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.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | September 25, 2014

Adventures in Lithuania

Naomi Baltuck:

Hey guys! My daughter Bea has a blog, Adventures in Hats, and she has just posted about her own experiences in Lithuania after we dropped her off in Vilnius following our family travels in Lithuania and Poland. I love her sense of humor and unique perspective and hope you will too.

Originally posted on Adventures in Hats:

Before I went abroad last June, I had to call my bank. The conversation went something like this:

Bank person: Which countries will you be passing through?

Me: I’ll be in Poland, Germany, and Lithuania.

Bank person: What?

Me: Poland, Germany, and–

Bank person: How do you spell that last one?

Me: L-I-T-H-U-A-N-I-A.

Bank person: Is that a real country?

Yes, after spending four weeks in Lithuania this summer, I’m almost entirely convinced that it’s real. I was attending a program on Yiddish language and culture at Vilnius University, which is pictured below in a real photograph, not a drawing (!):

 Aaaand the view from the top of a tower with extremely rickety, terrifying stairs:

The University is located in the heart of Vilnius, right across from the Presidential Palace (I once watched from my classroom’s window as the President of Lithuania delivered a speech on the adjacent square). So…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | September 19, 2014

Prepare to Be Boarded

Naomi Baltuck:

Arrrhh! All hands on deck for International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Originally posted on Writing Between the Lines:

Recently my daughter Bea declared her major at Stanford: Privateering.


Her friends Ben and Michael signed on as awkward incompetent first mate and shoulder parrot.  So my sister Constance and I decided to try our luck as chief cook and bottle washer, and cabin boy.

Bea was flying home for spring break. We went to meet her at Sea-Tac airport.  We picked up a cart, to carry our booty.

Not only did Bea immediately don the captain’s hat and coat we brought along, just in case Cap’n Bea was traveling incognito….

 

…but from out of her pack she pulled out her very cool pirate goggles to top off the outfit.

 

The next best thing to a contract signed in blood, we press-ganged an innocent bystander to photo-document the deal.

 

I have proven once again that it is impossible to embarrass Beatrice.


But we can just keep trying.

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | September 14, 2014

Vintage Dude

The Man…

The Myth….

The Legend…

Also an excellent teacher librarian who spends hours working at home on his own time.  He serves on the teachers’ union board because teachers’ working conditions (ie. class size) are students’ learning conditions.

He’s a soccer referee who gives back to his association by serving on the board as treasurer…

…and he still looks pretty darn good in shorts.

Even more importantly–he’s  a very good daddy.

He is wise and kind, and he sees the world through a lens of compassion.

Not only that—the man bakes his own Christmas cookies!

Thom is of the very best vintage.  Who could ask for anything more?

If I couldn’t have Thom…

…I might settle for Indiana Jones.

 

But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

When the time comes, maybe we’ll have Thom stuffed and put in a museum.

But for now, we’ll stuff him with cake and ice cream.

Happy Birthday, dear Thom, and many many more!

All words and images (except Indiana Jones) copyright Naomi Baltuck

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | August 28, 2014

Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ‘em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts. 

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | August 14, 2014

Looking for Poland

This was our first trip to Poland, and Krackow, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was our first stop. Krackow dates back to a little Stone Age settlement.

 It’s is remarkably well preserved for a city that has stood for over a thousand years, and survived the hell that was World War II.

 

Even the McDonalds there is deeply rooted in Poland’s ancient history.

Literally!  During its construction, medieval foundations were discovered and incorporated into the restaurant design. We bought a cup of coffee so we could go downstairs to check out the McVault in the basement, and it was like nothing you’ve ever seen in The House That Ronald Built.

Krackow suffered under the Nazis, but Warsaw got pounded.  At the Warsaw Uprising Museum we watched a movie that gave us an aerial view of post-war Warsaw. Of that bustling metropolis, only miles and miles of rubble and ruins remained.  The scale of destruction was unimaginable.

 

When the Poles defended themselves against the German invasion, the Nazis response was to destroy hospitals, schools, churches, universities, and commit mass murder upon both Jew and Gentile. When finally forced to retreat, out of spite the Nazis blew up anything still standing.

The Peugot Building was built where the old synagogue once stood. The Jewish Historical Institute is next door, in a reconstructed building that housed the Jewish Library.

Between the Nazis and the Soviets, over 400,000 Warsovians were murdered in the war. Those lives and all their promise can never be replaced. But the people of Warsaw rebuilt their city, brick by brick.  Canaletto’s 18th century paintings were used as visual references to recreate beloved heritage sites.  All along The Royal Way that artwork is displayed…

…in front of the structures that were rebuilt using them as guides.

You can’t say they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

The Warsovians resurrected the Old Town Square too.

 Some say it’s like Disneyland, too perfect, but I thought it was beautiful, and I loved all the cool details.

 The royal palace in Warsaw…

…was also destroyed and reconstructed.

Some furniture and other treasures were spirited away before the Luftwaffe bombings, but the throne room and the banner with its royal eagles were destroyed.

  Only one of the original eagles survived, and somehow found its way to the United States.  It was used a model to replicate the original design.

 The clock in the Knight’s Hall, featuring the god of time, is forever stopped at 11:15, a moment never to be forgotten– the exact time the Nazis bombed the palace.

Poland’s history is harsh and fascinating, colorful and complicated.

Reminders of its painful past are everywhere–like the memorial to the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews killed in this bunker by the Nazis. 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Pilsudski Square, which was called Hitler Platz when occupied by the Germans.

We saw statues honoring the Polish Resistance and the Warsaw Uprising…

…and one honoring the children who worked for the resistance, although their roles involved carrying messages more often than guns.

