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Cruise: Fedoras and Flying Fish

April 6, 2014 12:53 p.m. - Updated: 12:53 p.m.

 

    We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine. 

    Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.

    The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something. 

    This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.

    The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.

    Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat.  I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing. 

    It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.

    Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.

    I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not. 

    These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.

     I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Spokane: A raging river is no place to play

March 23, 2014 8:39 a.m. - Updated: 8:38 p.m.

    Like so many others in Spokane, in the spring I go down to pay my respects to the river. Fed by snowmelt and rain, the Spokane River swells and grows and becomes, seemingly overnight, a powerful monster roaring through the canyon it has chewed through solid basalt. 

 

    This dramatic sight draws people of all ages and the spectacle takes your breath away. Water spills over the falls, churns, boils and foams sending curtains of fine mist, droplets of water that ride the wind, coating the bridges, paths and spectators before it rushes on, making its way to fill the aquifer that quenches this thirsty land.

 

    This year, with so much snow and rain falling so late in the season, the river is at its wildest, just under flood stage. We were there on Saturday afternoon and we walked along the path to the viewing platform at the base of the Monroe Street Bridge. That is one of my favorite places to see the falls and feel the incredible power. The land drops away at the edge of the rail, the ground vibrates and the sound makes conversation difficult. We stood for a few minutes admiring the view and taking photos before we strolled up another block to the Post Street Bridge. 

 

    From there I noticed a group of boys on bicycles ride down to the place we’d just been. Gathering at the rail, they were roughhousing as boys of that age do, pushing, punching, shadowboxing as they peered down at the water. Suddenly, one of the boys climbed up and dropped over the rail in one fluid motion, landing on the deceptively thin layer of spongy soil covering the slick rocks abutting the concrete arch of the big bridge. He moved to the edge of the steep slope that plunges down to the raging water. 

 

    My heart slammed against my ribs and I heard myself make an instinctive, involuntary, sound like a frightened animal. I was terrified he would slip at any minute. The ground was still soaked from days of rain and there was nothing to reach out and grab if he lost his footing. And the river, always dangerous, is completely unforgiving at this stage. Whatever falls into it is quickly gone forever. 

 

    I looked for my husband but he was out of sight. I raised my phone to call 911, sure that if I took my eyes off the boy he would be gone when I looked up, but at that moment one of his friends must have called him back because he turned and just as quickly hopped back to safety.

 

    “Oh, you stupid boy.” I whispered. “You stupid, lucky, boy.”  

 

    The group stayed another few minutes—long enough for me to snap a photo—and then hopped back on their bicycles and moved on, off to swagger and impress one another in other ways, I suppose. 

 

    I finally walked away but I was still trembling.

 

    I keep replaying the scene in my mind, thinking how one wrong step could have changed everything, but I doubt the boy has given it a second thought. 

 

    I know this is nothing new. 

 

    When my children were that age they laughed at my constant worry. They thought I was simply overprotective, but the truth is, I was unhinged. They had no idea how many dangers there were outside our door and I suppose I believed if I could think of it and warn them against it (whatever it was) I could somehow protect them. New fears would hit me in the middle of the night. What if… What if… What if…

 

    At that age—adolescence and early adulthood—we are vulnerable because we have not yet developed an awareness of just how fragile we truly are. Age, experience, and exposure to the shocking misfortune of others gradually brings on the understanding that at any given moment any of us is fair game to tragedy. Terrible things can happen when we least expect it.  

   

    Eventually, wisdom—and with it a greater chance of survival—comes with the understanding that the reckless make themselves better targets. So most of us grow cautious, careful. Some of us become worried mothers and fathers, nagging our children to take care.

 

    Perhaps one day, when he is a man and he’s watching a teenage son drive away, the same lucky boy will remember the day the river didn’t get him and he’ll call out,  “Hey, don’t do anything stupid!”

 

    But his boy will not look back, and the words will roll off his back like the clean, cool, spray from a waterfall. 

    

     Note: The group of boys mentioned in this column appears in the photo above.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Travel: Five Ways to Find the Perfect Cruise

March 9, 2014 12:43 p.m. - Updated: March 18, 2:56 p.m.

   For every person who loves to cruise, there is another who can’t imagine boarding a big ship with several thousand others and taking to the high seas.

   If you fall into the latter category, you might be pleasantly surprised by the way cruising isn’t always what you imagine. From privacy to culture to premium dining, there’s more to the experience than midnight buffets and shuffleboard.

