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Home Planet

Archive for June 2010

China: Ancient tools on a Modern Road

    At four in the morning, in a dark hotel room in Beijing, a grim city that performed cosmetic surgery on itself to shine in the world’s biggest pageant, still fighting the effects of flying across the world, I found myself awake while the rest of the world slumbered. Or so it felt.

    Perched on the edge of a chair I’d pulled up to the wide window, within view of the still-shining construction from the 2009 Olympics, I watched cars and trucks move along one of the ring roads that circle the city. In spite of the fact that Bejing is home to more than 15 million, there was very little traffic at that hour and what few vehicles were out moved leisurely, merging and passing.         
    The hotel, like the city, was quiet and I could hear my daughter’s soft breathing as she slept in the bed beside mine.

    My mind raced but it was more than being jittery from too many cups of tea. More than the effects of crossing time zones and lack of sleep. Mentally, I was working to fit together the puzzle pieces of the journey. Trying to make a clear picture out of shards and fragments; sorting the sights, sounds and scents of a place unlike any I’d visited before.

     We had walked along the Great Wall, climbing the uneven stone steps to the broad lane at the top of the wall, looking out over the valleys and rolling hills below. I could hear a rooster crowing at a farm in the distance and I thought of the textbooks I’d had as a school girl, never imagining at that age that one day I would be able to reach out and touch the rough, worn, stones with my fingers.     Standing at the top of a flight of steps, overlooking the sprawling, mysterious, Forbidden City, I had tried to imagine the lives of its inhabitants when it was a bustling, populated place closed to the outside world.

    Under the watchful gaze of the portrait of Mao that still hangs at the gate, we strolled through Tiananmen Square - a place still haunted by the image of tanks and a lone figure -  and I could feel the lingering frisson of tension as guards, wary young men in oversized coats, patrolled.

    Riding along the narrow streets of a hutong, one of the Walled neighborhoods built with centuries-old clay bricks that had escaped the pre-Olympic wrecking ball, I watched children - one per family - play.

    Wherever we went the persistent “mosquitoes” hawked their wares, stacks of knock-off designer bags, fake silk scarves, postcards and chopsticks.

    All around us, at every step, there was a collision of culture and history. Faux Gucci bags on the steps of the temple.

    Still sitting at the window, lost in thought, I was pulled back into focus by a figure moving in the street below, a modern arterial connecting the new Crown Plaza hotel built for the Olympic crowds to the ring road. He was walking slowly, moving from the glow of one streetlight to another.   

    The man swayed from side to side and I could see he was sweeping the broad pavement with a big broom made of willow branches and leaves.

     I watched him as he moved, stooped and bent over the willow boughs, along the length of the the long road. I couldn’t look away. This man, I thought, is the answer to the riddle.

    I don’t think I slept more than an hour or so that night, but it was not the first time I’ve felt fortunate to have been wide awake, looking out on a view that those tucked into their beds might miss.

    By day, China is a crowded, noisy, almost overwhelming collage of contradictions. Trying to make sense of what you see is difficult.

    But at night, in a black and white world, the answer is as plain as a man walking through pools of lamplight, a man carrying an ancient tool on a modern road.

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

National Nightmare

     When my children were small they came to me crying when they were afraid. Sometimes they were convinced that monsters were hiding under their beds until I chased away each shadowy creature.

    In those days it was in my power to banish the scary things. When the wind blew and tornado sirens wailed, sending us scurrying down into the basement to wait out the worst, I could soothe them. I could reassure them that storms always pass. That by morning the sun would be out and life would return to normal. If I was afraid or secretly worried that our house would be swept away by a killer wind, I kept it to myself.

    When they opened their eyes to a safe and familiar landscape, whatever terrifying thing that had invaded their dreams would retreat and fade. The night’s fear would be forgotten.

    To a child, even the most well-adjusted child, the world with all its hazards and mysteries, can be a frightening place. Fire burns. Water drowns. Dogs bite. Monsters lurk. Lightning strikes.
    As parents, we calm those fears. We soothe and caress. We hold them close and talk away the bogey man.