There was the memorial to the 15,000 Polish officers murdered in 1940 by the Soviet army at Katyn.

There were even teenage street musicians in uniform, singing war songs.

On a street corner we glanced down and realized we were standing on what used to be the Ghetto Wall.

So much suffering.  So many stories, most of which can never be told.

 

After living under the jackboot of the Nazis, like so many other countries of Eastern Europe, the Poles endured further decades of Soviet oppression.  But each new rebellion brought them closer to independence.

The success of the Solidarity movement was a long time coming, a difficult struggle that was as much for freedom as for bread.

 

It is all inextricably woven into the fabric of their nation’s past.

I wondered how it had affected the people…

 

…and how much of it was passed from one generation to the next.

After centuries of oppression and foreign rule…

 

…Poland is now a prosperous and independent Democracy.

I saw joy there, most often in stolen glimpses.

But wherever we went we felt safe.  People were always polite and helpful….

…although rarely quick to smile.

 

I’ve heard that Europeans believe Americans smile too much and too easily, and perhaps we do.

But in Gdansk…

…an old woman caught me watching her.  I could either avert my eyes and hurry on, or smile and give a little wave.  When I did, she smiled back with such unexpected warmth that I couldn’t help myself–I blew her a kiss.

That was Poland in a nutshell.

All words and photos copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | July 21, 2014

Tiny Miracles

Forgive me, blogger, it has been a month since my last post.

My only excuse is that I was out in the world.  All the stories I’ve seen and heard and lived have been patiently but eagerly contained, just waiting to be told.

 

In Poland and Lithuania, where we were traveling, World War II still casts a long shadow over the land.  That is a long, hard, sad story.


But little stories are everywhere, and more often than not, you will find stories within stories.  In fact, they will find you.

In Vilnius, even the walls contained stories.  We started to notice things, like faded Hebrew lettering on an old wall…

…Or a Star of David scratched in stone seventy years ago.

We learned that our apartment was in the Vilnius Ghetto, where more than 42,000 Vilnius Jews were imprisoned before they were murdered.

Near our place was a statue in memory of Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, a Jewish doctor in Vilnius.  A lovely young Lithuanian named Yrita gave us the inside story.

 The good doctor was loved by all, especially the children, and not only because he believed most childhood illnesses could be cured with a warm glass of milk and a bit of chocolate.

When a mother brought her little girl to him, that was what he prescribed.  They had no money for chocolate, so for a week he had the little girl come by every morning to take her medicine– a glass of warm milk and some chocolate.  Sure enough, she soon felt better.

When the little girl’s kitten fell ill, she knew just what to do.

She took her kitten to the doctor and asked him to cure it.

The doctor told her that in this case, they would forego the chocolate, and stick with the warm milk.  I’m glad to tell you the kitten recovered as well.

Though Dr. Shabad died in 1935, the children of Vilnius still visit him.  When they do, they rub the kitten’s nose and make a wish, certain it will come true.

 

 Yrita told us that for little wishes, you rub the kitten’s nose.  For very big wishes, you might need to rub the doctor’s nose.

 Sometimes wishes don’t come true, not even the little ones, and not all stories have a happy ending.

Sometimes the best we can do is to search for a little light in the darkness.  Sometimes you will find it in the most unexpected places.

Tiny miracles can be found everywhere– even in a bit of chocolate, especially when served with a cup of kindness.

 

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | June 26, 2014

Campfire Story

Last night we lit the tiki torches, and made a campfire in our back yard.  Even in an urban setting, sitting within the ring of firelight transports you to a world apart, somewhere between tame city life and wilderness.

We were cooking the vegetarian version of “Piggies in a Blanket,” soy sausages wrapped up in biscuit dough and toasted over the fire (it’s better than it sounds).  We heard a rustling in the woods, just outside the firelight.  Even in your own backyard, strange and unexpected noises coming from the darkness nearby is creepy.

We saw something right out of a spooky forest scene from a Disney cartoon, with two golden eyes shining in the darkness.

The bright flash of a camera revealed a visitor, looking at us with the eeriest most otherworldly eyes.

Raccoons are common here, especially when the cherries, plums, and apples are ripening in the trees.

They can be very cute.  They are incredibly adaptable, living in 48 out of 50 states in the US.  (Can you guess which two are raccoonless?  Answer at end of post!).  They are at home in the city, but are still wild creatures, which people often forget. I’ve had ten or twelve come forage in my yard at once, but I don’t encourage them.  A friend fed one raccoon puppy chow, and soon 20 or more raccoons were scratching at her back door and climbing on her windowsills demanding food.  Another friend had one repeatedly using the cat door and brazenly scrounging leftovers in the kitchen while the family was in the next room watching TV.  Yet another had to take her dog to the vet for stitches after a raccoon attack–she thinks it was angry because she’d recently stopped leaving food for her pets on the deck because it was attracting raccoons.

We shooed the raccoon away with the hose.  It was persistent, and took us several tries over ten or fifteen minutes.  Those little piggies just smelled too good.   That might seem mean, but we don’t want to encourage more visits or a taste for human food in a wild creature.  

 Long after the raccoon was gone, the s’mores were eaten, and the flames had died down to glowing embers, I could see the afterimage of wildfire reflected in those golden eyes.

All words and images c2014NaomiBaltuck

Click below for more interpretations of:

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Between.

The Weekly Travel Theme: Shine.

A Photo a Week Challenge: Wildlife.

One Word Photo Challenge: Gold.

P.S.  No raccoons in Hawaii–I bet you all got that one.  And no raccoons in Alaska, which I’d never have guessed.

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