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.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | June 9, 2014

A Drive-By Shooting in Detroit

 

I was born in The Motor City.   I graduated from U of M, and headed West to seek my fortune. I’ve lived in Seattle for over thirty years.  It was love at first sight, it’s the home of my heart, and where my children were born…

 

 

…but I still feel unexpected tugs on my Midwestern roots.

Detroit is where my parents and grandparents are buried.

In French ‘Detroit’ means ‘channel or strait connecting two bodies of water.’  That would be the Detroit River that connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

That would also be my Aunt Loena, who connects me to my mother–through memories, blood ties, and love.  Last spring I returned to the river that spawned me.

My Aunt Loena and sister Lee are still in Michigan, and are always ready for a visit.

We did a drive-by shooting of the old neighborhood…with a camera.  We took shots of the little house I grew up in.

Many other houses were already pretty well shot.

Across from Newton School, a woman kept cranky geese in her yard, but the geese were long gone, and so was the house.


My high school was for sale.  It was named for Thomas M. Cooley ( 1824-1898), a local boy done good.  He started out with a small law business and ended up on the Michigan Supreme Court.  In The Cooley Doctrine, he wrote “local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot…take it away.”  Cooley must be spinning in his grave since Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder gave himself the power to take over cities, remove locally elected officials, install puppet governments, and destroy labor unions.  Not in Russia.  Not in North Korea.  This is happening in the United States of America.

Yes, there are financial woes, and the economy and tax base of the area were dependent upon the auto industry.  Highland Park, a town engulfed by Detroit, managed to stay independent despite efforts to incorporate it.  Ford closed its Highland Park factory in the 1950s and Chrysler pulled out in 1993.  The population, once over 45, 000, has decreased to 11,000.  Now it’s ‘The Detroit of Detroit’, so poor Detroit doesn’t even want it anymore. My grandparents’ Highland Park house was gone.  So was the school across the street.


If not for this sign, I wouldn’t have known Highland Park still existed.

But there must be better ways than total dictatorship to save the city.  We went to Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River, halfway between Canada and the United States.  It became a city park in 1904, and in 2014 it became a state park to avoid operation costs to the city.

 There used to be an elephant house, a bandstand, and a boathouse.  I learned to canoe in its waterways.

Honey Buckets are probably cheaper to maintain than the elegant brick restrooms…

…a compromise so the park might be used and enjoyed.

There was still beauty.

And history.

The Belle Isle Aquarium was built in 1904.  As kids we watched the electric eel touch an underwater wire in its tank to light up electric light bulbs.  It was the longest continually operating aquarium until 2005 when, after 101 years, it closed its doors due to lack of funding.

But in 2012 the aquarium was reopened–Saturdays only–and is run completely by volunteers from the Belle Isle Conservancy.  Admission free.

 

Next door is the Whitcomb Conservatory.

My folks used to turn seven kids loose in there; we played Tarzan, and our Johnny Weissmuller jungle calls bounced off that glass ceiling.

At the Detroit Institute of Art we found culture, art, and history.

 photo 14ceae3b-e762-40d1-b045-89c23581fdc4_zps21d717ba.jpg

As kids we loved the shiny suits of armor in the great hall.

As adults, we admired the Diego Rivera mural, a powerful statement about Detroit Industries.  In 1932 it was scandalous that workers with black, white, and brown skin were depicted working side by side.  But Edsel Ford, who paid the bill, said he thought Rivera captured the Spirit of Detroit.

“Watson and the Shark,” my favorite painting from childhood visits to the museum, told a true story.  Copley portrayed a multiracial crew rescuing their shipmate from a shark.  Painted in 1777, a time of revolution against tyranny, artists began to depict common people as heroes. At least in Michigan, where the sharks are still circling, it is still a relevant message.

 

I was saddened to read so many hateful bigoted comments when researching this sculpture honoring Detroit boxer Joe Lewis.

In Detroit there was and is despair and poverty, racism and anger.

But I also saw positive action, innovative ideas for bringing life and art back into the city.  Are you a writer?  Want a free house?   Check out Write-a-House.  This organization buys abandoned houses, renovates them, and gives them to artists willing to come live in them, practice their art, enrich their community.  There are pea patches growing where, on my last visit, I saw burned out houses.

L-O-O-K.

The Spirit of Detroit is still strong.

I saw soul.

And hope.

 

Sweetness.

Pride.

I saw the future in a city park, where kids were playing.

 At the conservatory I saw cactus blooming in the desert, a public park taken over by volunteers who made it available to the public.

