Monday, November 19, 2012

Brain Washed

You'd think after a lifetime of trying to be something different, I'd accept that I am who I am. 

This morning I was confronted, again, with my natural tendency to simply fall into a daydream or memory and stay there. For as long as I can remember, I've found myself standing or sitting, staring into space while a chain of thoughts connect like train cars and take me with them when they pull away. My children laugh at me. My husband asks the question a second or third time, until I blink and come back to the present.

This morning I spent half an hour watching the washing machine spin.

I keep most textiles that pass through the rooms in my house. Most are chosen for the intricate texture or weave of the fabric. Some for their color. More than a few pieces for the price--as a longtime treasure hunter I can't help but give in to the bargain. And, unlike so many things we gather as we go, fabrics endure and adapt to change. They can be dyed, stitched, cut, torn or turned into something entirely new so nothing is ever really wasted.

I've been looking for curtains for my bedroom and I remembered I have four silk drapery panels in the "curtains" box in my storeroom. They are woven with squares of rich colors. A little too rich for the room, so I washed them with Rit color remover. As they tumbled in the washing machine, I could see them fading a bit as they turned. But only a bit.

Staring at the fabric I was reminded of when I was a young girl and I first discovered vintage clothing and textiles, the way I loved the weight and feel and strength of old silk when I held it in my hands. I thought of the gossamer filament that is the beginning of any silk fabric, a gift of the silkworm with nothing but the utilitarian task of creating a cocoon in mind. This, maybe it was the idea of a cocoon, a space that wraps us and shelters us as we change and grow, reminded me of a place I recently visited: Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's beloved country home. I am writing about the house for my next Home Planet column. Of course, that reminded me of tomorrow's deadline and soon my mind was spinning with the washing machine, tumbling words and images, structuring the essay I will sit down and write later today.

Poplar Forest, tucked into a beautiful clearing in the Virginia countryside, is undergoing a complete restoration. 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. Eventually, I suppose, the interior will be recreated to reflect they way Jefferson lived when he was there there. But I found the bare bones of the house to be incredibly beautiful and evocative.

The click of the machine startled me and I realized I had been standing in front of it for the full cycle, my mind having traveled thousands of miles and hundreds of years while the fabric swished in hot water and color remover.  I opened the door and pulled out a panel. It was, in spite of the process, still vibrant. A bit faded, but not to the degree I'd hoped.

Oh, well. It doesn't matter. I may use the panels or I may not. I lost half an hour but I found a path to what I want to say about a beautiful place. After a lifetime I have discovered that sometimes time wasted is time well spent.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Flanders Field American Cemetery, Belgium

 (Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

On a chilly, rainy day in April, I walked along the rows of stark white marble crosses at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium. The cemetery is one of 24 kept by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The 368 men buried there were killed between October 30 and November 11, 1918. Just as the Armistice was signed.

They were only a fraction of the 9 million lost.

Now, almost a century later, we're celebrating Memorial Day, honoring those who have given their lives in military service and I've been thinking about a wreath of paper poppies--the symbol of Flanders Fields--that had been left in the chapel at the Flanders Field cemetery.

The card on the wreath said simply, "From an American who remembers." As I wrote on my Spokesman-Review Home Planet blog, the words touched me. That's something each of us should say more often than once a year.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beautiful Bern: Switzerland in Spring

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

This time last year I was in Switzerland. One of the places I visited was the beautiful city of Bern. It was as if a fairytale city I'd imagined as a child had come to life. The narrow winding streets led from one lovely view to another. The Aare River curled through the city and green hills surround the beautiful valley.

As it happened, I was there on the day of the Grand Prix, the annual footrace that brings thousands of men, women and children to dash through the city.

Here in Spokane, we have something similar. Bloomsday fills the streets with people of all ages running and walking the 7 kilometer race. Just as so often happens in Spokane, the Bern Grand Prix was held on a day that turned rainy and cool. But the overcast skies simply highlighted the green lushness of the landscape.

