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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
  

Travel: Old World Christmas at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


   When Christmas comes to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it is wrapped in a big white tent and filled with music, food, handmade crafts and the ancient tradition of German Advent markets.

   Osthoff Resort General Manager Lola Roeh spent time in Nuremberg, Germany before returning to Wisconsin and coming to lead the Osthoff. Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlesmarkt left an indelible mark on her imagination and she was determined to bring the tradition to the resort. Fifteen years ago she did just that and now the Old World Christmas Market at the Osthoff Resort has grown to be an important part of the region’s holiday season, catering to those who return each year to add to a collection or simply savor the tastes of an authentic German Christmas by eating schnitzel and red cabbage or sipping Glühwein.

   Some vendors, including the sausage maker who flies in each year to sell authentic Nuremberg sausages—made with his secret recipe— have been with the market since the beginning.

   While shoppers move from booth to booth, Father Christmas parts the crowd, calling out Christmas greetings. Seasonal music fills the big heated tent.

   I had only just walked in when I spotted a booth filled with beautiful handmade paper mache Santa and Father Christmas figures. Each exquisite piece was made in authentic vintage German molds, hand painted and decorated with glass glitter or tiny glass beads. I spent almost half an hour looking at each one, trying to decide which would come home with me. Finally, I chose a petite Father Christmas, ornamented with glass beads and holding a tiny Christmas tree. He was wrapped and packed for the trip home and the little figure was the first decoration I put out when I returned.

   Elkhart Lake is beautiful any time of year but the elegant white structures of the surrounding resorts, including the crown jewel, the big, rambling, historic Osthoff Resort, shine brightest in winter. The summer crowds are gone and the small town becomes a place to escape the hectic pace of the holiday while celebrating the best of the season.


More information:
The Osthoff Resort

Old World Christmas Market


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 is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and  can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Carol Hicks Bolton ‘Antiquities’ in Fredericksburg, TX

The first time I read about Carol Hicks Bolton, in a magazine in the late 1980s, was the first time I’d really heard anything about Fredericksburg, Texas. The description of the German heritage of the historic small town, and the photos of the architecture of the soft, white, limestone buildings of the area, intrigued me. And Carol’s work, her flair for creating personal, elegant interiors with what was, at the time, an almost unheard of combination of fine antiques and rustic and tattered objects and materials, was unique. 

I put Fredericksburg, and Carol’s store on my list of places to visit and finally made the trip to the Texas Hill Country in early December of this year. The first stop I made as I pulled into town was at Carol Hicks Bolton’s Antiquities, her newest retail venture. I’d just read about the new store in Jo Packham’s Where Women Create magazine and that had once again piqued my interest.

Antiquities is big. The 15,000 square-foot interior is spare and elegant, filled with an eclectic collection of antiques and linens, with furnishings, books, ephemera, natural objects like bones and rocks and antlers all beautifully displayed. Sunlight streams through the windows and the open door.

I could have happily spent the rest of the day looking at every little thing in the store but unfortunately I was on a schedule, with more stops to make before checking into my guest house.

Since Carol home-schools her children, she wasn’t there. But I was able to talk to her husband Tim, who’s been by her side as she built the business. He gave me plenty of room to explore and shop, but any time I had a question he was there with an answer.

Since time, and space in my suitcase, were limited, I decided to focus on the rows of iron shelves filled with old books. And almost immediately I found my prize: a 1929 'Les Guides Bleu' guidebook to Paris. The small book is filled with maps, delicate little works of art all on their own, and when I opened it the pages fell almost immediately to a map of the neighborhood where my favorite hotel, also built in 1929, still sits.  I’ll be at that hotel in a few weeks, celebrating the new year in Paris with my youngest daughter.

I closed the book already knowing it was mine.

Treasure hunting, when done right, is like eating dessert. It’s sweetest when you have only enough to leave you wanting just a bit more. That’s just how I felt when I walked out, the vintage book in my hand.

Just as I suspected I would when I first read about it, I loved everything about Fredericksburg and the surrounding Texas Hill Country. And the time I spent exploring the objects Carol Hicks Bolton and Tim Bolton have gathered and brought back to Texas was memorable, as well.

I have the feeling this was only the first trip. I’d like a little more, please.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance travel journalist 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


  

Travel: The Beauty of Christmas in Germany

(Photo by R. B. Millsap)

 

   One night, on my first trip to Germany during the month of December, hungry and still a little jetlagged from the flight, I walked into a tiny restaurant in a residential district near the center of Munich. I opened the door and then, dazzled by what I saw, stopped to take it all in.  
    

   A forest of dozens of small, elaborately decorated Christmas trees were hanging upside down from the ceiling of the room. I’d never seen anything like it before. Beautifully-wrapped packages of all sizes were stacked on windowsills, strung like ornaments on garlands of ribbon and greenery, and piled into corners. Evergreen boughs, woven with tiny white lights that glowed in the fresh snowfall outdoors and were reflected in the mirror over the bar, trimmed every door and window. 
    

   The intimate neighborhood eatery was filled with locals enjoying a big plate of schnitzel or wurst and crowded with friends who’d stopped by for an after-work drink. I felt as though I’d walked into a scene from an ornate Victorian picture-book, but I quickly realized the over-the-top decor was no show for tourists. It was just a perfectly fine example of the way Germany dresses up for the holiday season.
   

    Anyone who has ever spent time at one of Germany’s Advent or  Christkindlmarkts can relate. It’s the same kind of over-the-top feeling. Strolling down the rows of wood huts, most strung with white lights and wrapped in garland and decorations, it’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back in time.
   

    Most markets are held in the traditional market square or city center. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, the air is filled with the sweet and spicy scents of sausages, pastries, potato pancakes and warm candied almonds and other nuts. Shoppers crowd around booths buying gifts of handmade wood toys, knitted items, ornamental gingerbread and hand-carved wood figures for the family creche. And the Glühwein stands are the most popular by far, with friends gathering to enjoy a mug of the hot, spiced and fortified wine that is so much a part of Germany’s holiday season.
   

    Each market has a distinctive feel. The walled city of Nuremberg is famous for its red and white striped market canopies. The Munich “manger” market is where families come each year to select hand-carved pieces for the creche displayed every Christmas season. And the sprawling, busy, Frankfurt market stretches from the old city center to the river, highlighting both the history and contemporary culture of the vibrant city. The beautiful market in Cologne is consistantly voted one of the most popular.
    