I saw open hearts.

In the most unexpected places.

 Detroit still has plenty of room to grow, room for hope.

Please watch this two minute video for another look at Detroit. 

 All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

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

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | June 1, 2014

To See a World…

 

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower…”

       –William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

 

…or in one click of a camera.

One picture is worth a thousand words.  Some pictures lay out the facts, like a road map.

But others have all the elements of a great novel, crammed into one quick snap.

Danger…

Mystery…

Character…

 Adventure…

Desperation…

Romance…

Greater purpose…

For me, the best stories raise questions as well as give answers.

 

They present universal dilemmas, and show us how people learn to cope with trauma or loss.

A disaster becomes a compelling tragedy, although the victims lived two thousand years ago, if we can relate to their suffering.  And who can’t?

We like to tie up our stories in neatly arranged ribbons and give them happy endings.  Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

But that’s not always possible.  Perhaps the best stories–and photographs–just remind us of what it is to be human.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme: Split-Second Story.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | May 24, 2014

Testing One’s Mettle

“What are you afraid of?” author Bob Mayer asked at a writing conference, “because that’s what’s holding you back as writers.”

At the time, it was social media–mastering new technology, committing to cranking out a weekly post. But I started a blog, and am glad I did.  Since my first blogpost I’ve made new friends, discovered photographic storytelling, which I love, and crossed a whopper off this writer’s to-do list.

Marriage was another commitment that terrified me, but I faced that fear too.

It took seven years before Thom and I felt brave enough to assume the awesome responsibility of parenthood.  It’s the most joyful, most difficult, most rewarding, and most important undertaking we’d ever signed on for, or ever will.

Whether we choose them ourselves or take what fate throws our way, the most daunting experiences are often the most edifying.

The most challenging ones tend to be the most rewarding.

With the toughest climbs come the best views.

After the kids were old enough to change their own diapers, we thought could rest on our laurels, but there was an unexpected twist to the parent/child relationship.

We raised kids who challenge themselves.  Bea watched her big brother do his math homework, and designed her own “Really Hard Math Problem.”

As they tested their own mettle, and created their own challenges…

…we were forced out of our comfort zones just to keep up.

Thom and I would never have chosen to go to the Amazon jungle if the kids hadn’t been keen to go.

It was hard to watch my kids twist and turn like little spiders on a web as they climbed 200 feet up into the canopy to zipline.  And for the first (and probably last) time in my life, I went ziplining too.  You never know when someone might need a bandaid or some bug repellant.

Only for my kid would I board a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, another thing I swore I’d never do. But it’s good to feel a fire in your belly and rise above your fears.

We are not extreme travelers.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most of the adventures I have are in my own mind.  But for the sake of my kids, I’ve put on my big girl panties and donned a hard hat once or twice.

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.

 I appreciate people who can lure me out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes it’s good to commit to a path with unexpected twists and bends.

I’m sure I’m a better person for it. And if nothing else, Life Outside The Comfort Zone provides great material for a writer.

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | May 19, 2014

The Art of Work

Imagine a world without art and artists.

They help us see the world through different eyes.

And artisans infuse our everyday lives with beauty.

 

 

Works of art come in many disciplines.

 

And on many scales…

 …some more grand than others.

My artist sister Constance’s painting, “The Poet”, celebrates the literary art of poetry through her visual art.

But I have great appreciation for people who would never consider themselves artists, and yet they make an art of work.

Some apply exceptional creativity to their work, like this fellow who rigged a bicycle to power a sugar cane juicer, to crank out a little work of art one cup at a time.

Some turn an ordinary business into something with a very personal touch.

 

In Ireland,  I was moved by the gravestone of a man lovingly remembered for his gift of turning his work into an art.

Be it traditional…

 

…entrepreneurial…

…fleeting…

…or a treasured heirloom…

 

…art is all around us, and everyone is an artist in his or her own way, whether practicing with a paintbrush, chisel, camera, wooden spoon, plow, or scissors.

Art is in the eye of the beholder.

Also on the tongue…

…in the ear…

…the nose…

…the heart…

and the mind.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, party arty!

All images and words c2014Naomi Baltuck.

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

 

 

c2014 Naomi Baltuck

Come visit The Bardo Group,

an international collective  fostering peace, proximity and healing

through our love of the arts and humanities.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | May 6, 2014

Ooh la la!