    Here are five ways modern cruising might surprise you:

 

 

You can find your happy place: If you’re on a budget (and most of us are) it’s still possible to recreate certain elements of a luxury experience on even the most budget-minded cruise. It’s all about where you spend. Instead of going for the cheapest possible cabin—usually an interior room deep in the ship—and spending your time and money with the crowd at the bar or party deck, rethink your strategy. Instead, put your money toward a balcony room and economize in other ways. Room service aboard ship is almost always available 24-hours and at no extra charge. That means—especially on a particularly scenic cruise—you can tune out the crowd on the upper decks and savor the view and the solitude from your own private space. (Note: Be sure to check the ship’s smoking policy. Some lines allow smoking on the ship’s balconies.)

 

Books, books and more books: If the weather’s iffy or you’re on an at-sea day, on the right ship you don’t have to stay in your room or a search for a chair in a crowded lounge to spend some time with with a good book. Some Holland America ships come with honest-to-goodness libraries. I cruised from Quebec City to Boston on the ms Veendam and the library became my hangout. I found a book by a favorite author and checked it out with the help of a real live librarian. Every minute we weren’t on a port excursion or watching the coastline from our stateroom, my husband and I could be found on either end of a cushy sofa or tucked into big comfy chairs in the large library. Outfitted with wraparound shelves filled with everything from mysteries to reference books and computer terminals with access to the New York Times photo archive, the library also had big tables for games and puzzles and was a magnet for families and people of all ages.

 

An intimate dinner for two: The long lines and hungry crowds in the dining room are part of the cruise ship cliche. Fortunately most cruise lines have introduced specialty dining. I love Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 steak house restaurants. For $35 per person you choose from an extensive menu, including prime cuts of meat, for a date-night meal worth remembering. And you certainly can’t beat the view. 

 

No bells and whistles. If slot machines and blackjack tables are not your thing, and just walking through the noisy, smoky shipboard casino space—usually in the very center of the ship—annoys you, consider taking a Disney cruise. Disney took the space most other lines dedicate to casinos and adults games and put it to good use as an extensive “kid zone” with state-of-the-art security. This is a real bonus for families, but quite a few savvy travelers—from honeymooners to boomers to singles—sail with Disney. The cruise line’s unbeatable customer service and attention to detail make it a great way to travel at any age.

 

Cruising can make you smarter: The Cunard name is synonymous with elegance and culture. And with the introduction of its speaker series in the mid 1970s, Cunard set the standard for at-sea enrichment. With speakers running the gamut from John Cleese to P.D.James to Bill Bryson to Jimmy Carter, symphony performances and an onboard planetarium, you’ll not only be entertained, you might come home a little smarter than you were when you left. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
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Travel: Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park

Feb. 23, 2014 4:05 p.m. - Updated: Feb. 24, 11:39 a.m.

   There was a soft summer rain falling, but that didn’t keep people away. Tucked under umbrellas, wrapped in raincoats, the crowd—locals and tourists like me—strolled through the main gate of Vigeland Sculpture Park near the center of Oslo, Norway. We all moved down the wide path and across the bridge lined with carved figures. Without the harsh glare of sunlight, the the rain seemed to soften and illuminate the sculptures, adding warm life to cold metal and stone. 

 

   Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is unlike any other; it showcases the work of only one man—Gustave Vigeland. In 1921 Vigeland, already an established artist, made an agreement with the city of Oslo. In return for a home and studio at Frogner Park, Vigeland would create a park built around the bulk of his work and it would forever belong to the city. 

 

    For 20 years, the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked there, creating more than 200 projects for the park. The work includes the impressive entrance, impressive two-dimensional iron gates, a bronze fountain with a tableau of the circle of life. The pinnacle is a five-story monolith of the bodies of men, women and children—more than 120 figures—carved from a single column of solid granite. 

 

    The bridge leading from the entrance to the crest of the hill is lined with more than 50 bronze figures, including the famous ”Sinnataggen” a furious toddler in captured in full tantrum. The figure of the angry baby has become the park’s signature and his left hand shines from the constant touching and rubbing of visitors.

 

  The theme of the garden is life and all its stages. Vigeland’s figures show mankind from birth to death and the sculptures are arranged in groups along a series of pathways.    

