A Guid Crack

I’ve been out in the world again, this time with my friends Meg and Shirley, at the Scottish International Storytelling festival.

It happens each October in the ancient and storied city of Edinburgh.

The Storytelling Center is in a house built in 1490, the last residence of Protestant reformer John Knox.

The festival opened with Scottish stories, although this year’s focus was on South and Central America.

Two doors down from the center was our flat, with a splendid view.

What a treat to arrive at the height of the autumn color!

Every day we filled up our story banks. In Scotland a guid crack is lively conversation, the sharing of gossip, news, stories. Over lunch, Meg’s brother Jim told ghost stories, personal stories, and history fun facts.  The storytelling gene clearly runs strong in their family.

We picked up stories and histories from the castles, and a few from Holyrood Palace…

…where Mary, Queen of Scots, once lived (in the older wing).

We visited The National Portrait Gallery, The Edinburgh Museum, The Museum of Childhood, and the photography exhibit in the Parliament Building.  The People’s Story was a museum highlighting the changing conditions and the continuing pursuit of social justice for the people of Edinburgh, including women and the LGBTQ community.

I was intrigued by a painting hanging on the wall of The National Gallery.  It depicted the very room it was displayed in as it had appeared when painted over a century before.  Not much had changed.

We popped into Jenner’s, an elegant department store built in 1895, where they weren’t allowed to remodel, because it was a ‘listed’ historic building.  Meg grew up in a nearby village and would ride the train to town with her mother to shop, but they went to the C&A down the street. Meg remembers window shopping at Jenner’s as a college student.

Mostly we just did window shopping.

But you know…

…in Edinburgh even window shopping is quite special.

I’d heard of haggis as a delicacy unique to Scotland, but nobody ever said anything about macaroni pie.

I loved the Tartans.

And there’s nothing like a kilt to make a man look his best.

But even in Scotland accessories can make–or break–the outfit.

Everywhere we went, we were just steps away from natural beauty.

There were ancient churches and cathedrals around every corner.

Steep narrow passages called ‘closes’ spread like ribs from the spine formed by The Royal Mile.

Edinburgh looked like a city on tiptoe…

 

…with so many layers of mystery and history just waiting to be discovered.

Meg had to translate the words on this sign for me.  It says, “Long may your chimney smoke,” but it means, “May you always have fuel for your fire,” which is a cozy way of wishing someone a long and healthy life.

I never did discover the answer to the vital question most visitors wonder about when they come to Scotland, but are too polite to ask.  

Which is probably all for the best.

All words and images ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Click to visit Meg’s blog, Story Twigs the Imagination, and her post about our trip.

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

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Happiness Runs…

She’s baaaaack!  My Scottish-born friend Meg Philp

…who lives Down Under

…made a quick trip Up Over last week.

After presenting at a conference and performing in Victoria, Meg came to Seattle for a quick visit.  She’s always up for anything.  Meg has a storytelling blog, and was glad to see what she could learn during a photo walk in the Edmonds Marsh, with Diana Scheel of Cat in the Moon Photography.

At the waterfront we posed for a group portrait.

Diana left to collect first prize in a photo contest in Shoreline (Yay, Diana!) while Meg and I snapped shots…

…near…

…and far.

 

On previous trips, we’d been proper tourists.  This time we enjoyed simple pleasures near home.

We picked ripe raspberries for breakfast each morning, and the occasional blueberry.

We went out to play with our friends….

…and had a picnic of fish ‘n’ chips while watching the sunset from Brackett’s Landing.

We walked around Green Lake…

…where we saw flora…

…fauna…

…and some big water toys.

We hosted an evening of storytelling, with a potluck and a “crack,” as Meg says–good talk and fun between friends.

Meg treated us to a set of stories that had us all laughing and left us wanting more.

Good thing there was an open mic. Patty Zeitlin kicked off with the story of The Watts Towers in LA, and the song she wrote about it, Castle in My City.  I felt honored that she chose to celebrate her 80th birthday with us that night!

