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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: Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Poplar Forest’

(Thomas Jefferson's 'Poplar Forest' retreat. Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap) 


   It is easy to think we know everything there is to know about certain historical figures. Thomas Jefferson, for instance. But even great men have their domestic secrets.

   On a recent trip to Virginia I drove up the long winding road that led to Thomas Jefferson’s secret love: a stately, symmetrical and elegant home situated along an avenue of tall poplar trees. I was not visiting Monticello. Instead, I was at Poplar Forest.

   Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited Poplar Forest from Martha’s father in 1773 but Martha died in 1782 before construction. It wasn’t until 1806 that work finally began, with Jefferson there to supervise the laying of the foundation. The octagonal house was his own design and he was intimately connected to the construction, corresponding frequently with the builders. Whenever possible he traveled to the site to check progress or make some necessary or desired change to the plans.

   When his presidency ended in 1809, Poplar Forest became Jefferson’s personal retreat and sanctuary, shared only with his family, and a few most-intimate friends. He escaped to it whenever he could, often accompanied by his granddaughters on his extended visits. Jefferson created the elaborate gardens and landscaping surrounding the house, choosing the plants and flowers that would grow there. He continued to make the journey to Poplar Forest until age and poor health finally kept him away. His last trip was in 1823. After Jefferson’s death his son inherited Poplar Forest but sold it to a neighbor two years later.

   As a private home, the house survived fire and numerous renovations and Poplar Forest remained a virtual secret for generations. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when development encroached, that the beautiful and fragile estate was purchased from private homeowners, organized and set aside. And the long, slow process of maintaining a national landmark was begun.

   Today, standing just inside the front doors, a visitor is bathed in light streaming in through windows in every room and through the long, narrow skylight in the dining room, light that illuminates every corner of the octagonal structure. It is easy to imagine the relief Thomas Jefferson might have felt as he rode away from the demands of the life that had come to settle on him, away from the pressures of law and government, away from crowds of admirers and, even in that day, celebrity-watchers, and arrived at this quiet place in the rolling hills of Virginia.

   To visit Poplar Forest now is a gift. A chance to see this place so beloved by a man who treasured his privacy, who craved quiet time to read and think. At this time it is a beautiful shell. Walls have been strengthened and repaired. Oak flooring—as was in the original structure—has been installed. Windows have been rebuilt, alcoves opened and doorways reconfigured, all to bring the beautiful, light filled, octagonal home back to it's original design.  All of the work is being done by master craftsmen and artisans, after intensive study and research. And, to the extent possible, in the manner it would have been done in Jefferson’s time.

   At this time, only a few pieces of furniture, including a reproduction of the 19th Century Campeachy chair—with its ancient but strikingly contemporary design—Jefferson preferred because of his painful arthritis.

   Eventually, I suppose, the interior will be recreated to reflect the way Jefferson lived when he was there there. But at this moment, to be surrounded by the almost bare bones of the house is beautiful and evocative. It is impossible to stand in Jefferson’s bedroom, free of furniture and extraneous material, to see the empty alcove where his bed would have been, the rough handmade bricks lining his fireplace, to gaze out at the view of fields and forest visible through the tall windows, and not feel the powerful presence of the man who loved every inch of the place.

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: 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

Virginia Ranked As No. 1 Party School

Playboy magazine has ranked the University of Virginia, America’s oldest public university, as the top party school in the country. The university founded by former President Thomas Jefferson in 1819 beat 100 other colleges nationwide for the top honors, NBC reported. Runner-up was the University of Southern California, followed by the University of Florida. Rankings were based on scores in three categories: sporting life, nightlife and sex life, Playboy magazine said in a statement. University of Virginia ranked 16th, third and second in those categories, respectively, WTVR reported. While students at UVA are likely impressed by the ranking, university administrators are not happy and they are demanding a recount/Alison Jackson, Global Post, via Boise Weekly. More here.

Question: Would you like your alma mater to be known as a party school?

Judge: Health Care Reform Illegal

Item: Virginia health-care ruling strikes down key provision of Obama’s plan/Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

More Info: A federal judge in Virginia ruled Monday that a key provision of the nation’s sweeping health-care overhaul is unconstitutional, the most significant legal setback so far for President Obama’s signature domestic initiative.

Question: What do you make of today’s ruling?

Judge ok’s challenge to health reform law

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration lost an early legal skirmish over the new health care law Monday when a federal judge declined to dismiss the state of Virginia’s lawsuit challenging a key part of the landmark legislation.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson did not rule on the central issue in the lawsuit brought by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli – the new law’s requirement that most Americans buy health insurance beginning in 2014.

But the judge swept aside the Obama administration’s efforts to quash the legal contest in its infancy, ruling that the state of Virginia has the right to sue. And, citing the sweep of the new law, he appeared to open the door to a potentially drawn-out legal battle over a core tenet of the health overhaul. Read more.


Virginia Doesn’t Fall For Coverup

Last week, the Virginia attorney general created a controversy by stating that it’s time that the female featured on his commonwealth’s state seal cover up. According to National Public Radio, he gave “his staff a version in which she donned a more modest armored breastplate, which he prefers you call a naughty-womanpart-plate.” The AG backed off after quite a media fuss. You can read more about it here. (H/T: Sam)

Question: Tongue firmly cheeked, NPR offers other examples of “dirty, filthy state seals,” including Idaho’s, which provides “an excellent example of tasteful censorship.” Without looking, can you tell what’s on the Idaho state seal? Also, can you guess why NPR claims that the seal represents “tasteful censorship”?