Three buddies went on a hunting trip and drew straws to see who’d take the first turn cooking.  First one to complain has to take over.  Harley drew the short straw, but was a lousy cook, so he wasn’t worried.  Jack and Phil wolfed down canned beans with a smile.  Next day, burnt grilled cheese. When they slurped soupy mush without complaint Harley had to act or be doomed to permanent KP duty.  In the woods he found a pile of moose turds and baked them into a pie.  When his buddies tried it, they gagged. “This tastes like shit,” said Jack, adding quickly, “Good though.”

Last fall my sister Constance and I went to France.

Constance is thrifty and booked us bargain lodging.  I’ve stayed in youth hostels and have rolled out a sleeping bag on a stranger’s porch once or twice (but don’t tell my kids).  I confess–I prefer a private bathroom and wi fi, and am willing to pay the price. But if you don’t cook, you can’t complain about the grub.

In St. Malo we stayed at The Hotel Bar Restaurant.  It must’ve been a chain, because we stayed at several places with the same name.  It was a long walk to the old town and the beach.  The halls smelled like smoke and stale beer.  At night the hall lights went off automatically and we never did find the switches, which made bathroom trips exciting.  As for decor, let’s not even go there.  Really.

We went to the Tourist Info Center and booked a new place in the Old Town.  It didn’t cost much more, and it included wi fi and a private toilet!  

It’s a good thing my sister and I are so close, because it was very close quarters!  But we were content–it was clean, and close to the beach.

We enjoyed St. Malo…

 

 

…and Dinan.

We saw great museums…

… lovely countryside…

 …and met interesting characters along the way.


Paris, our last stop, was pricey. But Con booked us a bargain weeks in advance, no refunds allowed. The day before we arrived, she looked it up on Trip Advisor.  I heard little whimpers coming from her side of the room. According to reviews, our place was in the Red Light District. Eleven storeys, no elevator.  Shared bath down the hall. No one at the desk before 4PM or after 11PM; lose your key after hours and you’re in trouble.  Con was mortified, especially about the Red Light thing, and so apologetic. It’s okay, I said. It’s probably not that bad. We won’t lose our key, and we don’t want to walk around after dark in this neighborhood anyway. Besides, I assured her, If someone books for me, I’m not going to gripe about the grub.

We arrived early and checked out the neighborhood.  It was that bad; people in sleeping bags living in the phone booths.

We walked up and down the block twice before we saw it.  This place was named Hotel, quite a comedown even from The Hotel Bar Restaurant.

 

Perhaps we missed it the first time because we were distracted by the neighbors.

Lots of interesting neighbors!

As we waited at a cafe for the office to open I had to reassure Con many times.

Inside The Hotel it was dark and seedy.  But our room was only one flight up from the street, it had a private bathroom…

…and an interesting view.

This will do fine! I told Con.

She registered while I attended to my own bottom line, and it had nothing to do with price. I pulled back the sheets and checked the mattress.  Jeepers creepers!  The bedbugs were having a party. The mattress was crawling with them!  In my frenzied clearing of luggage from off the bed (lest we pick up hitchhikers) I forgot to snap a close-up of the jamboree.  When Con returned, I showed her how to check for bedbugs, for future reference.  (Yes.  I’ve had experience, but that’s another story.)

 

When we asked for our money back, the clerk offered us another room. Merci no!  If one room is infested, they might all be.  They had to be aware of the infestation and were renting the room anyway; the maid couldn’t have missed them (and their feces) unless she’d never changed the sheets.  The clerk woke her boss.  He took one look at the middle-aged lady waving a ziploc baggy with a bedbug in it, and paid her off.

We got our money back, but it was getting dark, and we were in Paris without a hotel for the night.  We went to the Bagelstein cafe, which offered free wifi for ladies (woo hoo!).  We whipped out our  laptops to conduct a mad search for a decent hotel.  Con was looking for Budget.  I was looking for No Bedbugs.  And then I saw it.  The One.  It cost four times as much as the one we’d just escaped, and they had a vacancy.  We booked it all the way across town to a hotel with a NAME.

This one’s name was Fred.  No kidding!

The bathroom could’ve been rented as a studio apartment. The heated towel rack, backlit headboard, terry cloth robes and souvenir slippers were a bonus. I checked the mattress. I always do, even at five star hotels. (As I said, that’s another story, and I might tell it to you one day, after two glasses of fine white wine.)  This I can tell you…

Ooh la la!  Fred made us both very happy that night in Paris.

It’s nice to be polite.  But if someone sets a piece of Moose Turd Pie on the table in front of you, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Close-Up.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | April 28, 2014

Got Glow?

Have you ever met someone who seems to radiate light?

 And you wonder, is it magic?

Or love?

Or faith?

