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Big love for Fisher-Price Little People

If you open a particular closet in my house, you will step right back into the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. But what's in the closet doesn’t have anything to do with fashion.

Instead of clothing, the closet holds my collection of vintage Fisher Price “Little People” play sets. After having been boxed and put away for years, they’re back out again and in the hands of a child. This time my granddaughter.

One or two, like the barn and silo and the Sesame Street play set, were toys purchased new as birthday or Christmas gifts for my four children. But most of them, each tucked into an individual cubby in the closet, are pieces that I picked up from garage sales and thrift stores.

Why we go when we go

I said I was going to stay home more this year and so far I haven’t been anywhere. But, of course, assignments I hadn’t anticipated are tempting me to a few places I haven’t seen before. So I have travel on my mind.

I have a secret suspicion my family believes, even though they do not say it aloud, that I sometimes like to travel on my own to escape them. But what they don’t know is that the very opposite is true. They are with me no matter where I am. But, sometimes, in a new place, I am able to get a clearer picture of who we have all become.

When I am at home, they are never far from my thoughts. Even when I try to push them into a corner, the people I love, all the quirky, precious, problematic people who make up my family, are always on my mind.

And the moment my attention strays from whatever task I’m working on, there they are, front and center. I often find myself sitting with my fingers still and frozen just above the keyboard, the brochure or column or whatever else I’d been writing forgotten for the moment.

Instead I am thinking about the son who is trying to find his way, worrying about the daughter who is too far away, the married daughter who is struggling to balance her own career and a family, or missing the youngest who is just beginning to figure out who she is and where she will go.

I see them as adults but that view is filtered through the images of their childhood and my time as the mother of four children.

At home everything reminds me of my children as they were; the house is full of photographs, mementoes, heirlooms and souvenirs of the life we’ve lived. I fold laundry and find an old t-shirt one of them left behind on the last visit. I look into the refrigerator and it feels strange to be making a meal for only the two of us after so many years of feeding a crowd.

I pick up toys after the granddaughter goes home and I’m assailed by memories of her mother playing with the same things and wonder at the speed at which the years have flown.

When I am home I can’t get enough distance from who we are were to see who we are now. But when I travel, especially when I am alone, the hotel room is sterile. No memories linger in its corners.

The landscape, sometimes even the language is unfamiliar and it’s then that I find myself figuring things out. It is as if I’ve brought a puzzle with me and relaxed, away from the distraction of what used to be, by looking only at the way the edges fit and not at the picture on the box, I can begin to piece together the mystery of the people I love.

Alone, with enough time and distance to think clearly, lying awake, unable to sleep in a new time zone, I replay our time together and sometimes there are sparks of clarity that startle me. I recall some small tone of voice, some turn of phrase or brief body language I missed in the moment. Sometimes, when they are not in front of me, I see more than I saw before.

 Of course, this goes both ways. I’ve noticed that when my grown children return after some time apart, they seem to be making their own adjustments to us, their parents. Most of them, and the youngest is almost there, chart their own course. They make decisions, sometimes life-changing decisions, without our input, just as we did at that age. But the awareness that we won’t always be here is creeping in and without the tension of the adolescent and young-adult tug-of-war for independence, they are more relaxed, more affectionate toward us.

I don’t say any of this to them. Not now. I let them tease me when I occasionally go off on my own because they’ll figure it out eventually. True love is impossible to leave behind and, like a star, sometimes shines brighter in a different sky.

Mazda6: Heads up!

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Out in the supermarket parking lot, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish this year’s Mazda6 from last’s.  

Changes to its grille, headlights and taillights are so subtle casual observers won’t notice. It’s a different story inside, though, as Mazda fits the 6 with a new dash and center console, improves materials quality and tightens fit-and-finish.

The new set-up not only looks better, but also enables implementation of Mazda’s Heads-up Cockpit, a suite of tools designed to minimize the distractions of modern cabin tech. It allows drivers full access to controls and information, with eyes up.

A 7-inch tablet-sized touchscreen sits atop the dash, where it can be quickly scanned. The driver may touch the screen or access it via a console-mounted knob that’s accompanied by three hard buttons. The buttons (Home/Entertainment/Navigation) allow direct access to top-level menus; the knob is used to drill down into them

One quickly learns by feel the location of the hard buttons, so making menu choices requires only quick glances at the screen. Redundant steering-wheel controls supplement screen and knob, and, for anyone with the patience to wait for its responses, the system can be voice-operated.

Other Heads-up Cockpit elements include the Active Driving Display, a notecard-sized panel that rises on ignition from the dash, directly within the driver’s direct line-of-sight, and displays vehicle speed, navigation directions and other data.

An electric parking brake replaces the old hand-brake in the center console, making room for a large storage bin. All 6s also get the newest version of Mazda Connect, a smartphone-based connectivity system.

Though it’s not the most powerful car in the family sedan segment, the 6 might be the most athletic. Steering is precise and communicative, the chassis stiff and responsive and braking action firm and linear.

The trade-off is a firm ride. The 6’s suspension doesn’t erase the bumps, but dampens vibrations and hints of harshness before they reach the cabin. Seats are exceptional, both front and rear, and more effective insulation cuts road noise by an estimated 10 percent on rough roads and 25 percent on the highway.
 
The 6’s 184-horsepower direct-injected four-cylinder engine is refined, smooth and efficient. 

In two of its three trims, the 6 can be ordered with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic (the top-of-the-line Grand Touring is auto-only). The stick is the enthusiast’s choice, but even the automatic is programmed for performance. Rather than boosting mileage by shifting into a higher gear at the first opportunity, it’s programmed to maximize engine output. A Drive Select mode allows the driver to alter the aggressiveness of the shift points.

Its performance cred aside, the 6 is one of the market’s most efficient mid-sizers. It runs the 0-60 sprint in a competitive 7 seconds-plus, while earning 31 mpg combined (26 city/38 highway) when equipped with the automatic, and 29/25/37 with the stick.

A regenerative engine-braking and energy-storage system, called i-Eloop and available only on the Grand Touring, bumps mileage to 32/28/40.

If you’re shopping midsize sedans, consider this your heads-up; the Mazda6 should be on your list.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2016 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring
Vehicle base price: $21,495
Trim level base price: $30,195
As tested: $33,395
Options included navigation; satellite radio; intelligent cruise control; i-Eloop regenerative engine braking system; Smart Brake support; lane-departure warning; active grille shutters.
EPA ratings: 32 combined/28 city/40 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Toyota Camry: Securing its lead

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Every five or six years, Toyota trots out a new Camry and, almost without fail, it rockets to the top of the charts.

The last all-new Camry landed in 2011. If convention held, the next new Camry wouldn’t have appeared until 2016 or 2017.

But now, the 2015 Camry ($23,375, including destination) is here and it’s thoroughly restyled. Assertive new sheet metal entices the buyer’s inner rogue, the cabin grows quieter and more upscale and a batch of new smartphone technology comes aboard, including an available wireless charging system.

Engines and transmissions are unchanged, but Toyota sharpens the Camry’s performance metrics with significant chassis, suspension and steering updates. 

On the outside, the grille grows larger and bolder. Subtle hood creases and not-so-subtle side-panel character folds retool the old flat-sided look. The cast of the headlights and LED running lights carries a wicket glint.

Inside, virtually every surface is covered in soft-touch materials, with upscale trims receiving such touches as French stitching. Seats are bolstered and grippy and the controls are, if at first a bit tricky, easier to access and use than many competitive systems. Knobs and buttons are larger and are easily grasped by gloved hands and a new console .

