Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | April 22, 2016

Making Correct Change

In observation of Earth day…

Writing Between the Lines

Imagine a time when Manhattan was all forest.  Now the surviving trees are like living things herded into a corral of concrete and steel.

We have careened through time like a car without brakes…

In our wake a city of skyscrapers has sprung up where once a forest grew, but the city remembers its roots…

The past lurks, like a silent ghost, peeking out from dirty windows in the attic…

…Or a little lost child, peering from between the legs of strangers in a crowd.

But beneath all the the glitz and glamor and bright lights…

…the old grand dame still thrives.

From past and present must come the future.

If we proceed with caution…

…and careful reflection…

…with respect for all living things…

…the heart of the city will always be strong.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of Sunday Stills: Buildings…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | April 13, 2016

Cuba’s Third Currency

The kids and I rendezvoused in Mexico City for spring break: from there it was a quick jump to Havana. We’d heard that thawing US-Cuban relations would affect big changes in Cuba in the near future. We wanted to see Cuba before that happened.

We arrived late at night, and taxied to our casa particular, a room rented in a private home. Eli said we would get a better feel for Cuba staying in a home rather than a hotel.  The Cuban government has allowed the practice since 1997 to accommodate and encourage tourist trade.  Upon our arrival our hostess Ana said her water pump was broken, and she turned us over to Orlando, who took us to his rental apartment.

We had to trust that everything would be okay.  And it was.

The electrical wiring at Orlando’s wouldn’t have passed a safety inspection.

 We were in a strange new place with its own set of rules, and had nowhere else to go.

 So when we detected the faint smell of gas, we opened all the windows, shut the door to the kitchen, and went to bed.

We awoke the next morning to the crowing of roosters, and a cacophony of social activity on the street; people laughing, talking, shouting cheerful greetings to each other from one balcony to the next.

We thanked Orlando, who turned out to be a retired chemistry professor, and moved to Ana’s place in The Old Town, several blocks from the capitol building.

At first La Habana Vieja, The Old Town, seemed a crumbling ruin…

…with people living in dilapidated buildings we at first mistook for abandoned shells.

In Cuba there are two forms of currency.  The Cuban peso is for local use.  The convertible peso is tied to the dollar, worth 25 times more, and is for tourist use. Most Cubans earn only twenty or thirty dollars a month, and use only Cuban pesos.

People sell…

…or buy whatever they can on their neighborhood streets.

 

Most shops have no refrigeration and little selection of goods.

This stand’s sole product was shredded cabbage.

In addition to wages, cigar factory workers are allowed five cigars a day, to smoke or to sell on their own time.

 

Tourists patronize government restaurants that few Cubans can afford, and even there the menu is limited according to what ingredients they can obtain. 

The Cuban government nationalized and charges admission fees to tourist attractions like museums…

…hotels…

…and restaurants.

 

Even the cemetery is maintained by the government, with admission fees charged to foreign visitors.

The government recreated a nightclub called The Tropicana…

…famous for its pre-revolutionary extravaganzas.

It charges tourists three times what most Cubans earn in a month for a two-hour show.

It’s what the market will bear, no more than we would pay at home, and it funds a government that pays for free healthcare and education for all Cubans, from pre-school through university and grad school.  Also milk for every child up to the age of seven, Ana said.  Gustavo drove us out to Ernest Hemingway’s house.  He shared valid complaints about government control and lost business opportunities because of it, but he also shared his plans for a new venture–in tourism.  That’s the only way most people will manage to better their circumstances, and earn dollars instead of pennies.

Everywhere there are reminders of the Revolution, on a grand scale, paid for by the government…

…but also celebrated by the people, many having lived through that momentous period of history.

 

I don’t presume to understand all the politics and history of those turbulent times.  I do note ironic parallels between the patriots of the American Revolution who fought for independence from Britain in 1776, and the Cubans who fought for independence from the US-backed Batista regime in the 1950s. Free speech and democracy are not enjoyed by Cubans, or the Chinese either, although China is a communist country granted “most favored nation” status by the US.  There’s also a history of human rights violations in China, as well as in Cuba, which includes, ironically, Guantanamo Bay. America is a big glass house, and in no position to cast stones. Yes, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis, but we mustn’t forget that the US meddled in Cuba’s internal affairs, including eight attempts to assassinate the president of Cuba.

That was a long time ago.  Today we’re trade partners with Vietnam, yet still we cling to the punishing embargo on Cuba that hurts the Cubans…

…not the Castros.

