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Travel: Reconnect with Family on a Cruise to Alaska

    In September my sister and I boarded the Holland America Westerdam in Seattle and we spent a week cruising Alaska’s inside passage.  This is something she’s wanted to do for a long time and even though I’ve made the same journey several times, I never get tired of it.
    I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our fall birthdays.

    We were born 14 months apart and another 14 months later our brother came along. My sister has no concept of a life without me in it—I was here first after all—but even as a child I must have kept some deep memory of her infancy. She was a sickly baby and I suppose I sensed my parents’ worry. As girls we shared not only a room, but a double bed, and all throughout my childhood I remember waking up in the middle of the night, groggily aware that I was listening for the sound of her breathing, the sharp pounding of my heart only softening when I heard it.

    Then I went away to school at 17 and she married young. We each moved far away from our home town, worked, raised families and although we call and message frequently, now, as grandmothers, we don’t see one another as often as we’d like.

    I wondered how we would do, sharing a room again after all these years. But it was as though we boarded the ship and sailed back in time, quickly settling into an easy routine. We took the stairs slowly because she favors her knees and I have a hip that gives me trouble, but at heart we were girls again. We stood out on the veranda in our pajamas and scanned the sky for the Northern Lights. We ate ice cream after breakfast and sometimes slipped back upstairs for a late snack, not worrying about diets and waistlines. She had a steak every night and I stuffed myself on crab and shrimp and lobster.
    We made up for lost time and as the whales prepared for their migration to Hawaii, we got to know one another again. I stole glances at her as she put the binoculars to her eyes to scan the surface of the sea. I saw later that she’d taken photos of me when I wasn’t aware.

    The highlight of the cruise was spending an entire day in Glacier Bay, surrounded by jagged, snowy mountain peaks and the eerie beauty of blue glaciers. The printed map of the bay clearly marked the retreat of the ice fields. This is undeniable. But standing at the rail beside my sister, looking out at a landscape carved by ice and eons, I realized that eventually we all find ourselves in a place where we can clearly see the traces of our own history; the scars, cliffs and valleys, and rubble that mark where we have been and the sometimes sharp edges of where we are at the moment.

    That evening my sister asked an older couple standing near us if they’d enjoyed the day. They answered that they were disappointed. The Margerie Glacier, they told us, had definitely been much larger when they saw it a decade ago.

    All I could think was, isn’t that exactly the point? Isn’t that why we are all here? Time runs out. There are precious things—and people—in this world who aren’t going to be around forever. Shouldn’t we be grateful for any chance to be with them?

    My sister and I walked on, shaking our heads, leaving the couple to their bitter dissatisfaction. Such a shame.
    Then we looked at each other and as sisters have a tendency to do, we got the giggles. We were girls again, laughing at the things grumpy grownups say.

    It was time for another ice cream cone.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's 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

Who you gonna call? Growthbusters!

Check this new documentary called GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. It explores why our economy and footprint and population can't keep, well, growing. There are many recognizable faces in the film: Jane Goodall, Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown, Raj Patel, Bill McKibben, Hunter Lovins. And a questionable word in the trailer, so I should declare it NSFW.



Synopsis: From Las Vegas to Atlanta, Mexico City to Mumbai, the White House to the Vatican, GrowthBusters takes us on a whirlwind tour of growth mania. It’s Wild Kingdom with a twist: the cameras are turned on humanity as our own survival skills are examined. GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth looks into the psychology of denial and crowd behavior. It explores our obsession with urban and economic growth, and our reluctance to address overpopulation issues head-on. This documentary holds up a mirror, encouraging us to examine the beliefs and behaviors we must leave behind – and the values we need to embrace – so our children can survive and thrive.

Leipzig: Back to Bach

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)




The day before I left Spokane and caught an early flight to Germany, the weather was wet and cold. More like late winter than late spring. Everywhere I went people were grumbling about the rain.

“Sorry you have to be out in this,” the usually-cheerful student at the coffee-shop told me. I just shrugged. I’ve given up trying to convince people I don’t mind the rain. There are times, in fact, like when I travel, that I prefer it.

Rain changes the landscape. Especially in a beautiful old city. Colors fade and stone buildings settle into shades of gray like an old black and white photograph. Cobblestones are more pronounced, glossed by the moisture.

When the sun shines we lose our focus. We squint and turn our faces up to the sky. We are tourists, even in our own cities; driven to get out and play. We wilt in the heat and fret about the crowd and the irritations of too many people in tight quarters.

Rainy days set a mood. In the right light, the scene could be set in any time. Old and new blend and blur. It’s easy to imagine things that would, in the bright light of sunshine, be implausible.

I arrived in Leipzig, Germany,  the city of Bach and Schumann and Wagner and Mendelssohn, just as an unseasonable rainy spell set in. Skies would pour, then clear, then pour again. Rain fell off and on as I wandered around the city.  As they went about their day, people huddled under umbrellas, heads down, until the sun came out again.

Leipzig is the place where Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 25 years of his life. Where he raised a family and lived his life as both busy academic and musician.
The sun was out when I toured the Bach museum and in a darkened “treasure room” looked down on a cantata written in his own hand. I saw the house where his family’s closest friends lived, the place where the only remaining organ played by Bach is housed. Where a chest decorated with his family crest is on display.
I looked down on his grave - or, what scholars are reasonably certain is his grave - in St. Thomas Church. I studied the statue and all the artifacts, but it wasn’t until the skies clouded again that I felt like had found the man.

