Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 3, 2015


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.




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.



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.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | August 20, 2015

Jiggity Jog

The summer days flew by in a blur.

One of our family’s favorite ways to connect is to share a travel adventure.

We stopped over in England to raise a glass with Cousin Nancy at The Eagle and Child, a favorite hangout of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Then on to Romania


…and Slovakia.

It was like stepping back in time.

In some places horse-drawn carts and hay wagons were almost as common as automobiles.

Travelers shared the road, no matter what their mode of conveyance.

During haying time in Romania…

…everyone seemed to be out working in the fields with their wooden rakes and hayforks.

Grandma and Grandpa too. 

While shepherds watched over their sheep, as they have done since time out of mind.

We visited beautiful villages…

…and cities.

We saw the ancient painted churches of Bucovina, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

We tried some new things…

…met some new friends…

…and made memories which we shall enjoy for the rest of our lives.

It’s thrilling to go out into the world, but just as wonderful to come home again.

We found a treasure or two on our travels, but the best souvenirs…

…are always the new friendships, insights, and perspectives we carry home with us.

All words and images c2015 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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.

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

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


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.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Off Center.

Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | May 10, 2015


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.


…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.




Uniquely so.


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…

 photo f95293b5-e233-4cae-91f8-3c3e4d3c083d_zpsnmveifyj.jpg



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.

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