Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 17, 2014

Holiday House

I was in Juneau, Alaska last week.

It was a treat to see real winter, as ours in Seattle tend to be mild.

Mostly I was there to see my sister Constance, a well known Alaskan artist.

Her solo show, “Breakthrough,” was at The Juneau City Museum, and scheduled to open for Juneau’s big annual Gallery Walk.

We hung her paintings the night before.

Her work is vibrant and exciting.  It catches your eye from across the gallery…

 

…and is mesmerizing up close as well, with intricate detail and creative use of negative space.

 

Then we shopped for cheese, crackers, nuts, and veggies to serve at the opening.

Constance’s friend Nancy made five dozen deviled eggs, which were also a work of art. (Nancy’s husband Andy applied the garnish.)

 There was a great turnout, and Constance sold some beautiful paintings.  Her work will be on display until December 27th.  To view her artwork for this show and to read her artist statement about it, click here.

The whole town turns out for Gallery Walk.  Every shop and gallery in town serves refreshments and features local artists.  People come out in droves, wearing their sequins and snowboots.

I popped over to Annie Kaill’s and saw my sister’s painting, Holiday House, in the front window of the shop.  This festive painting was on loan to the gallery from its owners.  Someone I talked to said he overheard people praising the painting in St. Petersberg!

My favorite art tells a story, and this one tells a story I know.  Constance painted it as a gift for her neighbors Jeff and Terry.  Look closely and you can see Jeff in his brown overalls on a ladder, putting up his Christmas lights.

Jeff is the kind of neighbor every neighborhood wants and needs, but few are fortunate enough to have.  When he mows his own lawn, he also cuts the grass of an elderly neighbor.  If Constance comes home and finds her driveway shoveled, she can guess who did it. Constance met him for the first time decades ago, when she bought a sandbox for her kids out in the valley and it wouldn’t fit in her car. She recognized him and, not knowing what else to do, asked a stranger’s help transporting it in his pickup.  It was all set up in her yard when she got home.  On our visit to Juneau last summer he heard that my son Eli was interested in fishing, and offered to take him out on his boat.  Jeff helped Eli land a thirty pound king salmon.  It was the highlight of his trip–all of ours, really, because eight of us ate fresh King salmon every night and there was still some to share with the neighbors.

Every year Jeff spends the weeks preceding Christmas putting up tens of thousands of lights on his house, and at least a dozen Santas and snowmen.  His electric bill spikes each December, but the people of Juneau count on him to put some serious twinkle into their holiday.

Some people save their treasures for heaven, but I think there’s a twinkle light shining on his house for each kindness Jeff has paid to others.  They add up, all those little lights, and push back the darkness for us all.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 9, 2014

Plot and Counterplot

When I toss a story out into the world, I never know if it will take wing, or where it will fly.   I’m still amazed and grateful that Johan Lebichot found me via a post I’d written about my father.

 

 Last year my sister and I traveled to Belgium to visit the Lebichot family to honor a friendship that reached across the ocean and seventy years back through time.

Lightning struck twice when I was emailed by a stranger who works at Machpelah Cemetery, where my father is buried.  Kim wrote:

“While doing research on unused burial spaces here at Machpelah Cemetery in Ferndale, Michigan I googled your family name and found you!   When I found “A Box in the Attic,” I realized I’d found the family who owns the space.  I must tell you I couldn’t stop reading, to be able to put a face and story with these people was a gift…”

The plot thickens. My father died fifty years ago!  The burial plot Kim wrote about was intended to be Mom’s final resting place. But when she died twenty-five years later, she wasn’t allowed to be buried beside my father because she wasn’t Jewish.

My dying mother said, “It doesn’t matter.  He’s not there.”

What followed reads like the plot of an Afterlife Soap Opera.  My mother Eleanor’s mother, Rhea, was buried next to her first husband, William, the true love of her life, and my grandmother’s second husband, Gus, was buried in another cemetery beside his first wife, Laura, but Mom’s stepdad, my Grandpa Gus, ended up with an extra burial plot, probably because his son Karl wanted to be buried beside the love of his life, Barbara, but Grandpa had always loved my mom, his stepdaughter, and so he offered it to her, since she couldn’t be be buried by her one and only, which is why my mother was buried next to her stepdad and not her husband, Harry, who was the true love of her life, but that’s okay, because Mom loved Grandpa too.

Last year, when visiting Mom’s grave, we spent nearly an hour kicking around the weeds before we found it and cleared away the grass. Mom would say, “It doesn’t matter. I’m not there.” In a way she’d be right. All her kids left Detroit long ago. After Aunt Loena is gone, I doubt I’ll return. But I decided to replace her headstone with one easier to find, just in case someone, maybe even from the next generation, wants to leave a pebble on her grave.  Kim’s email was an eerily timely message, or at least a poke with a sharp stick.

