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Archive for February 2012

A Tired and True Companion

   For most of my work-from-home career, we’ve shared an office and a routine. As soon as the door closes behind the rest of the family, we go to work.

   I have a tendency to fuss and fidget, jumping up from my computer to answer the phone or scan a document or make another cup of tea. He is more quiet. More content. He makes himself comfortable nearby, watching me move around, paying attention to what I’m doing, especially when I wander into the kitchen. He’s always willing to join me in a snack. Occasionally he gets restless and asks to go outside, but for the most part, he’s happy to simply share the space with me

   Actually, that’s the way we used to spend our days. Things are changing now. At 14, he’s an old dog. He no longer sits and watches me work. Now, as soon as we’re alone for the day, he is instantly asleep. He sleeps deeply and quietly, seldom “chasing rabbits” in his dreams the way he used to. I can step over him, open the refrigerator and even crunch into a carrot, his favorite treat, without waking him.

   And when he is awake, he doesn’t move a lot. Moving hurts, I can tell. He rarely climbs the stairs to my daughter’s room and even the two short steps leading from the kitchen to the back yard are sometimes difficult. Sometimes, as he sleeps, he groans softly, forgetting to hide the aches and pains.

   The other day, on deadline and stuck for the right word, I pushed away from the computer and my restless eyes wandered away from my keyboard and chased ideas around the room, gazing out the window, over the newspaper on the floor beside my chair, before settling on him.

   For a while I watched him as he lay there, remembering the day I brought him home. At just over a year old, he was a big, strong, sensitive puppy with a tendency to worry. But he had the soul of a rambler, which is exactly how he came to be with us; a stray who’d been picked up and taken to the Humane Society. And for the last 13 years I’ve had to keep my eye on him because he still likes nothing better than a solitary walkabout. Even now, on a bad day as stiff and slow as a mechanical toy, when I let him out the back door I have to watch him or he’ll slip away and stroll down to the park on his own.

   The saddest thing is that he can no longer drop and have a good roll in the snow. That was always his favorite thing to do on a winter day, to roll back and forth, scrubbing his coat in the fresh powder. I used to laugh at him when occasionally he would stop rolling and, relaxed and content, his feet still in the air, he would lie there for a few minutes gazing up at the sky like a child. Now he just stands and looks down at the snow for a moment and then moves on.

   I thought about all of this as I watched him and my throat tightened. I just don’t know how much more time we have together.

   Pushing my computer aside, I dropped down onto the floor beside him. He didn’t move. Stretching out, I lay beside my old dog and draped my arm over him, pressing my face into the rough fur of his back. He woke up enough to lift his head and look back over his shoulder at me as his tail thumped the floor a few times, but if he was surprised to find me lying on the floor next to him, he didn’t give any sign. He just stretched a bit, sighed deeply and went back to sleep.

   I lay there a few more minutes, taking and giving comfort, thinking about time and how it always slips away from us in the end, and then got up and went back to my desk. Back to my computer. Back to work in the company of my tired and true companion.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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

Craters of the Moon National Monument

  (Craters of the Moon National Monument photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)



   We follow the path that allowed a smooth, safe, place to walk over the rough, broken, lava field covering the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho, out to the open pits and domed entrances to the caves.

   We’ve driven to Craters of the Moon National Monument to see what is here and what we’ve found, as have so many others before us, is a dormant but not extinct volcanic area.  Blackened and inhospitable, scoured by a constant wind and temperatures that reach the extremes of each season, this great volcanic rift zone is covered only by brush and gnarled trees, with tall cinder cones and sharp, twisted, formations.
It is, to even the most jaded traveler, a strange and compelling place.

  Choosing the trail to the right we make our way to the top of the set of steep steps that drops down to the entrance of the Indian Tunnel cave, a vast lava tube created when a hard crust formed over molten rock that flowed and then retreated as the surface cooled. Inside the tube, lit by skylight openings above, the rustling and cooing of doves belied stony harshness around us. We know there are also bats, hanging silently in the shadows, waiting for dark and their time to fly.

   We pick our way carefully over the basaltic lava floor of the cave, navigating around boulders and the fractured lines of every surface, caught in the ancient drama that formed the underground room around us.

   At Craters of the Moon, it is impossible not to be reminded that the worst we can do to one another, even our terrible carelessness when we damage the fragile systems that support us, is nothing when compared to the power of the natural world to change itself.