    Lately, trying to ease my own anxiety about the terrible scenario going on in the Gulf of Mexico as millions of barrels of oil boil unchecked into a sea already taxed by our carelessness, I talk to my children about what is happening. They’re adults now. They’ve learned there are no monsters under the bed. They remember the sugar-white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. They played in the surf as children.

    Now, each is baffled by the negligence, the arrogance and audacity of those who built a weapon of destruction with no plan for protecting the innocent. Like me, they are frustrated by the slow response and shaken by the scope of the disaster.

     This terrible thing, we think without having to say it aloud, is not a figment like the imaginary creatures under the bed. This is the stuff of real nightmares. An endless, gushing cloud of darkness that is slowly rising to the surface of the sea. A smothering film that stretches oily fingers onto the shore, staining everything it touches, poisoning innocent wildlife and killing the beaches while arrogant, blowhard, executives dance around the truth.

    And behind that truth is the knowledge that we have abused our dominion. We allowed a wound in the earth.  A hole opened with no practical way to close it. We looked the other way while entities like British Petroleum focused on greed and fed our endless need for oil.    (As someone who drives for a living, I am not blind to the irony of what I am writing. We talk about that, too.)

    I'm consumed by the feeling that this will be our legacy.

    Like any parent, I have a tendency to look back on the days when my children were small with a certain soft-focus. But there are times, especially in this crisis, that I am glad that my son and daughters are old enough to be able to decide for themselves what is good or bad.

    If they were coming to me as children, frightened by what is going on, I would be hard-pressed to find the words of comfort.

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

New baby. New Life. Happy Father’s Day to the family man.

    One day you’re the man. You’ve got nothing more to worry about than where to go for dinner or what time the big game is on TV.  And, then, one day, everything changes.

    Now, nothing is truly your own. Not your schedule, your money, your time. Not even your heart.

    After nine months in the passenger seat, you take the wheel. One look at a reddened face, one heart-wrenching cry, one touch of ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes changes everything. You reach out to take the swaddled bundle and in a heartbeat you hold the future in your arms.

    Late night feedings and diapers by the case will give way to preschool music programs and bicycles without training wheels. Little League games will replace major league sports. College tuition will come out of the budget before money is spent on dinner in a favorite restaurant.

    Before you can put that precious cargo in the car seat for the first ride home, you’ve already got a lot to worry about.

    You’re still the man. But now, you’re the family man.

     Happy Father’s Day.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at This piece was first published in Spokane Metro Magazine, June 2009.

Inspired by a Garden

    There is a garden near my house. It is a sprawling, rolling series of gardens, really. From the pond at the bottom of the hill, to the sunken formal garden on the other side of the rise to the rose garden at the top and the meadows all around - 90 acres in all -  Manito Park has been sculpted and planted and in some places groomed to create individual spaces.

    Most evenings, just at twilight, I leash up the dogs and we go for a  walk. It is my way of shedding the petty irritations and stresses of the day.

    I am almost never alone. There are usually others - no matter what the weather - walking along the paths. Stopping to pick up fallen rose petals in the summer or leaves in autumn, reading the identifying tags at the base of perennials or sitting in the gazebo, simply letting the world move around them.

    That is the power of a garden. It draws us, relaxes and inspires us. It slows us. It brings us to a stop. A garden moves us.

    I was recently in Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville, if you weren’t aware of it, is home to one of the loveliest gardens in the world. The gardens at Biltmore Estate.

    Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the patriarch of American gardens, the 125,000 acres that comprise the grounds of Biltmore, the grand country estate built by John D. Rockefeller, consist of one beautiful acre after another.    

     I was there in late spring, just at the peak of tulip season. Row after row of brightly colored flowers made a colorful carpet across the grounds. It was a weekday afternoon, but there were people everywhere. Families were posing and taking photos, serious photographers were intent on shooting close, almost abstract images of the interior of the flowers. The Great Smoky Mountains in the distance formed a violet band,  a lavender border around the beautiful grounds. Dogwoods draped, heavy with blossoms, across pathways and hidden places. Wisteria hung like a fragrant garland over weathered wood arbors. Orchids bloomed in the greenhouses and ornate wrought iron benches were irresistible, making it impossible to walk past without stopping to breathe in the perfume and take in the view. It is an exquistitely beautiful place.