   If you have the time and want to explore Germany at a more leisurely pace, consider booking a Rhine River cruise.  With frequent stops at villages between Frankfurt, Germany and Basel, Switzerland, a December river cruise down the Rhine River gives you a trouble-free way to enjoy the scenery as you cruise past ancient castles, beautiful and productive vineyards, old fortifications and picturesque villages. Each day brings a new opportunity to explore holiday markets in towns along the river, each with its own flavor and vibe, without the crush of peak-season tourists. Small-ship cruising combines the best of cruising—fine dining, comfortable staterooms and leisurely travel—but most river cruise ships carry fewer than 200 passengers so one never feels lost in the crowd.
    

   No place is as beautiful as Germany this time of year. Every year when I hang the wreaths and decorate the tree I think back to that small but beautifully and exhuberantly decorated restaurant on a quiet street in a very busy city. And I'm always inspired to do just a bit more.

    

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
       

    
  

Shopping: Catching Sunlight in an Old Jar

One recent afternoon in Chappell Hill, Texas, touring the area around that antiques Holy Ground, Round Top, I stopped by Heritage Garden and Mercantile on the town's main street, looked around for a few minutes and was on my way back out the door when a display of lids meant to fit old canning jars caught my eye. The neat thing about the lids was that each one held a tiny solar light. They could turn any jar into a lantern.

I loved the idea and bought two, dropping them in my suitcase. Later, when I got home I put the lids in the big English armoire I use as a china closet, filling it with linens, dishes, serving pieces and candles.

When I pulled out candles for the Thanksgiving table, I saw the lids and a few days later I put one on a jar from the pantry. I left it on the table to charge and then forgot about it again. Very early in the morning, when I got up to get ready to catch an early flight, I walked into the dark kitchen and the room was lit by the glowing jar.

I went online and discovered there are several brands of solar jar lid lights at various price points. And, if you're particularly crafty, I found instructions for making your own. I used the solar lid on a clear Kerr jar but it would be just as pretty with a vintage blue Mason jar.

I may be late to the party, but I'm happy to have found the little lights. They give new purpose to empty, unused jars and bring a beautiful new glow to lovely old glass. And, it's a good reminder that we never know what we'll find as we travel.

 

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

Travel: Riding the Rails with the Branson Scenic Railway

   When I travel to a new place, one of the first activities I look for is a train ride, especially when the cars or locomotives are vintage workhorses that have been restored and put back in use. There’s no better way to sit back, relax and see the countryside, as well as capture a bit of local history.


    In many places such excursion trains are located at the edge of town, in the rail yards where the engine and passenger cars are stored between trips. But Branson, Missouri, is different.


    The Branson Scenic Railway depot is right in the middle of town. In fact, I could look down on the depot and one of the big engines from my room next door at the Hilton Convention Center. The morning of my ride, all I had to do was walk out the front door of the hotel and straight into the historic 1905 Branson depot.


    Each day, depending on the season, two fully-restored locomotives, Number 98 built in 1951 and Number 99 built in 1962, carry the seven cars, all built between 1939 and 1956, on three to four trips. The excursion train operates on working Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad lines and travels as far north to Galena, Missouri or south to the Barren Fork Trestle in Arkansas.


    Once on board, seating is open so passengers are free to find a spot they like and settle in. The dome cars fill up fast so I bypassed those and picked a seat in a car in the middle of the train, at a small table so I could take notes as I rode.


    Rolling through the beautiful Ozark Mountain foothills in fall is about as pretty a ride as you can imagine. The trees were beautiful. As we rolled along, deer, turkeys and even wild pigs could be seen from the wide windows. The train was full—I understand it almost always is—and most passengers were visiting Branson from all over the country. At one end of the car a group of seniors from Indiana laughed and talked and at the other end a family of four from Texas took photos as we rolled across the tall trestles. It was the kids’ first train ride.


    During the 40-mile roundtrip excursion, a narrator pointed out not-to-be-missed views, gave wildlife alerts and filled us in on the history of the train and the region. The rail line we were riding was built at great cost due to the ruggedness of the landscape and it was the primary reason the town of Branson grew and thrived. The car attendants, most of whom have been with the railway for years, stopped by frequently to chat.


    Branson is known for big shows and glitzy entertainment but, no surprise here, the train trip was my favorite activity. There is nothing contrived or artificial about it.


    So many places raze the old to make way for the new, but Branson went to great lengths to not only preserve its railroad history, but totally reinvigorate a tangible, and still thoroughly enjoyable, link to the past.

More information about the Branson Scenic Railway
    
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

Travel: Exploring Round Top, Brenham and Washington County, Texas

    Too often, when we travel to big events, the only thing we see of a town while we’re there is the crowd and the attraction. There’s no time to take the side roads and explore. But as a traveler I’ve learned it pays to make another trip when the crowd is gone, to see a town or city or part of the country when it’s not on show. When the roads are clear, the diners and cafes are more relaxed and rooms are not scarce.

    Anyone who’s ever been to one of the Round Top, Texas, antique shows knows what it feels like to roll right into a big raucous party. Acres of antiques, miles of traffic, parties and people everywhere. It’s all great fun but if you make the trip between shows, you get a different view.

    I’ve spent hours treasure hunting, moving from one vendor to another in search of the perfect antique, but this time I was looking for more than that so I spent an off-season week exploring the small towns in and around Washington County, Texas, including Round Top. There was still a trace of autumn color on the big oak and pecan trees and although the temperature dipped at night, the days were warm and golden. But this time, instead of antiques, music and food, history took center stage.

    I stood in the reconstructed Independence Hall at the Washington-on-the-Brazos historic site at the edge of the Brazos River and listened to the story of the fierce struggle to gain independence that happened at that site. A town was born, transformed and then faded away but the legacy of fiery confidence and determination still remains in the pride of native Texans.

    At the same park I strolled through the home of Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic before Texas gained statehood and I traced the timeline of events that led to the creation of contemporary Texas at the Star of the Republic Museum.

    I spent time in Brenham, one of the state’s oldest settlements and toured the Simon Theater, a 1925 movie palace and show hall that is undergoing a complete restoration. I explored Chappell Hill, an old stage coach stop that has a rich history of cotton farming and was home to Polish immigrants who traveled to the United States in search of a better life.

    And the day I stopped by the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum just happened to be election day. I traced the story of the man who became the nation’s 41st president while at that moment, across the country, men and women were casting ballots to elect the 45th president. One of the rights that was fought for by men and women who built the simple Independence Hall I’d toured the day before.

