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!

Befriend the Ides of March

Last year for Valentine’s Day, guests came to our house dressed as as history’s greatest lovers.  My husband and I were Harold Godwinson and his handfast wife, Edith SwanNeck.  Our daughter Bea came as Petrarch, Father of Humanism and victim of unrequited love.  The guest list also included Sonny and Cher, Marge and Homer Simpson, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, The Little Red-headed Girl, and Narcissa, to name a few.

This year, the day of our Valentine’s Day party fell upon February 12th, so we decided–what the heck!  We would celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, our favorite president.  In the costume room we found top hats, stovepipe hats and a couple of wigs, which we cut into strips for beards.  Decorating was easy; everything with a face, like the bust of Diana the moon goddess and our storyteller dolls, sported a beard and top hat.  Lincoln Logs were the centerpiece, and we put 203 candles on the birthday cake (just kidding! We used numerals 2-0-3).   We had rolls of Lincoln pennies for pitching or playing poker, a big portrait of Abe to play Pin the Wart on the President, and all the fixings to build pretzel log cabins.  We never got to half that stuff, but we did get to hear a seven-year-old guest (Go, Sylvia!) read a moving excerpt from the Gettysburg Address.

This month, I’m booked for St. Patrick’s Day, but am planning ahead to next year, for my Ides of March party.  If you’ve read Shakespeare, you know a soothsayer forewarned Julius Caesar about his assassination on March 15th, telling him to “Beware the Ides of March.”  So we will have to commemorate the event, of course, with a toga party, B.Y.O.B. (bring your own bed sheet).  We’ll eat Roman fare, and I am fortunate enough to have musician and storytelling friends who will tell stories (Roman myths) and sing for their supper.  I might even rent a temple for the day.  (It’s been known to happen.)

The calendar is full of odd and interesting holidays. International Talk Like A Pirate Day, Fruitcake Toss Day, Pi Day (on 3/14, of course).  And one of these years I will celebrate National Barbie Day–come as you aren’t.  Guests could dress each other up as Zombie Barbie, Office Slut Barbie, Star Trek Nerd Ken or maybe Trailer Trash Ken.

I try to do in my writing what I do with my parties—people them with quirky characters, and create an interesting backdrop.  In The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, a historical novel co-written with my sister, the village of Enmore Green is populated with affable eccentrics like Edwin MoonCatcher, Agilbert PigWife, and Thurgood GiantKiller.

For deliciously quirky characters, read Jonathan Safran Foer.  He deftly uses humor to tell serious stories, as in Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I also highly recommend the movies based on those novels.

And next October, go to someone else’s Halloween party, but the following week try hosting your own All Saint’s Day Bash.  In your writing and in your life, if you have a choice, try taking the road less traveled.  Befriend, rather than beware The Ides of March.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge.