I can still taste the tuna, and even the flavor of the herbs mixed with it.
    The other morning I was up before anyone. I made myself an espresso and a plate of fruit and took it out to the patio to eat. I didn’t take the morning paper with me. I didn’t pick up a book. I left the computer inside.
    Looking down at my plate, at the sliced strawberries I’d arranged along the edge, I noticed for the first time how a thin slice of the red berry resembles the interior of seashell. The outer skin is pebbled and gives way to a lighter band of pink on the inside.   It is delicate and beautiful
    Picking up a blueberry, I bit into it and for the first time in my life, looked at the interior. I was surprised to discover that blueberries are actually green on the inside. Does everyone but me already know this?
    It’s hard to break an old habit. Especially when it is wrapped with pleasure. But, I’m trying. I’ll just have to do it one little bite at a time.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. 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

Age and Beauty

A friend and I were discussing the way we see ourselves changes with age. That reminded me of a column I wrote a couple of years ago so I thought I would share it here…

 

May 19, 2008

Home Planet: Fine lines between young, old

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
 
 

I had an appointment to get my hair cut. Most women my age know what that means. It means an uncomfortable, critical, hour or so in front of a mirror in unforgiving light. Like it or not, you see yourself as you really are.

So, in self-defense, I put on a little lipstick, put a little color on my cheeks, before I walked out the door.

At the salon, while I thumbed through a magazine, I watched the young woman in the chair nearby. She was in her early 20s, probably just out of school, and she was very pretty. She had golden skin, big blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Her makeup – dark eyelashes and lip gloss – was skillfully done.

The stylist hovered over her like a bee buzzing around a flower, a lily gilded with foils and highlights, pulling her long blonde hair through a brush as he waved the dryer in the air. She had a date, she told him. She had a new dress and she was going dancing.

I couldn’t help but notice that as they talked and laughed, she never took her eyes off her reflection. She tilted her head, studying her face, admiring her hair. She was obviously pleased with what she saw. And why not? Crow’s feet and salt-and-pepper hair were years away. She still had a lot of growing up to do.

I sat down, my hair tousled and wet, a towel pinned around my neck. The woman who does my hair knows the drill. Just hold what we’ve got, is the implied message each time I sit in her chair. Just hold what we’ve got.

I stole a glance at myself in the mirror – at my very grown-up reflection – and quickly looked away. No use dwelling on that.

And that’s when I saw her. At the station behind me an older woman sat in a wheelchair. Her short gray hair framed her face in a no-nonsense cut. She wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry.

Avoiding my own face, I watched hers instead. And the more I studied her, the more beautiful she became. Not painted and pretty like the girl. Not middle-aged and holding like me. She was truly beautiful.

The woman chatted with the stylist and when she smiled her face followed a map of lines that had been etched by time. By years of happiness and heartbreak. Years of hard times and good times. Years of lessons learned and small graces. Years and years of living.

I was struck by the way she gazed directly into the mirror looking straight into her own eyes. She wasn’t entertained by her reflection, like a canary playing with its image, the way the beautiful young woman had been. But she wasn’t hiding from what she saw the way I was. She met herself without flinching, without looking away. She met herself head-on.

That, I thought to myself, is what I want to be. When I grow old and I settle into myself for the rest of the ride, I want to find that kind of peace.

I want to find that woman in the mirror.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. 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

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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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