My brother Lewis had the audience in stitches with “The Twilight Phone.” Lenore Jackson told a funny and touching personal story, drawing a parallel between her Texas childhood and Sleeping Beauty’s briar patch.  When I told my story of childhood in Detroit, a guest recognized the street names and we discovered that she’d lived only blocks away.  She and I attended the same elementary school on the other side of the country!   What are the chances?

Meg and I also taught each other some new songs: it’s what we do.

We sang a camp song based on a Donovan song, a lovely round that goes like this:

Happiness runs in a circular motion…

Life is like a little boat upon the sea…

Everyone is a part of everything anyway…

You can be a part if you let yourself be.

We had a five day run of happiness, and before we knew it, it was time for Meg to pack for the trip home.

We had a parting glass…

 

…and went to the train station.

Instead of a caboose, the last car of the train was a locomotive, identical to the one in front that pulled the train forward, except that this one faced backwards, which makes return trips much easier.  I took it as a good sign.

Safe travels, Meg!

All words and images ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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

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.

Joyriding

  • “Love…

…doesn’t make the world go round.”   

But love

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

LOVE!

 Yes, LOVE!

“..is what makes the ride worthwhile.”–Franklin P. Jones

Always has.

Always will.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

c

c2015 Naomi Baltuck

Plot and Counterplot

When I toss a story out into the world, I never know if it will take wing, or where it will fly.   I’m still amazed and grateful that Johan Lebichot found me via a post I’d written about my father.

 

 Last year my sister and I traveled to Belgium to visit the Lebichot family to honor a friendship that reached across the ocean and seventy years back through time.

Lightning struck twice when I was emailed by a stranger who works at Machpelah Cemetery, where my father is buried.  Kim wrote:

“While doing research on unused burial spaces here at Machpelah Cemetery in Ferndale, Michigan I googled your family name and found you!   When I found “A Box in the Attic,” I realized I’d found the family who owns the space.  I must tell you I couldn’t stop reading, to be able to put a face and story with these people was a gift…”

The plot thickens. My father died fifty years ago!  The burial plot Kim wrote about was intended to be Mom’s final resting place. But when she died twenty-five years later, she wasn’t allowed to be buried beside my father because she wasn’t Jewish.

My dying mother said, “It doesn’t matter.  He’s not there.”

What followed reads like the plot of an Afterlife Soap Opera.  My mother Eleanor’s mother, Rhea, was buried next to her first husband, William, the true love of her life, and my grandmother’s second husband, Gus, was buried in another cemetery beside his first wife, Laura, but Mom’s stepdad, my Grandpa Gus, ended up with an extra burial plot, probably because his son Karl wanted to be buried beside the love of his life, Barbara, but Grandpa had always loved my mom, his stepdaughter, and so he offered it to her, since she couldn’t be be buried by her one and only, which is why my mother was buried next to her stepdad and not her husband, Harry, who was the true love of her life, but that’s okay, because Mom loved Grandpa too.

Last year, when visiting Mom’s grave, we spent nearly an hour kicking around the weeds before we found it and cleared away the grass. Mom would say, “It doesn’t matter. I’m not there.” In a way she’d be right. All her kids left Detroit long ago. After Aunt Loena is gone, I doubt I’ll return. But I decided to replace her headstone with one easier to find, just in case someone, maybe even from the next generation, wants to leave a pebble on her grave.  Kim’s email was an eerily timely message, or at least a poke with a sharp stick.

Kim said we could plant a tree in the empty plot or even engrave Mom’s name on the glaringly empty space on Daddy’s headstone. “We could do that?” I asked. “If you write ‘In Memory…’ so people will know she’s not actually buried there,” said Kim. “I’ll consult my siblings and get back to you.  It could take awhile–there are seven of us. In the meantime, please don’t bury a stranger beside my dad!”

