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.

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

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