   We bicker and fight, build up and tear down, and move on to lick our wounds or gloat over petty victories. But the earth throws terrible punches, crushes mountains with powerful blows, sends rivers over their banks and blows away our sticks-and-stones lives with without a care. The earth erupts, boils over, buckles and heaves, shrugs and upends stone, breaks open its own crust and then, as though gathering strength for another bout, sleeps. Waiting.

   Craters of the Moon is, in geologic time, still young. The last flows occurred only 2,000 years ago. And, even today, we can only stand and shiver in the scarred strangeness of the aftermath, surrounded by a violent beauty, listening, in a hollow space that, until another act of nature exposed the buried chambers, was a secret, silent place known first to the Shoshone and then, in the 1800’s, the pioneers and fortune seekers and now to tourists like us.

   We take our photographs, turn back for one more look, and then climb back to the surface. We are exhilarated. Changed. Reminded of the power of nature to create and recreate the world around us.


You can see more Craters of the Moon photos at my CAMera: Travel and Photography blog


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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


Bless This Bread

This morning, at Chaps, one of my family's favorite places for Sunday brunch, I noticed a young family sitting at the table beside us. Three young boys and their parents.

The mother and father had their hands full with the two younger children, one just a lap baby. But the oldest boy, no more than five years old, was no bother at all. As we ate and sipped our coffee and talked over our own food, I kept stealing glances over to the other table. As good as my plate of eggs and bacon was, watching him was more delicious.

The boy had a big plate of the house specialty, Blueberry muffin French toast, in front of him. Each time he put a bite, smothered in syrup, in his mouth, he would wiggle a little, reacting to the sheer pleasure of it. I found myself smiling at his involuntary reaction, waiting for his next bite. When he turned his attention to the thick slices of bacon, I settled back with my mug of coffee and watched the show. 

Lost in a daydream, the boy placed the the end of one slice of bacon in his mouth and proceeded to chew on it the way a farmer might chew on a stalk of wheat. Bit by bit the bacon disappeared as he stared dreamily out the window, his hands slack at his sides and his legs wrapped around the legs of his chair. When one piece was finished, he repeated the process with another.

Finally, the little brothers were done with their breakfasts and the parents had taken one last sip of coffee and were bundling up everyone to go home.

The little boy who had needed no help polishing off a platter of food, stood up and slipped his arms into the sleeves of his coat. And then, as he turned to leave, he noticed a piece of his French toast in his chair where it had fallen from his lap. He stared at it for a few minutes and then looked over at his mother and his father. They had turned away and were already moving toward the door. He stood perfectly still another minute, as I watched, and then reached out, picked up the bit of fallen bread and popped it in his mouth. Just as he did so he looked over and caught my eye. I winked over the rim of my coffee cup. He smiled at me and then skipped off to join the rest of his family.

That, I thought to myself, is how each of us should appreciate a meal that was prepared and put before us. With gratitude and pleasure. Savored from start to finish. Especially that last delicious bite.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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

Email Ethics: When a Bully Hits “Send.”

  Sometimes before a speaking engagement, I have to gather my thoughts and find a topic that will have some relevance to everyone in the crowd. Other times, I don’t have to think about it at all.

    Last week, I spoke to a private executive networking group and we spent the evening discussing personal and professional ethics.   I shared a recent experience in which a former business associate deliberately forwarded a private email exchange to the individual we’d been discussing. As I told the story, the reaction of the upper-level managers and business owners in the room was electric and immediate.

    One or two have had similar accidental experiences, but all admitted they worry more about being a victim of that kind of deliberate act. All have—as have most of us in the course of a career—been asked and have given matter-of-fact, work-related, replies to queries by co-workers and employers, trusting that those comments would remain confidential.

     I found it interesting that while no one expressed any interest in who or what might have been mentioned in the email,  everyone was curious about the sender. It’s human nature, I guess. We all need to know who we can trust. And, as we discussed, while we should all behave in an ethical and professional manner, there are some occupations—medical, legal and financial, for instance—where discretion is sacrosanct. If we can’t trust a person who has access to our most intimate secrets, we’re particularly vulnerable.