In this month's Spokane Cd'A Woman magazine, I wrote about Bern and the similarity--at least the athletic similarity-- to Spokane. You can find that story here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Night view of the Menin Gate: Ieper, Belgium (Ypres)

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When my plane landed in Brussels I was dazed from lack of sleep. I'd had only a few hours sleep in the last couple of days, having worked late into the night on Thursday and then pulled an all-nighter on Friday to get everything written and filed before my 6 a.m. departure Saturday morning.

Most people would have buckled up their seat belts and slept during the flight, but I have some kind of airplane insomnia. I find it almost impossible to sleep on a plane. Besides, we flew over so much unsettled weather (tornadoes across the Midwest) the flight was too bumpy to rest easy. Much of the time the flight attendants were sent by the pilot back to their own seats and the seat belt light was seldom off.

At any rate, my plane landed and my train from Brussels arrived in Ypres exactly on time. After lunch and a long nap, I set out to explore.

As I walked up and down the narrow streets near the marketplace, I thought about what drives us to go and see and explore. About what compels us to endure crowded, bumpy flights, the grating security annoyances and the harsh physical effects of long-distance travel. But when I turned a corner and caught sight of the Menin Gate I realized again that the answer, as is so often the case, was right in front of me.

We go because there are places and people and experiences that tell the flawed and all-too-human story of our loves and losses, our hard-won battles and bone-crushing defeats. Because there is nothing as powerful as standing in a place you've only read about before.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Planting Seed for the Next Trip

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Most of the people I know are determined to use all their foreign currency so they won't be stuck with any at the end of the vacation. Not me. I always bring home a few Euro as "seed" for the next trip. I figure as long as they're in the drawer with my passport I'll itch to get back on a plane.

So, before getting on this morning's red-eye flight to make my Chicago connection for Brussels, I scooped up the 20 Euro or so leftover from Christmas in Germany. And when I get home I'll replace them with fresh seed money for the next big adventure.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hipsta Hawaii

These days I travel with three cameras: my Canon EOS Rebel, my Canon G12 and my iPhone. I return from each trip with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of photos but more and more frequently my favorites are the filtered, evocative, Hipstamatic photos taken with my iPhone.

While exploring the island of Kaua'i recently, I noticed the Hipstamatic snapshots I was taking resembled the textured, saturated, images of vintage Hawaiian postcards. So, for every serious shot I took with my cameras, I took another with my phone. Now I have a photographic chronicle of everything I saw and experienced, but with the retro Hipstamatic vibe.

It was announced--just before the news that they were being swallowed by Facebook--that Hipstamatic shots can now be shared via Instagram. That combines two of my favorite ways to share the candid photos I take on the road, edited with my choice of filters, film and effects.

I'm flying out this weekend for almost three weeks in Europe and plan to "Hipsta" my way through Belgium, Estonia and Lithuania. I may even leave the big heavy cameras at home.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kaua'i: The Hawaii of My Imagination

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

As much as 80 percent of the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i is accessible only by air. As part of a recent tour I spent an hour aboard a helicopter flying over the the parts of the island I hadn't seen by catamaran or been able to reach by car. It was the most beautiful landscape.

We landed at the foot of the waterfall featured in the movie Jurassic Park and spent a few minutes photographing the falls, our cameras misted by the spray.

Then we got lucky. The mist and clouds cleared from the Wai’ale’ale Crater and we dipped down into the deep and mysterious place that still bears the scars of the island's violent birth.

At some point I noticed most of us had put down our cameras, preferring instead to simply gaze out the windows. This was Hawaii the way I'd imagined it. Lush, green and breathtakingly beautiful.

You can read my Home Planet column about the experience here. Watch a video of the flight here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sunset Beach: Fish Creek, Wisconsin

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

While touring Wisconsin's Door Peninsula, I spent some time exploring the little resort town of Fish Creek. I experienced my first traditional Door County Fish Boil at the White Gull Inn and the next day I walked around shopping and sightseeing.

Late in the afternoon, I followed the main street down to Sunset Beach Park. Facing directly west, the beach is the perfect place to watch the sun go down. Even on a cold February day people gathered to watch the show. And it was some show.

Watching the sunset and the way it affected the people around me, it occurred to me that for all our busyness, our dependence on technology and the carelessness with which so many of us treat the world around us, we are still almost powerless to resist stopping to gaze up at a big full moon or an exquisite sunset.