Three adults ride comfortably in the rear seats. The seatbacks fold down to increase cargo space.

All 2015 Camrys receive extensive noise-reduction measures. Improved window and door seals cut wind and road noise. Redesigned side mirrors reduce turbulence and wind noise. The sound-insulation content of the carpets increases 30 percent.

Historically, Toyota has aimed the Camry at the great Middle Market, with a heavy tilt toward older drivers. But the 2011 makeover debuted a sporty SE trim that’s been a hit with younger owners. Last year, the SE ($24,305) claimed 45 percent of Camry sales. On average, SE buyers are 12 years younger than other Camry owners.

Hoping the leverage that trend, Toyota adds a new high-end trim this year. The XSE ($26,975) blends the SE’s sporty qualities with the luxury of the top-line XLE (also $26,975). 

Both XSE and XLE trims can be had with a 178-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6. “L” trims receive a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, while the gearbox in the SE and SLE makes quicker shifts and matches revs on downshifts. “S” trims get steering-wheel paddle shifters.

Twenty-two new spot welds boost chassis stiffness. The chassis systems — brakes, steering and suspension — are reconfigured accordingly.

Every 2015 Camry handles better than the previous generation, but the S trims most of all. The XSE, which we tested, gets higher-rate coil springs, firmer bushings and shock absorbers with internal rebound springs. Eighteen-inch alloys wear beefy all-season tires designed to enhance efficiency and foul-weather grip. They proved themselves during my ice- and snowbound test week. The chassis and suspension upgrades lent the XSE a buttoned-down and well-damped character. Body lean is  minimal and, though firm, ride quality is very good.
  
Toyota’s rush-to-market reflects industry dynamics. The Camry’s competitors are more compelling than ever and Toyota knows its leadership isn’t secure unless it’s leading. 

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2015 Toyota Camry XSE V-6
Vehicle base price: $22,970
Trim level base price: $31,370
As tested: $35,169
Optional equipment included blind-spot warning system w/rear cross-traffic alert; navigation; premium JBL audio w/Entune Media Bundle; pre-collision system; lane-departure warning; automatic high beams; radar cruise control; unique color.
EPA ratings: 25 combined/21 city/31 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

How about the Game of LIFE?

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Good morning everyone. Today on “What to play tonight?” I present to you a bit of nostalgia. It’s Milton Bradley’s The Game of LIFE, or as most people know it, LIFE. Growing up, board game night consisted of Monopoly or LIFE. LIFE rarely won out, but I usually had more fun with that than Monopoly. Since LIFE has been around since 1860, I am sure many of you already have fond memories of this game or at least knowledge of it. Still for those of you who have somehow dodged this game here’s a quick overview.

Game board  and pieces

Each player is controlling their pawn as the pawn works its way through life. Several times throughout play, players make decisions that lead the pawn down different paths. Along these paths are different events including but not limited to marriage, babies, new houses, winning a sweepstakes and the beloved Pay Days.

Fred and Family winning on TV
Fred and Family winning on TV

There is a large dial in the center (numbered 1-10) which each player spins on their turn. That’s the number of squares you move, do what the square says, and then end your turn. Play moves quickly and is completely independent of the other players. This makes it easy and fun for kids who have difficulty paying attention.

The victor ultimately is the person who has the most money at the end of the game. Straight forward, easy to play, hard to break and you’ll have a ton of fun on the way with any family. I highly recommend this game to any family. If you are content with my suggestion then my review is done. As from here on I get a little less optimistic.

Front Porch: Oh, the humanity!

Elton John sings, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” but in my family, Sorry is the board game we played during every visit to my grandparent’s house.

That’s right; I come from a long line of gamers, and I’m not talking about video games. I’m referring to good old-fashioned, non-electronic board and card games.

At my grandparent’s house, Sorry or a rousing round of Aggravation followed every holiday meal. The coffee would be poured. The kids banished to their own games. And the adults would roll up their sleeves and wage war across the table. Both games lean heavily on the strategy of sending other players back to home or base. My grandpa and my dad were feisty competitors who took fiendish glee in sending their opponents back.

Fueled by caffeine and laughter, the adults bantered, and good-naturedly bickered for hours.

The gaming tradition continued in my parent’s home. I learned everything I need to know about commodities trading by playing Pit with my family.Read more. Cindy Hval, SR

Our family may never be the same after our oldest son bought us Cards Against Humanity for Christmas. Do you enjoy board/card games?

What to play tonight?

Board games and tabletop games are fun boiled down to their basic components. In this blog we are here to figure out which games are packed full of good solid fun. Hope you enjoy my reviews and I look forward to hearing your responses.

Pope Francis, the bishops and sex

Pope Francis called a meeting in Rome this week seeking conversations among 200 prelates. The topic: how to make Church teachings on family issues relevant for today’s Catholics.   

For openers, the men listened to Ron and Mavis Pirola, a married couple from Australia, talk about sex. Nice ice-breaker for a complicated task.

The couple explained how important sex is to their 57-year marriage; claiming sexual attraction brought them together so long ago.  The couple spoke of marriage as a “sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.” And while they had read Church documents on family matters, the couple said, “They (documents) seem to be from another planet…and not terribly relevant to our own experiences.”

The Church has spoken on many “family life” topics – abortion, contraception, sex outside of marriage - we know the list; however the Church has seldom proclaimed what many people know: sexual intimacy between two people in a loving, committed relationship offers a glimpse of sacred surrender, awareness of divine presence through our human experience. God is near.

Yes, men, it is true: not all sacramental moments occur in church. Often we experience sacred, sacramental moments in our homes, in our bedrooms.  Really, we do.

Kia Optima: Midsize rule-breaker

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Though it has to yet find the sales chart’s upper reaches, Kia’s Optima has changed the rules of the midsize sedan market.

Thanks to Kia and its corporate parent Hyundai, the family sedan segment is awash in technology that a short time ago was the exclusive domain of the luxury segments.

Kia was among the first to understand that buyers of compact and midsize family sedans would spring for amenities common among larger cars. Hence the availability of such options as heated steering wheels, high-end leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats and ventilated front seats.

Ventilated seats in a mid-priced family sedan? Never thought I’d see the day.

This year’s Optima updates include available keyless ignition/entry, blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors and new display screens. Outside, the front and rear fascias are updated, with the brand’s signature tabbed grille making its Optima debut.

Standard gear on every 2014 Optima (from $22,300, including destination) includes foglights, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Fancy electronics don’t make a lackluster car worthy, of course, and Kia aggressively pursues new buyers with cutting-edge design, comfortable cabins and strong engines. A focus on quality has elevated Optima’s reliability ratings to about mid-pack in the segment.

The front-drive sedan is available in four trims — LX ($21,500, including destination), EX ($23,950), SX ($25,500) and Limited ($35,300) — and in gasoline and gas-electric hybrid formats. A 192-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine powers LS, EX and SX trims. A 274-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four is standard on the Limited trim and optional on the SX. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

With the 2.4-liter, EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway); the turbocharged engine is good for 24 mpg combined (20 city/31 highway). 

The 2014 Hybrid debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February but has yet to reach dealerships. Updates include aerodynamic revisions to the front and rear fascias, new wheel designs, and unique grille and LED lighting elements.