I admit there were undercurrents of resentment because Mom was denied her place by Daddy all those years before. But times change, rules relax, Kim probably wasn’t even born when this drama occurred, and the people at Machpelah were eager to make amends.  Our parents’ lives were hard, their story bittersweet, but no one could deny their love was true.  Why not be grateful for the opportunity to give them as close to a happy ending as can be expected?

Most of us were onboard, and the others simply abstained as we discussed ideas for the inscription. It being my mom, “Wish I’d Brought a Book” would’ve been fitting.  And at the start of each road trip, she’d say, “If there’s something we forgot to pack, we’ll buy a new one or do without.”  This was a monumental journey for our mom, but we finally settled for the simple truth. “In loving memory.”

No bones about it, after fifty years or even just twenty-five, all that remains is ashes and dust.  And their story.  In West Africa they say, “One is not dead until one is forgotten.”  Dear Mom and Dad, that which was surely connected in spirit has been commemorated–and written in stone.  And now I’m lovingly sending your story out to the world.  May it take wing, land where it will, and never be forgotten.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten.

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.

An Open Book

“Thou art alive still while thy book doth live, and we have wits to read and praise to give.”  –William Shakespeare–

Paris is a huge city, so crowded, so busy.

 

 Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond the milling throngs.

   

But the city is an open book.

Its stories are there for all to read…

In a gesture.

Or a smile.

Or a sigh.

Life is happening all around.

So many faces…

…and each one…

…tells a story.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of Thursday’s Special: Street Portraits.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

Sex on the Beach (and The 2013 Blog of the Year Award!)

We rang in the New Year with a 1950s cocktail party.  Costumes were recommended, encouraged, applauded and appreciated.

Eli took a class in bartending while in Argentina last year, and mixed some very colorful cocktails for some of us, and some very tasty mocktails for the kids, teetotalers, and designated drivers. He dressed the part, right down to the fake cigarette that made little puffs of corn starch when blown into.

We have the best friends in the world!  We can always count on the Rahn Gang to come dressed to the nines…

Check out those poodle skirts!

We had our beatnik, our cube(squarer than square), and our cool cat.

Remember the Alamo?  How about Davy Crockett of the Wild Frontier, the rage in the late fifties?

Speaking of wild, Cousins Nancy and Ian lent some class to the party when they arrived looking like James Bond and Jackie O, only better.

And in a class of their own…Sue, Rick, and Stu!

They brought soft drinks I haven’t seen since the ’50s AND….

(Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!)

…the fine fare we were raised on back then:  Bugles, Velveeta, Franz Fruit Pies, Vienna Sausages, and Hostess Twinkies, Cupcakes, and Ding Dongs!

Not to mention Wonder Bread and baloney!

My new favorite photo in the world—Sue holding “Mommy’s Little Helper.”

Our bartender kept ’em coming, mostly non-alcoholic drinks with all kinds of fruity juices adorned with tiny umbrellas.  I saw a really pretty drink go by, and asked for one just like it.  I thought it was a mocktail, but it went straight to my head.  “Isn’t this non-alcoholic?” I asked.  Eli replied, “Mom, if it were a virgin cocktail it probably wouldn’t be called  ‘Sex on the Beach’.”   Yeah, probably not.  But I did discover how much I enjoy Sex On the Beach.

At midnight, like always, we toasted the New Year with a chorus of Auld Lang Syne and a round of Boston Coolers, the perfect combination of Vernor’s ginger ale and vanilla ice cream.  

Dear friends, family, followers, and all my blogging buddies, here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year!

 

And one last nod to the old year…

Many thanks to Sarah Potter, of sarahpotterwrites for nominating me for The 2013 Blog of the Year Award.   Sarah is a novelist, a talented musician, and a poet with a fresh voice and a sly sense of humor.  Her mastery of the haiku is a wonder.  Please check out her blog!

 

My Wish For You

Winter break!!!!!

After a long quarter and a case of pneumonia, Bea came home for winter break, taking the train up from Stanford with her BFFs, Ben and Michael.

And my son Eli flew into Sea-Tac after ten months in Argentina!