I found this reassuring. A sign that we are still connected to nature whether or not we recognize the fact.

That beautiful sunset over Green Bay was the subject of my Spokesman-Review Home Planet column. Read The Pull of the Moon and the Call of the Sun

You can listen to the audio essay as it aired on Spokane Public Radio here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Exploring Granville Island: Vancouver, British Columbia

(View of Vancouver, BC from Granville Island. All photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Exploring a city is like unwrapping a gift, with each layer revealing a different and often unexpected treat. I felt exactly this way as I explored Granville Island in Vancouver, BC.

Tucked under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge and a quick water taxi ride from downtown, the historic district (and former industrial no-man's land) is an excellent example of what land reclamation should be.

Open year round, the former jumble of railroad tracks, shanties and crumbling buildings and businesses is now home to artists, artisans, fresh fruits and flowers and delicious food.

My trip to Vancouver came with a bonus. As so often happens when I travel, while I was in Vancouver I saw something that inspired a Home Planet newspaper column and public radio essay. The gentle interaction between a young man and an older woman, both on the train to the airport, left a deep impression on me. Read: The Universal Language

You can read more about the rough and ready history and reclamation of Granville Island here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bringing Home the Dunbarton Gold

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Making my way through Midwest airports on my way back home to Washington State, I took good care of the big hunk of Wisconsin cheese wrapped in French cheese paper and tucked into my backpack.

The wedge of Dunbarton Gold was purchased after an afternoon tasting Wisconsin Artisan Cheeses at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese in Egg Harbor Wisconsin, a picturesque town on the historic Door Peninsula.

Head cheesemonger Peter Kordon and operations manager and chocolatier Kathy McCarthy opened a bottle of Michel Picard 2009 Vouvray (we asked for one wine that would work with the cheeses they’d selected for us) and then brought out four delicious samples. The Dunbarton Gold was served drizzled with honey and dried Door County Montmorencey cherries. It had me at first bite.

Made by fourth-generation Wisconsin cheesemaker Chris Roelli, Dunbarton Gold is a mild cheddar made from the milk of grass-fed small-herd Wisconsin cows. It has just a whisper of blue and is cave-cured. And it is delicious.

Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese opened the Egg Harbor location in late 2011. The big display case is filled with fine handmade Wisconsin cheeses handmade by area cheese masters (Wisconsin is the only state that requires rigorous exams to earn the status.)

Oh, sure. I picked up a big bag of cheese curds at the airport. That’s what you do. But I can’t wait for a quiet evening at home so I can bring out the Gold and pass it around.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Tired and True Companion

For more than a decade I've spent a good part of my career working from home, and I've shared that time with two dogs, a couple of cats and, when they were younger, my four children.

The children aren't underfoot anymore. Only the youngest is still at home. The cats keep their own company. The younger dog waits patiently for my daughter to get home from school, moving from room to room as it suits him.

But my old retriever is at least 14 years old, if not older. This last year has brought changes that are hard to ignore. These days he sleeps for hours at my feet while I work, rousing only to have his breakfast or greet visitors or family members. When he thinks it's time for a meal, or something unusual is going on, he gets excited but he's soon asleep again.

When I travel, I worry about him just as I do my family, calling home to make sure he's OK.

In this week's Home Planet column in The Spokesman-Review, I wrote about my old dog and how it feels to watch the inevitable changes in my Tired and True Companion

I was touched by the notes and comments by readers who also share a workspace with an aging pet. Compared to our own, the lives of our pets are short. But they earn a place in our hearts and our memory with the tender, unconditional love they show us.
And that never fades away.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Door County Fish Boil at White Gull Inn

I was told that no visitor to Door County, Wisconsin should go home without enjoying a traditional Door County fish boil at White Gull Inn. So tonight I joined the crowd for the Friday night winter feast. (From May through October the fish boils happen Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.)

The fire was already roaring, with a big stainless steel pot full of hot water beginning to boil, when I joined the other people with cameras standing around the fire ring.