    Biltmore itself can be overwhelming. The house - often called the American Castle -  is the largest in the country, taking a team of craftsmen six years to build before it was finally opened in 1895.

    Today, people come from all over to take a tour, to peer into the more than 250 rooms, awed by an opulent lifestyle most of us can only dream about. No one, looking at the sprawling mansion, situated in the seclusion of a private park in a small, vibrant city at the foot of the appalachian mountains, can really imagine living like that.

    Ah, but out in the garden, it is another thing altogether. Who doesn’t secretly believe that he or she, if so inclined, could create a paradise? It doesn’t take 100,00 acres. It doesn’t take a bottomless fortune. You don’t need a gardner or even any particular talent. Making a garden takes only the desire to make a garden. A seed, some water and the sun do the hard work. The rest is only maintenance.

    A garden, unlike a castle, is possible. A thing we secretly believe that given the time, we could manage.
    I left the gardens at the Biltmore Estate with a camera full of photographs.  I leave the garden near my home each evening with the fragrance of flowers still on my hands.
    I leave my home each morning with daydreams of what I could do to my backyard tucked into a corner of my mind.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Summer wings

It's officially the last day of school, in my household at least. Although the weather hasn't cooperated, I'm looking forward to slowing down. To long walks and time to think. To watching little girls ride bicycles…
First published June, 2008

It was the best part of a summer day: When the long, cool twilight winds us down; when light plays with shadows and night moves up, painting the edges of the horizon. When the moon chases the sun across the sky.

When stars appear and the air is heavy with the perfume of red roses and green grass and hamburgers cooked on the grill. When cats pounce on imaginary prey and dogs bark, passing the word that the day is done.

I walked my own silly dogs, walking off a long day at work, walking off my dinner and shaking off the weight of everything that had settled on me since I opened my eyes that morning. They strained at their leashes, pulling me forward. I pulled back, dawdling, distracted by the scenes in the windows of the houses I passed. Golden windows that gave me glimpses of other lives. Other interiors.
I heard voices and looked up to see her coming toward me, riding under the branches of the tall shade trees that line the boulevard.

She was astride a shiny new bicycle. A helmet was strapped under her chin, her hands gripped the handlebars and her skinny legs pumped the pedals. Her face was tight with concentration.
Her father, home from work, still dressed in his crisp white shirt and dark trousers, trotted behind her. His arms were outstretched, ready to catch her if she lost control and crashed.
She raced down the sidewalk, passing me as I stopped on the pavement to watch, and was gone. Her father tossed a smile as he ran past.

Maybe it was the time of day, the shadowy, magical part of the day when time is fluid and plays tricks on us; when what was and what is stop for an instant and exchange glances. Perhaps it was my mood, tinged with violet like the evening sky.
But for a heartbeat, I was that little girl. For an instant I was 6 years old. I could feel the handlebars in my hands, and the pedals against the soles of my shoes.
The world rushed by me as I flew down the streets of my neighborhood, leaning into the curves as the wind tangled in my hair. I had wings. I had wheels. I was free to push myself as far as I dared to go, yet I was still safe. If I fell, there was someone there to save me.
The man and the child rounded the corner and were gone, heading home. My dogs, impatient with the delay, tugged at their leads, anxious to travel. They had things to see before calling it a day.

I walked on, but my mind was light years away. I was a girl on a bike. I was a mother, my heart in my throat, watching a child, wobbling and weaving, navigate the world without training wheels.

I could see who I had been. What escaped me, is who I have become.

And then, just as night settled around me, it was clear: I’m still a bit of both. I still have my wings. I still have my wheels.

And if I fall? I pick myself up.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at

Toasting another school year with a strawberry shake


June 19, 2004

Funny how what we miss changes as we grow

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Special to Handle Extra

The last day of school always catches me by surprise. So does the first day actually, but the routine is familiar and it doesn’t take long to get into the groove. Before I know it, it’s Christmas, and then spring break.

After that, the days gather speed until another year has passed. In the blur of final exams, recitals and sports, my children make a leap and I’m left with the bags of school papers, broken crayons and assorted hats and mittens they found stuffed in their desk.