Kim said we could plant a tree in the empty plot or even engrave Mom’s name on the glaringly empty space on Daddy’s headstone. “We could do that?” I asked. “If you write ‘In Memory…’ so people will know she’s not actually buried there,” said Kim. “I’ll consult my siblings and get back to you.  It could take awhile–there are seven of us. In the meantime, please don’t bury a stranger beside my dad!”

I admit there were undercurrents of resentment because Mom was denied her place by Daddy all those years before. But times change, rules relax, Kim probably wasn’t even born when this drama occurred, and the people at Machpelah were eager to make amends.  Our parents’ lives were hard, their story bittersweet, but no one could deny their love was true.  Why not be grateful for the opportunity to give them as close to a happy ending as can be expected?

Most of us were onboard, and the others simply abstained as we discussed ideas for the inscription. It being my mom, “Wish I’d Brought a Book” would’ve been fitting.  And at the start of each road trip, she’d say, “If there’s something we forgot to pack, we’ll buy a new one or do without.”  This was a monumental journey for our mom, but we finally settled for the simple truth. “In loving memory.”

No bones about it, after fifty years or even just twenty-five, all that remains is ashes and dust.  And their story.  In West Africa they say, “One is not dead until one is forgotten.”  Dear Mom and Dad, that which was surely connected in spirit has been commemorated–and written in stone.  And now I’m lovingly sending your story out to the world.  May it take wing, land where it will, and never be forgotten.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 4, 2014

Puget Sound Convergence Zone

Have you heard of the Puget Sound Convergence Zone?

 Northwest winds in the upper atmosphere are split by the Olympic Mountains…

…then re-converge over Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, where we live.  This causes updrafts, which can lead to “more active weather.”

Like rain, even when it’s sunny in Seattle.

Or snow, when a few miles south or even just down the hill, there is none.

I don’t mind. When the temperature dips below freezing, our fuchsia baskets come live in our purple bathtub.

The hummingbirds are always happy when the flowers come back from their holiday, especially when so many of their local diners close for the winter.

Our house is also a convergence zone, with kids blowing in like the Chinook Winds, to warm up the house from the inside out.

This last week we had long lost cousins dropping in.

Not to mention other friends and relatives with whom we broke bread, shared the glow of the twinkle lights…

…and saved the world.

Wherever you are, no matter what weather Ma Nature throws at you…

…you can always create your own little weather system.

 

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 2, 2014

Back Down to Earth

There is freedom in cutting loose one’s bonds to float high above the rest of the world.

To be quiet, and alone in one’s thoughts.

It is a space and place that I do sometimes share.

Just when I find myself adjusting to the elevation…

…and the solitude…

Just when I start feeling too comfortable, too removed…

…I feel a tug on the heartstrings that brings me back down to earth.

Sometimes it’s as simple as discovering on my front walk a baby bird that needs to be returned to its nest.

More often it is my own baby birds, coming home to roost.

Even just for a little while.

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Above.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | November 13, 2014

Virgins No More

In 1493 Christopher Columbus visited the chain of islands that he named after St. Ursula and the 11, 000 virgins.

My sister Lee, my friend Kathy, and I were all Virgin Island virgins, having never before set foot upon them.

Until last week.

We flew into St Thomas and took the car ferry over to the island of St. John.

St. John is a US territory, with nearly two thirds of its land set aside as a National Park and wildlife sanctuary.  It was a short drive from our hotel on Cruz Bay…

…to the pristine beaches of the U.S. National Park.

Big blue land crabs made their homes in the muddy floors of the mangrove swamps…

…while tiny red crabs in the tens of thousands sounded like rain on the forest floor when they skittered into hiding.

Pelicans could be seen fishing on every beach.

Iguanas frequented both beaches…

…and grassy areas.

And so many birds!  Dark hummingbirds, yellow songbirds, cranes, egrets, and many others.

Everywhere we saw ruins of a troubled past, where slaves once worked the sugar plantations dotting the island.

Who sat on the tiled veranda of this mansion sipping coffee and enjoying the ocean breeze within sight of the mill, where slaves were forced to stir boiling kettles of sugar syrup in unbearable heat?

At the Annaberg Planation, this windmill processed sugar cane.

It is a relic of a cruel past.

By 1733 slaves outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1.  Harsh laws condoning torture, amputation, and murder were enacted to keep slaves under control, but instead prompted a bloody rebellion.  Slaves rose up and held the island for six months before the French Militia helped the Danes crush the revolt.  Rather than return to slavery, hundreds threw themselves off rugged cliffs into the sea below.

In 1848, when again faced with uprisings, the governor of St. John declared an end to slavery on St. John.

This statue of a slave, sugar cane knife in hand, blowing a conch shell to sound the call to freedom, celebrates hard-won liberty.

Today 78 percent of the population is descended from African slaves.

The Virgin Islands are brimming with color, whether it be in nature’s sphere…

…or made so by human hand.