Everyone we met was open and friendly. It helped that my traveling companions were both fluent in Spanish.  I’m not, but “Hola!” (hello) was a magic word that brought a warm response every time. I felt safe, even late at night. Warmth was the third currency of Cuba.  When we couldn’t get Ana’s key to work, the man on the steps across the street came unbidden to help.  Orlando made a special trip to Ana’s to return a sock I had left there. After a chance meeting in front of the synagogue, Eleazor took us around the old Jewish quarter, delighted when Bea could speak Yiddish with him.

A friend who had been to Cuba suggested we bring paper and pens, something we often take for granted in the US.  I bought a couple dozen yellow pads and dozens of pens, which we gave to kids, students, and elders.  When we stopped to give these little girls pens, their mother asked if we were part of the president’s entourage.

No, but President Obama’s trip to Cuba coincided with ours, and he visited some of the same sites.


We toured the historic National Hotel…

…where Obama stayed while in Havana.

One morning, as we walked near the capitol, we saw a crowd spilling out of a little corner bar.

There was excitement in the air, as they listened to President Obama’s live speech on television.

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A man–his name was Ricardo–told us how much the president’s visit meant.

He began to cry, and told us that he finally dared hope for an end to the embargo, that it would bring more prosperity, a chance to see his family in the US and, because he had a heart condition, improved healthcare.

In the not-so-distant future there is much that I too hope will change for the Cubans.

But I’m guessing there are some things in Cuba that will never change…


 

 

…but then, we wouldn’t want them to.

All words and images ©2016 Naomi Baltuck

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | February 27, 2016

Monkey See, Monkey Do!

Do you know what this is?

It’s a monkey trap from West Africa, made of clay.  When I acquired the clay pot, a rope was attached to its neck.  Hunters used to stake the other end of the rope to the ground, and bait it with fruit or nuts.  A monkey would smell the food, reach inside, and grab a handful.

The hole was large enough for a monkey’s open hand to pass through, but too small for a balled fist to come out.  As hard as the monkey pulled, it couldn’t escape, because it never occurred to the greedy monkey to let go of the food.

 

Monkeys repeatedly fell victim to this, because they refused to drop the food, even as the hunter approached.

This is often told as a parable denouncing greed, or as a cautionary tale against becoming trapped by a fixed mindset.  But the antique dealer who sold me my monkey trap told me the rest of the story…

In the late 1940s, a monkey was caught in a clay monkey trap, like so many before it.  It struggled to free itself, never thinking to open its fist.  On purpose or by accident, it smashed the pot against the ground, the pot broke, and the monkey escaped.  But here’s the best part…That monkey taught the other monkeys in its troop how to break and escape from a monkey trap. Neighboring troops caught on until, at least in that part of the monkey world, the traps became obsolete.

Imagine a world where we teach our young, our neighbors, and the greater community what they need to survive and thrive.  Imagine a world where we open our tight fists and our closed minds and stop doing things just because that’s the way it has always been done.  Imagine smashing the status quo to leave the world a better place for our children, a place where the powerful and oppressive are outwitted, outnumbered, and they and all their ugly trappings become obsolete.

  If one little monkey can change the world, maybe there’s hope for us humans too.

  All images and words ©Naomi Baltuck.

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | January 14, 2016

Magnum Opus

To me, there nothing so sacred an office as parenthood.

But with every superpower, comes the great weight of responsibility.

Helping someone get from here…

…to here.

It’s the most daunting…

…most joyful…

..most challenging position I’ve ever held.

The job description is clear.  When they are tiny, love them.

Nurture them.

Love them some more.

We have a few short years to raise and guide them, and allow them to find their own way to shine.

To help them acquire the skills they need to paddle their own canoe.

To allow them to test their wings.

To give them every opportunity to make decisions and exercise their own power.

Even so, one of the greatest challenges we have as parents is to let them grow up.

A few years ago, with the kids’ encouragement, we stepped out of our comfort zone into the Amazon jungle.

To ride a zip-line over the jungle canopy we had to reach a platform 125 feet above the jungle floor.  Instead of letting our guide use pulleys and ropes to haul them up, they insisted on pulling themselves up, step by step.

As they dangled from a single rope a hundred feet up, I thought of the book Charlotte’s Web.  Charlotte considered her egg sac, from which her babies hatched, her ‘magnum opus.’  One by one, the baby spiders spun a fine web into a tiny balloon and rode the breeze, floating off into the world to land somewhere and build a web of its own.

I couldn’t have been prouder–or more relieved–when they climbed to the top under their own power.

We have all traveled well together…

but children must be free to choose their own direction, just as we did when we were young.

I quell my panic when one of my chicks…

..leaves the safety of the home harbor.