Such great kids!  And it’s wonderful when your best friends just ‘click’ with each other.

They filled our home with music…

…and were prone to spontaneous bursts of dancing…

…and juggling.

And they cooked too!

Not for nothing are they known in certain parts of California as ‘The ‘Stache Squad.’  All for one, and one for all!

 

A game of Risk becomes a costume affair.

 

Bea and Eli shared their hometown, and took in a bit of culture while here.

Proof that the sun sometimes shines in Seattle!

Gifts were exchanged, most of them homemade.

Eli’s gift was to write an original murder mystery for the whole gang.  He put his storytelling experience to good use.

It was, of course, a costume affair…

…set in Russia in 1860.

It seemed to capture the social turmoil of the times.

We were sad to have to send Ben home in time for Christmas.

But it felt like we had already had Christmas, and the icing on the cake was a day of snow, a rare treat, a white Christmas.

The only thing missing was Ben.  So the kids made…


…a SnowBen!

Of course, juggling ensued.

And huggling.

And snow angels!

And it wouldn’t be a proper snow day without hot chocolate.

Another bunch of friends and family have arrived, and it’s hard to believe we have yet another Christmas to celebrate.  It makes me realize that holidays have less to do with the dates on the calendar than the light we create in our hearts and homes and between each other.

My dear friends and family and blogging buddies from all over the world, after health and happiness, my wish for you is this:

May you never be too old for dinosaur pancakes.

…or dress-up…

I wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy Solstice, Kwanza, and New Year.  And whatever the New Year brings, may you always have, no matter what the calendar says, or however large or small, an occasion to celebrate and  a shoulder to lean on.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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

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Still

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.  And so do we.  It was over a hundred degrees, and the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky.   The plaza was nearly deserted as we approached Batalha Monastery, and I was wilting.  Still, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we couldn’t miss it.

Batalha Monastery, the ‘Monastery of Battle’, was begun by King Joao I to commemorate his victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

I was glad I came.

In the cloisters, time stands still.  The view hadn’t changed in six centuries.

Inside the church the stained glass softened the harsh sunlight.

A dramatic tomb for King Joao and Queen Phillipa of Lancaster depicted the royal couple with joined hands, symbolizing the alliance between Portugal and England.  Surrounding bays contained the tombs of their four younger sons.  I’d already seen so many tombs that week, and couldn’t muster the energy to snap a shot, although I was moved to photograph the stillness of the Royal Cloister.

I found the symmetry soothing.

And then I stepped into The Unfinished Chapel, where rests the tomb of their eldest son, King Duarte and his wife, Leonor of Aragon. Their final resting place was less monumental, and still uncompleted, without even a roof.  Their chapel too was designed to house the tombs of their descendants, but that hadn’t happened either.  Duarte and Leonor were its sole occupants.

Duarte’s story was also less remarkable than his dad’s.  His reign was short, troubled, and plagued by poor choices.  He preferred writing to war, and was likely better at it.  He began The Art of Riding on Every Saddle“…in accordance with the saying that writing books is an endless task, which I do for my own relaxation and entertainment…I am going to write…with the objective of improving the riding skills of those who decide to read my writings in good will…”

That book, like his chapel, was also unfinished.  Duarte died young, swept away by the plague, leaving his wife to mourn.  From that day on, she signed her name “the sad queen.”  She lived only a few more years, her short regency also plagued with conflict.  Sadly, she died in exile.  But she rests beside her husband.

Their tomb, their accomplishments, and their lives might have been less glorious than those of their victorious parents.  But their unfinished tomb is open to the sun and the breeze, the infinite sky.  The sad queen and her husband, in gentle and loving repose, seem less a statement of diplomatic alliance than a forever snapshot of a loving couple, still tenderly holding hands after all these years.

I think I’d rather be remembered for my pen than my sword, and would rather be successful in love than in war, or even in my writing.

Still, plague notwithstanding, I’m going to finish my damn book.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Stillness.