Steppingstones (and the Kreativ Blogger Award)

On the river of life we look for steppingstones and move forward one step at a time.  When the river is raging, sometimes it takes a leap of faith.  I thought when I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in English, I’d have my path laid out for the rest of my life.  Wrong again!

1. My sister Constance and I didn’t know we wanted to do, but we did know where we wanted to do it.   We threw our bikes in the back of a drive-away pickup truck and headed Out West to seek our fortunes.

Biking down the Washington and Oregon Coast was an adventure.  We were drenched much of the time–“rain forest” printed on a map doesn’t mean much to a Detroiter until she actually gets wet.  Once we built up calluses in all the right places, we covered our miles, laughed a lot, met many kind people along the way, and filled up our story banks.

…until I was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

2. I was banged up, but not as badly as my poor bike.  Just like with my birdwatching adventure on Mt. St. Helens, I’d never have wished it to happen.  But if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the opportunity to teach “Eastern Canoeing” at Montecito-Sequoia High Sierra Camp for Girls in King’s Canyon National Park.  My best friends there were Twinkle, Sneakers, Scoop, and Aspen.  But that’s a story for another day.

3. Camp ended, and I determined to make a fresh start in Seattle.  My first job was with Northwest Airlines as a reservation agent.  I would earn more than ever, plus free airline travel!  I felt like a VIP when they flew me to Minneapolis for my interview.  Then the training began.  That job lasted three days.  They sat me in a huge hall with all the other trainees lined up in row after row of desks, opposite a wall of blinking lights.  Each light represented an agent whose every call was recorded.  Every second was accounted for—how many calls, even how many seconds per call.  I didn’t even look before I leaped!

4. I took a job as a plumbing radio dispatcher, plotting the course for eight plumbing crews throughout the city of Seattle.  “KYL  97 to 88, we have a clogged toilet in Wallingford…”  I couldn’t help myself—it took me a while to figure out that my boss had a radio in his car too, and I kept getting chided for dramatic communications (think “Enterprise to Bob, red alert!  We have a sewer backing up in Federal Way…or my favorite,”Captain Kirk out…”).  My boss said he never expected me to last as long as I did—I quit after eight weeks.   The next steppingstone took me all the way to….

5.  …Wyoming.  There I waited on tables at the Chuckwagon Restaurant at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park.

It was a grand summer in the most beautiful place on earth.

I could never remember whether to serve from the left or the right, but I could spin a yarn.  I’d already been to 49 states, and had something in common with everyone who sat in my section, wherever they hailed from.  They loved the customized sketches I drew for them on the back of their checks.  I hiked, camped, biked, canoed, and filled up my story banks with each cup of coffee I poured coffee for the local cowboys, park rangers, and tourists.  From tips alone I earned more than I could have working for Northwest Airlines…

…but being the best waitress in the world wasn’t enough to hold me.  I was looking for something more, although I didn’t know what.  As soon as the tourist season ended, I grabbed my jackalope and took another flying leap.  Strong currents and prevailing winds always carried me back to Seattle.

6.  I took a job teaching at Community Day School.  I loved working with kids so much.  I didn’t think of myself as a storyteller, although our Book Nook was a very popular place for reading and storytelling.  I stuck around CDS as head teacher, helping to establish their first summer camp program.  I was able to apply all I had learned at Montecito-Sequoia and the other camp where I was a counselor, the Bar 717 Ranch.

I took a puppetry class to enrich my teaching, but I was invited by our instructors, master puppeteers, Jean Matson and Betsy Tobin, to join the Seattle Puppetory Theater.  I am still grateful to them both for recognizing and helping me develop talents I might never have known what to do with.  Puppetry was my steppingstone, and my toe in the door to the performance arts as well as writing.  I co-wrote some of the material I performed.  The piece I was proudest and most passionate about co-writing and producing was commissioned by Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons, a play for adults called Peace Porridge Hot.  It was exhilarating, whether I was behind the curtain manipulating puppets or in front of the stage, interacting with them. My favorite role was Yo-Yo the Clown.