Ever since Kia hired VW/Audi designer Peter Schreyer, Kia’s exteriors have grown more rakish and its interiors more Continental. Some interior plastics recall Kia’s old budget-aware days but  most surfaces are covered with soft-touch materials and overall otherwise materials quality is very good.

Kia’s voice-activated Uvo electronics interface system allows vocal control of cell phones, MP3 players and other devices and services, such as navigation points of interest and turn-by-turn directions. It’s among the most intuitive and useful of the systems on the market.

The Optima is reasonably responsive and entertaining to drive. Steering is a bit numb and artificially weighted, but is accurate and has good on-center feel. Ride quality is very good, though some drivers may find the SX and Limited trims’ sport-tuned suspension too firm.

Optima’s coupe-like silhouette curtails rear-seat headroom; otherwise, the cabin is spacious and comfortable.

It may not (yet) be the country’s best-selling midsize sedan, but the Optima is a major-league trend-setter. It belongs on the shopping list of every buyer committed to owning latest and the greatest.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Kia Optima SX Turbo
Vehicle base price: $21,500
Trim level base price: $27,500
As tested: $33,900
Optional equipment included panoramic sunroof; UVO telematics; rearview camera; heated and ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; navigation with SIRIUS services; blind-spot warning system; rear parking sensors.
EPA ratings: 20 city/31 highway/24 combined

Travel: Cruise Away the Winter Blues on Carnival Sunshine

    Slogging through a cold, dark, winter in the Northwest, it’s easy to find yourself starved for a little fun in the sun. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to join the U. S. inaugural sailing of the Carnival Sunshine out of the Port of New Orleans in November.

 

    The Carnival Sunshine was first launched in 1996 as the Carnival Destiny. At that the time it was the world’s largest cruise liner. After a massive and complete makeover in 2013, with a price tag of $155 million, the reborn liner spent a summer in Europe before moving to its new home port in The Crescent City. 

 

    After a day exploring New Orleans, with most of that time spent at the WWII Museum, we boarded the ship and headed down the Mississippi River toward the Gulf of Mexico. For the next 7 days we cruised the Caribbean sea, stopping at Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel before returning back to New Orleans.

 

    These days, with a teenager and a 2-year-old grandchild around, I’m thinking more and more about multigenerational travel. I made sure I got a good look at all the new options for families. The Waterworks water park is the largest in the fleet and it’s the place to be when the sun is hot and shining. The top-deck SportSquare with ropes course, ball courts, mini golf and a jogging track is a great place for families to spend some quality time together and there are Informal activities like poolside “Dive in Movies” under the gigantic LED screen TV. Children’s programs include Camp Carnival children’s program  for ages 2-11, Circle C  for ages 12-14 and Club O2 for teens 15-17.

 

    As expected there were plenty of grownup entertainment options, including well-produced musical extravaganzas, family-friendly and interactive “Hasbro: The Game Show” and the "Punchliner Comedy Club Presented by George Lopez," but to be honest we spent most of our free time on one of the three levels of the adults-only “Serenity Deck” with paperback books and the occasional paper umbrella drink. Located away from the noisy and popular party deck, the Serenity Deck offers plenty of padded lounge chairs, private clamshell cabana chairs and even queen-size hammocks for snoozing. (There is no charge to access the Serenity Deck, but drinks are extra. )

 

    On the whole, the cruise from New Orleans was a great way to escape the dreary weather in Spokane and get another shot of Vitamin D before spring returns. And, of course, it’s always fun to visit New Orleans.

    

    Here’s a breakdown of pros and cont:

 

 

Pros: You can’t beat Carnival’s value. It’s possible to fly to New Orleans and then spend a week cruising in the sun for less than you might spend on a week shivering at the Oregon Coast or even a long weekend in Seattle for a show or concert. The variety of food on board is impressive and Carnival continues to expand options from premium dining at the "Fahrenheit 555" steak house, to specialty dining at "Cucina del Capitano" and "JiJi’s Asian Kitchen" to free burgers and fries at Guy Fieri’s "Guy’s Burger Joint". Carnival Sunshine staterooms are attractive, comfortable and offer plenty of storage. 

 

Cons: My only real complaint about any Carnival Cruise is the number of smokers on board. Smoking is limited to the casino and certain decks but is allowed on private balconies. Once or twice we abandoned our balcony chairs because a neighbor’s smoke was drifting our way.

 

 

For more information about the Carnival Sunshine cruises out of New Orleans, contact your travel agent or go to www.carnival.com   You can find Cheryl-Anne’s Instagram photos of the cruise at instagram.com/camillsap

 

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

 

 

Life: Taking Baby Steps

   My granddaughter is suddenly a toddler. Over the last few months we’ve watched her crawl then, almost overnight, put one foot in front of another learning first to walk and then run. Her mother, my daughter, is trained to work with patients with mobility issues and she told me that learning to walk is really just overcoming a constant feeling that you’re about to fall. I watched my own four children learn to walk and I’d never really thought about it that way, but when you do, learning to walk becomes a very brave thing to do. The easiest and safest thing would be to simply sit down and stay where we are, but nature takes care of that and we come into the world with the drive to get up and move forward.


    My granddaughter is in constant motion these days, moving from one corner of the house to another, no longer unsteady and unsure. But those first stumbling steps have stayed on my mind. I noticed that while she was learning to walk, she never once looked down at her feet. She pushed herself up, put her eyes on the place or person she wanted to get to, and launched herself in that direction. She wasn’t thinking about what might get in her way—that was our job—she just had to move.


    Of course, as adults, we’ve learned to watch where we put our feet. We know that one wrong step could send us tumbling. When we set a target and move toward it, we do so consciously and carefully. You get smarter as you get older, right?


    The sad thing is that by growing up and growing older, most of us inevitably lose our inner toddler, the inquisitive, driven, risk taker we were born to be. We watch our steps so carefully, so determined not to fall or to fail, we risk never letting go and getting anywhere. We plant ourselves so firmly and deeply we take root. And one day some of us discover we’re stuck.


    I’ve heard the phrase “baby steps” countless times, but until I watched this baby learn to walk, I’m not sure I ever really understood its meaning. Baby steps aren’t small steps, they’re big leaps of faith and curiosity. They are the means to getting where you want to be, in spite of the risks. This is another of the benefits of being the grandmother, I think. Now, I have time to watch the process with just enough distance and none of the fatigue, exhaustion and worry of being the parent.


    Years ago, I threw myself headlong into into mothering. It was the most frighteningly wonderful thing I have ever done or will ever do. And the reward? Four unique adults who made their way confidently out of my nest just as this little one stepped in.


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

Hope Chests and Silver Spoons: How girls’ graduation gifts have changed

This past weekend in Spokane, thousands of high school seniors graduated and most received gifts from friends and family.

My daughter graduated this weekend, as well. And, just as it was with her siblings, our gift was a computer to take to school with her. It's a pretty common gift these days, a tool for study and work. Exactly what the contemporary student needs to succeed. But that wasn't always the case.

In the not-too-distant past, girls didn't get that kind of gift. Instead, they were given items that would prepare them for becoming wives and mothers. College was fine, but the real work came after they were awarded their 'Mrs.' degree. Later, in the 1960s and 70s, luggage became a popular graduation gift, suitable for a traveling coed, single working girl and (fingers crossed!) eventual honeymooner. Remember Mary Tyler Moore's matched set of white luggage?