    Nothing beats the fun when the tents are up and the antiques are everywhere, but that’s only half the story around Round Top and Washington County. The beautiful rolling Texas countryside is rich with history and the stories of ordinary people who did and continue to do extraordinary things.


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 can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Don’t Get Caught with Cold Feet

In the Departures section of the latest issue of AAA Western Journey Magazine, I contributed a list of my own  travel tips and tools; suggested uses for items you might have at home in your own closet or medicine cabinet.

One tip that didn't make the list is actually my favorite. In fact, I use it often.

Hotel rooms, especially in Europe, can be chilly in winter. So, to combat cold feet, before going to bed I fill a disposable (and watertight!) plastic water bottle with hot water. As hot as I can get it without actually softening the plastic. Then I slip the bottle into a soft cashmere sock kept in my luggage for exactly that purpose, tuck the homemade hot water bottle under the covers and slip in with it.

Of course, my quick fix doesn't stay hot as long as a traditional hot water bottle, but it helps me stay warm, relax and get to sleep. The next morning I either put the empty bottle back in my day pack or, it there's an option, recycle it.

Most frequent travelers find a way to “MacGyver” fixes for issues that come up. But, as a friend said, leave it to a woman to figure out a way to warm up her “popsicle toes.”

North Cascades Highway closed by snow, avalanches

TRAVEL — The Washington Transportation Department closed the North Cascades Highway at noon today because of heavy snow and avalanche danger.

Three slides occurred and more than 4 inches of snow fell within 90 minutes, according to a department media release.

At this point, the closure is temporary, but the section of Highway 20 over the North Cascades typically closes for the winter this time of year.

Vehicle emergency kit cheap insurance for winter travelers

WINTER TRAVEL — Slippery roads this week are a reminder that drivers should be prepared for mishaps that might catch stuck, stranded or off the road in winter conditions.

A bag of items stashed in your vehicle could spell the difference between comfort and misery if not — in the worst case scenario — life and death. 

Carry a survival kit in your vehicle.

  • First-aid kit
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Cellular phone and charger
  • Windshield scraper with snow brush
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Extra winter clothes including shoes, hats and gloves
  • Compact shovel
  • Traction aids (bag of sand or  cat litter) and tow strap
  • Emergency flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Non-perishable food and bottled water
  • Road map
  • Candles, matches, non-liquid firestarter.
  • Special-needs items vehicle passengers may require.

Travel: Seeing the world with 1940s Wollensak Rambler field glasses

(Photo by R. B. Millsap) 

 

    When I’m traveling and working I usually have a big digital camera slung on my shoulder and, more often than not, my iPhone in my hand. I know it probably looks odd to have what seems to be a child’s toy hanging around my neck when the rest of my tools are expensive and modern, but I’d put my shabby old Wollensak Rambler field glasses against just about anything I could buy today.

    The Wollensak Optical Company originated in Rochester, New York, in the late 1880s and made precision camera lenses and shutters until it closed in the mid-1970s. During WWII, Wollensak manufactured optical equipment for the US military. The company also produced a series of small binoculars for sportsmen and opera lovers. My aluminum glasses were made in 1940 and were fairly expensive—for the time—at $9.95. I love them because they are small and lightweight and easy to pack—slipping neatly into my purse or my suitcase—but they focus easily and the view is crystal clear.

    I picked up the little Rambler glasses at an estate sale in Spokane more than 10 years ago and I’ve taken them all over the world with me since that day. The original leather strap was brittle so I fastened a lanyard that allows me to hang them securely around my neck.

    Recently, on an InnerSea Discoveries small-boat voyage to Southeast Alaska, although there were plenty of binoculars around for passengers to use, the Rambler binoculars were my constant companion. As we sailed along the beautiful wild coast, I scanned the beaches for bears and the waves for Humpback whales and Orcas. When I spotted something, and it seemed as though every time I lifted them to my eyes I was rewarded, the focus was sharp and instant.

    I spent many contented hours either standing on the deck or sitting on my bed in our stateroom, gazing out at the beautiful scenery. I brought them along when we left the boat and paddled a kayak through crystal-clear and ice-filled water. When I wasn’t taking photos, I was getting a closer look through the lenses of my old field glasses.

     I will admit to a certain romantic attraction to the back-story of the ordinary old objects that find their way to me. And when I look at the worn exterior of the glasses I do like to imagine who else might have gazed at the distant horizon through the lenses.
    It pleases me that even with the most modern equipment, when I pick up my Rambler field glasses and put them to my eyes, I have a clear (and vintage) view of the world around me.

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
  

Travel: Posting a filtered view of memorable moments via photo-sharing apps

   At a rcent media event, I watched as a friend showed another woman—a professional photographer—her latest post on her Instagram feed, the mobile application that allows anyone to take photos with a smartphone camera and then manipulate them, filtering to add color, texture, vintage graininess or even bizarre special effects, before posting online.
    
    “That’s pretty, but it’s crap,” the photographer said dismissively. “Those photo apps let people who don’t know what they’re doing take a bad photo and then ‘save’ it by adding special effects. It’s basically junk.”


    My friend laughed off the other woman’s dismissive and, to be blunt, rude, words and moved on.    


    I’ve heard that kind of exchange before and it always strikes me as foolish. Photo apps are creative toys, outlets for expression, not a threat to professionals. And there’s a reason they are so popular. A photographer with skill and the right equipment can take a technically perfect photograph. But sometimes technically perfect is just not real enough.


    It’s the same with words. If I were to tell you that recently, at the Peaks of Otter Recreational Area near Bedford, Virginia, I walked a trail to the top of a mountain on a 67-degree weekday in October, climbing until I stood at the overlook gazing down at a forest of hardwood trees that were no longer photosynthesizing, and then when I had seen enough I took the rocky path back down, you’d have a pretty good idea of what I’d done and where I’d been. But I wouldn’t have communicated in any way what I felt.


    But when I tell you that not too long ago, on what felt like a perfect fall day, breathing in cool air scented by forest smells of fallen leaves and woodsmoke from distant cabins, the sun warming my back, I climbed a winding, rocky, path crisscrossed by the roots of the gnarled trees that clung to the rich dark soil of the southwestern Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains and when I reached the stacked-stone overlook I stood still and silent as my heartbeat slowed, gazing out as far as the eye could see at a beautiful carpet of golden Hickory and scarlet maple treetops; when I tell you I stood there a long time taking it all in, acknowledging my instinctive reaction to the beauty of the season before turning to make my way back down the steep path, I bring you a little closer to my experience.