7.  I retired from puppetry and teaching in 1985, but they were my steppingstones to a career as a full-time professional storyteller.  Discovering storytelling was a little like falling in love.  It was as though I had come to a bend in the river, and I could look up and see which direction to follow all the way to the horizon.  For three decades I’ve been telling stories at libraries, schools, museums, festivals.  When the kids were old enough, they joined me on the stage for tandem telling.  My husband Thom is a teacher librarian and a great storyteller.  When he jumped into the act, we began telling as the Baltuck/Garrard Family Storytellers.  I still teach storytelling and do most of my performances solo, but my favorite gigs involve the whole family.

Even if you know where you’re going, you still have to put one foot in front of the other if you want to keep learning and growing, personally and/ or professionally.  I believe there are many ways to tell a story.  Storytelling led to writing.  First I adapted traditional folk tales, then began with original short stories.  That led to storytelling publications, including an award-winning anthology, Apples From Heaven, that I am very proud of.  Then came my first novel, co-written with my sister Deborah, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, a Doubleday Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.  Eventually I found my way to writing this blog, which has opened up a whole new way of storytelling, and introduced me to blogging friends all over the world.  Where to from here?  I will keep the keyboard clacking and the feet moving one step at a time, and see where I end up.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Now there was a point to this story.  I was nominated for the Kreativ Blogger Award by Holly Michaels, a writer and a storyteller, a traveler and a mom.  Thank you, Holly Michael, for this honor. Check out her inspiring blog, Holly Michael’s Writing Straight.

Now that I’ve already told you seven (or eight or nine facts about myself), I get to recommend seven other bloggers for this award, and I hope you will check them out because they have so many stories to tell!   I have made so many wonderful blogging buddies and I have a backlog of awards to pass on, so if you did’t receive a nomination for this one, I’m sure you will for the next one!

Honesty  is a blog written by a writer, a teacher, a nurse.  She writes what she thinks, which is refreshing.  She is also looking for writers who are interested in sharing stories on her blog.

Scillagrace is written by someone who loves history and dancing as much as I do, and she spins a good yarn.  I love her voice.

The Teatime Reader is another Naomi who writes intelligent and interesting book reviews.  She always chooses intriguing books and my reading list is a mile long since I discovered her wonderful blog!

Seventh Voice is an important blog that addresses Autism and Asperger’s through poetry and prose, but more than that, it is about being human.

P ART ICI PATIO N is a blog by Dorotee Lang, who shares photographs of the world as a part of her daily journal.  I really like her work.

Sofacents: From Adman to Diaperman  follows the adventures of a 46 year old stay-at-home Dad.  It is fresh and funny, and I love the pictures.

Joy in the Moments is written by Char, a wife, a mother, a writer, and a reader who believes life should be lived for joy It’s a joy to read her blog.

Check ’em out!


  1. It was wonderful, Naomi, reading of how you discovered your favorite profession, and a bit about your efforts in other types of work. It was a story of a lifetime, but it also kept me eager to learn more about you and your family, and other stories too. And here I am, wondering if Constance also went in the same direction, and is part of the family of story tellers now. I look forward to many more stories, and their accompanying illustrations. Thank you for a great read!

  2. Dear Shimon,

    Thank you so much! My sister Constance is still my best friend and we still travel together, sometimes to the Tetons to hike and paint. Last year we visited Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, something she really wanted to do, because she is an artist. Here is the link to that story:

    Here is the link to her website:

    Here is one more link that tells about my sisters Constance and Miriam:

    My oldest sister Lee is a really smart and funny and nice person, my very dear friend. She still lives in Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. She was a social worker for years, and continues to teach yoga.

  3. Wow, thats quite a timeline you have and interesting life you’ve led. Have you ever thought of writing a memoir?
    I’ve always admired people who can tell a good story… I have trouble remembering the punchline in a joke!

    1. Dear Maggie, you are quite a storyteller with a fascinating life story! I hope my readers will look up your memoir, Flying Away Home! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. This post completely gripped me! After my divorce I left my home town and went off to seek adventures too; I spent five weeks in North Wales, six months in Manchester, a few months in Derbyshire and a year or so in Birmingham before I washed up here in Essex. Sadly disability took away some of my dreams and all hope of employment, but I’ve found my niche in the world of blogging and speaking out for disability equality. I’m also very happily married – after saying I’d never get involved with a man again!

    1. Dear Missus Tribble, isn’t it wonderful to be able to look back and say, I’ve had wonderful adventures, and every one pointed the way to where I am? I love your blog, and that, in spite of your disability, you have found a way to reach out and raise awareness in the world, and give comfort and reassurance to others who suffer. I think true love is something of a miracle for anyone in this wide world, and I am so happy that you have found it. If you had washed ashore elsewhere you might never have found your Mr. T!

      1. My great-grandmother was a Romany Gypsy; I feel the Romani very strongly in my blood and so upping sticks knowing that my son was being safely cared for by his foster family seemed completely natural to me. My Mum always used to ask “When are you going to settle in just one place?” and my response was always “When I’m ready and not before”.

        I met Mister Tribble at a garden party, and I wouldn’t have met him then had a mutual friend not dragged him along! He began following one of my journals, realised that I was in need of sanctuary due to abusive landlords and even paid to get me from Birmingham to Chelmsford so that I could use his spare room and figure out my future life plan in safety. We became a couple the following night, whilst watching an adorable anime film called Spirited Away. It turned out that he’d been as attracted to me as I was to him at that party – just that neither of us had the chance to really get talking (I was there to sing and you don’t get much contact with people socially when you’re doing that).

        I believe that he and I were meant to find each other eventually – and it’s because of my disabilities that I can write such a strong blog and hold out some hope to people struggling with a new diagnosis of epilepsy or autism.

        Thank you so much for your kind words. Your support and friendship means a great deal to me xxx

      2. Dear Missus T, I just found a new button and pressed it, and found all the messages that somehow I managed to miss, when I thought I had answered everyone long ago. (I am not very savvy when it comes to technology, and I must still go running to my daughter for help).

        What a lovely story. It helps me understand why you love your husband so much. He really is your knight in shining armor.

        I have always been careful about forming attachments to men, probably due to losing my dad so young and in such a bad way, so when Thom came along I tried to make him go away. I was really mean, but the lad had persistence. Finally one day I realized that I didn’t want him to go away at all. My mother said, “I always thought it would take someone with the patience of a kindergarten teacher to handle you.”

        Thank you for sharing your story. I do think you have a strong voice and you use it in the service of many people who are in need of a teacher and a defender. I too value our friendship. Best wishes to you and your true love.

  5. Okay, I asked for more info before I opened this; all is explained. But even more important, your life story is here! I resonate with the call of the West, the companionship of a sister, and the joy of communicating…as well as the education of the unexpected. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Dear Scilla, every time I read another of your posts, I think we must have been litter mates in another life! I am way way behind in reading my posts–happens every time I take the time to post–but I always read yours first, and I found your response to the Kreativ Blogger Award as intriguing and compelling and well-written as anything I could find in any published novel. You are an excellent writer and I am sure you have more than one book inside you. I hope that one day, before too long, I will see your name on a book cover. I will line up to buy the first copy, autographed, of course!

  6. You are extremely fascinating. Reading your history was so interesting. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  7. You are my idol. A puppeteer?! Awesome. And also having a BA in English, I can relate to a post-grad “wtf now.” I admire your sense of adventure. And I have to try/see tandem storytelling. Great post!

    1. Hi Anna! Thank you! I was thinking about you when I posted this–as you are on a journey Out West, I wanted to give you a few pics of the Tetons to entice you to stop by. The Chuckwagon has changed–no one has to wear silly polyester scarves, and the salad bar makes life much easier, but if you pass through Colter Bay, stop in at the Chuckwagon for a cup of coffee! There is a great Native American Museum across the street, and you can rent a canoe at the marina just steps away.

      1. Wonderful suggestions! And the pics are certainly enticing. But no silly polyester scarves makes me a sad panda;) Colter Bay sounds wonderful. I’ll be sure to write a nice long post about my travels when I get home;) Thanks again!

  8. You inspire me and give me hope. I’m trying to find a job now; this will help me to keep in mind that even if I don’t get the job I truly want right away, I can’t see what’s around the next hairpin switchback (or long, meandering curve, as it may be). There’s always tomorrow.

    1. Dear Katie,
      My sister Constance told me, “You’re not going to find the job you love in the newspaper. You have to invent it yourself.” Well, that was true for her, as she is an artist. It was true for me also. We have worked at jobs that we found in the newspaper ads, but always working towards something else in our hearts, even though we weren’t quite sure what that was. I am guessing it will be the same with you. Then there are my wonderful mother’s words that I repeat to my kids. “There is value in education for education’s sake.”

      As I found on my journey, everything builds on itself. Life’s wisdom is cumulative, nothing is wasted. You are filling up your story banks for the novel you are going to write, deciding who you are or learning to follow your nose, because you will have to do so in whatever job you end up in. You don’t even have to look for your path, because you are already on it, and it WILL take you where you are going. Enjoy these moments of spontaneity and adventure! (One day you will probably be incorporating them into your novel!

  9. What a fascinating trip your life has been thus far – I admire and envy your courage to step out and head somewhere – anywhere – as your whim takes you to try something new. And at the end of that road? It appears you found the pot of gold!

    1. Hi Carol,
      I have had a wonderful ride, but you’re right, I did find my pot of gold. My adventures are not so wild and open-ended, now that I have a home I love to come back to.

  10. Thanks for the Kreativ Blogger nomination Naomi!

    A lot of people seem to keep blinders on, and accept any setback as a failure. It seems as though you’ve been able to see beyond short term setbacks to create long term happiness.

    I love the photo of the kids with the “glasses” on!

    1. Thank you! And, yes, I have had a few false starts, but I have strong instincts and know very quickly when to bail. It has always been that way with relationships, jobs, and grocery lines!

  11. Loved your timeline on how you figured out what you truly loved and wanted to do in life! Thanks for the nomination. I am honored.

  12. Sometimes it is good to set out on your journey not knowing your destination. Gives you the opportunity to check out all the stopovers! How wonderful that you finally found your calling. Still smiling at your role as the plumbing dispatcher 🙂

    1. Thank you, Madhu! Sometimes I feel like Lucille Ball, starring in her own half hour situation comedy, completely devoid of dignity. But there has always been laughter.

    1. Thank you, Madhu. I don’t know if I have ever said this, but way back when I first got started blogging, you gave me my very first award, The Liebster. I was so impressed with your beautiful and intelligent blog, your photographs, your storytelling, that it was, and still remains an honor and a kindness I shall not forget.

  13. One of my favorite posts. Congrats on the award.

    Best line: “I grabbed my jackalope and took another flying leap.”

    I’ve done my share of stepping stone living, for sure. I can really relate to what you’ve done and where you’ve been. But you have a way in the telling, my friend.

    1. MJ, I was sure no one would even get that jackalope line, but I had to throw it in anyway! It is actually on the wall over my desk in the office, still wearing the circlet of flowers I wore on my wedding day. His name is Spencer. Thanks so much for your visit, and your really kind words. I really enjoy the posts in which you tell us about your life, traveling with you kids, etc. I look forward to many more.

  14. I appreciate that you shared you “stepping stone” story! I love learning more about my new blog friends. You have such a gift…..and you encourage me to keep taking those steps. ♥ (pics are great!)

    1. Dear Island Traveler, you are so kind! I reall appreciate your visit, and taking the time to comment. I feel the same way whenever I visit your island paradise through your wonderful blog.

  15. Congrats on your award! Loved hearing about all the places you’ve been and the jobs you had there. You’ve lived a few lifetimes already in terms of unforgettable experiences. 🙂

  16. Thank you for the very interesting post showing more about who you are, what makes yoou tick, and how you got where you are today! I thoroughly enjoyed it Naomi!

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