I write a column about antiques and collectibles for Nostalgia Magazine each month. In the latest column I wrote about the tradition of Lane Furniture Company gifting high school senior girls with a miniature cedar chest to be used as a jewelry box. The hope was that soon they would be buying, or be given, a full-size 'hope chest' to fill with things they would need as wives and homemakers. Silver companies gave girls a miniature sterling spoon or knife, often fashioned into a pin, when they picked out a silver pattern.

Today the idea of a hope chest filled with household items, linens and lingere seems laughable. But it wasn't that long ago that young women were expected to marry young and set up housekeeping right away.

 

Travel: A Room with a View

   There is a house down the street from where I live and I often pass it on my afternoon walks through the neighborhood. It is a small white house, a classic Cape Cod, probably built in the lean years before the second World War. There is ivy climbing up the chimney and a tall evergreen tree anchors one corner of the front yard.

    Most days, there is nothing about the little house that would draw your attention. It is like a hundred others in the city. But if you pass it on a summer evening, just at the softest part of the day when the sky is darkening to a deep shade of violet but still light at the western edge of the horizon, maybe a few of the earliest stars are already out, it’s possible the front door will be open. And through the screen door you can see into the small living room of the compact house where two baby grand pianos sit side by side, situated so that the pianists can see one another as they play.
I know nothing about the house or the people who live there, but to my way of thinking it is the pianos that tell the story, the way they fill the room, claiming it as a place where music is, or has been, made. When I look into that room I see love. There are people there who love music enough to make it the center of the house.


    Once, at the end of a day in Paris, I walked down a narrow street near the Latin Quartier and past an apartment building. A tiny slice of one of the apartments was visible through the open terrace doors and I could see a faded but still elegant armchair, upholstered in a soft blue velvet that was worn in places from years of use. Tall shelves filled with rows and rows of books lined the wall and a lamp cast a soft glow over the chair.

    With nothing more than a glimpse into the room I could imagine the person who lives there. I could see him (I don’t know why, but it felt like a man’s room) come home each evening, scan the shelves, select a book and then settle into the chair to read. From the outside, the building gave no clue to its inhabitants. Rows of windows shuttered the lives of those inside, but the love of books, the familiar and satisfying feel of a favorite book in one’s hands, spilled out out through the open door, carried into the night by the golden lamplight.

    The peek into those two rooms has changed the way I think about my house. Now, I try to look past the usual clutter, the sleeping, shedding, cats and dog, past the unfinished projects on my to-do list. I focus hard on the way the chairs sit next to the window, perfect for watching the seasons change and the parade of people on the way to the park. I look at the books I’ve collected over a lifetime and the photographs I’ve taken of the people and places I love.

    The places we call home say much about us in ways we don’t always appreciate. We focus so much on the superficial—the wreath on the door, the curb appeal, the fresh coat of paint— that we forget that what defines any room as the place we belong has little to do with the decor and everything to do with how we live, and love, in the space.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a journalist and travel columnist 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: Searching for the Perfect Suitcase

I don’t want much. I just want the perfect suitcase.

I spend hours looking at suitcases and duffles and carry-on bags. I shop online, in department stores and at specialty shops. I read reviews and ask my friends for recommendations. I weigh the merits of outdoorsy rolling duffles, high-tech polycarbonate and ultralight nylon bags.

Occasionally, I make the sacrifice and buy the expensive bag and get my heart broken when it comes back to me with a broken zipper or missing wheel. Sometimes I make an impulse buy, snagging a bargain at an outlet or discount store and usually, but not always, after only a few flights, I’m disappointed.

Finding a good bag is no easy task. A suitcase has to be heavy enough to survive the battering it will take just getting through the airport and into the belly of the plane. But, it has to be light enough that I can manage it if I have to run through a busy terminal to catch a flight. It needs to fit in the overhead bin when I don’t want to pay a fee to check it. It has to be practical, with a place for everything. It needs wheels, but not just any kind of wheel. The perfect suitcase needs to roll in every direction, with only the barest touch. Oh, and I’d really like it to cost less than a week’s salary.

Of course, If I’m completely honest, there’s more than practicality involved. As with anything we wear or carry, a certain amount of vanity comes in to play.

I hate to admit it, but I think a suitcase can say something about its owner. Spend enough time in airports and you start to notice people and the bags they carry. You know what I mean. They don’t have to be in uniform; when you see men and women who have stacked and strapped their TravelPro bags into a tower of portable efficiency, you know it’s a flight crew.

Watching the older couple with the Avocado Green hard-body Samsonite you get the feeling they’re still using the suitcase they carried on their honeymoon, an investment that obviously paid off. And the woman who is holding the knockoff “Louis Vuitton” duffle while she scarfs down a Big Mac and waits with the crowd until time to board and squeeze into her economy seat? Well, she’s not fooling anyone.

I have a closet full of suitcases that promised great things and didn’t live up to expectations, but I keep on looking. Like I said, I don’t want much. I just want a travel companion that didn't cost an arm and a leg and won’t let me down. Oh, and if it happens to say to anyone who’s watching that "Here is a woman who
is really going somewhere," well, so much the better.

 

Question: Have you found the perfect piece of luggage? I'd love to hear your recommendation!

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, 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 Brings Couples Closer Together

   If you're looking for a way to strengthen your relationship, try hitting the road. Together.

   According to a survey by the U.S. Travel Association, couples who travel together find more satisfaction. They experience better communication and have longer-lasting relationships. They are more romantic.

   Today is Valentine’s Day and millions of cards, boxes of candy and restaurant dinners will be purchased. And then tomorrow morning life will go back to the old routine. But that’s the thing important thing about travel. After a trip, nothing is ever quite the same again. Even if it is only the addition of a few more photos on your cell phone, or a kitschy souvenir on a shelf in the living room, the everyday world we live in has been subtly changed.
 
   Shared experiences deepen our connection with one another. We can be one of thousands of passengers on a cruise ship but the memories we will bring home are intimate and singular: sunsets watched from the deck, wine at dinner, a kiss in the dark.

   Whether it is crossing Europe by train, watching geysers in Yellowstone, thrilling to the sight of whales breaching off the coast of Alaska, exploring ancient ruins in Mexico or even a spur-of-the-moment weekend in the city, what comes back with us after any shared travel experience is the sense of having been a part of something that now belongs to us alone. We linger over memories of having had an adventure, of overcoming the ordinary obstacles that complicate any kind of travel. We celebrate the planning and saving and scheduling that made the trip happen or the exhilaration of giving into an impulse to escape.

   Travel with the one we love sparks the imagination and teases curiosity. It soothes us and relaxes us. It helps us remember what drew us to one another in the first place.

   Humans are hardwired with a need to share and couples who travel together fall into another kind of love. They get hooked and want more. They look forward to another destination, another pin on the map, more photos in the album. And, always, one more kiss.


Read the U.S. Travel Association study here

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. 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 catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: And All the Boys at Sea

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    Crossing the deck of the busy cruise ship, on my way to get something for lunch, I noticed a little boy crouched quietly, oblivious to the crowd around him as he bent over his shoe. He’d dropped to fasten the buckle and his mother stood patiently by, parting the sea of passengers that streamed around them. That, as every mother eventually learns, is what you do when you have a preschooler. You stand and wait while they master each new, seemingly monumental task. To do anything else is to invite tears and tantrums.

    I watched the boy’s fingers, small and deliberate, as they worked at his task and I remembered my son doing the same thing at that age. I remembered the way my breath caught at the tender vulnerability of his neck, his thin back curved over knobby knees, his concentration evident by his frown and the tip of his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth.