 

  Gustave Vigeland’s figures, especially those in granite, are massive, but there is a striking delicacy to each piece. Especially in the rain. I found myself circling them, looking deeply at the expressions on each face, at the language of each body. Taking one photo after another, trying to capture what the artist had expressed.

 

    The true magic of Vigeland Sculpture Park is the way the sculptor imbued granite and bronze with human emotion. His figures carry the joy, anguish, fear and desire of life. They draw you in and stay with you after you leave. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week 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 blogs about antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
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Travel: Five ways to Go, See and Do this year

Feb. 16, 2014 12:33 p.m. - Updated: Feb. 17, 12:33 p.m.

     Winter is the time to plan, especially for travelers. Right now airlines, cruise lines and travel agents have lined up new itineraries and there are deep discounts for those of us who are daydreaming of travel. It’s also a good time to set personal goals, to think as much about why we go as where we go. 

Here are five good ways to Go, See and Do this year: 

 

 

Go it alone: This is the year to be brave and have a solo adventure. The week I spent in Iceland, based in a hotel in Reykjavik but exploring the rest of the country by a different excursion each day, was one of the most rewarding solo trips I’ve ever taken. IcelandAir offers inexpensive and short flights direct from Seattle, the city is safe and perfect for women traveling alone and excursions are organized and inexpensive with coach pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.

 

See Alaska: The beautiful landscape of Alaska’s inside passage is always magnificent and worth seeing again and again. Even if you’ve taken an Alaskan cruise, it’s worth taking another. The new Holland America Land + Sea Journeys combine a cruise with overland trips to Denali National Park.

If a big ship is not your thing, UnCruise Adventures offers small-ship cruises which allow you to spend more time in the hard-to-reach areas teeming with wildlife. 

 

Delve into History: I confess to being a history buff. I love to see the places where people and events changed the world in big and small ways. This year marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the battle of Normandy, when more than 150,000 Allied troops came ashore and the ensuing battles changed the course of World War ll. Standing at the American Cemetery in Normandy at Omaha Beach, or spending time any of the D-Day Museums that have been established at other beaches, the scope of the invasion and the cost to both military and civilian lives is inescapable. There are options for any traveler, from escorted “heritage” tours to all-inclusive river cruises making brief stops at the highlights.

 

Take a River Cruise: Thanks to glowing word-of-mouth recommendations by returning travelers and creative advertising campaigns like Viking’s extensive Downton Abbey commercials, cruising the rivers of Europe is the new Grand Tour. Elegant river boats move from one interesting port to another while passengers take in the scenery from the comfort of staterooms and lounges. At each stop English-speaking guides lead tours to the historical and cultural sites. The food is good, the wine flows freely and the pace is relaxing. It’s become the favorite way for Americans to move around Europe.

 

Pick a Theme: Instead of landing and hitting the cobblestones, guidebook in hand, pick a particular focus. If you love Paris, sign on for an Antiques Diva shopping tour that will take you to hidden shops and fabulous flea markets. Or, join Vancouver, British Columbia, pastry queen Jackie Kai Ellis on one of her upcoming tours of patisseries and bakeries. Take a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Theme travel allows you to learn a new skill, enjoy a favorite hobby or simply enjoy a destination in the company of like-minded people.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She blogs about antiques and collectibles on her Spokesman.com Treasure Hunting blog and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com 

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What do the books you keep say about you?

Feb. 7, 2014 8:29 a.m. - Updated: 8:29 a.m.

 

   I’ve been thinking about the life cycle of books. Well, about my books, anyway.

 

   Lately, realizing it was time to thin the shelves in my library downstairs, I’ve been going through them one by one, bagging up the books that no longer interest me or attract me enough to keep. First, the books go to Auntie’s Bookstore’s “used books” desk. The bookstore staff takes what they want, what they think they can resell, and add a percentage of the original price of the book to my in-store account. I come back a few hours later, pick up what they can’t use and donate what’s left in the bag to a favorite charity.

 

   They exercise has opened my eyes to the deeply personal side to what we choose to read. My bag has been filled, time and time again, with fiction, travel guidebooks—so many guidebooks— literary classics, reference books and a variety of books written around the periods of history that interest me most. (It must say something that I’ve carried out hundreds of books and there was not one self-help title among them.)

 

   Of course, I haven’t returned empty-handed. I’ve already used my account at Auntie’s several times, bringing home a new book that caught my eye. 

