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Home Planet

Archive for April 2010

Dangerous beauty

      I pulled up to the intersection and stopped. While I waited for the light to change I looked around me; briefly meeting the eyes of the woman in the car in front of me as she glanced up at her rearview mirror. I saw another woman waiting for a bus and I watched the way she surreptitiously clutched her purse a little closer to her side when a man walked up and joined her. I studied the familiar landscape. Familiar houses and streets I see many times each day as I drive around the city.

      This was a particularly windy day. Even for this time of year, when spring blows into town and sweeps away the last of winter. On this day the wind was fierce.

      Startled, from the corner of my eye I noticed something lift off the ground and rise straight up into the air. It was a thin white plastic bag, the kind you get in the grocery store produce section. The kind you fill with asparagus still wet from the sprinklers that mist on schedule to keep tender green things fresh.

      Lifted by the wind it took flight. The bag rose higher and higher, catching a ride on the gusts of dusty air.

      Circling over my car, the gossamer-thin bag pulsed, inflating and then deflating. I was transfixed  From below, seen through the aquarium window of my sunroof,  it looked exactly like a jellyfish drifting with the current.

  Sitting alone in the pure quiet of the car, it was easy to imagine I was in the deepest of oceans, staring up at a mysterious living creature; its tendrils, the torn edges of the thin plastic trailing and drifting languidly as it swam in a wide arc over my head.

      Like the sea creature it was resembled, the plastic bag was delicate, translucent and beautiful.  As I watched, the bag became entangled in the branches of a tall fir tree across the road. The light turned green, the driver behind me tapped his horn and I drove on.

      In the late 1970s grocery store shoppers were given a choice as to how they brought home the groceries.. They could choose a lightweight plastic bag over the traditional paper sack. By the early 21st century, people were using and discarding as man as a billion plastic bags a year. Now, finally, we are waking up to our mistake. Instead of just “paper or plastic” we are encouraged to bring our own bags to carry away our groceries.

      I hate plastic bags. I avoid using them whenever possible. I can’t stand the way they litter the fields and roadsides and even trees around us. I despise the way they poison our oceans and endanger wildlife everywhere.

      And now, added to that, I am consumed with guilt because for a moment, when my defenses were down, I found the dance of a piece of dangerous trash and a gust of wind on a spring day to be beautiful.

      I know someone will read this and call me out. They will remind me of the destruction caused by such litter. And I will agree. I will hang my head apologize for my momentary lack of righteous anger. I’ll probably apologize for not stopping to climb the tree and remove the offending bag.

      I’m sorry. I really am. It’s just that for a moment, when I watched with a snails-eye view, when that ugly thing swam across the sky, there was a terrible beauty to it all. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons.”  Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at

Small world

This morning I watched the sun rise over the Great Smoky Mountains. The historic Grove Park Inn, at Asheville, North Carolina was already humming, preparing for the Obama visit.

Four airports, 2,000 miles and 9 hours later I walked in my front door and am about to put my head on my own pillow.

I love to travel. I love meeting new people and seeing new places. But most of all I love coming home to my own corner of the world.

Swept away

     I was busy with other things. My mind was on early spring chores like clearing away the winter clutter of boots, shovels and mate-less mittens; sweeping last year’s bitter-end-of-autumn leaves and pine needles off the patio; tidying up the garden getting it ready to plant again, to fill with new green growth.
     I certainly had enough to think about.
    But, suddenly, when I wasn’t paying attention, while my back was turned, a longing for the ocean swept over me in a wave of pure desire. Scraps of memory, images of other trips to the coast, distracted me and tripped me up. I lost my forward momentum. I lost my place.
    I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was the basket of stones I’ve gathered on past trips that sits in a corner of the patio. They’re always there but I do forget to stop and look at them. Maybe it was the way the wind whipped at my hair and pulled at my clothes while I worked, the way it does at the shore.
    All I know is that in an instant, I didn’t want to putter around the house anymore.  I just wanted to get in the car and drive until I hit the edge of the continent.
    Now, all I can think of is getting to the wild and rugged Pacific coast.  I want to run away to a favorite cottage tucked into the hillside of a quiet little town. Just for for a few days.
    I didn’t realize I was so hungry for solitude. Now, I am craving time to myself to walk on the beach with the sound of the waves in my ears and the sting of the wind against my skin. I want the luxury of sitting by the fire, my hands wrapped around my coffee cup, beside a window that overlooks a wide horizon of endless water and sky. I want time to think. To solve problems. To make resolutions. To surrender to an ancient and inescapable rhythm.
    A long time ago, I fell in love with the Oregon coast. And like any true love, it never goes away for long.
    I was busy when I drifted into daydreams about the sand and the waves. My hands were occupied when my mind caught the current and was pulled out to sea. For days now, as I do all the things that are expected of me, as I work and drive and put meals on the table, my mind has been miles away watching clouds scuttle across the sky and sea birds wheel and dive.
    The idea of running away snuck up on me and wrapped its arms around me. Why should I resist? Why shouldn’t I turn around and return the kiss?
    So, my calendar is open with red circles around empty squares. The number of the rental agent is on my phone.
    The sea is calling me. And I never could play hard to get.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons,” and her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio as well as public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at

Little House lah-Dee-dah

After taking the plunge into downsizing a big life into a little house, I love to read about anyone who has gone really small. It takes a lot of determination to resist the temptation to start living large again.

Dee Williams, an Olympia, Washington woman, will have her little ( and by that I mean tiny) house  featured in the upcoming South Sound Green Tour sponsored by the South Puget Sound Chapter of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild.  The house was built incorporating many found or recycled objects and components.


I found it courtesy of the Tiny House Blog. The blog says the wee house is inspired by Tumbleweed designs. You can read more about Dee William’s little house here.

A good day at Trezzi Farm

No Sunday drive to Green Bluff is complete without a stop by Trezzi Farm. Walking into the one-of-a-kind barn-style home and kitchen, we were warmly welcomed, as always, and came away with a box full of delicious homemade lasagna, meatballs, pesto and polenta to stock the freezer. Not to mention a bottle of their wonderful '08 Barbera  made with winemaker Don Townhshend.

I know Davide and Stephanie have gotten a lot of press since I first wrote about them for The Spokesman-Review in 2005. (You can read that story here.) But, I still find myself linked to their progress. As I interviewed and then wrote about them, I fell a little in love with the couple and the way they dream, plan, build and succeed together. How could you not?

Since that first feature story they have added a vineyard and now grow the grapes for Davide's wines. They built a tasting room and event facility and continue to grow. Even as he showed me around, he talked of what is yet to come.

It was a good Sunday for a drive and a good day to stop and say hello to friends. Serve that with homemade Italian food, wine and hospitality and you are well fed, indeed.



To see more photos of Trezzi Farm, click below…

Saving Lives One Meal at a Time



I am a great admirer of the kitchen skills of my friends. So many seem to posess a magic that escapes me.

In my kitchen, in my pots and pans, most recipes never turn out quite right. I get close, but, whether due to my trademark short attention span or a tendency to plunge headlong in to a recipe I have neither all the necessary ingredients for nor the time or talent to produce, I just don't seem to have it in me to whip up fluffy pastry crusts or paper thin crepes or elaborate meals of any kind. Not without a lot of drama, anyway.

For the most part, this doesn't bother me. I'd rather sit down and write anyway. In my perfect world, food would appear on my plate and dishes would wash themselves. But every once in a while, it would be nice to walk into the kitchen and stir up something complex and delicous and wonderful. Calorie free, of course.

Tonight, after a bone-chilling four hours being buffeted by the cold wind at my daughter's track meet, I came home knowing the handiwork of a friend was waiting in the refrigerator. My friend Piper makes the most amazing Thai food and sells it to raise money for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. She calls it “Saving Lives One Meal at a Time.” For $10, she delivers two servings of  green curry chicken, red shrimp curry or Tom Kha Soup. Spicy, filling and absolutely delicious over rice, each is the perfect meal for a busy woman with a busy family. I try to keep some in the freezer for days exactly like today.

People like to say anyone can cook. I nod and play along, but I'm not sure that's true. But, what I do believe is that if we have a friend who can cook, and can do good work at the same time, we are doubly fortunate.

If you want more information about Piper's life-saving curry, drop me a line. I'd be happy to put you in touch with her.

For more about the healing art of cooking, read Dominique Browning's essay in Eating Well magazine.

A Walk in the Park

     When the signs are subtle but strong. When the wind shifts and the sun’s arc across the sky changes a bit. When the perfume in the air takes on another scent and something deep inside me responds to a silent signal, I take walk. Not another brisk walk with the dogs to get my heart rate up and burn off the calories, but a slow walk to quiet my racing heart and racing mind. To catch my breath. To see what is happening in the world around me.

      I live near a park. An old park full of acres of trees and paths and stone buildings and secret places tucked into the nooks and crannies. We go there often, to exercise the dogs or ride our bikes, but at least once at the very beginning of each season I go deliberately alone.

      I go when I want to meander, to investigate any rock or tree or bush along the way. When I need to measure time in the ancient way, by the changes in the landscape and sky. Usually, I eventually make my way to one particular spot; a wild, less manicured place tucked into the curve of one of the paths.

      There are more beautiful places in the park, to be sure. Carefully tended gardens with elaborate beds and tall topiaries. Rose gardens with a sunset view and classic white arbors and pergolas. Rows of iris and a meadow of lilacs.

     But time after time, I find myself heading to the quiet spot between the showier spaces.

       I go there to measure the movement of time. To note the subtle shift of the seasons. To see how one small corner of the world changes, dances to Mother Nature’s tune without much help

       In the winter, I stand and watch the way the snow drifts on the branches of the tall tree. In the spring I taste the fruit borne by the tree. In summer I let the leaves shade me and cool me and provide shelter from the sun.

      Each season, everything in this little corner is different. The sun comes in from a different slant. The earth smells sweeter in fall, richer in summer. Flowers bloom in spring and foliage is deep green in summer. The people I encounter are different, as well. In the softer seasons the path is filled with people who talk and laugh as they go by. In the deepest part of winter I can stand there for long stretches of time without seeing anyone at all. When someone does pass they are silent and intent, lost in their own thoughts.

      In some ways, it seems a shame to mark the seasons at the foot of a tree tucked into a city park when the world offers bigger views. Tall mountains. Deep canyons, dense and dark forests and wild water. And I do explore those places when I can.

      But the path in the park is close to home. And in that quiet spot I can, for as long as I will let myself, stop moving so fast and let the spinning planet do all the work. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Stitching love, hope and prayer into fabric

     Years ago, the week before Easter Sunday, I sat beside my sister’s hospital bed watching her fever rise and listening to her struggle to breathe.
    She was so sick, fighting for every breath, and I was powerless to help her in any way. The only thing I could do was be there so she could see me when she woke up. So she would know she wasn’t alone.
    The nights were the worst, punctuated by harsh light,  the eerie, alien sounds of IV alarms and the hissing and gurgling of the oxygen.
    To keep my anxiety at bay, I brought a project to the hospital with me each day. Something to quiet my mind and keep my hands busy.
    While my sister slept I sat in a chair beside the bed and smocked cotton Easter dresses for my daughters. Smocking, is an old, old way to decorate a garment. Fabric is pleated and then tiny stitches made with embroidery floss hold the pleating in place. The range of patterns run from simple geometrics to elaborate images.
    I never really learned to sew, the finer mathmatic elements of construction eluded me, so I had a friend who always put the garments together for me. But, I could smock. I wasn’t an expert, but I could count the pleats and follow the simpler graphs. I could, building one stitch on top of another, turn an ordinary piece of cotton into a little work of art.



Who will teach him to pull up his pants?

     It was one of those beautiful spring Saturday mornings that thrill you. When the sun is out, the air is suddenly warmer and there are tender green shoots peeking up in the flower beds. The kind of day you remember. The kind of day that makes you remember.
    Out on weekend errands, we drove through the neighborhood passing rows of houses, many with people in the front yards talking to neighbors, enjoying the sunshine.
    When we stopped at a red light I looked over to see a man playing with his young son. The little boy was behind the wheel of one of those motorized child-sized toy cars. A Power Wheel. In this case, a Jeep. He was steering but his father was behind him, helping him push the little vehicle up a particularly steep place in the front yard.
I watched them as we waited.

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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