    I was on board the big ship to cover the launch of the brand new Carnival Breeze but the ceremonies were over and we were underway, already out to sea. I had nothing but time so I stayed where I was, watching the boy while fragments of other conversations drifted around me.

    “We’re on our honeymoon,” I heard a man’s voice say, and I turned to see two couples, one young, the other old, on lounge chairs by the pool.
 
    The old man replied that he and the old woman beside him had been married more than 50 years.

    “Wow, that’s impressive,” the young man replied, his voice lacquered with a gloss of interest and respect. “So, what kind of advice would you give us?”

    I knew, and the old man knew, it was a superficial question.  Still, the old man seemed to take it seriously and was silent for a long moment and I waited to hear what he would say. The little boy worked on his shoe. The young woman smoothed sunscreen over her flat belly and along her arms. The old woman, her skin browned and leathery from years in the sun, rummaged through the basket on the deck beside her chair until she found her sunglasses. The young man sipped his beer.

    Finally, the old man, his voice rough and graveled by years, spoke.
    “You got it pretty good right now, son,” he said, nodding his head toward the young woman. “But one day, when the sun ain’t shining on you, and you’re mad at your pretty little bride over there and you hate your boss and the kid needs braces, you might think about doing something stupid. You might think about walking away.”

    The young man looked a little shocked at the old man’s plain words.

    “My advice is to remember how you feel right now because one day you might need it.”

    “Yes, sir,”  the young man said. “I sure will.”

    The old man, having said his piece, closed his eyes and the young man went back to his beer.

    I looked back at the little boy just as he finally slipped the strap through the metal buckle. Dusting his hands on the back of his swimsuit, he stood up and said “Okay,” in a satisfied tone. With his mother beside him, he walked on and disappeared in the crowd.

    I moved on too, got my food and walked back to where my husband was reading. He looked up from his book. “What took you so long?” he asked, and I realized I’d lost track of time. Again.

    “Oh, you know me,” I teased, sitting down beside him. “I was just watching all the boys.”

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
  

Travel: Emergency Smartphone Power

A decade ago, when I started freelancing after a long hiatus at home with my children, I realized that in order to be competitive and to produce work professionally and independently, it would be important to be as mobile as possible. So—before I’d even heard the term “backpack journalist”— I carried in my work backpack a good digital camera, a digital audio recorder, a cell phone and, because I needed it for a regular newspaper assignment that made it necessary to duplicate readers’ family photos, a small scanner. And a reporter’s notebook, of course.

Now, most of those and the other regular tasks are done with one small tool. My iPhone. 
I can take notes, photos, audio and even scan with it. I use it for research, editing, texting and other forms of communication and, once in a while, to make a phone call. The downside is all that use requires a lot of battery power. I’ve learned a few hard lessons along the way, when the phone died just as I needed it, and I'm not alone. (The traveler's joke is you can spot the iPhone users because they're always clustered around the nearest outlet at any airport.)

But smart phones are more than work tools and entertainment hubs. With more and more people dropping traditional land lines, the cellphone is a lifeline. Recent events have made that obvious.
After Super Storm Sandy hit the Northeast, in addition to the other aspects of the natural disaster, people were left without any way to charge phones, laptops and tablets. That meant they weren’t able to reach family, friends and coworkers. Communication was lost just as it was most needed.

Red Cross officials and other emergency preparedness officials urge us all to keep emergency supplies, including food and water, batteries, copies of important documents, medical records and other necessary and difficult to replace items at home. We’re also encouraged to keep a similar kit in our cars for weather and other travel emergencies. It’s a good idea to add an instant cellphone power source to that list.

I use a Mophie battery case for my phone every day which gives me a complete battery charge when necessary. I bought it at an airport kiosk and it has saved me more than once. My FatCat PowerBar holds a charge for as long as one year and can provide necessary power for a phone or camera in case of emergency. I keep it on hand to make sure I don’t run out of juice exactly when I need it most and I’m going to add one to our home emergency kit. I just gave one to my son to keep in his mountain cabin so he’ll have power in case of emergency.

I’m not just dependent on my phone to meet deadlines, post photos, keep in touch with my children and play Words with Friends. Like many people, it’s my link to the rest of the world.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country.

  

Travel: Starting the New Year with Edible Souvenirs

We were fortunate again this year, the whole family was together for Christmas. We gathered, exchanged gifts, caught up on one another’s lives and enjoyed one another’s company. And we ate. We ate a lot.

When we weren’t sitting down to our traditional Christmas dinner, we were snacking on things I’d gathered on my travels and brought home to share with my family. That’s come to be one of my travel traditions and now wherever I go I spend time looking for goodies to bring home with me.

This year, while playing board games or working on a jigsaw puzzle we opened a can of Virginia peanuts that traveled back from Roanoke tucked into a corner of my suitcase.

We made pots of good Door County Coffee & Tea Company coffee and nibbled peanut brittle from Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri.

I passed around a can of delicate and delicious Clear River pecan pralines I bought in Fredericksburg, Texas and hand-carried home. And we cracked pecans I gathered from where they’d fallen from the trees around the same city.

I spread tart cherry jam from, also from Door County, Wisconsin, on our toast at breakfast. In the afternoon I sliced a block of Wisconsin's Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese to go with the bottle of crisp white wine I brought back from Rhine River valley in Germany.

One night I made a big pot of chili and seasoned it with heritage chili pepper powder I bought at the Chili Pepper Institute in Los Cruces, New Mexico. I made a batch of brownies with brownie mix spiced with the same chilis.

We warmed up with mugs of hot buttered rum, savoring the bottle of Koloa rum I picked up in Kauai and saved especially for this holiday season.

This is the time of my life when I can travel freely and I don’t take it for granted because I know that could change at any time. My children are mostly grown and my work takes me around the world. I can’t always take them with me, but I can bring the world back to the ones I love and share it with them one delicious bite at a time.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Shopping: This One’s For the Girls

Life can be cruel. Erin Broughton Hughes and her mother, Claire, are both undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. Erin, a single mother of two young boys, has a heart condition as do both of her sons.

As you can imagine, medical costs and bills are already piling up, so a group of local vintage vendors is putting together a tag sale tomorrow at the Bigelow Gulch Grange, north of Spokane.

Donations have poured in and the organizers have been busy gathering and pricing hundreds of items that will be for sale. In addition to gently used and household goods, toys, furniture, accessories and vintage items, raffle baskets will also be available.

By all accounts, tomorrow is going to be cold. But the sale, spearheaded by Unexpected Necessities' Jennifer Walker, offers a chance to do something that will leave you feeling a warmer and at the same time do some real good.

 

Note: If you are not able to make the sale, please consider making a donation to the Erin Broughton Hughes Benefit Fund. Drop by any Spokane Teachers Credit Union location and ask to donate money to the Erin or send a check to Kim Leighty at 3228 W Alice, Spokane WA 99205. Make the checks out to the "Erin Broughton Hughes Benefit fund."

Details:

Where: Bigelow Gulch Grange, 7001 E. Bigelow Gulch.

When:  Saturday, (Tomorrow) Nov. 10 9am-4pm

 

The urge to fly and the need to nest

    (Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   The wind had picked a bit up the night before, sweeping through the tall pine trees, taking with it loose branches and needles, dropping them to the grass below.