    Ultimately, I learned a thing or two from the experience. I now have a legal “Do not share” addendum at the end of each email, although I know there’s not a lot any of us can do to stop someone from spitefully sending along something we’ve written.  And, without question, it was a reminder to never put in writing what you don’t want to see in print, even if you have no reason not to trust the individual on the other side of the conversation.

    In the end,  I shook my head over it for a day or so and then put it out of my mind. There is always the next little drama. But thinking about what the experience revealed about everyone involved, I remembered what my mother used to say about the occasionally nasty gossip that consumed us as teenagers.

     “Remember,” she would tell me as I mentioned the latest victim, warning me to stay clear of the cliques and bullies who seemed to take delight in pitting one against the other, “If they treat her that way today, what makes you think they won’t turn around and do the same thing to you tomorrow?”

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

His Future is in His Hands

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  


    My eyes flew open and I was instantly awake.

    It wasn’t that long ago that when I woke suddenly in the middle of the night, I would lie still for a moment, listening for what had pulled me out of a sound sleep, straining to hear the plaintive wail of an infant’s crying or the footsteps of a preschooler who was out of bed and into mischief. Later, it was the sound of a teenager coming home, chased by curfew  But this night there was only silence.

    I sat up, rubbed my eyes and then walked out of the bedroom. The rest of the house was dark but a single light burned in the living room and I saw my jetlagged son, home from Japan, sitting on the sofa. He was concentrating on the yarn and needles in his hands and didn’t look up until I was beside him.

    He had learned to knit while he was away and in the dim light of the lamp on the table, in the darkest part of the night, he worked on the pair of mittens he was making for his father.

    I sat down beside him and watched his hands as he worked. He is young, only 24, but his hands already show the wear and tear of all his projects. He is always busy making something, a piece or a part for one of the massive, expensive, machines he designs and builds or one of the tiny works of art he creates when he is bored or thinking hard about something. When he needs to keep his hands busy so he can still his mind.

    Looking at the scarred knuckles, the callouses, as he looped the rag wool yarn around the needle, making one stitch at a time and linking it with the chain, I thought about the things he’s made and brought me over the years.

    When he was five he took a piece of paper and marked it with North, South, East and West. He folded the edges up into a cup and inserted a brad into the center, covering the top with cling wrap. He’d made me a compass, he told me as he presented it. You could, if you wiggled it, make the brad rotate and point in a new direction.

    Later, in school, I was called to a conference with his teacher. “He’s not paying attention,” she told me. “He’s always working on something else.” And then she handed me a little paper tube. It was folded flat but if you allowed to rectangular tube to  open, a miniature classroom popped up. Rows of paper-doll heads looking toward the miniature blackboard and teacher. I studied it as the teacher, a woman my family knew and adored, talked to me about his lack of attention in class. She, like me, was torn. What he could do with his hands was astounding, but you have to pay attention if you want to move on to third grade.

    I have a treasure box filled with his handiwork. Clay pots, tiny shadowboxes, elaborate sketches and diagrams. This Christmas, his gift to me was a miniature loom. Perfect in every detail, he’d created it while on a ship in Japan, killing time while he waited to test the complex underwater drill he’d built, piece by piece. Bored, a lot on his mind that needed to be worked through, he grabbed a handful of coffee stir-sticks from the galley, some pieces of wire and the thread he usually carries with him as he travels. He built the working loom, complete with a tiny bit of cloth woven on it, and then, for a moment, considered throwing it away.

    But, because he is my son and I have hoarded his creations all his life, he put it into a box and mailed it to me. And Christmas morning I opened it, speechless at the cleverness of it. The beauty of it.

    When I found him knitting in the living room, he was doing what he does best, setting his hands free so his mind can follow. And, in the shadowy and quiet cocoon of the room, I listened as he talked about his work, his dreams, his concerns and his worries.

    I slipped my bare toes under his knee and tucked myself into the opposite corner of the sofa as one stitch linked to another and the mittens took shape.

    I thanked him again for the gift of the loom, working to keep the tears out of my voice and, taking advantage of the moment, I told him, just as I did when he was a boy, a sweet, busy, square peg trying to fit in a tight round world, that I am proud of him and always will be.

