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Home Planet

Archive for August 2013

The Sweetest Season: Summer in the Northwest

    I haven’t set the kitchen table in weeks.

    Each morning I wake up, pour a cup of coffee, open the back door and step out onto my patio. Usually it is cool enough to wear a robe or the heavy man’s denim work shirt I sometimes slip over my gown when I'm too impatient.

     Lunch might be a salad while I work at the big table on the patio or idle in the shaded corner of my backyard. Dinner is eaten late, on the patio again, just as the sun slips behind the trees on the horizon. After the meal I leash the dog and walk to Manito Park to take a stroll around the gardens, where it is always at least five degrees cooler and the air is thick with the heady perfume of flowers. Then, at night, after the dishes are done and the dog and the cats have been fed, I slip out the back door again for a few more minutes. I sit on the glider, pushing myself back and forth with my toes against concrete that still holds the warmth of the sun, and I mark the end of another day.

    This time of year, my living area is always turned inside out. I eat, read, relax, work and daydream outdoors. When my children were all still at home, before we moved out of the big house in the country and into the cottage in town, I set up a daybed on the patio. During the day they would sprawl over it, reading for hours, surrounded by newspaper comics, crossword puzzles, Barbie dolls, Breyer horses and empty Popsicle wrappers. At night, after dinner, after the last bit of daylight had faded, my youngest and I would lie down together on the summer bed. Often her sisters and her brother would join us and we would lie there like puppies in a basket, gazing up, watching the stars come out and the Milky Way spread like spilled paint across the black night sky. We pointed out the Big Dipper and called out when shooting stars streaked across overhead. We counted satellites. Sometimes we spotted the flash of the Space Station’s solar panels as it orbited, and once an owl startled us as it flew low and silently over the backyard.

    Eventually the others would wander off and the youngest would drift off to sleep in my arms. But I would always lie there a bit longer, breathing the shampoo-and-green-grass fragrance of her hair, reluctant to let her go.

    Finally, around midnight, I would rouse her and help her stumble up to her bed and then climb into my own.

    Anyone who has ever lived where the humidity chases the temperature up the thermometer and the mid-summer air—day or night—is as uncomfortable and heavy as a damp blanket, will understand the way I delight in the season here. I grew up in the South. Summer could be long and cruel. But here in the Northwest, where the season is short and sweet, mornings are deliciously cool, afternoons are hot and bright and the twilight is long and slow and luxurious.

    I can’t bear to waste a minute so I take my cup of coffee out to meet the sun and I’m there to watch the moon rise. And one by one these beautiful days go by while I sit and watch, and think of children whose hair smelled of green grass and lavender shampoo.


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

Travel: Where Will Your Third Life Take You?

    Walking through a covered passage in Montpellier, France, I noticed a number of people going in and out of one of the businesses and I asked someone what kind of shop it was.

    Oh, it is not a store,” she answered. “It is a place for Third Life education.”

    “Third life?”   

   “Yes, for people who are no longer working but who wish to keep learning.” She looked at the sign on the door.

   “Today, they are learning more about the computer.”   

   I realized the place was what we might call in this country a “senior center.”  Most of the people I could see through the window were in their 60s or 70s, a few younger, a few older.  

    I walked on but the phrase “third life” stayed in my mind. It struck me as the perfect description for the way we age.    

   We have no choice in our first lives. We adapt to the circumstances into which we were born—quickly learning some are luckier than others—and we navigate childhood, school, and nascent careers.   

   Our second lives are the years we spend striving and reaching. We make choices—some carefully considered and some with careless abandon. We face difficult decisions. We work, we climb, we search for a mate. Some of us marry, pair up or partner. Some of us have children and either settle down to raise those children full time or shoulder the extra burden of both career and family. These are the years we sleep less, worry more, spend too much, save too little.   

   And finally, the third life. The last child leaves the nest. We retire or simply get tired of the rat race and decide to change careers or cut back. For some, the job or marriage or status they thought they would have falls apart and they discover they can not only survive, they can thrive.    

   Finally, for the first time, bolstered by experience, emboldened by wisdom and motivated by the knowledge that time will not wait for us, we realize we have the freedom to thoughtfully choose the life we will live. We have a few regrets. We still have a long list of things we’d like to do and skills we’d like to master. We want to make a difference.  

    Some waste these years with bitter extravagance, angry and self-absorbed, consumed by old grievances and lost opportunities.   

   Not me.  What’s done is done.  The past is quicksand and the more we struggle the faster we sink. 

   I want to see my children launched and successful in work and matters of the heart. I want to be a part of my granddaughter’s life. I’d like to learn to make a souffle without the damned thing collapsing like a parachute on the ground. Like the men and women in the classroom in France, I want to keep up with technology, to get the most out of what it has to offer.    

   I want to, at least once, beat my husband in a game of Scrabble.   

   There are so many places I want to see while I still have the good health and opportunity to get up and go. Or, with glaciers crumbling, poles melting and forests burning, while they are still there to see.   

   I want to write something worth reading.   

   Somewhere between the next five minutes and the next 30 years, my time will run out and I’ll be done. My first two lives are already behind me. But instead of looking back and mourning the loss of my youth, I know to keep my eyes on the horizon. This third life is a gift, a reward and benefit for making it this far. I want to get it right.

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

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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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