    I noticed something else in the litter on the lawn and as I got closer I could see it was a small bird’s nest, still intact after its long fall. I picked it up and studied the way it was made. I have never seen a nest that isn’t, in some way, beautiful.  A marvel, really. But this one was exceptionally so.


    Made almost entirely of long strands of dried grass woven around what appeared to be wool or even dryer lint, the inside was lined with a soft, golden, feathery material. At first I thought it might be the bird’s own feathers but then I realized it was a layer of shredded cattail blooms, the tall plant that grows in ponds and marshes and bends and dances in the breeze. The compact bloom had been pulled apart and separated into downy fibers.


    I held the nest for a long time, thinking about what an engineering and artistic accomplishment it was. And to what lengths the birds had gone to to create it.


    Grass and lint are all around us. That could have come from any house nearby. But the cattail had to have come from the park down the hill, several blocks away. It would have been no small feat to bring home, bit by bit, enough of the fibers to fill even such a petite shelter. What compelled her to use that particular plant? Surely there must have been some easier way.


    I carried the nest home and set it on the mantel in my living room. For days, every time I walked by, I would stop for a closer look. One afternoon I sat down on the sofa—a piece with a new slipcover, sewn by a friend who does beautiful work. I searched and searched for just the right fabric before settling on the natural cotton and now every time I look at the sofa, it pleases me.


     Still cradling the fragile thing in my hand, still puzzling over the curiosity of it, I reached behind me to adjust the cushion at my back and felt the fine weave of the soft linen pillow cover under my fingertips. Immediately, I remembered the day I’d purchased it in a small shop in Estonia. I’d spent an hour pulling out cover after cover until I found a pair that were exactly right. 


     I glanced at the curtains hanging at the window and recalled discovering them in a second-hand store in Reyjkavik. I hadn’t given a thought to how I would get the four panels home, I just had to have them. The eight yards of material had stretched my already-full luggage to its limits and when I got to the airport I was told it was overweight.  The gate agent listened as I told him how I’d found the curtains. How they were old and soft and the color was perfect and that I would never again find such beautiful fabric. Still looking at me, without saying a word, he tagged my heavy bag and sent it away without charging me the extra fee.
   

 I turned to look at the small Native American rug behind the glass doors of the secretary standing in the corner. I’d spotted it in a weaver’s studio outside of Chimayo, New Mexico, picking it up and putting it down twice before committing. I tried to be practical, but I simply had to have it.


    My own nest is filled with soft things from unlikely places. Things which, although I stumbled onto them at the time I was, in some sense, seeking. Who am I to question a bird’s choice? After all, exposed to the elements, at the mercy of wind and rain and sly predators, she had fragile eggs to protect and tender fledgelings to care for. I have four sturdy walls and a roof over my head.


    The delicate nest is still on the mantel. I think I will keep it there as a reminder that the real difference in a shelter and a home is what surrounds us when we are there.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Traveling Mothers

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

  My son has been on a boat out on the Pacific for weeks now and every so often a few lines arrive by email.     
    “This has been a great trip,” he writes “The hurricane turned so the seas are not so rough now,” he writes. “Work is going well,” he writes. “Saw some whales today,” he writes.
    

   I see one word: Hurricane!
    

   I’d just settled into my usual routine of vague worry and superstitious bargaining with fate when, and, as usual, it was the last thing I expected, my daughter—the brand new geologist—was assigned to a job on a boat off the coast of Greenland. (Wait, isn’t Greenland melting?)
    

   Already living 200 miles away from me, with less than a day to prepare, she packed and flew away without my being able to see her face or hold her close. Now I’m left to wonder how two little land-locked children could grow up to sail so far away. At the same time.
    

   My friends point out I shouldn’t be surprised. Don’t I fly over oceans every chance I get?  Why would I expect any less of my children, especially these two adventurers? Stop worrying so much, they tell me.
    

   Of course, I have an answer ready. I’m not green. I’m not confident like my son. If anything, I’m overly cautious and too careful. I’m not young and beautiful and vulnerable like my daughter. I’m just another middle-aged woman on a train or in an airport, hugging her purse and keeping one eye on her luggage.
    

   But, truth be told, I finally had to admit to myself that what’s bothering me as much as worry, is guilt. I’m consumed with guilt. I can’t shake the feeling I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. I’d already booked a work-related trip to Alaska before I knew my children were going to be traveling; not that it even occurred to me to ask. And now, thanks to me, we’ll all be scattered across the globe. How will they reach me if they need me?
    

   Children are meant to fly, some tiny voice inside me whispers, mothers are not. It’s our job to be home base, the place our children come back to. If I am not here, what will become of us? What kind of home base goes to Alaska where cell phones and computers don’t work? The swallows only return to Capistrano because it’s there waiting for them.
    

   Before my children came along, even after I was married, I came and went as I pleased.  I bought plane tickets and train tickets at the drop of a hat. But after the babies, when the occasional chance to travel solo came along, I usually let the opportunity pass.
    

   Occasionally, when I would mention some place I’d been or adventure I’d had before they were born, they would look at me, confused, trying to imagine me anywhere else.
    “Well, Mommy wasn’t always Mommy,” I would tell them, laughing at their confusion. “I used to be another girl.”
    

   But if I'm honest, what held me back was that I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving them. Overwhelmed with love and responsibility, I wasn’t just afraid of something happening to my children. I was terrified something would happen to me. How would they survive without me? Who else knew them so completely?  If something happened to me and they asked their father or grandparents ( or their new mother!) for a Sadie Sally story, no one would know the world I’d created for them in my head. No one would know that Johnny was the little boy who kept a dragon named Jimbo or that Sadie was the sister who always discovered magic dust in her pocket just when it was most needed or that a road divided the enchanted forest and one side was a wonderful, magical, place but the other was dark and frightening and no matter how hard they tried something always lured Sadie, Sally and Johnny into that dark place where they had to rely on their wits and the dragon and a little magic to escape. Who else could tell Sadie Sally stories? Nobody but me.
    

   Only I knew who preferred her milk warmed. Who was afraid of the dark. Who liked to talk about dreams first thing in the morning. Who needed an extra kiss and glass of water before bed. I knew them on a cellular level. After all, each had peeled away from me, physically dividing us at birth. We were, at least in the beginning, two parts of one.
    

   Imagining the possibility of not being there for my children unhinged me. Just thinking about it, I whimpered and paced like an animal separated from her young. I didn’t put my traveling shoes back on until the three oldest were out of the house and on their own and the youngest showed an independent streak I wanted to encourage.
    

   I thought I’d left all that worry and guilt behind me, but again they’ve exposed me for who I really am.
    

   Mommy is always Mommy.
    

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

Seattle to Alaska aboard the Disney Wonder

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   The little boy stood beside the table that held the mini-iceberg, the chunk of ice that had once been a part of the North Sawyer Glacier before breaking away—calving— and falling with a splash into the Tracy Arm fjord off Alaska’s famed Inside Passage. It had been harvested and brought aboard by the Disney Wonder crew and put on display on one of the upper decks so passengers could touch history in frozen form.


    Like most of the others who circled the hunk of ice, the boy put out his hand and touched it, tracing with his finger the rough edges that were softening as it melted and dripped away. His eyes were wide and shining, but that touch wasn’t enough for the pre-schooler. He let go of his mother’s hand, stepped forward and wrapped both arms as far as he could around it, putting his cheek against the frozen surface, embracing it. Claiming it. For a moment anyway. Icebergs are cold, you know.