    I think that’s the appeal of Instagram and other mobile phone camera apps. They let us take what we see and paint the image with nostalgia, sentiment and other emotions.


    Of course, there’s a time and a place for artistic license. I carry a professional camera with me wherever I travel, and the camera on my iPhone 4s is surprisingly good. I shoot on both so I come home with a not just a photo suitable for traditional publication, but, because I love the creative flexibility, I usually post a lightly-filtered or focused version of the same image online on my Facebook page, Instagram feed and Tumblr blog.  One captures what I saw, the other what I felt. But what’s most interesting to me is the reaction many people have to a filtered image. They look at it longer, closer. Perfect focus, balanced composition, color and scale, draw our approval. But emotion, the “junk” so many deliberately remove from their work, draws us in.


(Click “Continue Reading” to see an unflitered view of the cover photo.)

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
  

(Travel) The War to End All Wars

Silent testimony to 11/11.

WWI bunkers in Flanders Fields, Belgium.

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




  

Travel: Black Dog Salvage on DIY Network

(Robert Kulp, co-owner of Salvage Dogs, is one of DIY Network's latest reality stars. Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)   

 

   While traveling through Southwest Virginia recently, I stopped by Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke. I’d read about the architectural salvage and design company in Garden and Gun Magazine’s profile of the Roanoke area and I knew I couldn’t get that close without stopping by.


    Black Dog owners Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp have filled a rambling 40,000 sq.ft. Roanoke warehouse on the edge of the hip Grandin Village with a treasure trove of interesting architectural pieces, antiques and one-of-a-kind designs made onsite in their wood and metalwork shops. Select dealers occupy one end of the building and regularly bring in antiques and collectibles to fill their spaces.


    The minute I walked in the place I knew there was no way I’d be able to take it all in with a quick visit. Most of what caught my eye was too big to bring home ( but I need that 10-foot MAZAWATTEE TEA sign!) so I spent almost an hour walking through taking photos with my iPhone thinking I could follow up online.


    While I was there I met Sally, the laid back black Labrador retriever who is the business namesake and talked to Kulp who told me Black Dog Salvage will be the focus of Salvage Dogs, a new DIY Network reality show.  Beginning early next month, cameras will follow Whiteside and Kulp as they explore and dismantle old buildings and find new ways to use old objects. In the first episode the pair will salvage an 1890’s farmhouse that served as both post office and school house.


    I loved Roanoke and I’m already scheming to get back. And next time I’ll set aside a full day for shopping at Black Dog. But, until then, at least I can follow the action on DIY’s Salvage Dogs.
    
    
Salvage Dawgs is set to air on the DIY Network, Thursday, Nov. 8 at 11pm EST. and again Friday, Nov. 9 at 9pm EST. Check your local provider for updated information.
    


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
  

Gas prices tumble nationwide, but not in Idaho…

Gas prices across the nation have just posted their biggest one-week decline since 2008, AAA Idaho reports, but Idaho hasn't yet felt it. In the Gem State, gas prices are averaging $3.82 a gallon, 19 cents higher than the U.S. average and down just a penny in the last week. The national average dropped 13 cents in the last week to $3.63 a gallon.

AAA predicts that national average gas prices will fall to between $3.40 and $3.65 by Election Day - just two weeks away - and down to $3.25 to $3.40 by Thanksgiving. But in Idaho? “We don't know,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs. “I would think it's safe to say that we should see some decline in prices.” You can read AAA's full news release here.

Travel: Back to Memphis

   Some places belong to our deepest memories. They are the source of the sights and sounds and experiences that define us, that make us the into people we become. Because I was born in the Southeast, less than a day’s drive from Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a place my family particularly loved, Tennessee became that kind of touchstone for me. As a child I camped along Deep Creek, explored Pigeon Forge and Cade’s Cove and looked out the window, staring into the clouds, lost in my thoughts as we drove the winding roads.   

    When I was a teenager my friends and I drove to Nashville for the weekend and we walked to Ernest Tubb’s Music Store to hear the musicians who gathered there late at night to play for the fun of it.

    One fall day when I was in my 20s, I took a single seat on a day-long excursion train to Chattanooga and started talking to a tall man who was there with a couple of friends. We spent the rest of the day together and in a few years we were back again, this time with our children.

    So when I had a chance to return to Memphis recently, a place I hadn’t been since we moved to the Northwest more than a decade ago, I didn’t think twice. The first day, not long after checking into The Peabody Hotel, the grand hotel that has been the heart and center of the city for almost 100 years, I walked down to the lobby to join the crowd around the fountain and the ducks swimming in it. If you don’t know, The Peabody is famous for its ducks. What started as a practical joke has become a treasured tradition and each morning they march single-file down a red carpet to spend the next few hours swimming in the hotel lobby before marching back to the elevator at in the late afternoon.

    The ducks always play to a crowd. Young children were gathered along the red carpet, anxious to have a front-row seat for the duck parade, and I realized my own children must have been about that age when we brought them to Memphis to see this particular show. I thought back on that day, wondering at the speed with which time grabs so many little moments and sweeps them into the corners of our minds, to sit there until we stumble on them again if we’re lucky.
    

   The woman standing beside me told me she comes to the city and to the hotel at least once a year. “I’m like one of these ducks,” she said, laughing and taking a sip of her cocktail. “I keep marching back.”

    After the ducks marched past me and into the elevator that would take them to their rooftop “plantation” I joined a tour of the building offered by an employee.  As he led us from one beautiful room to another he talked about growing up in Memphis and how the hotel has been a vital part of the community for most of its history. And for most of his personal history.
   

    “That’s the thing about this place,” he said, looking around him. “Everywhere you look you see a scene from your past.”

    For the next few days, as I explored a part of the country that used to be so much a part of me,  I said the same thing again and again.

    Memphis is a vibrant city. The music never stops on Beale Street. The food is spicy and delicious. I sat down to a plate of ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and could have spent hours just looking at the memorabilia  on the walls. I joined the crowd at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and savored every bite. I toured Graceland and stood in front of the microphone at the old Sun Records studio. I walked through Soulsville, The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and listened to the music that was the soundtrack of my youth. And, just as it has forever, the river kept rolling.