 

   I wrote about this process of deciding what what I could and could not let go for Spokane Public Radio. You can read that essay here and listen to it here.

 

   So far, after a month of excavating, bringing up one bag of books at a time, I’ve only regretted letting one go. Within days of donating it, one of the short stories in the book crossed my mind and I wished I could put my hands on it. I guess I’ll have to replace that one.

 

   I’d love to know what you read, what you keep and how you share what you no longer want or need. Do you donate? Pass along to a friend?

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Travel: The Great War Centennial 1914-1918: In Flanders Fields

Feb. 3, 2014 12:15 p.m. - Updated: 12:15 p.m.

    When I was 12 years old, my family moved into a rambling Craftsman-style bungalow. The house had been built in the early-to-mid 1920s with all the signature details of the era including beautiful wainscoting, built-in bookcases and, in two rooms,  window seats that ran the length of one wall. I spent many hours on those window seats, my forehead pressed against the glass, looking over the rooftops of the neighborhood behind us. I did a lot of reading on that cushioned seat and a lot of daydreaming. 

    

    One day, looking for a place to hide in a neighborhood game of Hide and Seek, I opened the top of one of the window seats, but there was already something in it. I pulled out a fabric-wrapped bundle that held a pair of stiff canvas objects I couldn’t identify and what looked like some kind of mask. I showed them to my grandfather, my source for the answer to all mysteries.

  

     “Those are Doughboy gaiters and a gas mask,” he told me, turning them over in his hands.

    

    I’d never heard of a gaiter and the only doughboy I knew anything about advertised canned biscuits. The mask was familiar, but only from movies and books. I got a quick history lesson about the First World War, the nickname for American soldiers at the time, the rough wool uniforms, legs protected by the gaiters—or leggings—that strapped and laced around a man’s calves and the gas attacks that sent soldiers scrambling, often too late, for their protective masks.

    

    He told me I had ancestors who’d fought in the Great War, pulled out the Encyclopedia and left me to my research.

    

    That was the start of an interest that has lasted a lifetime. The war that was to end all wars never left my mind for long after that, drawing me to books and songs and even fashions of the era. Some time in my early 20s, digging through a box of junk at a flea market, I came across a U.S. Victory Medal. Such medals were sent to every surviving soldier in 1921 to mark his service. It’s in my jewelry box now.

  

     On the back of the medal are the words, “The War of Civilization.” If only it had been. If that war, one of the most brutal and destructive in history, had been the last, my grandfather would not have spent years in the South Pacific during the Second World War. My father would not have gone to Korea and Vietnam. 

     

    As it was, a generation was decimated, lost to not only the war, but the collateral damage of the Spanish Influenza that rode its coattails around the world. By the end, 16 million were dead and the landscape of parts of Europe was forever changed.

    

    When the phrase “The Greatest Generation” became popular, I bit my tongue. It seemed to me the “greatest” generation was the that fought and survived that First World War. Many returned to simply pick up and go on. Others were broken completely, suffering what was called “shell shock.” That generation endured the Great War, the Great Depression and then, the ultimate cruelty, was either called to fight again again or, worse, send their sons to another unthinkable world war.

  

     I finally made it to Belgium in 2012 and one of the stops on my itinerary was a tour of Flanders Fields, the site of so much of the horror of the Western Front. I stepped into preserved bunkers and if they chilled me on a warm spring day, I could only imagine how horrible, how dark and damp and cold, they must have been in the war, surrounded by a sea of mud, echoing the deafening barrage of shells and gunfire, filed with the sounds of the injured and dying.

 

    At the at the Flanders Fields American Cemetery, I walked among the 368 white marble crosses reading the names, birth dates and home states—from Alabama to Washington—of the men that had fallen in the last battles before the armistice was signed in November, 1918.

  

     I sat in what had been the “Gold Star Mothers” room, a place for visiting mothers who had lost sons and buried them in Flanders.

    

    At the German Cemetery, a darker, more somber place, I read more names, some of them 16-year-old boys who’d been encouraged by their teachers to join up and experience what was going to be a quick rout. Startled, I saw the same name as my husband’s grandfather, a man whose family immigrated from Germany to the United States in the years before the war. It wasn’t him but it might have been a relative. No one seems to know.

  

     I stood at the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres) surrounded by the names of more than 50,000 men who have no known grave. I listened as the bugler played and a wreath was laid, participating in a ceremony that has been held each evening since 1927, except during the years of German occupation in the next world war. 