    I hadn’t known what to expect of the cruise beyond beautiful scenery and character breakfasts, but my daughter was the reason for the trip. She would celebrate her 17th birthday while we were sailing and I wanted to give her a memorable birthday that would be fun for all of us without reducing her to a bored minor on a cruise designed for adults. But most of all,  I wanted her to see the water, the mountains, the wildlife and the glaciers of Alaska, and I wanted to be there when she saw it all. I’m keenly aware of how little time I have left with her before she goes off to school and takes the first tentative steps into her own life, and there is still so much of the world I want to share with her.


    After leaving Seattle, the second day of the 7-night cruise we steamed leisurely up the majestic Tracy Arm fjord until, coming around the last bend, we pulled silently up to the ice-filled water at the foot of the blue glacier. People spilled out onto the observation decks, cradling cups of cocoa in their hands, and gazed out on the view. And the view was stunning. In spite of the wind and the chilly temperature, everyone was drawn to the spectacle and then seemed unable to look away.


    The naturalist accompanying the cruise provided on-board narration about the size and history of the North Sawyer, including its rapid retreat, a condition shared by glaciers all over the world. He pointed out the harbor seals resting on the ice, the eagles on the Sitka Spruce and commented on the habits of bears and other wildlife.


    We didn’t just take a spin around the cove and move on. The big ship rested silently in that beautiful place and let us all drink in the sights and sounds. The PA system was turned off for long stretches of time to give us, and the natural world around us, sweet silence. Even the ship’s crew, some of whom must have seen the sight many times, wandered out on deck to take it in. Then, a steel cage was lowered into the water and the iceberg fragment was brought aboard.


    Several hours later we pulled away, back into the Passage and continued our journey. It was exactly what I had hoped for. I watched as my daughter scrolled through the photos she’d taken, pointing out the exceptional ones, and I was filled with gratitude to have been there with her.


    If I’d been a little boy I might have thrown my arms around her for just a moment, happy to be so near to something so wonderful. But only for a moment. Teenagers are slippery, you know.

 

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

A memorable feast under the Tuscan sun

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   I have friends who actually plan each meal. Not just at holidays, but all year long. Even in the summer. Even on vacation. They look through magazines and cookbooks and pick a recipe because it excites them, not because it uses only four ingredients and the prep time is guaranteed to be less than fifteen minutes. Pushing a cart through the aisles of the grocery store doesn’t cause them to wilt like yesterday’s salad. They actually enjoy it.
   

    I am not like these people.
    

   And yet, by default, and I’m still trying to remember exactly how this happened, I am the person who has the responsibility of putting something (occasionally food) on the table each day. This is not easy.  I like to eat. I love food. I just like it better when someone else figures out what it will be and then makes it happen.
    

   As a young mother, with toddlers at my feet and a husband who was away three nights each week, we ate a lot of informal meals of fruit and cheese, hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes we added bread and butter to the feast. As a not-so-young mother working from home, writing around the schedules of four active children, I learned to love my crock pot. 
    

   It should be easier now but it isn’t. Now I lack any real motivation.  And I still lack imagination.
    

   I finally realized the real problem is that I’m just not a sophisticated foodie. I love to eat but, for me, the simpler the better.  I can sit down to fruit and a little cheese (tossed with a good book) and call it good. I like a nice piece of salmon. A piece of crusty bread and good butter. A bowl of strawberry ice cream. In the winter, simple and basic vegetable soup ( the one thing I like to prepare) can make me happy every night of the week.
    

   I was with friends not too long ago and the subject of memorable meals came up. I listened to the others rhapsodize about famous restaurants, Foie gras, thick steaks and various ragouts, reductions and complicated recipes. After thinking about it, I realized that, predictably, one of my favorite meals was one of the simplest I’ve ever eaten.
    

   My husband and youngest daughter and I were in Italy several years ago, in mid-October, strolling through a beautiful village in Tuscany. By noon we were ravenous. As it happened, it was market day and the town square was filled with vendors. I purchased a roast chicken from a mobile rotisserie and three clementines from a fruit stand. Actually, when the man realized all I wanted was three pieces of fruit, not the three kilo he’d thought, he gave them to me with a smile, waving away the Euro I offered.
   

    We took the warm, moist, roast chicken and the fragrant fruit to a small courtyard at the top of the city wall and sat looking out over the beautiful countryside as we ate with our fingers. My husband and I shared a bottle of local white wine as the sun warmed us. Bees droned in the flower garden and a local cat showed up to eat the scraps my daughter tossed to him. When we were done, the remains of the feast were rolled into the paper bag that had held the hen and thrown away. And that is my memorable meal.

   I watched people smile and nod, imagining the day and the moment as I described it. I’m no gourmand but even I know the secret ingredient of any feast is the simple pleasure of consuming it. Especially when you share it in the company of friends and family and, occasionally, a very good book.





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

We are so much more than ordinary

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


   Holding my newborn granddaughter, gazing down at her as she sleeps, I study her closely, mapping her with my hands and my eyes just as I did with her mother, my firstborn child. Just as I did with each of my children.

   Cradling her in my left arm, instinctively holding her close, pressed against my heart, I trace the curves and folds of her ear with my fingertip. It is as tiny and perfect as a seashell. With my hand I follow the already discernible swirl of her down-like hair as it wreaths her head. I take her  hand in mine, marveling at the strength of her grip, aware that each tiny finger is already marked with her unique signature. I rest one soft, wrinkled foot in my palm, imagining the steps it will take as she walks into the future. I fold into her, putting my face against her skin and breathing in the heady perfume of a sleeping newborn. I am lost in this child. Just as I was with her mother. Just as I was with each of my children.

   Most of us would, if asked, describe ourselves as ordinary. But the truth is, if we stop to think about it, there is no such thing as an ordinary human being. Even beyond temperament and personality, each of us comes into this world extraordinary in countless physical characteristics; in the flecks of color in our eyes and the way our brow furrows or our smile curves, in the imprint of each foot as we stride. Sculpted around a ladder of bones, draped in soft skin, we are unique and individual. Unlike any other living creature.  We arrive complete, an exquisite product of the complex and mysterious cellular shuffle that takes place at conception.

   But somewhere along the road, most of us forget this. We lose sight of the fact as we swirl in the crowd of humanity—a snowflake in the blizzard—that each of us is one-of-a-kind and like no other. Oh, we all secretly know it about the children we’ve created. We marvel at them even as they grow up. But we forget we are also wonderful.

   Perhaps this is why new babies capture and claim us. It goes beyond love. Beyond pride and a sense of fulfillment. When we reach out and take a newborn, when we bring a child close and look down on the miracle, we are reminded that each of us comes into this world, and leaves it, as a rare and beautiful thing.

 

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 catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Judge rejects mom-based lawyer plea

A 50-year-old Spokane man recently sentenced to prison for drugs won't be allowed to retain his publicly funded lawyer while he awaits legal advice from his mother, a judge ruled Monday.

Vernon V. Jackson had objected to public defender Mark Hannibal's routine request to withdraw as his attorney after Jackson was sentenced last week to two years in prison for three counts of possession of a controlled substance.

Jackson said Monday that he spoke with his mother after he pleaded guilty and "might have a change of heart" but needed to talk to his mother again. He wanted Hannibal to stay on as his attorney just in case.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese asked Jackson if his mother was a lawyer. He said no, but she "has lawyer skills."

"I wanted to become an attorney, but I messed up," Jackson said.