Or creative passion?

Or the simple joy of being alive?

i

It is inspiring.

Even contagious!

May you find whatever it is that makes your cheeks glow…

 

…your imagination take wing…

 

…and your heart sing.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | April 17, 2014

Chasing Rainbows


If a tree falls in the woods and I don’t photograph it, did I really see it?

Last week, amidst the throes of last-minute packing for spring break in Hawaii, I was mentally outlining the next chapter of my manuscript. That’s the only excuse I can give for walking out of the house and onto an airplane…

Without. My. Camera.

So Thom gave me charge of his new toy, a Pentax underwater camera, for use in or out of the water.  My hero!

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Its zoom wasn’t as powerful, but I was grateful.  As they say, “Any port in a storm!”


I snapped a handful of shots before it died. We changed the battery and…nothing.  Arrrrgh!  I thought about buying a new camera, but it seemed wasteful; I’m happy with the one at home.  Maybe just a one-use camera, a single roll of film in a recycled plastic case?  No, those photos always look washed out. Then I thought, I’ve been to Maui, and I’ll be back.  How many sunsets do I need in my archives?

 

I don’t need to chase rainbows

 

I decided to make a clean break of it, go cold turkey.  Perhaps my travel experience might even improve without a lens between me and my world.

Look, Ma!  No cams!


I confess, I felt the pangs of withdrawal.  My photographs help refresh memories I might otherwise forget.

 

 With my camera, I am never alone.

I anticipate with pleasure the sharing of pictures with friends, family, my blogging community.  Even sans camera, I was constantly framing shots in my mind’s eye. Sea turtles gliding in ocean currents.  Two hotel maids walking arm-in-arm down a deserted hotel corridor.  The underwater service station run by a pair of enterprising Cleaning Wrasse, with bigger fish lined up like cars at a car wash, patiently waiting their turn to be picked clean of parasites.

Oh, yes, and the kid in neon snorkel gear who shouted, “Mom!  Dad!  I can hear the whales singing!”  Eli and I smiled indulgently at his vivid imagination.

The next morning we were snorkeling off that same beach when Eli said, “Mom! Dad! I can hear whales singing!”  I thought he was teasing, but I ducked under the waves, held my breath, and listened.  And I could hear them too.  For an hour or more, we held perfectly still, just letting the whale song wash over us. I’d been coming to Maui for twenty years, but had never heard them. Had they been there all along? I was an astronaut, observing an alien planet from my little floating bubble, and was unexpectedly invited in for tea!  And inside my snorkel mask I cried.

When we staggered onto the beach and looked out at the water, we saw them spouting, teasing us with glimpses of their fins and shiny black backs.  We also saw the whale watching boat hounding them. Had they been communicating distress or just watching out for each other?  Finally the boat left.  And the moment it did, the whales began breaching and splashing, showing their big white bellies, time and time again!  I suspect they were jumping for joy and shouting,”Woo hoo!  We ditched ‘em!”

It was like discovering your house is haunted with friendly ghosts going about their business, oblivious to that other world, except on those occasions when your worlds intersect.  I decided the rolling ocean is The Poker Face of the World, and just beneath the surface, a swirl of emotions, life and death struggles, joy, pain, drama, and countless stories play themselves out.

There was no way a camera could have recorded that breathtaking experience, and no way I would ever need the help of a camera to recall it.  Just when I resolved and resigned myself to a camera-free existence, Eli and I went for an afternoon walk.

And he taught me how to take photos with his Smart Phone.

 

Okay, forget everything I just told you about a camera-free life.  Because then Saint Eli indulged me completely, taking me back to revisit all the beautiful sights I’d admired.  We snapped all these pics and more with his Smart Phone.

Pretty pictures of stationary subjects…

 …that practically come when you whistle for them.

Other photos depended upon conditions like weather.

Or light.

Or where our feet happened to take us.

 

 My favorite shots are the unexpected ones, that dropped like ripe fruit falling from a tree into my lap.

Sweet.

Sweeter.

Sweetest!

 

As we sat on the beach watching the sun set, directly ahead of us a whale leapt out of the ocean so close I could see the lines on its belly.  It thrust one long fin into the air and waved goodbye. Exhilarating! A flash of wonder!  A glimpse of the sacred just for us! It is forever engraved in our memories and upon our hearts.

But I’m THRILLED that Eli caught it on his Smart Phone!

 

 

Okay, time to come clean.  I ADORE chasing rainbows…

…and I will ALWAYS go for the gold!

WOO HOO!

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck (and Eli Garrard!)

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

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