I trust them to stay calm, exercise good judgement, weather the storms…

…and any other unforeseen dangers.

We cut them loose from the mother ship, then hope and pray they find a soft landing place…

…and a bright future.

And that, every now and then, they remember to phone home.

 

All words and images ©2015NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Weight (less).

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 28, 2015

Old Spice

As old as the hills.

 

As fresh as the dew.

As sure as the sun rises and sets, light and darkness engage in an eternal struggle. 

 This time of the year, when its seems nighttime might last forever, we find ways to beat back the darkness. 

Always have.  Always will.

 Just outside our door.

In our homes.

…and in our hearts.

With music…

…friends and family…

…stories…

 

…and more stories.

Parties help.

So does chocolate.

Sweetness of any kind, really.

And a sense of adventure, even if it’s just in your own mind.

When in doubt, add an extra pinch of spice.

May the New Year bring you fun and adventure, sweetness and spice.

All words and images ©2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme: Now.

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 6, 2015

When the Gravy Hits the Fan

Thanksgiving was extra special this year for three reasons: My sister Constance, my daughter Bea, and Bea’s friend Beata.

Read More…

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | November 4, 2015

The Same Boat

Last summer the Seattle Theater Group treated its season ticket holders to a champagne lunch aboard a Holland America cruise ship.

The closest we’d come to a cruise was a day trip from Helsinki to Talin. Thom dusted off his sports jacket…

…and we went to lunch with our friend Monica.

Looking up…

…down…

…or sideways…

 

…there was unabashed glitz and glamor.

After dessert…

…they turned us loose.

We acquainted ourselves with the pool.

The art.

And the dance floor.

 

The lines…

 

…lights…

…curves…

…and colors were striking.

It was ‘The Titanic…

…meets Blade Runner.’

A place out of time.  A floating island.  Everyone the star of his or her own movie.

Across the harbor it was business as usual.

 

Gritty stories were played out in choppy waters, a world apart from our pampered microcosm.

As we left the parking lot, we drove through a sobering intersection of poverty and privilege.

Having just left a luxurious cruise boat, I thought of the Titanic.  Many historians believe steerage passengers were treated with indifference at best, and that racism and classism was a factor in the dismal survival rates of the poor.  Only 25% of the Third Class passengers survived, while 62% of the First Class passengers did.

One would hope for improvement in the last hundred years, and things did get better–for awhile.

From the 1950s through the 70s, middle class prosperity grew: more people could afford higher education, resulting in better jobs and owning homes. Then Ronald Reagan introduced Trickle Down Economics, claiming that by making the rich richer prosperity would trickle down to the poor, but that just kicked economic inequality into hyperdrive.  Bush’s tax cuts for the rich also made the rich richer, while depriving the nation of income that would prevent the lower and middle classes from slipping further behind.

From 1979-2007,  income of the top 1 percent grew by 275%, while the bottom 80 percent averaged 29%.   From 2009-2012, the top one percent raked in 95% of all income growth in the nation.

Economist Paul Krugman says soaring profits of the one percent are achieved by squeezing those below: cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions.  Elite priorities exert a wildly disproportionate effect on policy, such as slashing social programs for the needy while lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

But there is hope.

 In yesterday’s election, Seattle voted to shut big money out of politics, after having already led the nation in a vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

I AM SO PROUD OF SEATTLE!

When Abraham Lincoln said America’s representative democracy was of the people, by the people, and for the people, I’m sure he did NOT mean corporations.

We are all in the same boat.  I’m thinking it’s time to bust out the life preservers, and this time, let’s make sure there is one for everyone.

All images and words ©2015 Naomi Baltuck

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

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 23, 2015

Besties

I tend to be a happy hermit, but this October has been unusually social.

One of my dearest friends, Meg Philp, is visiting from Australia.  I’ve known her for almost thirty years.

We savor the moments, like lunch out with another bestie, Pat Peterson, storyteller extraordinaire.

My Story Sisters welcomed Meg to our Elizabeth Ellis master class reunion, and she fit right in.

I love seeing my home through Meg’s eyes.

Everyday chores, like stair-walking at Richmond Beach, are more fun.

Yesterday we visited Volunteer Park…

…and gloried in the fall color.

Meg knows how to live!  She cooks with wine…

 

…and finds fun in the simplest things–like Bunny Ear Towel Origami.

Who needs Disneyland, when we can ride the Washington State Ferries?

Especially to attend the Forest Storytelling Festival in Port Angeles!

But we are happy just hanging out talking, walking, waxing philosophical, picking raspberries in the garden, telling each other our dreams over morning coffee, writing and researching our stories, talking some more, and even posting on our blogs.  Check out Meg’s blog, Story Twigs the Imagination.