    Wherever life takes him, it won’t be on the same path others follow. He’ll always come into each new adventure through a side door. Through an opening no one else noticed. He’ll find his own way and he’ll be OK. Because his future, just like his heart, is in his hands.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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 Weight of Affection

   I knew even before I opened my eyes, something wasn’t right.
Lying on my back in the dark room, I could feel a heaviness on the center of my chest, a pressure that made taking each breath an effort. My mind raced, inventorying the signs of a heart attack. Shortness of breath? Yes. Pressure? Yes. Pain? Oddly, no.

   Fully awake by this time I realized the “elephant” occupying my chest was nothing more than a snoring two-year-old in footie pajamas, her precious blankie tucked under her arm, one thumb in her mouth, the thumb and forefinger of the other hand twisted—as was her habit—around one of her curls. She’d come into our room at some point and since her older brother and sister had—one by one—already made the trip and had staked out their places in the crowded bed, simply climbed up on top of me, popped her thumb in her mouth and drifted off again.

   I shifted, rolling her gently onto the bed beside me.

   Most mornings when the children were small, I woke up to find everyone who mattered most to me curled, warm and safe, around me. Our bed was an island—not always a comfortable island, with two adults, three children and the occasional cat—but in those moments, it was a sanctuary. 

   Now, the toddler who climbed me and stretched out like I was the top bunk at summer camp, is 22. Today is her birthday and there is a box of cupcakes waiting to welcome her home. 

   Now, she’s about to graduate from college and fling herself into the real world with all the enthusiasm, humor and jolly determination that have marked everything she’s done since the day she was born. She talked early. She walked early. She read early, asking me at five years old, her head cocked as she scanned a book on the shelves in the living room, “What is El-e-men-tal Ge-ol-o-gy?” Her only mispronunciation was a hard “ghee instead of “G”. It was at that moment I realized she hadn’t memorized all the children’s books in her room, as we’d thought. She’d been reading them since she was four.

   This middle daughter is an adult now, soon to have a degree in, of all things, geology. These days, nobody but the cat pads into our room in the wee hours.  But that doesn’t mean she isn’t still on my mind.

   Even now there are nights when I wake and lie quietly in the dark, thinking about her, about the baby she was and the woman she’s grown to be. About the balance of time and how easily it shifts from now to then. And in those moments I feel, again, the warm, familiar weight of love pressing down on my heart.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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

Barter for Beer at the Whitefish Winter Carnival

(Pam Barberis and son Evan wave to the crowd from the Black Star van at the Whitefish Winter Carnival Grand Parade. Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

    There’s still time to get to Whitefish, Montana this weekend for a unique Northwest winter event.

    This Saturday, Feb. 4, is the culmination of the annual Whitefish Winter Carnival. You can watch the gooseflesh-and-screams fun of the Penguin Plunge as hundreds of locals cannonball off the icy shore of City Beach at Whitefish Lake. You can elbow toddlers out of the way to catch candy thrown by participants at the rowdy downtown Grand Parade. Or, best of all, If you’re the haggling sort, especially the beer-drinking haggling sort, you might just be lucky enough to score a year’s worth of Black Star Beer.

    Ah. Now I have your attention.

    At the annual Black Star Beer Barter, held at the Great Northern Brewing Company, contestants try to out-bid one another by offering outrageous examples of just what they would do and how far they would go to win fifty-two cases (1,248 bottles if you’re math challenged) of the distinctive double-hopped golden lager. You don’t have to participate to enjoy the fun. It’s perfectly OK to hoist a Black Star or two and just watch the show, but it’s still not too late to come up with your own outrageous trade.

    If you want to prove you’re willing to party hard, here’s an idea:  Catch the 1:30 am Amtrak Empire Builder in Spokane, arrive in Whitefish with the Saturday morning sunrise. Spend the day downtown, after the Beer Barter stop by the Great Northern 17th Anniversary festivities and then take in the Whitefish Mountain Resort Torchlight Parade before the train pulls out and heads back to Spokane at 9:40 pm.

   Don't tell me that wouldn't impress your friends at Sunday's Super Bowl party.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. She blogs at CAMera and Treasure Hunting. 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


New baby, new world

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


I don't deny it. I'm smitten with my new granddaughter. This new addition to the family is the last thing on my mind at night and the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning.

And as I hold her, watching her adjust to this new bright, noisy, chilly, world, I can't help but project forward, imagining the life she will have and the wonderful, incredible, changes she will see. And I hope I'm always close enough to share some of those adventures.

Read more in this CAMera blog post “Oh, The Places She Will Go!

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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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