    

    Now, in 2014, we’ve reached the century mark. What began with the murder of an Archduke (and his wife, although no one ever seems to mention it) and ended with the Treaty of Versailles and a shattered world, is being remembered. 

    

    If you’ve ever thought of going to Europe, or wanted to go back, this anniversary is a good time to do it. Follow the branches of your family tree. Chances are, before the great generation that went to the Second World War, you had an ancestor in the First.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

    

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Travel: Winter is Wine Time in Healdsburg

Jan. 26, 2014 12:41 a.m. - Updated: 12:47 a.m.

 

 

Winter seems to have faltered in the Inland Northwest this year, bringing weeks of freezing fog but little snow to the region. So, when a trip to Sonoma County, California was suggested, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been hearing about Healdsburg, the small city in the heart of wine country, and was happy to do some research. 

 

Go: With Alaska Airlines offering direct flights from Seattle and Portland to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Airport, it’s easy to escape, soak up a little sun and spend a few days in wine country. The Charles M. Schulz Airport—look for some familiar faces—has car rental facilities and is only 25 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. (No need to fly into San Francisco and face Golden Gate traffic.)

 

 

Eat: The small city  of Healdsburg is charming, historic and home to some of the most creative chefs in wine country. Don’t miss dinner at Spoonbar! Chef Louis Maldonado is on the current season of Top Chef New Orleans and his food is as good on the table as it looks on TV. Another standout was Dry Creek Kitchen at the Healdsburg Hotel. The setting is upscale and sophisticated and the food is outstanding.  How good was it? When the chef Charlie Palmer stepped out of the kitchen, he was treated to a round of spontaneous applause. 

 

 

Stay: After three nights tucked into a big bed in a pretty room on the top floor of the Grape Leaf Inn, I could feel the difference. I was rested and refreshed. The rambling historic house is within walking distance of shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg and the inn’s gourmet breakfast and frozen fruit “shooter” was a great way to start each morning. Coffee, tea and cookies are always available for late night snacking or an afternoon pick-me-up.

 

 

Taste: I tasted some wonderful wines but Lambert Bridge Winery was a standout. Winemakers JillI Davis and Jennifer Higgins create small-batch wines in a beautiful setting of manicured gardens and valley views. Lambert Bridge is recognized as a food destination. Be sure to book one of chef Bruce Riezenman’s wine-pairing tasting events in the barrel room. Riezenman is also the creator PairIt! of a successful wine-pairing app for iPhone and Android users.

 

Dip: I didn’t expect to bring home a suitcase full of olive oil, but I did. After tasting Dry Creek Olive Oil Company's oils, I was a believer. I also learned a lot as I sampled, including the fact that to be considered true extra Virgin olive oil, olives have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours, something many of the highest priced European oils might not be able to guarantee. Northern California is gaining stature as an excellent olive growing region and Dry Creek oils took gold at both the New York and Los Angeles international olive oil competitions.

 

 

Shop: If you like vintage finds you’ll enjoy Healdsburg Vintage. The rambling antiques mall is filled with everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind architectural salvage. I spent an hour poking into every corner and my find-of-the-day was a $10 sterling silver photo frame.

 

Tip: The annual Winter WINEland festival each January is a great time to visit.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
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Travel: Escape to the Oregon Coast

Jan. 12, 2014 9:01 a.m. - Updated: 9:01 a.m.

 

    During the years when my children were in school, when I was tied to their academic calendar, I wasn’t able to just pick up and go when the mood struck. That kind of freedom didn’t come for another decade. But once a year I would pack up the family, more often than not, just my two youngest daughters—the others had summer jobs and other commitments—and run away to the Oregon Coast. 

 

    With the girls and the dogs in the car, squeezed in beside coolers and lawn chairs, beach towels and a big bag of books, we would drive for hours until we arrived at our favorite spot, a small town with no mall, no fast food, no distractions. And we would stay for as long as I could afford to keep us there.     

     I took extra assignments during the year to pay for a cottage. I would work late into the night so that when summer came I could throw myself at the Pacific the way we fall on our mothers, desperate for the comfort of something bigger than the small petty worries that chased themselves around my mind morning, noon and night.