All words and images ©2015 NaomiBaltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme: (Extra) Ordinary.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 3, 2015

Baffled

Eight years ago I bought three five-inch-tall end-of-the-season baby grapevines for $1.29 each and planted them in pots on the deck, hoping to train them onto the arbor. Nothing much happened for several years, although one grew tall enough to peek over Bea’s shoulder in the photo below.

So I transplanted them into the ground beneath the arbor surrounding our patio.  They liked it there, and began to make themselves at home.

Time went by, and over the last few years we’ve had a few sour grapes, but didn’t mind because the leaves were so beautiful.  They might’ve been more productive if I’d pruned, but we loved the shady greenery.

This summer Seattle was unseasonably hot, and we had bunches and bunches of grapes.  All summer we anticipated the harvest. Thom brought in the first bunch to test for ripeness.  Almost ready

We harvested ripe juicy pears.

A few apples.

 

Tomatoes.

 

And wild blackberries…

…by the handful.

Then came the raccoons.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  We let them eat their fill of Italian plums, just to keep them occupied and away from the grapes.  But in the wee hours one night, they got into the arbor.  I chased them off with the jet hose and stood guard. They growled. They snarled. They organized.  It was intense.  They adapted to the water, so I rattled a deck chair to scare them off.  Once they became immune to the rattle of the chair, I had to bang on the chimes with a stick, which I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate.  While I was occupied by one, another approached from the other side.  Finally, at first light, before disappearing into the trees, the biggest one curled its lip and said, “I’ll be back.”

We had to draw a line, and it was right in front of our first decent crop of grapes ever. Thom designed a “raccoon baffle” from metal sheeting to keep them from accessing the grapes from the south side arbor. He installed a little electric fence below to prevent their climbing up the base of the arbor.  It worked for a couple nights. But the night before harvest day, we heard loud rustling just outside our bedroom window.

The dam! dam! dam! broke.  Thom and I hurried out with bowls, flashlights, and scissors to power harvest everything within reach.  I don’t know how, but they found their way past all the barriers to those grapes. Raccoons are the Borg of the natural world; so smart, expert at teamwork, and they adapt.  While we snipped grapes, they kept creeping up from all directions. They look cute, but are wild and can be dangerous.  It was illogical to take a stand there, when I could buy Safeway grapes for two bucks a pound, but I can’t deny it: I’m very territorial when it comes to my garden.  Ask any slug.

We processed the grapes like we grew them–haphazardly, making it up as we went along.  My sister Constance helped boil them into a thick syrup.

The crock-pot works well for this too, and you don’t have to stir constantly.

When the mixture turns purple and thickens, throw in a bunch of sugar.  Please don’t ask for proportions.  A bunch of grapes and a bunch of sugar.  Strain it a couple times with cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a clean dishtowel (we used them all), and pour it into a container.

Heat the syrup in the microwave, mix it with a little brandy.

 

Or Vernor’s ginger ale. Here too I must draw the line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: only Vernor’s will do.

 And don’t forget the cocktail umbrella.

What you end up with is grape-flavored liquid Sweet Tart, best savored one sip at a time.

After we harvested enough grapes to call it a day (or a desperate last stand of a night), we surrendered the remainders to the raccoons, squirrels, and one particularly noisy possum.  They are smarter than we are, and we figure they earned it.  Now sometimes at night we hear them munching, run for flashlights, and watch them feast at eye level from our cozy raccoon blind.  That’s not sour grapes talking.  In fact, I’d call it a win-win situation.

All words and images copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

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

The Weekly Travel Theme: Intense.

If you want to learn more about raccoons, watch this PBS program on urban raccoons titled Raccoon Nation. It will shock and amaze you!

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | September 15, 2015

My Hero!

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have the time and space to look at our lives…

…and the people we share them with.  I’ve spent well over half my life with Thom.

He is such a good sport…and pretty darn cute too.

He has put up with all my quirks, neuroses and annoying habits all these years…

…which is probably a little like being married to Lucy Ricardo.

Come to think of it, he’s always quick to jump on board the family bandwagon.

But he is a calm voice on whom the kids and I can depend for a fresh perspective.

Such a gentle and compassionate soul.

He is my playmate…

…my safe harbor…

the father of my children…and it shows.

And in this world of uncertainty…

…the kids and I know he is always there to catch us should we fall.

We would follow him anywhere.

Anywhere!

 

And that means anywhere!

My friend.

My love.

 

 My prince.

Dear Thom, here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday, and many more!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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