Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | August 6, 2015

Out in the World

Forgive my absence from the blogosphere, friends.  I have been out in the world.

Of all the stories of our recent travels that come to mind, one stands out.  In Sighosora, Romania…

…we stayed in the Old Town.

In the passage to the courtyard we found a nest, with two baby birds huddled nearby.

There had been a fierce windstorm the previous night that had blown the nest from its nook in the wall, our Romanian host told us when delivering the key to our flat.  My husband Thom replaced the nest, but when he tried to return the birds to the nest….

…he discovered two of their legs were tightly bound together by a long blond hair–nesting material gone terribly wrong.

We had a knife, our tiny blunt-nosed travel scissors, and a larger pair of scissors scrounged from the kitchen.  Thom and our son Eli hoped to separate the birds with a quick snip.  But the hair had been there for a long time, the legs were swollen around it, and every effort set the birds fluttering in a panic, which we feared would cause further damage.  Our host wished us good luck, and left for work.

We felt helpless.  We were there for only one night.  To whom could we hand off these birds? We could return them to the nest and let nature take its course–a slow and painful death by starvation and infection.  Or should we put them out of their misery?  The only other possible solution was harsh.  If we did nothing, both birds would surely die.  By amputating one leg, one bird would likely die, but the other might have a fighting chance.  One delicate leg was unresponsive to the touch, probably already broken.  Eli braced himself and severed the mangled leg, cutting through the hair.  Immediately both birds were free and fluttered off.

The one-legged bird landed on the ground nearby.

The stronger one fluttered all the way to the far side of the courtyard.

We heard a cackling overhead.  Even without the family resemblance, we recognized an anxious mother, calling to her babies from the rooftop.  We felt a glimmer of hope–their mother might yet take them back under her wing!

But our presence made her nervous, so we watched from inside, then left to explore the area.

By suppertime, the stronger bird had flown up to a perch in the courtyard…

…high enough to be safe from hungry cats.

The other remained quietly earthbound.  We wondered what the morning would bring.

The next day, the stronger of the two was gone, as was its mother.  The injured bird remained, probably abandoned as a lost cause by its family.  We checked back only moments later to discover the one-legged bird was now gone without a trace.  In a laundry room off the courtyard were two domestic workers.  Could they have removed the bird like a piece of litter?  Or perhaps a crow had carried it off to feed to its babies.

Out in the world, we often catch glimpses of a story, or a life.  Sometimes they are as sweet as a single drop of honey.

Others are stories of sorrow and want.

Too many will be lived out in the shadows in quiet desperation.

As with the baby birds, sometimes we are helpless to help, sometimes we can offer only a bandaid, and most times we will never know how the story ends.

What makes the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy?  Survival of the fittest?  An accident of birth?  An ill wind, perhaps.  But sometimes it falls into our power to make a difference.  When that happens, even for one tiny being, it can make all the difference in the world.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | July 1, 2015

A Few Good Women

Elizabeth Ellis is an internationally celebrated award-winning storyteller, and the co-author of Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories.

Sometimes difficult stories are among those we most need to hear, yet are the least likely to be shared.  Mary Dessein and Gloria Two Feathers arranged for Elizabeth to come to Seattle to act as midwife, and help all our stories see the light of day.

Ten women, from beginning storytellers to polished professionals, gathered from near and far to work with Elizabeth.

I hosted because I knew it would be worthwhile, but the benefits extended beyond the crafting of stories.

 In between storytelling sessions, we broke bread together, with every meal a potluck.

I host lots of parties, but it was a revelation to watch the clearing, dishwashing, storage of leftovers happen as if the invisible hands from Beauty and The Beast’s castle had taken charge. It felt like magic in the air, for so many people to work in my small kitchen and get so much done so quickly, without bumping into each other.

Who needs magic when you have few good women?

When we resumed our storytelling, the dishwasher was always humming and the kitchen was clean.

Katherine learned it was Joy’s birthday: after tucking her baby in that night, she baked the best chocolate cake EVER. What a treat. She also took notes from the workshop and emailed them to us with her cake recipe!  What a kindness.

Trust and nurturing abounded, kindness and creativity flowed.  Sue told her story for the first time, about shooting a bear to feed her children.  Linda told a powerful story inspired by her work with Hospice, Gloria shared Coyote Wisdom, Mary a traditional tale about the balance of power between men and women, and Jennifer breathed life into an excerpt from The Odyssey.  Shirley told a satisfying story about her mother, Jill a work in progress about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Joy a heartwarming story about a boy who finds friendship on the other end of a telephone line. Katherine told and sang beautifully about growing up with a vivid imagination, and I told about the death of an uncle in WWII, and the long reaching consequences of war.