 

    Those were wonderful days. When the fickle weather allowed, we spent hours playing in the sand, but there was the greater luxury of time for myself. While the girls slept or read or worked a puzzle in whatever cottage I’d rented that year, I would make my way down to the water. I would close my ears to everything but the sound of the waves hitting the shore, close my eyes to everything but the search for shells and agates on the beach. I would walk for miles up and down the beach, my back bent, my mind wandering, letting the cold wind and stinging sand scour away the brittle crust that had formed around me. 

 

    Somehow, answers that eluded me everywhere else always seemed easier to catch and hold while I walked the beach.     Without the stress of keeping house, meeting work deadlines, volunteering at school and all the other matters that constantly distracted me, I could read my own mind and make sense of things. I could see people and issues more clearly. Words filled my head and sentences and paragraphs wrote themselves, and stayed where I could find them when I got back to the cottage and sat down to my computer.  Without the distraction of television or friends calling and coming over, I could reconnect with my children on a more intimate level. Keeping my eyes on the horizon, I made peace with what I could not change and  measured the distance to dreams I was chasing. 

 

    It’s no wonder those days at the beach, in the company of the wild Pacific Ocean and my own sweet daughters, have taken on such a warm glow in my memory. 

 

    Life has a way of chipping away at us at times: Old friends battle cancer. Work disappoints or becomes less fulfilling. Loved ones lose their way and our own ambitions shift and take new direction. To work through such matters requires equal measures of silence and solitude. 

 

    I can’t go back in time; the two young girls are grown now and no longer mine to put in my car and drive away. But I can go back to the place we were so happy. The sea is still there. The waves still crash against the rocks on the shore and the wind still blows. What I need is somewhere on that beach, half buried with the agates and bits of broken shells. All I have to do is put my head down and walk until I find it.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Travel: Crossing the Capilano Suspension Bridge

Jan. 8, 2014 9:34 p.m. - Updated: 9:34 p.m.

 

    I’m always quick to tell myself, and anyone who asks, that I don’t have a fear of heights. But then, every time I step out onto a skyscraper observation deck or mountain overlook, or, especially that one time in a hot air balloon over the Nevada desert, I remember, too late, that I do have an extremely robust fear of falling from a great height. 

 

    With that in mind, it took me a few minutes to adjust to the lurching and swaying motion of the Capilano Suspension Bridge beneath my feet. The bridge was reacting to the movement of others who were ahead of me or crossing back from the other side and as I stepped out onto the narrow slice of boardwalk, suspended by cables over a 230-foot chasm carved by the Capilano river, I was a bit unnerved. 

 

    The bridge, first constructed in 1889, is one of British Columbia’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s just minutes from downtown Vancouver but located in a 27-acre forested setting of massive Douglas Fir trees. I was there in December, in the early evening. The weak, wintry, daylight was fading and the colorful holiday “Canyon Lights” were strung across the deep gorge and on all the tall trees on either side of the canyon. It was a beautiful setting but, to be honest, I was only focused on getting to the other side.

 

    Suddenly someone called out and I looked up just in time to see a large bald eagle fly directly beneath the bridge, directly beneath my feet, on its flightpath straight down the canyon. 

 

    I see eagles all the time, they’re not uncommon in my part of the country, but that’s always with my feet on the ground, looking up as the bird soars over me. This time I was was the one looking down, the one with the eagle-eye view. It was an exhilarating feeling. The bird’s white tail feathers stood out against its broad, darker, wings. In that instant I forgot my fear. I let out the breath I’d been holding. I loosened my grip on the cables and turned to follow the eagle until it disappeared around a bend. 

 

    By taking my eyes off the destination, the other side of the canyon at the end of the bridge, I was able to see the remarkable natural beauty that surrounded me; the rough stone walls of the gorge, the dense forest surrounding it, the tumbled rocks at the edge of the river and the way the lights glowed in the misty rain. I was in a beautiful place but I’d almost missed it.

 

    With that, I took my hands off the cables and walked, slowly and deliberately, across the canyon to the other side. Before the light faded, I followed the tree walk, suspended, again, on a path strung along the trunks of a stand of giant fir trees. By the time I crossed the bridge to make my way back, the sky was dark and I could no longer see the canyon below. 

 

    Riding back to the city, watching the taillights of the evening traffic through the rain-splashed windows of the taxi, I decided at that moment that the eagle I’d seen shooting like an arrow through the canyon would be my guide for the coming year; a reminder that sometimes the easiest way to suspend fear is to simply let go, take a deep breath and move on.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

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