 It is a place filled with joyful music…

…and lively spirits.

They know how to live down there.

They work hard.

And play hard.

 And take nothing for granted.

All words and images 2014 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | November 12, 2014

Veterans’ Day

Originally posted on Writing Between the Lines:

On November 11th, sleep in, go shopping, see a movie.  But please do take a moment to remember what this day is really all about.

At our house, we will be lighting a candle for my special army buddies, Colonel Earl Edward McBride, Jr., Harold Nye, and Donald Hogue.  I am so fortunate to have met them, and so grateful to them for their friendship, for the stories they shared, and for their service to our country.  They went to war as untested young men, and came home heroes, bearing scars inside and out that would change them forever.

I will be writing to my friend Jack Oliver, a very kind and wise WWII vet who went to boot camp with my Uncle Lewis in 1944.  I will thank him for his service to our country in a horrible war that saved the world.  Jack helped me understand not only…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | November 3, 2014

Adventures with Free Candy

Originally posted on Adventures in Hats:

You can dress up and eat candy any time of the year. There’s only one day, however, when you dress up and people give you candy for free. The fact that such a holiday exists never ceases to delight me, and I start getting pumped pretty early in the season. October hadn’t even begun before I deployed my Halloween-themed socks.

That said, I understand that some students don’t have much time for festivities. It’s midterm season, after all. Many of us are immersed in reading.

Or otherwise studying for class.

My steampunk hero Felix, however, took some time off from swashbuckling to learn about Halloween.

(The last image may be Felix struggling to put on a Halloween costume made from a sheet, or Felix struggling to escape the icy supernatural clutches of a malevolent spirit. I leave this to you, the reader, to decide.)

All fun and games aside, never let…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 22, 2014

Love at Second Sight

When my nephew from Southeast Alaska was just a tot, he came to Seattle and squinted up at the sky. “What’s that stuff in my eyes?” he asked. “What stuff?” asked his mom. “That shiny stuff.”

Oh, that would be sunshine. Yes, the sun does shine in Seattle, even more than in Juneau, but so not much lately. Our weather tends to be soft, our skies pastel.

It was autumn when we left Seattle last Friday.

Two hours later, we stepped off a plane into summertime.

The California sky was so blue!

 
The light was intense, and even the shadows seemed to take on a life of their own.

This was most noticeable in the courtyard of the Cantor Art Museum on the Stanford campus, where we saw a sculpture by Robert Serra.

It was 200 tons of iron, 13 feet tall, 67 feet long.  At first I thought it looked like smoke stacks on a steamer or scrap metal from an old factory.

http://i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/Stanford%20visit/f9c7f5e8-8e0e-4949-8b96-8fae8e42cfb4_zps9bd2a9ee.jpg

But there is more to it than meets the eye.

It is two interlocking figure 8s that we could step inside…

…to interact with…and become a part of the sculpture.

The slanting walls were surprising, but the effect was intriguing.

We felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

Each step brought a new view.

The interplay between light and shadow and sky was brilliant.

We viewed a hundred canvases, each one borrowing colors from the same palette…

…but every one a distinct new creation.

It was playful.

Energizing!

 

Definitely a case of love at second sight.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Refraction.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 8, 2014

Back to the Drawing Board

Naomi Baltuck:

Dear friends, especially all you writers and artists out there,
I’d love to share my daughter Bea’s latest post with you. It’s about using secondary characters in your writing, but I think it’s a great example of teaching with style and humor. Her drawings are funny and sassy, and they hit the nail on the head every time.

Originally posted on Adventures in Hats:

Last week I took a page from my mother’s proverbial book and told a story with photographs. Today, it’s back to the drawing board (and the steampunk). Now, some of you may know that I take special interest in the representation of women in fiction, especially in the adventure genre.

Since embarking on my ongoing project, I’ve become increasingly aware of the dearth of solid female characters in fiction. In the process of rewriting my own novel, a steampunk adventure, I gender-bended a couple of secondary characters, Saria and Tristam. In some ways, little has changed.

But the gender-bending soon became an impetus for character building. Tristam (above) is a privateer; Saria (below) is a forger. I had to explain how two women ended up with such occupations in the context of a mostly male-dominated world.  This, of course, necessitated the development of their back stories.

Knowing their origins, I…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 2, 2014

Turning Night Into Day

There was once a wise old rabbi who asked his students, “How can you know the exact moment when night ends and day begins?”

“I think I know,” said one of his pupils.  “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

“I know,” said another.  “It must be when, from a distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree.”

“No,” said the rabbi.

His students looked at each other and then at the rabbi.  “We don’t know,” they said.  “Please tell us.”

And the rabbi replied, “It is when you look into the face of any person from any nation…

…man…

…or woman…

…Jew or gentile…

…and see your brother…

…or your sister.”

”And that is the blessed moment,” said the rabbi,  “when the dawn is come.”

c2014NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime.

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