Plese denied Jackson's request, noting there was no legal basis for Hannibal to continue to represent him. Jackson can still try to change his plea once he talks to his mother even without a lawyer currently assigned.

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 catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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!

Hoping for an Accessory Afterlife

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)



   If you were to ask me if I believe in heaven as a place where I’ll join all the people I’ve known and lost, and with whom I can spend eternity laughing and eating potato salad at one idyllic family reunion, I’d stall for time and finally fall back on that old relationship standard, “It’s complicated.”
But if you were to ask me to believe heaven is a place where I can be reunited with all the little things I’ve lost here on earth, especially the gold and silver that has slipped through my fingers, I’d have myself sent away like King Tut, laid out in style and surrounded by approximately half the jewelry I’ve ever owned. The hope would be I could finally find the missing half.

   My personal history is full of stories of the ones that got away. Starting with my school ring which I slipped off my finger and dropped into my purse. This would have been fine if I hadn’t put my purse on the top of my car and driven off. The purse, and the ring, were never seen again.

   Then there was that pair of tiny diamond earrings I lost in college. I remember taking them out before I went to sleep and pinning them to a piece of college rule (naturally)  notepaper. I also remember thinking I should get up and put them in my jewelry box. Unfortunately, the next time I went to put them on, I couldn’t remember where exactly I put that particular piece of paper. My roommate probably wadded it around her gum and tossed it. Or, it might have been me…

   As I grew up and began to travel, the trail of lost jewelry just got longer. There was that little gold chain that broke and slipped off somewhere on Broadway in New York City. And the bracelet I left behind in Memphis. And the silver hoop that went missing in Budapest. And the pearl earring that disappeared in Tuscany. And while it wasn’t a piece of jewelry, I’m still grieving for the cashmere scarf - five feet of comfort and warmth that cost more than I’d made that week-  the wind picked up and carried away while I was waiting for a bus in Reykjavik, Iceland. Really. The wind is fierce in Reykjavik, Iceland.

   I’m a sceptic when it comes to pearly gates and streets of gold, but I would become a willing believer in the idea of an accessory afterlife. Until, of course, I misplaced my halo. It would be all downhill from there.


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 catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Joy on Christmas Morning


    I hope that when you opened your eyes this morning—no, even before you opened them, even earlier than that—I hope that when you first found yourself swimming into morning light and out of whatever dreams you’d been having, somewhere in your mind there rang out the words Christmas Morning!  And for a moment or two you were a child again, thrilled by mystery, consumed by possibility.

    As an adult, I know that doesn’t always happen.

    It’s so easy to lose the holiday spirit when all you can think about is the fact that you’re the one who is responsible for making the magic. That you’re the one who shops and wraps and cooks and cleans and plans and then makes new plans when the old plans fall through. It’s easy to lose the joy and let any happiness you might find in a song on the radio or a kiss under the Mistletoe slip through your fingers when you are already looking ahead to Visa bills and taking down the tree and packing away the decorations and standing in line to return gifts.

    This time of year, the darkest part of the year, is laden—some might say booby-trapped—with reminders. There is the dragging weight of all the invisible holiday baggage each of us carries. Nothing is safe. Food, music, celebrations and even movies and books come wrapped in memory and association. Some pleasant, some not so pleasant. And, to add to the fun, for those with young children, there is the suffocating parental pressure of creating the mythical perfect holiday; the self-imposed quest of taking on the impossible task of sending our children into the world without the legacy, the thousand little failures, of an imperfect parent. Good luck with that.

    So much of the stuff of life is out of our hands. Forget holidays, on any day the big things, war, weather, economic turmoil, toxic bosses, family issues, bad fortune and lousy luck, are beyond our control. But the one thing we can choose is how we will face each day in world that perplexes and frequently exhausts us.  Even the weariest among us can, if we so choose, celebrate the gifts of sleepy eyes that open on a dark December morning and a childlike heart that unfolds to let the spirit in, and with it the mystery and the possibility of another Christmas Day.


  

The Boy Who Believed

My son, who has been working in Japan, is on his way home. We haven't seen him in several months and I'm hungry for some time with him. My son has grown up to be a wonderful man; an adventurer, a tinkerer and a master of creating complex machines from bits of metal.

He'll be home for Christmas Eve and wrapping his gifts and putting them under the tree, thought about the boy who loved contraptions and I was reminded of something he taught me one Christmas years ago.

(I had to do some digging to find a copy of this early column.)

 

 

For some, Santa's magic a guarantee

The Spokesman Review The Spokesman Review
December 25, 2003 | Cheryl-Anne Millsap The Valley Voice

Early each Christmas morning, as I turn out the lights and make my way to my bed, knowing I will be pulled out of it again when the sun rises, I stop for a moment, overwhelmed by memories and the knowledge that time is flying past me.

The children, who have been the reason I wake each morning and fall into an exhausted sleep each night, are growing up so quickly. Already one has left the nest, and another is perched on the edge. Their Christmas lists are more sophisticated now, with high-tech gadgets replacing Easy-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe.

When my son was six, he fell under the spell of a miniature arcade game, the kind where you manipulate a giant claw to pick up prizes and stuffed animals and drop them down a chute. He wanted the game more than anything and put it at the top of his Christmas list.

He was thrilled when he found the game under the tree and played with it constantly. But it was a complicated toy that was never meant to go the distance. When it stopped working, he was disappointed and put it away in his closet.

I didn't think about it again until the next year on Christmas Eve when I was getting everyone ready for bed and another visit from Santa. He walked in and placed the broken game under the Christmas tree with a note asking Santa to please repair it.

I could only gape at him, speechless. It was already midnight and to paraphrase the poet, there were miles to go before we could sleep.

My little boy had no idea that his mother was staggering under the weight of postpartum depression or that his father, who was in graduate school and wearied by final exams, was scheduled to work a 24-hour shift on Christmas Day.

My son wasn't jumpy and distracted from listening for the cries of the colicky baby sister or thinking about the 2 a.m. feeding that would cut into the few productive hours of the night.

The way he saw it, Santa brought that game to him and he would want to know there was a problem. And since the big guy was going to be in the neighborhood, it wouldn't hurt to have him take a look at a broken toy. So he left it with a note asking that Santa "make it work again."

Somehow, the two elves-in-residence, Sleepy and Weepy, did everything that needed to be done. The baby got her 2 a.m. feeding and Santa placed the surprises, including the refurbished toy, under the tree before the children woke with the dawn.

I was watching my son the next morning when he found the game. He was pleased but he wasn't surprised. It was just where he expected it to be. His face shining with pleasure, he took it to the kitchen table, turned it this way and that to admire Santa's handiwork, and began to play contentedly while new presents waited under the tree.

Whenever I am confronted with the reality that life doesn't come with guarantees, I think about that Christmas morning. And when I think about it, I wish I could be seven years old again, with that much trust in everyone around me to do the right thing. I wish I hadn't learned that sometimes things break so completely that no one can fix them, not even Santa. Not even for a day.

Now, years have passed. Dad got through graduate school, Mom got over the blues, and the new baby stopped crying. The toy, which wasn't built to last, stopped working again and found its way back to the closet, to be eventually taken apart and its parts scavenged for a little boy's inventions.

For my son it was proof that Santa cared enough about him to take the time to try to make something work again. For the elves, it was an exercise in patience. For all of us it was a sweet reminder that love has responsibility.

Maybe this year under the tree I'll leave my heart, just to see what Santa can do.


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 catmillsap@gmail.com