What a range of stories, what talented tellers, what golden moments.  After each story was told, people shared their thoughts, reactions, suggestions.

We shall continue to help each other grow as storytellers.  Our first reunion is on the calendar–a PJ party and, of course, it’s BYOT (Bring your own tale).

A house concert by Elizabeth was the perfect conclusion to the weekend.

Elizabeth was riveting.

All good things must end.

But we hope to shelter once again beneath the Elizabeth Ellis Umbrella of All Good Things.

Thank you, Elizabeth!

And thank you, Mary, Gloria, Linda, Sue, Katherine, Shirley, Jennifer, Jill and Joy!

  All words and images c2015NaomiBaltuck

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | June 21, 2015

Checkmate

Naomi Baltuck:

Happy Father’s Day, dear friends!

Originally posted on Writing Between the Lines:

Let me tell you about my husband Thom.  We’ve been married for thirty years, and he was the catch of a lifetime.

He was a kindergarten teacher, and courted me by reading his favorite picture books to me.  I should have known he was destined to become a librarian, but I always knew he would be a good Daddy.   

First to one…

…and then two.

Nothing could faze him–not even a Universal Bad Hair Day.

And he had tough shoes to fill.

I had a daunting checklist.  The father of my children had to be intelligent (check), compassionate (check), responsible (check), a man of integrity (check) and possessed of patience, LOTS of patience (CHECK!).  In fact, my mother always said it would take someone with the patience of kindergarten teacher to manage me, not to mention the children.  But most of all, he couldn’t be afraid to get his…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | June 18, 2015

Just Around the Corner

Dear friends, I have been away so long.  A lifetime.  You might say I’ve been in another state.

I went to Detroit to say goodbye to my Aunt Loena.

They say for everything there is a season, but how can one ever be prepared for the last goodbye?

At her funeral we connected with cousins we hadn’t seen for ages, and did what we could to help Loena’s kids, who’d generously shared their mom with us over the years.

I fulfilled a promise I’d made to my aunt, to help her clean out her craft room.  We brought baskets of ornaments she’d sewn for friends to take home as keepsakes, which would’ve pleased her.

Aunt Millie brought notebooks and pens, and encouraged people to share their stories of Loena for her kids to read and treasure, perhaps when their hearts are not so sore.

Saying goodbye is hard.  Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry.  We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.” I still cry when I think of her, which is often.  Everything I might say or write feels trivial, so I’ve said and written very little.

If you’re the praying sort, as she was, please say one for her.  Better yet, an act of kindness would be the most appropriate way to honor a compassionate woman, who devoted her life to the care and service of others.

Thank you for your patience.  When I find my center once again, I’ll stop by to see what all my blogging buddies have been up to.  For now, here are some stories about my loving, funny, good-natured Aunt Loena, my other mother, who always had room in her heart for everyone.

Unique New York

As You Like It: Reflections Upon Life and the Art of Aging.

 Painting by Charles Willson Peale, 1822, The Lamplight Portrait.

All words and images, except where stated, copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season.

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | May 10, 2015

Reflections

Originally posted on Writing Between the Lines:

Once, when we were running late, I was waiting impatiently to lift my little boy Eli into his car seat, while he studied a bug on the driveway.  “Hurry up!” I said.  “We’re going to be late.”

Puzzled, my little boy looked up at me and said, “Mommy, why are you using that tone of voice?”

Such a grownup expression from the mouth of the babe!  And it took my breath away.

“You’re right, honey,” I told him. “It’s not the end of the world if we’re late to pre-school, and it wouldn’t be your fault, if we were.”

Eli and I had a good look at the bug, while I quietly reflected upon what kind of parent I wanted to be.  Which memory of me would I want my kids to look back on and remember me by?  My mother once told me, “The best friends you’ll ever have…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | May 6, 2015

Magic Carpet Ride

In Turkey, everywhere we turned there were carpets…

…dressing up every room in the house.

Indoors…

…and outdoors.

Sometimes in the most unexpected places.

 There are special prayer rugs in the mosques.

Even Turkish camels use them.

Cats love them too.

They really really love them.

And so do I.

They are important to the tourist trade.

 I was willing to do my part to boost the economy.

 

But how to choose?

So many variables.  Size, color, intricate patterns…

We knew we should research the market, measure the space, photograph the rug, walls, and furniture we wanted our  purchase to match.  But we didn’t.

The wine helped.  Hospitality is customary in Turkey, but it doesn’t hurt to soften up potential buyers.  We didn’t care: we knew from the start we would walk out with a new carpet.

Relying on instinct, we pared it down to two rugs. Then Metin explained the symbolism, and the deal was sealed. The tulip border on our favorite was a common Turkish motif, symbolizing the Garden of Eden.

Tulips recall Turkey’s rich history and culture, from the ‘tulip mania’ that brought “the Konya flowers” from Turkey to the West, to the many doors of understanding and appreciation opened on this shared journey.

One border design depicts water…

…for freedom and triumph over difficulties, because water follows its own path around, below or above any obstacle.

It also symbolizes fertility.

Red is for vibrance, passion, happiness.  The ‘S’ border is for the first letter in the Turkish word for love.

The oleander flower, strong and drought resistant, stands for protection.  It can be poisonous but is used to treat cancer, epilepsy, heart conditions, and more.  Thousands of years ago Roman soldiers took it to cure hangovers.

Could our Turkish carpet brother be reading us so well that he could tell us exactly the story we want to hear?  Love, passion, protection, and satisfaction guaranteed?  Absolutely!

We weren’t worried about cutting the best deal or finding the best bargain: that was the happy ending to someone else’s adventure.  It was the love story that stood out for us, the one we felt invested in, the one we happily bought into.

And the rug was a perfect fit–although not where we’d intended to put it, but–surprise!–we found an even better place for it, and we love our carpet more than we hoped or imagined.

We choose our own stories, just as we choose a carpet or a mate.

A little glass of wine can help.  Don’t worry about the ticket price, go by instinct, and carry it home.  Not every day can be a magic carpet ride, but these things hold their value, and a good one will last a lifetime.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | April 25, 2015

Poetry in Motion

Forgive me, Blogger, it’s been four weeks since my last post. I’ve been on the move!

We were visiting our son Eli, who teaches in Turkey.  He has adapted remarkably well.

 Eli lives off the path beaten by tourists, but flew to meet us for a visit in Cappadocia.

He came bearing gifts, including Turkish cotton candy, pistachios, dried apricots, baklava, and my favorite–a savory snack with a cheesy crust baked over a peanut.

We brought him a taste of home–Triscuits, Good ‘n’ Plenty, Junior Mints, Reese’s Pieces, dried seaweed, and Girl Scout Cookies.

I’ll tell you more about Cappadocia another time. But trust me: it was golden.

Eli met us again in Istanbul, a huge city with masses of people, dogs and cats everywhere.

The streets and bazaars were a crunch of unrelenting perpetual motion.  I had to snap pics on the fly to avoid losing my companions in the sea of people.

The Spice Bazaar was stimulating to the senses; we were hard pressed to take it all in!

It was fragrant.

Tasty.

Colorful.

Exotic.

Uniquely so.

Bright.

And shiny!

It was all Turkishly delightful.

 photo da955380-4628-4a70-a050-0898023cf7c3_zpspvmop7bp.jpg

I sensed invisible walls, like those on subways in New York, Rome, or anywhere multitudes converge and people are reluctant to meet each other’s eyes.  But I caught glimpses, reminders that each person in the throng was someone’s parent…

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Sister…

Brother…

Friend, spouse, or lover.

On the walk back to our hotel, traffic was barely moving.  Street vendors bravely plied their trade among the backup of vehicles.

Across the street someone emerged from walls raised by Emperor Constantine more than 1500 years ago.  I was enchanted, and zoomed in with my camera, waiting for traffic to abate. It was a long wait, but finally it happened.  I looked up to meet the eye of the driver who’d stopped his rig in the midst of rush hour to give me a clear shot.  In case I didn’t get it, he motioned to me to snap the pic. I clicked and smiled, he waved, shifted gears, and drove on.

As I watched him go, I saw a Titanic moment played out by a couple of kids from a car’s sunroof.  I snapped it, knowing it wouldn’t be a great shot, but I wanted to record the joy of that instant, theirs and mine, which was heightened by my appreciation for a stranger’s random act of kindness.

Then someone was speaking to me in Turkish from a car by the curb.  Was he scolding me for taking photos?  But he held up his own camera, and in one eloquent motion, he instantly established understanding and common ground between one lover of life and another.  He smiled so warmly I had to laugh and take his picture!  For his open heart, his good humor, his generosity to a stranger and a foreigner, I believe at that moment I truly loved him.  In fact, I still do.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | March 28, 2015

Where We Live

The view outside our kitchen window is a lovely mosaic of green foliage.

We love our yard.

And the neighborhood just outside our door.  We take walks through the woodsy parks…

…or to the duck pond.

There are berry patches to graze on…

…and lots of little free libraries.

  You’d never guess that just a couple blocks away is a sweeping view of Puget Sound.

I grew up in Detroit, where the only sound of lapping water was the sewer backing up in the basement. I still thrill at the sight of the ocean, and will never take it for granted.

Just like us, it has many moods.

…and is constantly changing.

It changes with the seasons…

The hour…

The viewpoint…

The weather…

From the time my kids were little, after story hour at the library or a trip to the post office, we would turn left instead of right and go a few blocks out of our way to drive home by way of the water.

 “So we remember where we live,” I would tell them.

They say the only constant is change.  But some things never do.  My daughter Bea is home from Stanford on spring break.  What a joy to have her home again, even for a little while. The other day she came with me to the post office.  Just like always, we turned left instead of right.

To remember where we live.

All words and images c2015Naomi Baltuck

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

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

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | March 17, 2015

Stairway (to Skellig Michael)

Naomi Baltuck:

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Originally posted on Writing Between the Lines:

When we traveled to Ireland we visited Skellig Michael, a monastery founded by Christian monks in the 7th century.  Life there was remote and harsh, the weather often severe.   The monks collected rainwater to drink, raised a few animals and imported soil from the mainland nine miles away so they could grow vegetables on that barren little island.

If a monk made a rare crossing to the mainland for supplies, rough weather might strand him there for a week or a month.  To return to his spartan life in a cold stone beehive hut, he would have to climb 700 feet up these winding stairs, bearing whatever supplies he had fetched home.

On our life’s journey most of us earn our bread, raise our families, and pursue our passions.  Sometimes, like water flowing down a hillside, we take the path of least resistance.  What in your life do you care…

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Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | March 17, 2015

You Don’t Have to be Einstein…

Yesterday was my Cousin Albert’s birthday!

Actually, he was my fifth cousin, and we never met. My personal theory of relativity is that some relative of his got together with some relative of ours somewhere in the old country, and we have the DNA to prove it.

An indisputable fact is that he was a genius, whose life work changed the way we see the world.  He also had definite ideas about intelligence and education.

Cousin Albert said it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Last month Thom and I drove to Olympia to protest oppressive high-stakes standardized tests. This disturbing trend towards over-testing affects the quality of education for children all across the U.S. by reducing the time to teach and the time to learn.

Since both teachers and students are evaluated by those test results, teachers feel compelled to spend their class time working on tested material, leaving no time to nurture creativity, exercise imagination, or teach a higher order of critical thinking.

Standardized tests don’t account for students testing on empty stomachs because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast. Or those who didn’t sleep because their parents were arguing about a divorce.  Or homeless children with no place to study.  Or those who can’t afford reading glasses.  Test scores won’t cut any slack for students with learning disabilities, or recent immigrants who haven’t mastered English, or orphans of suicides, or children suffering from depression, or those who simply don’t test well.

The system of assessment is unfair. For example, in Florida an excellent music teacher was fired because of her students’ low math scores, even though she was not responsible for teaching them math.

Cousin Albert said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

He also said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We honor that sacred gift of the intuitive mind when we allow teachers to assess each child’s strengths and needs, and design teaching strategies to nurture that child’s curiosity and passion into a lifelong love of learning.

Standardized testing is the servant of the rational mind, reducing children into test scores.

Who benefits from over-testing?  Not students, who are stressed and most of whom will be labeled as failures.  Not teachers, who either teach to the test or risk losing their jobs, regardless of whether they manage to pull kids out of their Learning Comfort Zone, and encourage them to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The benefits are reaped by corporations like Pearson, that specialize in testing.  Or technology companies that sell schools the massive amounts of hardware students use to take these computer-based tests. Or private charter school operators who are waiting to step in as soon as public schools are labeled failures.   Tests are designed so that 68% of those taking the tests will fail.  It’s better for business.

Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst, says, “It’s all about…propping up a vast and growing “education industry” that’s only worth the trouble (money) of the likes of Gates, Murdoch, the Waltons, and the Bushes….if it’s standardized and millions of customers–I mean children–are buying.”

Cousin Albert grew up in Germany, where the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

He was among the scientists and intellectuals who escaped the Nazis, those methodical masters who were terrifying in their efficiency.  Cousin Albert was lecturing in the US when the Nazis put a price on his head, and confiscated his property, turning it into a Hitler Youth camp. But as efficient as the Nazis were, according to Cousin Albert, they lost their technological advantage and eventually lost the war because they murdered or drove out all the creative free-thinking innovative imaginative intellectuals.

     Cousin Albert said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

And you don’t have to be Einstein to get that.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

If you’d like to read more, here is a link to an excellent article about the results of the protest, and a bipartisan bill proposed to repeal Common Core.

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