    That’s the thing about Memphis, I guess. It was full of the familiar but it held so many new experiences I didn't get around to everything I wanted to do and see.  I should have told the woman in the Peabody lobby to save me a place next year.

       

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
       

    
  

The Year of the Goo Goo Cluster

The Goo Goo Cluster is 100 years old this month.

Anyone who grew up in the South or has spent any time in Nashville (and that includes the airport) will recognize the distinctive package featuring a piece of candy with a big bite missing. The Goo Goo Cluster is everywhere.

Created in October, 1912, by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company, the chocolate, caramel, marshmallow and peanut patty has become a Southern food icon. During the Great Depression Goo Goos were advertised as “A Nourishing Lunch for a Nickel” and the South's favorite candy has appeared in a number of movies, including The Nutty Professor and Charlie's War.
Today, the factory cranks out 20,000 Goo Goo Clusters an hour.

I loved Goo Goos when I was a kid and I always bring home a box when I'm in Nashville or anywhere close.

I'm flying out of Roanoke, Virginia later today. I think I'll keep my eye out for a chocolately souvenir. I mean, after all, I'm going to have to get something for lunch.

Travel: Autumn Shines Along Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula

(Photo by Kaki Smith)  

  The house was just an ordinary little cottage in Sturgeon Bay, not one of the tall old farm houses—part of the dairy and agricultural legacy of the area—that line the roads along Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. It was just an average family house in a nice little town.  But the Maple tree in the front yard was another matter. Even in a place crowded with trees in full color, that tree was enough to make anyone slow down and take a second look.  Covered in brilliant and beautiful leaves, it seemed to be even more intense than any of the others around it and everyone in the car, each of us adults who’ve seen beautiful autumns before, people who might have become jaded at some point, had some comment. Out came the cameras and photos of a beautiful Maple tree were added to the albums on our smart phones.

   All that fuss over a tree? Absolutely. It doesn’t matter if you’re not happy about summer slowly fading away to be replaced by winter’s chill. It doesn’t matter if we complain about the shorter days and nights cool enough to chase us indoors when just a few weeks ago we would have lingered over one more cup of coffee or glass of wine. This time of year, when nature throws a party and colorful leaves fall around us like confetti and drift onto sidewalks and stick to the windshield of the car, we celebrate. 

   But, of course, that party is better in some places.

   I got lucky. I could have been anywhere in mid-October. But at the peak of the most beautiful time of the year, I was in Door County traveling along the narrow peninsula that juts like a thumb on the east side of Wisconsin, a place that is sometimes called the Cape Cod of the Midwest. It’s an apt description. Small villages dot the shoreline of Lake Michigan or, on the other side, Green Bay. White clapboard houses, big red barns and, of course, hardwood trees whose leaves show their true, beautiful, colors for a few weeks each year, dot the landscape.

   And during those weeks everything changes. Ordinary roads turn into picturesque leafy lanes that curve and meander under an arching canopy of trees so beautiful you crane to look up through the windshield as you drive. Hillsides become a patchwork quilt of color with scarlet, green and gold, stitched together as far as the eye can see. Markets are filled with apples and pumpkins and even a rainy day is beautiful.

   It’s easy to see why people allot precious vacation time to this season, booking cottages or hotel rooms in the quiet weeks before winter sets it. Especially in a place where for a few weeks each year even little trees in front of an ordinary house dazzle us before they settle down to sleep the winter away.

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: Ballooning Means Rising Above One’s Fear

   There are people who seem to be born with a thirst for a thrill. They take every chance to leap off bridges, tethered only by elastic Bungee cords. They jump out of planes, trusting one yank of the cord will release the parachute that will lower them gently to the ground. They paddle kayaks over waterfalls and drop out of helicopters wearing skis.


    I am not one of these people.


    I don’t have that kind of confident trust. Cords snap, parachutes fail, waterfalls tumble and break the things that ride them. Why would I tempt fate?


    But edging out of middle age, I seem to be shedding some of the extreme caution that has kept my feet on the ground most of my life. I’m still not a thrill-seeker, but I just don’t seem to be bound by so many “What Ifs.”
    A recent trip to Elko, Nevada coincided with the annual Balloon Fest and I was offered a chance to take a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t stop to think once, much less twice. I hopped up into the basket and listened to the instructions about where I could and should not put my hands. (“Never touch the rope. If you touch the rope we will fall and die.” Check.)


    It was only as the blasts of flaming gas right over my head lifted the balloon away from the ground that I began to ask myself what on earth I’d been thinking. The list of hazards—power lines, rogue winds, murderous sharp-shooters (Hey, what if?) and even fabric fatigue (I imagined seams fraying and opening and, well…)—played through my head like a bad movie.


    But I was in. And we rose swiftly and silently, immediately catching the current of air and moving toward the horizon.


    We moved steadily across the city. Dogs, startled by the sights and sounds of the balloons, there were 30 more behind us, barked and danced as we flew over. School children waved from the yellow bus that looked like a child’s toy. Birds flew beneath us, darting in and out of the trees lining neighborhood streets.


    I’d wrapped my fingers tightly around one of the bars at the side of the wicker balloon the moment we’d lifted off and I didn’t seem to be able to let go. But, a few minutes in, still holding on, I felt myself relax enough to really think about what I was seeing and experiencing.


    I looked out toward the Ruby Mountains, somewhat obscured by smoke from wildfires further north, across the high Nevada desert and the rough, dry landscape so many crossed on foot and by wagon train 150 years ago as they made their way over the California Trail to conquer the wide-open West and start new lives in California.


    It really is a beautiful way to travel. In a balloon you do not fight the wind, you ride it. You surrender to the currents and ribbons of air that stream over the planet and let them take you where they are going. There are tools: hot air, vents, ballast, and so on, but ultimately, you are a guest of the wind.


    At the end of the ride we began our descent. The landing was not smooth. A breeze came from out of nowhere and fought us, but we stuck it. Then, when the pilot realized we'd come down on railroad property—not cool—we lifted up just high enough to find a more accessible spot. The chase crew found us and we were done.


    When I finally climbed out of the basket, back on the ground at last, a surge of adrenaline made me tremble.
 “Anxious Annie” as a friend once dubbed me, had taken a chance. And I had one more thing I could check off my list.


    We helped roll and fold the balloon, storing it and the basket in the trailer behind the chase van, and I was baptized with cheap champagne to mark my first flight. Later, I messaged a photo taken mid-flight to my children and their confused responses made me laugh. This was not what they expected to see.


