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Posts tagged: mother

Travel: Ballooning Means Rising Above One’s Fear

   There are people who seem to be born with a thirst for a thrill. They take every chance to leap off bridges, tethered only by elastic Bungee cords. They jump out of planes, trusting one yank of the cord will release the parachute that will lower them gently to the ground. They paddle kayaks over waterfalls and drop out of helicopters wearing skis.


    I am not one of these people.


    I don’t have that kind of confident trust. Cords snap, parachutes fail, waterfalls tumble and break the things that ride them. Why would I tempt fate?


    But edging out of middle age, I seem to be shedding some of the extreme caution that has kept my feet on the ground most of my life. I’m still not a thrill-seeker, but I just don’t seem to be bound by so many “What Ifs.”
    A recent trip to Elko, Nevada coincided with the annual Balloon Fest and I was offered a chance to take a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t stop to think once, much less twice. I hopped up into the basket and listened to the instructions about where I could and should not put my hands. (“Never touch the rope. If you touch the rope we will fall and die.” Check.)


    It was only as the blasts of flaming gas right over my head lifted the balloon away from the ground that I began to ask myself what on earth I’d been thinking. The list of hazards—power lines, rogue winds, murderous sharp-shooters (Hey, what if?) and even fabric fatigue (I imagined seams fraying and opening and, well…)—played through my head like a bad movie.


    But I was in. And we rose swiftly and silently, immediately catching the current of air and moving toward the horizon.


    We moved steadily across the city. Dogs, startled by the sights and sounds of the balloons, there were 30 more behind us, barked and danced as we flew over. School children waved from the yellow bus that looked like a child’s toy. Birds flew beneath us, darting in and out of the trees lining neighborhood streets.


    I’d wrapped my fingers tightly around one of the bars at the side of the wicker balloon the moment we’d lifted off and I didn’t seem to be able to let go. But, a few minutes in, still holding on, I felt myself relax enough to really think about what I was seeing and experiencing.


    I looked out toward the Ruby Mountains, somewhat obscured by smoke from wildfires further north, across the high Nevada desert and the rough, dry landscape so many crossed on foot and by wagon train 150 years ago as they made their way over the California Trail to conquer the wide-open West and start new lives in California.


    It really is a beautiful way to travel. In a balloon you do not fight the wind, you ride it. You surrender to the currents and ribbons of air that stream over the planet and let them take you where they are going. There are tools: hot air, vents, ballast, and so on, but ultimately, you are a guest of the wind.


    At the end of the ride we began our descent. The landing was not smooth. A breeze came from out of nowhere and fought us, but we stuck it. Then, when the pilot realized we'd come down on railroad property—not cool—we lifted up just high enough to find a more accessible spot. The chase crew found us and we were done.


    When I finally climbed out of the basket, back on the ground at last, a surge of adrenaline made me tremble.
 “Anxious Annie” as a friend once dubbed me, had taken a chance. And I had one more thing I could check off my list.


    We helped roll and fold the balloon, storing it and the basket in the trailer behind the chase van, and I was baptized with cheap champagne to mark my first flight. Later, I messaged a photo taken mid-flight to my children and their confused responses made me laugh. This was not what they expected to see.


    That’s the beauty of aging. Not only do we surprise others when we take a chance, occasionally we even surprise ourselves.
    
    


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel 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 catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Celebrating Another Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 


    I turned the corner, down an unfamiliar street, my mind so oblivious to where I was going I might just as well have been a dog with its head out the window, lost in the delicious rush of mysterious and fragrant air, just happy to be out and about with no thought of what might be ahead.


    Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, swept down by the wind and an early snowfall, and the sidewalks and street were littered with the russet and copper remnants of a spectacular autumn. But at the end of the block a scarlet tree still blazed, a burning bush, bright and vibrant against the faded landscape. Even the sun could not ignore it and sunlight danced in the tree, painting the leaves with subtle shades and shadows.


    It was impossible to look away and I didn’t try. I gazed at it as I drove by and even looked back at it in the rearview mirror. 


    Thursday my family will sit down to our Thanksgiving meal and for the first time one of our small group will be absent. My son is away, working in Japan, and we will miss him even as we celebrate his success.


    We are so fortunate to have made it this far without an empty seat at the table. Even in difficult times—and I have never pretended there weren’t some truly difficult days—we gathered, held hands, and spoke aloud the things for which we were most grateful.


    Each year I compose a mental list but when it is my turn to speak, the words fly out of my head. I tear up and can say only that I am grateful for the love of those around me. But what I can never seem to get out is that I am filled with gratitude for the gift of a million small moments.


    There were quiet Sundays spent reading, curled in the big chair beside the fire, my husband stretched out on the sofa. There were Saturday morning feasts that lured home grown children who filled the house with the sound of laughter and the smell of bacon and coffee.
   

  There were quiet walks through the park with my dogs and the rapturous look on my daughter’s face as we stood in Notre Dame Cathedral on a rainy January day in Paris. There was the afternoon my son turned to me and recited a poem I’d read to him when he was a boy, and my firstborn’s secret smile when she told us her news.
    

   There were shooting stars glimpsed from my back door and my youngest daughter’s shining face as she sat in the saddle, flying on horseback. There was, just this week, the chance encounter with a beautiful brilliant tree in a landscape that had already surrendered to winter.
   

 On Thanksgiving Day I will blink back tears and fumble the opportunity to say what I feel. But in my heart I will celebrate the quiet gift of time and the chance to have lived one more extraordinary year of ordinary days.
   


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. 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 catmillsap@gmail.com

The shoplifter

    The snow was gritty and gray and piled into oily berms at the edges of the grocery store parking lot. It was one of those nights between holidays, between snowfalls, when winter isn’t beautiful at all, just cold and dreary and difficult.


    I sent my youngest daughter into the store with a list and a few dollars while I waited in the car. We didn’t need much. Milk and some fruit. Bread. And I needed a few minutes to answer an email and return a call.


    I was so involved with what I was doing I was startled when she opened the door and got back into the car. Putting down my phone I put my hand on the key to start the car. But at that moment I noticed a woman and a man standing in the parking lot just outside the entrance of the store. She was carrying a plastic gallon jug of milk in one hand, the other rested on the duffle bag that was strapped across her chest. She looked - at first glance - like a mother who’d stopped by the grocery store on the way home from work. A woman like me.


    The man had one hand on her shoulder and the other against the small of her back, his fingers wrapped around the strap of the duffel bag.


    I couldn’t hear what they were saying but there was a certain theater in the language of their bodies. He stood quite close to her, his head bent down so he could speak to her, his hand tight on her bag. She looked up him - he was much taller than she was - and her eyes were open wide.


    At first, I assumed they were a couple. I was puzzled by the way he held onto her, gentle but insistent. I mentioned it to my daughter.


    “I think she took something,” she said when I commented on them. “He followed her out.”


     I realized immediately that it was true. The man who’d followed her out of the store, hurrying to catch her before she got into her car, was a store employee. Or someone from security. Looking at her again, I could see that she was in shock. She was slightly stunned by her capture.


    They turned and walked back to the entrance of the store still close, his hand still at her back, on the strap of her bag. She kept looking up at him, like a child being led by an adult. Then, just inside the store, she stopped. So did he. And, in a tiny movement, she deflated. Her shoulders drooped. She dropped her head.
Silently, I turned the key and drove away.


    All though the holiday season the woman crossed my mind at the oddest moments; when I made dinner, when I poured a glass of milk, when I stopped by the store at the end of the day.


    I don’t know her story. She could be a serial shoplifter; there was that duffle bag after all. Or, she might be someone who gave into an impulse and suffered the consequences. But it was obvious that what had started out as a whim, or a dare or perhaps the desperate act of a woman who had no money to put food on the table, failed. She was caught.


    I don’t blame the store. They can’t let people steal. And the gentleness of the man touched me. But there was something in the way the woman looked as they led her away that makes it hard to condemn her.


    I guess it was just one of those things you see. When right and wrong meet in a parking lot on a cold winter night. Just one of those things that happen every day.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes 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 catmillsap@gmail.com

Start the new year on a new note

I know you’re not really in the mood to listen to your mother, but I can’t help it. I have something to say. And, since I don’t want to chase you around, texting and calling, nagging and whining into your ear, I decided to put it down in this note. So, here goes:

December is drawing to a close. A new year is only hours away.  This calls for some kind of recognition.
I know it sounds old fashioned, but I am one of those people who believes in new beginnings. Even after all I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot, I continue to cling to the idea that old mistakes, old habits and old heartaches can be left behind and that each of us, without the weight of what can hold us down and hold us back, has the potential to do amazing and wonderful things.

I believe that for you, too.

So, do me a favor. Take a minute and think about how just fortunate you are. You have the luxury of having a family and a home to push against. You don’t have to worry about where your next meal will come from or whether you’ll have a warm place to sleep or what kind of disaster tomorrow might bring. You have a home base. No matter how far you wander or how many mistakes you make, you will always be welcomed back into the fold.

Try to find a minute in every day to remember those things.


You have a brand new year ahead of you. Our sunrises and sunsets are numbered. Every square on the calendar is a gift. Unwrap it carefully. See something rare and wonderful in every day. Find a new way to experience the world around you.


Feel the sunset. Taste the music. Listen to the mountains and take hold of the sky.
Read a poem, go to the symphony, see a play. Learn everything you can. Be brave. Be kind. Be available to those who love you.

Remember the good times and let the bad times go. Learn what you can from them and then toss them into the air like so much dust. Do your homework. Take your vitamins. Call your mother.
Every once in a while go through the photo albums. Watch old home movies. See those kids? The ones who had no clue what they were doing, who dressed in dorky clothes and smiled those big goofy smiles? Show a little mercy. We were young. We were in love with our babies and nothing has changed that in any way.

There, that’s all I wanted to say. The next 365 days are yours. They are a blank canvas. Go out an paint them with colors your father and I could never have imagined.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes 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 catmillsap@gmail.com



  

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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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