In the spell cast by the rain, I could imagine him, worried, distracted, his mind on everyday irritations and ordinary concerns, barreling down the same narrow streets or striding across the square. It wasn’t hard to picture him dodging puddles as he walked, turning over in his mind all the worry and aggravation of work and home, lost in thought, focusing on numbers, budgets, a choir of rowdy  boys; juggling the burden of a large family or the purchase of instruments for the orchestra or consumed by the composition of a cantata.

I ducked into one of the small shops looking for chocolates to bring home.  The clerk, realizing I was an American, apologized for the weather.
“Yesterday was so much more beautiful,” she told me. “Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

 “Oh, no, today was perfect” I said, taking the shopping bag full of sweet souvenirs for my family back home. “I saw exactly what I was hoping to see.”

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

Idaho continues to loom on Olympia’s radar…

Former state Rep. John Ahern was famous for floor speeches trotting out the specter of unhappy Washington businesses decamping en masse for Idaho.

“That great sucking sound you hear,” he’d warn, as Democrats rolled their eyes, “is business heading for Idaho.”

Ahern’s now gone, ousted by a Democratic challenger in November. Yet the issue clearly isn’t.

“Democrat bills send clear message to employers: Go to Idaho!” said a recent press release from Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake. She blasted several bills that she said would “rip the welcome mat away from our employers.”

Hogwash, say Democrats.

“I think Wa state is clearly very competitive when it comes to biz climate,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, citing studies that gave the state high marks. Part of being competitive, she said, is having a well-trained, well-educated workforce.

Brown also said Washington lawmakers are trying to help, such as by cutting unemployment insurance taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.

“I think it’s kind of ironic that in a down economy, when we actually have a lot to be proud of in this state, that some legislators are kind of going around sounding a lot of negativity,” said Brown.

UPDATE: Good God. Rep. Joe Schmick just used Ahern’s old line again in a floor speech. It never ends.

Idaho Looms Large On Olympia Radar

Across the border in Washington, former state Rep. John Ahern was famous for floor speeches trotting out the specter of unhappy Washington businesses decamping en masse for Idaho. “That great sucking sound you hear,” he’d warn, as Democrats rolled their eyes, “is business heading for Idaho.” Ahern’s now gone, ousted by a Democratic challenger in November. Yet the issue clearly isn’t. “Democrat bills send clear message to employers: Go to Idaho!” said a recent press release from Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake. She blasted several bills that she said would “rip the welcome mat away from our employers”/Rich Roesler, Eye On Olympia. More here.

Question: Does Idaho have a better business climate than Washington? Or are Washington lawmakers simply over-reacting to perceived business competition from Idaho?

Friday Quote - Barack and Climate Change

Bill McKibben, author, climate activist, and member of Grist’s board of directors: “Hey, congratulations, or condolences, or whatever’s appropriate. I know you’re focused on that financial meltdown, but it’s the meltdown meltdown that is going to define your two terms in office, Mr. Obama. How you deal with it may be the key to our economic recovery, but even more to the recovery of our stature in the world. We need a deal — but it’s a deal that has to reflect the new crucial piece of information about the planet. According to the scientists at NASA — your scientists, now — that world doesn’t work right above 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Now that you’re done with 270 electoral votes, that’s the number that’s got to focus your thinking.” 350.org It’s barely been a week since Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama but given the current volatile environment there isn’t much time for him to sit back and enjoy the accomplishment. A recent story in The Washington Post credits Obama as being positioned to quickly reverse several Bush actions. A team of advisers have compiled a list of, “about 200 Bush administration actions and executives orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.” For example, “the president-elect has said he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration’s decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles, ‘effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer.’” The aforementioned Bill McKibben thinks Obama can most effectively show the world his intended commitment to climate change by showing up in Poland next month for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and in doing so, “electrify the international talks over carbon.” But perhaps the boldest step towards reversing the last 8 years of ineptitude will be then President Obama’s actions in Copenhagen in December of 2009 when the world meets to come up with a successor to the Kyoto treaty – the international effort Bush “walked away from weeks after taking office.” It is there that many feel, “will represent the last legitimate shot the world has at putting itself on a new carbon regime in time to make any difference.”

Tuesday Video - The Get a Grip Edition

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo. For your Tuesday video viewing pleasure enjoy this 11-plus minute animated clip from Plane Stupid activist Leo Murray titled, “Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. Imagine the worst case scenario of climate change – this video will lay it out for you. Packed with science and a violin playing polar bear, this video is an eye-opener (as if people needed that) and a wildly entertaining clip. Murray’s take home message: “It is now very clear that in order to actually win the fight against climate change, making big changes to the way we each live our own lives is not going to be enough; we’re also going to have to actively confront powerful vested interests who will stop at nothing to prevent the changes we need from taking place. We have to be more than just consumers.”

Party with the Goracle Tonight!

Daily Tip #353 Sort of. That Goracle is a sneaky one, you see. Sometimes he’s a hologram. Sometimes he’s a webcast. But he’s always there. From Power Vote: The fight for clean energy has many fronts, but the most crucial one at the moment is the ballot box. No one understands this better than our favorite Nobel Peace laureate, Al Gore. He’ll be inspiring thousands on a live webcast Wednesday night, October 29th, at 8 p.m. Eastern. The event is hosted by Power Vote, a national non-partisan effort to elevate the discussion of climate change in the 2008 election, and by the We Campaign. Find out how you can attend a webcast party HERE.

Calling All Youth

Re-Energize the Northwest
A regional youth climate summit in Seattle, November 14-16!
This is a great opportunity for youth to hear from knowledgeable organizers on how we can make the Northwest fossil fuel free (No coal, No LNG) and how we can best get involved in our state’s political arena’s after the elections. There will also be student led panels and discussions on everything from starting up a garden on your campus to fixing a flat tire on your bike. If you would like more information or to register visit www.cascade.sierraclub.org