    That’s the beauty of aging. Not only do we surprise others when we take a chance, occasionally we even surprise ourselves.
    
    


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: Celebrating the Seasons at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   Just today, the rattle of someone pulling a boat and trailer, bouncing over the patched pavement of the street in front of my house, was a familiar and significant sound. I know it well.  And I know what it means. When neighbors start bringing home the boats and campers, when outdoor toys are put away so that winter tools and gear can take their place, I know we’ve really reached the end of Summer at the Lake season.

   Every place I’ve ever lived has claimed bragging rights for being the lake-loving mecca. But the truth is, wherever there is a lake to get away to, and most states have plenty of them, people will get there. Cabins become family heirlooms, passed down and cherished, and a unique culture—peculiar to that particular place—grows and evolves.

   I’ve been thinking about this since I spent Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin exploring historic Elkhart Lake. First settled in the 1860s, Elkhart Lake boomed in the 1870s when the Milwaukee and Northern Railroad added a stop at the downtown depot. At its peak, more than 2,000 visitors arrived each week, pouring into the sprawling resorts that built up at the edge of the lake. By 1894, Elkhart Lake was a true village.
Today Siebken’s Resort, the Osthoff Resort and the towering Victorian Village are all built on the bones of those earlier hotels and summer resorts.

   Late one afternoon we climbed onto a pontoon boat and circled the scenic glacial lake as our guide filled us in on the unique history of the community.

   The beautiful spring-fed, rock-lined, glacial lake covers almost 300 acres. Just over 120 feet deep at its deepest point, Elkhart Lake is ringed by Wisconsin forest. Most of the homes and summer cottages have remained in families for generations. While its history is uniquely American—Speakeasys, road races and summer stock theater—there is a quaint European vibe that reflects the German heritage of early developers.

   I’m sure Elkhart Lake is a great place at the height of summer, but I was glad to be there at that particular moment. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of lake season in most places. But that only means the summer crowds go away. The lake never closes. And, of course, neither do the resorts that surround it. By visiting in September, I was able to appreciate the beauty without the bustle of the busiest time of year.

   As we circled the lake, passing vintage cottages, picturesque boathouses and an occasional rambling mansion tucked behind the trees, I could see that the seasonal cabins were being swept and cleaned and closed. Boats were back in the small boathouses that perched over the water’s edge.  Thoughts were turning to autumn bonfires and, soon enough, ice skates and snow shoes.

   That is my favorite time at any lake. Sure, summer is fun, but there is something special about the silence of other months. When it’s possible to have the sunrise and sunset to yourself, with enough quiet time to think and reflect. Soon enough, the snow will fall, then melt. The birds will fly away and then return. And before we know it the summer at the lake will start all over again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance 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

  

Bulletin: CdA Resort May Be NW Best

No destination resort in the Pacific Northwest combines comfort and sophistication — including a luxurious spa, fine dining options and recreational amenities — so well as The Coeur d'Alene. Nestled on the north shore of its 25-mile-long namesake lake, the resort was built in 1986 and immediately became the catalyst for the gentrification of the town of Coeur d'Alene (pronounced core-duh-LANE). “Downtown took off with a character of its own,” recalled Bill Reagan, the resort's general manager since it welcomed its first guests. “It's as if the hotel created a center from which Coeur d'Alene could grow.” After a 413-mile, 7½-hour drive northeast from Bend, via the Tri-Cities and Spokane, my traveling companion and I turned off Interstate 90 in the late afternoon and approached the hotel via a circular drive off Sherman Avenue. A team of valets and bellmen was there to greet us, unloading our luggage, parking our car and guiding us through the elegant, contemporary lobby to the long front desk, where we were quickly checked in for a three-night stay/John Gottberg Anderson, Bend Bulletin. More here. (Jesse Tinsley SR file photo: Coeur d'Alene Resort floating green)

Question: Can you think of a better Northwest resort than the Coeur d'Alene Resort?

Travel: Canoeing Montana’s Missouri River

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

    When I opened my eyes, the sun was not yet over the horizon and the weak light it cast was wrapped in the heavy mist rising from the Missouri River. I lay still, warm and bundled under a heavy layer of quilts, watching through the small window beside the bed as the day came into its own.  Soon I could see deer grazing in the rolling fields around the other cabins, all, like my own, early homestead shelters that had been moved to the Virgelle Mercantile and refurbished for guests.


    By the time I was up and dressed the coffee was ready in the kitchen of the old Mercantile building. I poured a cup and the steam rose from the mug in my hand as I walked back outdoors out to take photos.


    After a breakfast of whole-hog sausage and baked French toast, washed down by pots of hot coffee, in the company of others there for the guided fishing and canoeing trips offered by the Mercantile’s sister business, The Missouri River Canoe Company, we gathered our gear and took the short ride down to the canoe launch.Once our canoes were loaded we paddled away.

   This stretch of the Missouri River is shallow this time of year, no more than a couple of feet deep in some places. We made steady progress, paddling hard enough to get where we were going but stopping whenever something caught our attention. The beauty of September in Montana is that the summer travelers have gone back to work and school. We had the river to ourselves, but we were not alone. Deer splashed across inlets and an eagle sitting on the branch of a tall Cottonwood tree studied us as we passed. Farther along, a silent, watchful Coyote, camouflaged in the tall grass, turned his head to follow our progress down the river.

       Soon, warmed by the sun and the exercise, our jackets came off. There wasn’t a cloud in the wide blue dome of the sky and only an occasional gust of wind worked against us as we paddled.

    I listened as our guide, a genuine Montana woodsman who makes his living guiding, hunting and trapping along the river, talked about Lewis and Clark’s journey along the same route through what is now the Missouri River Breaks National Monument. It was, he pointed out, with the exception of the occasional barn or fenceline and the grey-green Russian Olive introduced by homesteaders as a way to shelter flimsy cabins from the relentless wind, essentially an unchanged landscape. Soon, at a bend in the river, the eerie Hoodoos and white sandstone cliffs so unique to that portion of the river, the aptly-named White Cliffs stretch, came into view.    One more thing checked off the list of places I need to see before I die.