This year, the last day was worse than usual. My son left home furious because, according to him, he would be the only student whose parents were abusive enough to make him go to school on the last day.

My daughter overslept, missed the bus and had to be driven to school. She stormed out of the car and into the building without a backward glance.

My youngest child sat quietly in the back seat and rode out the storm. When I delivered her to school, she hopped out of the car and trotted up to the front door, her backpack bobbing up and down. She turned around to smile at me and wave one last time before she disappeared inside.

I drove home and tried to work but I was restless and couldn’t focus. I was worried about my son, and couldn’t stop thinking about my 14-year-old daughter.

Our “welcome summer” tradition on the last day of school has been to go to the Milk Bottle on Garland for a celebratory lunch. In the past their friends have been invited and we were a rolling party of noisy, hungry kids.

This year, the teenagers all had something better to do, something that didn’t include me, so I found myself with only one child. The little third-grade graduate.

We ordered our usual cheeseburger special and while we waited for our food we talked about important things like who her teacher might be next year, and how much homework fourth-graders had.

Suddenly, she put her head down, hiding her face in her arms.

“Are you crying?” I asked. She just shrugged without lifting her head.

“What is it?”

She didn’t say anything for a minute then turned her head to the side. She looked up at me with large tear-filled hazel eyes, and a serious face — with exactly 28 freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose — and said, “I’m schoolsick.”

It’s funny how we can take words, like Playdoh, and squeeze them into new shapes. If her brother or sisters had said the same thing, it would have meant they were sick of school, sick of being told what to do and when to do it, sick of lessons and projects. Just sick of it all.

But she was heartsick because the school year was ending and weeks without the teacher she loved, and the comforting daily routine, were stretching out in front of her. She was bereft.

When our food arrived we stopped talking. She drank the milkshake first, then ate the fries one at a time, and finally a bite or two of the hamburger. By the time we finished, she was cheerful and chatty, full of plans for the summer.

We drove home, and I thought about the future. There aren’t many “hamburger parties” left before she’ll be too busy to celebrate with me. And I may never hear the word “schoolsick” again. Not in a good way, anyway.

That night, I kissed her and tucked her into bed. Then I walked into my room and looked into the mirror. “I’m childsick,” I told my reflection. And I understood exactly what I meant.

Age and Beauty

A friend and I were discussing the way we see ourselves changes with age. That reminded me of a column I wrote a couple of years ago so I thought I would share it here…


May 19, 2008

Home Planet: Fine lines between young, old

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review

I had an appointment to get my hair cut. Most women my age know what that means. It means an uncomfortable, critical, hour or so in front of a mirror in unforgiving light. Like it or not, you see yourself as you really are.

So, in self-defense, I put on a little lipstick, put a little color on my cheeks, before I walked out the door.

At the salon, while I thumbed through a magazine, I watched the young woman in the chair nearby. She was in her early 20s, probably just out of school, and she was very pretty. She had golden skin, big blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Her makeup – dark eyelashes and lip gloss – was skillfully done.

The stylist hovered over her like a bee buzzing around a flower, a lily gilded with foils and highlights, pulling her long blonde hair through a brush as he waved the dryer in the air. She had a date, she told him. She had a new dress and she was going dancing.

I couldn’t help but notice that as they talked and laughed, she never took her eyes off her reflection. She tilted her head, studying her face, admiring her hair. She was obviously pleased with what she saw. And why not? Crow’s feet and salt-and-pepper hair were years away. She still had a lot of growing up to do.

I sat down, my hair tousled and wet, a towel pinned around my neck. The woman who does my hair knows the drill. Just hold what we’ve got, is the implied message each time I sit in her chair. Just hold what we’ve got.

I stole a glance at myself in the mirror – at my very grown-up reflection – and quickly looked away. No use dwelling on that.

And that’s when I saw her. At the station behind me an older woman sat in a wheelchair. Her short gray hair framed her face in a no-nonsense cut. She wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry.

Avoiding my own face, I watched hers instead. And the more I studied her, the more beautiful she became. Not painted and pretty like the girl. Not middle-aged and holding like me. She was truly beautiful.

The woman chatted with the stylist and when she smiled her face followed a map of lines that had been etched by time. By years of happiness and heartbreak. Years of hard times and good times. Years of lessons learned and small graces. Years and years of living.

I was struck by the way she gazed directly into the mirror looking straight into her own eyes. She wasn’t entertained by her reflection, like a canary playing with its image, the way the beautiful young woman had been. But she wasn’t hiding from what she saw the way I was. She met herself without flinching, without looking away. She met herself head-on.

That, I thought to myself, is what I want to be. When I grow old and I settle into myself for the rest of the ride, I want to find that kind of peace.

I want to find that woman in the mirror.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. 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

Handmade Happiness

    I got a call from a friend the other night. One of those late-night calls women make when they have a moment to themselves.
    She was alone in a quiet house full of sleeping children and a husband who was softly snoring in front of the television. She was desperately tired. After all, she’d spent the day caring for her three small children. She’d packed lunches, driven the morning carpool, played with the toddler who was still home all day, shuttled to after-school activities, made dinner, helped with homework, refereed baths, read a bed-time story, fetched one more glass of water and finally, finally, turned out the light.
    Then, when she could have gone straight to bed to catch up on some much-needed sleep, she did what mothers do all the time. She got busy.
    Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by her boxes of beads and stones and all the tools and findings she uses to make the beautiful necklaces and earrings she gives as gifts to friends and family, she let her mind wander as her fingers worked. She felt the tension slip away. For a few minutes she wasn’t Mommy. She was herself again. That’s when she picked up the phone to call me.
    While we talked, I thought back to my life when my children were still small. I spent the day doing all the things stay-at-home mothers do. At night I spent hours answering a powerful creative urge.
    This seems to happen to many of us when our children are born. We get crafty.
    I see young mothers experiencing this all the time. Women who were once busy professionals with pressured careers now sew baby dresses or construct elaborate scrapbooks and photo albums. They revel in this new side of themselves, gathering with others who are experiencing the same delight in handcrafting.
    I think it has something to do with the way we change after the babies come along. Suddenly, we are no longer the carefree women we were before. Our minds are never still. We’re listening, watching, weighing and evaluating. We fret. We forecast the future and regret the past. Mothering is all-consuming. There are few moments when our children aren’t foremost in our thoughts.
    Creativity is a way to slip out of the confines of being the responsible party. It is a way to open and explore the child who still lives within us.
    My days were consumed by the work and worry of four young children. Goodness knows, I had plenty to keep me busy. But every night, even when I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, I sat down to create. Like my friend, I went through my beading phase. I strung freshwater pears into ropes, adding antique charms and other found objects to make one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings. I sold these to a boutique in the area and soon began to notice my work on women at the children’s schools and around town. That spurred me on to stay up later and make more.
    After that, I spent long hours making hats, steaming and blocking the fabric, stitching silk roses and velvet leaves onto the felt and straw. These went to the same boutique. Again, I began to see my hats on women at the mall or at church.
    Later, I polished and cut old silverware and bent the handles into earrings, rings, key rings and necklaces. These went to local gift shops and to antiques and craft shows.
    I took black-and-white photographs of children and families and then delicately hand-tinted the photos, adding small touches of color to give the portraits a vintage look.
    I packaged gift trays using and vintage china, silver and lace and shipped them across the country to be opened by grateful strangers.
    I smocked dresses and rompers for my daughters and my son, sometimes finding myself nodding over my needle.
    Most of this was done at night. When I should have been sleeping. When I should have been too tired to do anything more than close my eyes and rest up for the coming day.
    But, like my friend, like so many women, I crafted into the wee hours. I made things with my hands. Letting my mind play while my fingers worked.
    After a while I realized that my newfound passion for crafting was nothing new. I was just one more in a long history. Middle-class Victorian women, gifted with time by the household innovations of the industrial revolution, wove accessories from the hair of loved ones or painted delicate watercolors.
    I tinted photographs and strung tiny pearls. Now, I write. I still sit down and write late into the night the way my friend works with chunky gemstones and glass beads.
    Some mothers sew. They crochet or knit. They bake. They refinish furniture. The commonality, just as it always has been, is the desire to create. To construct and produce and, each in our own way, to provide proof beyond our most precious contribution - the children that own us so completely - that we were here. That deep inside there was a spark, a gift, a source of happiness that was completely handmade.

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


At Chaps, we had our “Cake” and a party, too.

Last night was perfect.  The weather was exactly right. Not too cold, not too hot.  Most of the clouds cleared away and left us with a beautiful sunset. It was a grand time for a party.

As luck would have it, Celeste Shaw, the owner of the trendy eatery Chaps, threw a wonderful party. The reason for the celebration was to help Serena Thompson thank vendors and helpers for a wonderful opening day at this year’s Farm Chicks Antique show at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. Another benefit was to give several hundred women ( a few men) and a scattering of media types a peek at her new bakery.

“Cake,” featuring the sweet goods of Gina Garcia, will be opening soon so Saturday night’s party was a wonderful chance to spend a few hours enjoying wonderful food, sparking conversation and the charming decor.

From the repurposed molding surrounding the windows and doors, to the antique light fixtures over the counter, to the large, vintage, sign letters on the wall spelling out the word “Sweet,” the new bakery is as luscious and one-of-a-kind as any of the delicious goodies on the menu.

My work week usually includes several breakfast or lunch meetings. I’ve found just the new place to gather.

To see more photos of the party at “Cake” click “continue reading.”

Graduation Girl

Going through previous graduation columns…

Home Planet: They grow up at breathtaking speed

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
June 2, 2008

She came into this world after a labor and delivery so fast and efficient it left us both dazed and breathless. Exhilarated and exhausted, I rubbed my cheek against her soft, dark curls. I counted 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes. I tucked her into the curve of my arm and closed my eyes to rest.

I’m still trying to catch up.

I brought her home and held her close to me as we rocked in her great-grandmother’s rocking chair. I nursed her and sang lullabies in the dark. But in a heartbeat she got away from me. Before I knew it, she was toddling around, talking and singing, one thumb in her mouth and the other hand twisting her hair, laughing a deep belly laugh at the antics of her siblings.

Then, distracted by the everyday chores that pulled at me, I looked up to find she was ready for kindergarten, already reading the books her brother and sister brought home from school.

Another blink and she was on her bicycle, wearing Band-Aids on skinned knees and an ear-to-ear grin on her face. She was in constant motion, an Energizer Bunny who danced through the house and into our hearts.

We were still calling her “the baby” when she went away to summer camp for the first time and I brought her home to find she’d grown taller in just a week.

One minute she was playing with her dolls and the next she was wearing braces on her teeth and getting into my makeup and talking about boys. Then she was driving and dating and we were arguing about curfews and clothes.

Yesterday she was in my arms and now, although it feels like I only closed my eyes for a second, she’s graduating from high school.

While I looked over my shoulder at the past or gazed too far down the road worrying about the future or simply focused on the day-to-day routine, she grew up.

She’s bright and beautiful and I’m grateful for every minute I’ve had with her. But, oh, how I wish I could turn back time.

When she heads off to college in the fall, putting three states – and other less-tangible barriers – between us, I suspect she’ll start her new adventure with just as much impatience and exuberance and determination as she showed when she came into my life in the wee hours of a February morning 18 years ago. She’ll rush off to her future, a whirlwind of potential and possibility.

And once again I’ll be left to catch my breath.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. 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

The Hannah Project

     My friend sat with her husband in a stadium crowded with of thousands of parents just like the two of them. One by one their college-educated children marched across the stage and picked up diplomas, given with a smile and handshake, before crossing to the other side and back to their seats.

      Suddenly, my friend’s eyes filled with tears. Tears of tenderness. Tears of bittersweet sadness. And, to her surprise, tears of relief.

      For the first time it occurred to her that she’d really reached the end of the “Hannah Project” they’d started 22 years before. She had, as the old saying goes, worked herself out of a job. The baby was grown. She had a good education and, most miraculous of all, had already been hired by a reputable company. There was a young man in the picture who gave every indication that he would eventually be a son-in-law.

      For a moment she was wracked with sadness. The baby was gone. Then, for the first time, my friend realized that she wasn’t losing the baby. She was gaining freedom and independence and a second chance at making some of her own dreams come true. Without the day-to-day worries of parenting, she could focus on the dreams she’d put off to raise a child.

      In the time it took a new graduate to cross the stage, she had an epiphany. She was graduating, too. Even as she grieved, she was already looking forward to having a second chance at life.

      Wanting to share what she was feeling, she reached over, clasped her husband’s hand, and whispered in his ear.

      “I can’t believe she’s all grown up,” she said. He nodded.

      “It seems like she was born yesterday,” she whispered. He nodded again

      “We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” she said with tears in her eyes.

      “I know,” he replied squeezing her hand, looking like he was close to tears himself. “No more tuition.”

      She told me the story over a cup of coffee, still shaking her head and laughing. She’d been overcome by the significance of the moment. By the idea that it wasn’t just her child who was moving into a new life; that she was being reborn, as well.

        Her husband had more practical matters on his mind.

        “I had stars in my eyes and he was seeing dollar signs,” she said.

      Actually, when you think about it, that’s a pretty good description of parenting. From conception to graduation, raising a child is brief periods of rose-colored daydreams followed by sobering reality. Maternal glow and  morning sickness. Lullabies and sleep deprivation. Adoration followed by frustration. The drive to give a child what he or she need to grow and thrive and the spirit-crushing responsibility of bringing in the cold hard cash to make it happen. And, finally, when they step out of the nest, regret tempered by the thrill of picking up the life you put on hold.

      Of course, that first step is a big one. A few days after the graduation ceremony, over a late-morning homemade breakfast of pancakes and sausage in mom’s kitchen, my friend’s daughter sheepishly asked for a small loan to tide her over. Just until the first paycheck. It seems the deposit on the new apartment and all the other nickel-and-dime expenses of starting a life on one’s own had erased the balance in her checking account. And, she’d been thinking… To really get ahead she might need to go to graduate school.

      I laughed and she smiled at me over her coffee cup.

      “I know, I know,” she said. “I got ahead of myself.” Apparently, so did her husband.

      My friend may have stars in her eyes but she doesn’t have to rush to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Again. After all, it takes a little time to wrap up a big effort like the Hannah Project.

      Well, time and a few dollars more.  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. 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

Familiar Faces

     If you have signed up to use Facebook, you’re probably familiar with the way the online social media format plays social matchmaker. Not in a romantic way, but by suggesting people you might want to add to your contact list. People who are friends with your friends. People who have some kind of connection to you.

      Occasionally, this works. You see a familiar face, an old friend, a co-worker, a former classmate, you didn’t know had signed up and it’s nice to add them to your contact list.

      At other times, you are prompted to to catch up with an old friend. People to whom you are already connected but may not interact with on a regular basis.

      Sometimes this is a good thing, as well. It reminds you to check in with someone you like. Someone who is probably as busy as you are. Someone you might like to talk to more often.

      But then, occasionally, an unsettling thing happens. Occasionally, a face pops up that is startling. A face you can’t reach out and touch no matter how much you might like to.

      In the last year, three people I knew and liked died. They were all too young, all under 50. All three were Facebook friends.

      At least once a month, when I log on I’m prompted to get back in touch with one of them.

      At first, I cringed whenever one of the faces popped up on my computer screen.  I was reminded again, in a most impersonal way, that they were gone forever. One more time the sad story behind each death passed through my mind. 

      But now, each time I see their photos, I take a minute and I reconnect with their memory. I stop and remember a time we spoke or laughed. I think about the spouses, the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and the children left behind. I honor them.

      I’m sure this is not what Facebook intended, but after thinking about it, I decided to accept the random gift of memory. To be grateful for it.

      My friends were here with us and each led a rich and productive life. They worked and played and loved. They built careers and relationships. All three battled the disease that eventually killed them with dignity and grace and amazing courage. Now, through no fault of their own, they are gone

      But gone doesn’t mean forgotten.

      So, when I open my computer, when I log on to Facebook to see what friends and family are up to, or to post a photo and update my own profile, I glance at the top of the page.

      Sometimes I make a new friend. Sometimes I reconnect with an old friend. And once in a while I take a moment to think about a friend I will never see again. 

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

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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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