The procedure is more exact that you would think. The Master Boiler, Tom Christianson, puts a big steel basket of potatoes in the water and then pours in a coffee can full of salt. After the potatoes boil for a bit, another steel basket- this one full of Lake Michigan Whitefish--is placed on top of the potatoes and the rest of the salt--one pound for every two gallons of water--is added.

The fish cooks fast, enough to feed 45 people takes about 10 minutes, and as soon as it's done the most theatrical part of the evening takes place. Like dinner theater with fish and fire.

Christianson fills another can with kerosene and dashes it onto the fire which erupts into tall flames. Seconds later another splash of kerosene creates a bigger inferno causing the water to boil over, taking with it all the oil that has risen to the surface as the fish cooked.

Watch the boilover video here.

What looks like a big show is really an efficient way of keeping the fish and potatoes from being bathed in oil as the baskets are lifted out of the water.
As Christianson says, "I don't know who invented this process, it's been done for a long time, but I sure do admire the bravery of the man who tried it the first time."

Immediately after the over-boil, Christianson and a helper slip a long steel pipe through the handles of the baskets and carry both inside the restaurant. The experienced diners have already rushed inside to be first in line.

One by one we filed through having our plates filled with boiled red potatoes and fish, both perfectly seasoned by the salt. On the table baskets of bread, bowls of coleslaw and pots of melted butter are waiting.

It is all delicious. And, as a fine finish for a fish boil or any other meal, slices of Door County cherry--with a scoop of vanilla ice cream--are served for dessert.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Craters of the Moon National Monument

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When my friend Pam and I took a road trip through Southern Idaho, we spent an afternoon exploring the otherworldly landscape at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

We had intended to drive through the park, snap a few photos and then move on. But once we were there it was almost impossible to drive away without going deeper. Literally.

Although neither of us is ever particularly eager to go underground, we knew that if we didn't at least peer into one of the famous lava tubes, we would have gotten only half of the experience. So, with the day waning, we followed the narrow asphalt path onto the broken basaltic ground leading to the entrance of the Indian Tunnel tube.

Once inside, skittish of the bats we knew were hanging in the shadows over our heads, we walked deeper, to a place where the light streams in through a broken ceiling. Testing each step, we picked our way across the fallen stones littering the floor of the cave.

Then we made our way back to the car just as the golden light of late afternoon washed over the road ahead of us.

That night, in my hotel room, with the experience still in my mind, I sat down and wrote this essay for my Home Planet newspaper column.

And, as is so often the case, I want to go back again with my family. I've discovered that may be the most unexpected benefit of solo travel. It's human nature to want to share what we've seen with the ones we love the most.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Santa Margherita, Italy.

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Blue skies. Calm water. Warm sunshine, narrow lanes with cobblestones and brightly-painted doorways. An ancient castle. Oh, and it's just a short boat ride from Portofino.

Santa Margherita, especially in the off season, is a postcard view of the Ligurian region of Italy. The lush tropical plants and trees, old stone walls and vine-covered terraces, lure you into strolling along the narrow lanes and streets, coax you to climb the hill to take in the view of the bay, to visit the gardens and tour the cool,shadowy interior of the Basilica of Santa Margherita di Antiochia.

Santa Margherita is worth exploring, especially when the crowds depart after the end of summer holiday. We visited in early October, when the sun was still hot but the tourists were gone and we had the lovely little town to ourselves.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Mexico: Taos and Santa Fe

(Window detail, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos)

It's easy, on a cold, gray, Northwest February day, to daydream of warmer places. So, going through photos this morning, I lingered over a file full of images taken on a trip to New Mexico last fall.

The days were warm, and the nights were chilly enough for a sweater, but all day long sunlight washed over us and painted the landscape with deep shades of ocher and sienna.

Exploring the sights, the places Georgia O'Keefe had lived and painted and the ancient pueblos and Missions, I could see why Taos and Santa Fe take hold in the imagination.

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I wrote about the strong, determined and ambitious women who settled there in "Well-behaved Women Didn't Make New Mexico's History." And the power of the New Mexico landscape in the almost spiritual quest of "Seeking a Sense of the Right Place".

I've already planned a return trip. I'll bring back more of the sun, more photographs and enough inspiration to carry me through another winter.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Scenes from Biltmore Estate: Asheville, North Carolina

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

The first time you see the Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina, the size overwhelms. Built by George Vanderbilt and opened--still not completed--in 1895, the vast, 125,000 acre estate is rightfully called America's Castle.

But spend any time walking through the gardens--designed by Frederick Law Olmsted--or taking in the view from the wide stone terraces, and the exquisite details are what you remember: The sight of the Great Smoky Mountains framed through a window of gnarled and blooming Wisteria vines. Or, a wide grassy field on the other side of an ornate old iron gate.

Don't rush. Buy a bottle of Biltmore wine. Linger. Then open your eyes to the magic of one beautiful and unexpected view after another.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Classic Nashville: Hatch Show Print Posters

Posters done by Hatch Show Print are iconic Americana, connected to some of the most significant performances--and not just country music-- in U.S. popular culture and social history.

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

They are instantly recognizable. The signature block print. The simple graphics. The bold type.

Last spring, visiting Nashville, Tennessee, I was able to spend an hour with manager Jim Sherraden poking around the shop. Everywhere I looked, I stumbled onto a name or event that was familiar.

Even as I snapped photos, staff were working on posters for an upcoming Neil Young concert.

Hatch Show Print is now a non-profit operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Here's a tip: you don't have to be a celebrity or aspiring talent to have your own signature poster. (Minimum orders start at 250 posters.)

This month's Country Living Magazine features a short profile of Hatch Show Print. You can view the behind-the-scenes tour here

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Romancing the Rails

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I am a train lover

I love the rhythm, the intimacy, the freedom to sit and daydream, watching for wildlife and studying the patterns of the clouds, instead of worrying about missing my exit on the freeway.

I've ridden the Amtrak Empire Builder across the Northwest, and the Crescent from New Orleans to New York City.

I've crisscrossed Europe by train, people-watching and studying villages and glorious old cities through the wide windows.

My daughter and I rode the Maglev train in China, rocketing across the landscape at breathtaking speed.

But last fall I took a three day excursion from Vancouver, British Columbia to Banff, Alberta on the Rocky Mountaineer. And by the time the trip ended my love affair with trains was only deeper.

In the Gold Leaf coach we were treated like royalty. Gazing up at the jagged mountains through the domed top of the coach, I was surrounded by people of all ages who were making the trip of a lifetime. Some were celebrating anniversaries, others were marking their "must do before I die" lists. My seatmate had traveled from Australia to see her brother in Toronto and she was crossing the country by rail. I told her that one day I hope to cross her country the same way.

At one point, we pulled onto a siding and the attendants let us know a fast-moving freight train was approaching. As I stood in the vestibule taking photos of the beautiful autumn scenery, I became aware of a faint hum. It grew louder and I realized it was the empty rails beside us vibrating from the movement of the coming train. The sound grew louder and more defined and just before the freight train reached us and sped past, the tracks made the high, clear sound a bell makes after it's been rung. It was as thrilling as hearing a whale's song, and as I moved back to my seat and the train started moving again, I played the sound over in my head, relishing it.

Later, when we pulled into the station I stepped out onto the platform and took one last photo of the train, not quite ready for the trip to end.

No wonder trains have been wrapped in romance since the first iron horse thundered across the rails. If you listen close enough, trains will sing. And for train lovers like me, something inside us sings back.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Heidelberg Castle: Today's Travel Photo

Sitting high on the hillside above the city of Heidleberg, Germany, the Heidelberg Castle is an elegant ruin.

Now the vine-covered walls are softened by time and hint of history. Strolling down the paths it is impossible not to stop and look and imagine what once was. To imagine the castle, a rambling structure of towers, halls and wings of many architectural styles, filled with life; with the sound of carriage wheels on cobblestone courtyards and the voices of men and women going about their work. Looking at the ruin, the violence of war, even an ancient war, is all around you.

The castle was destroyed during the Thirty Years War, rebuilt, then, after a lightning strike in 1764, abandoned again, and for decades, until the practice was forbidden in 1800, the castle's stones were used by Heidelberg citizens to build their homes.

But now, at night, as seen from the bridges and the river below, the illuminated castle sits over the city like a heavy crown of parapets, empty windows and open, mysterious, doorways.

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)