    After a couple of hours we pulled our canoes onto a pebbled strip of beach and stopped for lunch, digging into the sandwiches and fruit like we were starving, as though we hadn’t eaten a massive breakfast that morning. As we ate, I thought about something one of the group had said the night before. He’d been telling a story and mentioned a particular day— a special day—as one of the thirty or so he actually remembered of that particular year. I’d never really thought about it before but he is right. Most of the 365 days of work and worry, scheduled appointments, hurried commutes and eat-at-your-desk lunches, blend into a blur. Not much stands out. But, once in a while, there are moments that stay with us forever, etched into memory. They are special enough to share.    

    We packed up the scraps left from our meal and pushed away from the shore, paddling on down the river. More white cliffs and narrow coulees. More photos. More memories.


    At the end of the trip, gathering our gear and hopping back into the van that would carry us and the canoes back to our cars at the Mercantile, I let what I’d seen and done replay in my mind.  From the moment I opened my eyes and let them rest on the fog-softened view, to the last spectacular mile of Missouri River wilderness before we pulled our canoes out of the water, the day was special. It was a day worth holding onto and, in that way, worth sharing.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance 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
  

Shopping: Vintage plaster Madonna figure

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Although I can look for hours, poking around one antique shop after another, and I often find some little something I can't resist, there are only a few things I actually collect. Fortunately, the speical things I love are not always easy to find so I enjoy the hunt as much as the treasure when I bring it home.

Last week I had an hour or so to myself and was in the mood to prowl. I always enjoy looking around Roost, on the corner of Main Avenue and Division Street downtown and often pick up something special there.

Sure enough, I'd only been in the store a few minutes when I spotted the large plaster Madonna figure. I have a small collection of similar figures and this one was perfect. I had to bring her home. Such relics are popular with collectors and prices have risen in recent years. While not a steal, I thought this large statue was reasonably priced and the neutral colors are perfect for my home.

So, she's on my desk now. Waiting to be placed in the perfect niche.

I may not find another vintage “Our Lady” figure for months or even years, but whenever I do I remember exactly when and where I was when I made the discovery. That's what makes each one special.

Travel: Overnight idyll at Montana’s Virgelle Mercantile

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   The two-story mercantile, a farmhouse, the old grain elevator, a bank building and a set of abandoned railroad tracks running across the grassland are the only visible reminders of the town of Virgelle, Montana. Settled in 1912 by homesteaders who rushed to claim their 300 acres in the harsh Montana landscape, by 1930 the boom was over and the little town was frozen in time


    After the last holdout left in the 1970s, the ghost town could have faded away but the property was purchased by a pharmacist who’d grown up nearby. He filled the mercantile space with an antiques business and turned the upstairs rooms into a Bed and Breakfast. One by one, original homestead cabins, rescued from the surrounding countryside, were brought in and refurbished. A vintage sheepherder’s wagon was added to the mix of restored accommodations.


    My room for the night was the 1914 Little Mosier homestead cabin. Big enough for a double bed, an oilcloth-covered table and two chairs, a big iron-and-nickel cook stove and a washstand with both a Coleman lantern and a battery lantern, the cabin faced the grassy slope rolling down toward the Missouri River. To my left, down the road a bit, I could see a working ranch. To my right, a bath house and the Mercantile building. A little further, more cabins and the rest of what remains of the original town.


    Dropping my bags in a chair, I opened the screen door and stepped back out to the porch and stood there a long time looking out, trying to imagine the scenes that had played out in the tiny cabin and others like it. I thought about what it must have been like to live there a century ago, a child on my hip, maybe another in a cradle by the stove. The family would have ached with cold in the harsh winters and been baked by the relentless summer sun. It’s easy to imagine early optimism giving way to fatigue and loneliness and perhaps, eventually, even despair. The reality of the hardscrabble life most early homesteaders faced would break most of us. Only the toughest made it.


    Grabbing my camera, chasing the golden light cast by the fading sun, I followed the path across the road and walked to where the old railroad sign still marked the town by the railroad tracks. A rabbit, startled by my footsteps, darted out and, deciding I was no threat,  skirted me, almost touching my boots, before continuing down what was obviously a trail, worn and defined by generations of other wildlife.


    As it always does, gazing out at the vast openness of the Montana sky and rolling grassland soothed the jangled tension inside me. Like many others, I am someone who needs quiet spaces but although I relish my solitude, I don’t need complete isolation to find it.  The little cluster of old buildings and cabins was perfect. There were a few others staying in the restored cabins and the sheepherder’s wagon surrounding the mercantile store, but voices were low and each of us seemed to be happy to be left alone with our thoughts.


    After a big meal served family style in the kitchen of the bed and breakfast, in the company of other guests—there were only one or two others as it was late in the tourist season—I was ready to call it a day. Flashlight in hand, I followed the path back to my cabin. A bird, startled by my footsteps on the porch, returned the favor and startled me as it flew over my head and out into the night sky. Inside the cabin, the lantern painted the walls with shadows.


    I slipped between crisp cotton sheets, burrowing under the heavy hand-stitched quilts. The early September night was already cool, tinged with autumn, hinting at the winter that would come.


    As I lay alone in the dark, listening to the coyotes call down by the river and the rustling of nightbirds and small creatures outside, I closed my eyes. Content, warm, safe, and, for the first time in weeks free of the noise of a busy life, it felt possible to pick up the loose and broken threads of work and family and all the other nagging worries that fight for attention in my mind and knit myself back together. I closed my eyes and let the night sounds sing me to sleep.
    

More information about the Virgelle Mercantile

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
  

Shopping: Rejuvenations in Reardan

My friend Kati took me on a road trip recently.

Following Highway 2 west of Spokane, we pulled into the little town of Reardan. First stop was lunch at the Red Rooster. (Kati's tip: Order the potato salad. She's right.) Full and happy, we headed around the corner to the new location of Rejuvenations to do some shopping.

The new storefront is the first clue that the interior is more than a hodgepodge of any old thing.  Upscale corrugated metal trim and stylized lettering lead inside to a surprisingly roomy space. With old and new items side by side, it's easy to spend an hour or so poking into corners and investigating the loft. I especially loved the new-and-improved burlap sewn into pillow covers and the exclusive line of ruffled curtains and bed linens.

Instead of the junking-only shopping I'd expected to do, I found a couple of new items I couldn't leave behind. The lightweight fleece-lined leggings will keep me warm this winter and my new granddaughter scored a pair of ruffled pants.

I've been traveling so much lately, I'm a bit behind so it was a treat to get out of town and catch up on what Rejevenations owner, Coni Tanninen, has done with the business. This is a beautiful time of year for a drive. Head west, stop in Reardan and rejuvenate. Oh, and don't forget to look up at the ceiling while you're shopping. The big burlap covered light fixture is one of the most creative things I've seen in a while.

Check out the store's facebook page for more photos and information.

Bear Encounter: Down and dirty travel on the Wilderness Explorer

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    When we signed on for a small-ship journey along Alaska’s Inside Passage, we were promised the opposite of a traditional cruise. We were promised an un-cruise, to be specific. Instead of a leisurely sail past some of the most beautiful scenery on the continent, instead of endless buffets and variety shows, we would venture up secluded coves and into narrow fjords and channels thick with Humpback whales. We would paddle kayaks around icebergs, near glaciers and along pristine shorelines. We would step off the boat and into the real Alaska.


    InnerSea Discoveries promised me we would get our feet dirty.


    On the first full day of the voyage, a dozen or so of us stepped into a skiff and rode to the shore for a hike. Walking along the coast at the mouth of a small stream, we listened as our guide talked about the likelihood of seeing bears (this was a favorite fishing spot) and his words were still hanging in the air when the first Grizzly ambled, as if on cue, into sight.


    The bear was young, probably a yearling on his own for the first season. Wading into water that was alive with leaping and splashing salmon, he seemed bewildered, not sure where to turn or pounce next.  Finally, at a disadvantage, he gave up and, aware but not particularly interested in us, followed the stream up to a short waterfall. Then, as we watched, a second young bear stepped out of the trees.
    This was already much more than I’d ever expected.


    The two bears eyed one another as they got closer and closer, finally meeting nose to nose in the middle of the stream. Then, while we stood silent and breathless, they rose on their hind legs and came together in a slow and powerful embrace. We soon realized they weren’t really fighting, but rather playing at fighting; wrestling, wrapping their arms about one another, throwing arcs of water droplets high in the air with each move.


     For almost half an hour the two bears splashed and hugged and tussled and nipped at one another’s ears and shaggy fur. We couldn’t tell if they were siblings who’d stumbled onto one another at a familiar spot or teenagers still somewhere between flirting and playing, but we knew that what we were seeing was an extraordinary experience.


     I didn’t blink, pressing the shutter again and again, trying to capture the amazing performance going on in front of me.


    Finally, as the two bears stopped playing and finally, just like kids who’d dawdled over their chores, got about the business of foraging and feeding, we walked carefully back to the waiting skiff. As we moved away from the shore, finally far enough away to find our voices, everyone began to talk at once. We were the fortunate ones and we celebrated it. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Just thinking about it now gives me chills. The moment was splendid and wild and real.


    The captain had already heard about our adventure and was there to meet us as the skiff pulled back up to the side of the Wilderness Explorer. She reached out to each of us as we came aboard.


    One foot on the deck, the other still on the small raft, I looked down at my boots and I had to smile. They were caked with the gritty, sandy, glacial soil so unique to Alaska. My mind and my camera were full of images and my feet were dirty, just as I’d been promised.

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
  

Idaho gas prices jump, overtake national average

Idaho's gas prices have jumped 5.5 cents a gallon in the past week, AAA Idaho reports, pushing the state's average price up to $3.855, a penny higher than the national average of $3.843. A month ago, Idaho's average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was 12 cents below the national average; since then, it's risen 28 cents a gallon.

Still, AAA Idaho notes it could be worse: Nine states currently have average prices above $4 a gallon, including Oregon at $4.04 and Washington at $4.06.

The urge to fly and the need to nest

    (Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   The wind had picked a bit up the night before, sweeping through the tall pine trees, taking with it loose branches and needles, dropping them to the grass below.


    I noticed something else in the litter on the lawn and as I got closer I could see it was a small bird’s nest, still intact after its long fall. I picked it up and studied the way it was made. I have never seen a nest that isn’t, in some way, beautiful.  A marvel, really. But this one was exceptionally so.


    Made almost entirely of long strands of dried grass woven around what appeared to be wool or even dryer lint, the inside was lined with a soft, golden, feathery material. At first I thought it might be the bird’s own feathers but then I realized it was a layer of shredded cattail blooms, the tall plant that grows in ponds and marshes and bends and dances in the breeze. The compact bloom had been pulled apart and separated into downy fibers.


    I held the nest for a long time, thinking about what an engineering and artistic accomplishment it was. And to what lengths the birds had gone to to create it.


    Grass and lint are all around us. That could have come from any house nearby. But the cattail had to have come from the park down the hill, several blocks away. It would have been no small feat to bring home, bit by bit, enough of the fibers to fill even such a petite shelter. What compelled her to use that particular plant? Surely there must have been some easier way.


    I carried the nest home and set it on the mantel in my living room. For days, every time I walked by, I would stop for a closer look. One afternoon I sat down on the sofa—a piece with a new slipcover, sewn by a friend who does beautiful work. I searched and searched for just the right fabric before settling on the natural cotton and now every time I look at the sofa, it pleases me.


     Still cradling the fragile thing in my hand, still puzzling over the curiosity of it, I reached behind me to adjust the cushion at my back and felt the fine weave of the soft linen pillow cover under my fingertips. Immediately, I remembered the day I’d purchased it in a small shop in Estonia. I’d spent an hour pulling out cover after cover until I found a pair that were exactly right. 


     I glanced at the curtains hanging at the window and recalled discovering them in a second-hand store in Reyjkavik. I hadn’t given a thought to how I would get the four panels home, I just had to have them. The eight yards of material had stretched my already-full luggage to its limits and when I got to the airport I was told it was overweight.  The gate agent listened as I told him how I’d found the curtains. How they were old and soft and the color was perfect and that I would never again find such beautiful fabric. Still looking at me, without saying a word, he tagged my heavy bag and sent it away without charging me the extra fee.
   

 I turned to look at the small Native American rug behind the glass doors of the secretary standing in the corner. I’d spotted it in a weaver’s studio outside of Chimayo, New Mexico, picking it up and putting it down twice before committing. I tried to be practical, but I simply had to have it.


    My own nest is filled with soft things from unlikely places. Things which, although I stumbled onto them at the time I was, in some sense, seeking. Who am I to question a bird’s choice? After all, exposed to the elements, at the mercy of wind and rain and sly predators, she had fragile eggs to protect and tender fledgelings to care for. I have four sturdy walls and a roof over my head.


    The delicate nest is still on the mantel. I think I will keep it there as a reminder that the real difference in a shelter and a home is what surrounds us when we are there.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com