You Just Never Know

Once upon a time, there was a swamp that was home to many creatures, including…

… frogs. 

Two frogs decided to see the world.  They went hop-hop, hop-hop, hop-hop down the road in search of adventure.

They came to a big farm, and croaked out a cheery greeting to the dairy cows.

Then they went inside the big barn to explore.

There were so many new and exciting things to see in there!

But as they jumped about, they accidentally landed in a big pitcher of cream.

They tried to climb out, but the sides were too steep and slippery, and they slid back into the cream. Even frogs don’t like to die: they tried everything they could think of to escape.  When that didn’t work, they tried everything they couldn’t think of.

“It’s no use!” said the first frog. “We’re doomed!” And he sank down into the cream and disappeared.

But that second little frog…she kept swimming about with all her tiny frog might, just to keep from drowning.  The cream began to block her eyes and nose. Just when she thought she couldn’t swim another stroke, she felt something strange beneath her feet.  She was standing on a big lump…of butter!  With the brave paddling of her own tiny frog legs, she had churned that cream into butter. She leapt out of the bowl and went hop-hop, hop-hop, hop-hop down the road, in search of another adventure.

All words and images Copyright Naomi Baltuck

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

Magnum Opus

To me, there nothing so sacred an office as parenthood.

But with every superpower, comes the great weight of responsibility.

Helping someone get from here…

…to here.

It’s the most daunting…

…most joyful…

..most challenging position I’ve ever held.

The job description is clear.  When they are tiny, love them.

Nurture them.

Love them some more.

We have a few short years to raise and guide them, and allow them to find their own way to shine.

To help them acquire the skills they need to paddle their own canoe.

To allow them to test their wings.

To give them every opportunity to make decisions and exercise their own power.

Even so, one of the greatest challenges we have as parents is to let them grow up.

A few years ago, with the kids’ encouragement, we stepped out of our comfort zone into the Amazon jungle.

To ride a zip-line over the jungle canopy we had to reach a platform 125 feet above the jungle floor.  Instead of letting our guide use pulleys and ropes to haul them up, they insisted on pulling themselves up, step by step.

As they dangled from a single rope a hundred feet up, I thought of the book Charlotte’s Web.  Charlotte considered her egg sac, from which her babies hatched, her ‘magnum opus.’  One by one, the baby spiders spun a fine web into a tiny balloon and rode the breeze, floating off into the world to land somewhere and build a web of its own.

I couldn’t have been prouder–or more relieved–when they climbed to the top under their own power.

We have all traveled well together…

but children must be free to choose their own direction, just as we did when we were young.

I quell my panic when one of my chicks…

..leaves the safety of the home harbor.

I trust them to stay calm, exercise good judgement, weather the storms…

…and any other unforeseen dangers.

We cut them loose from the mother ship, then hope and pray they find a soft landing place…

…and a bright future.

And that, every now and then, they remember to phone home.

 

All words and images ©2015NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Weight (less).

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.

Old Spice

As old as the hills.

 

As fresh as the dew.

As sure as the sun rises and sets, light and darkness engage in an eternal struggle. 

 This time of the year, when its seems nighttime might last forever, we find ways to beat back the darkness. 

Always have.  Always will.

 Just outside our door.

In our homes.

…and in our hearts.

With music…

…friends and family…

…stories…

 

…and more stories.

Parties help.

So does chocolate.

Sweetness of any kind, really.

And a sense of adventure, even if it’s just in your own mind.

When in doubt, add an extra pinch of spice.

May the New Year bring you fun and adventure, sweetness and spice.

All words and images ©2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme: Now.

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

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.

Virgins No More

In 1493 Christopher Columbus visited the chain of islands that he named after St. Ursula and the 11, 000 virgins.

My sister Lee, my friend Kathy, and I were all Virgin Island virgins, having never before set foot upon them.

Until last week.

We flew into St Thomas and took the car ferry over to the island of St. John.

St. John is a US territory, with nearly two thirds of its land set aside as a National Park and wildlife sanctuary.  It was a short drive from our hotel on Cruz Bay…

…to the pristine beaches of the U.S. National Park.

Big blue land crabs made their homes in the muddy floors of the mangrove swamps…

…while tiny red crabs in the tens of thousands sounded like rain on the forest floor when they skittered into hiding.

Pelicans could be seen fishing on every beach.

Iguanas frequented both beaches…

…and grassy areas.

And so many birds!  Dark hummingbirds, yellow songbirds, cranes, egrets, and many others.

Everywhere we saw ruins of a troubled past, where slaves once worked the sugar plantations dotting the island.

Who sat on the tiled veranda of this mansion sipping coffee and enjoying the ocean breeze within sight of the mill, where slaves were forced to stir boiling kettles of sugar syrup in unbearable heat?

At the Annaberg Planation, this windmill processed sugar cane.

It is a relic of a cruel past.

By 1733 slaves outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1.  Harsh laws condoning torture, amputation, and murder were enacted to keep slaves under control, but instead prompted a bloody rebellion.  Slaves rose up and held the island for six months before the French Militia helped the Danes crush the revolt.  Rather than return to slavery, hundreds threw themselves off rugged cliffs into the sea below.

In 1848, when again faced with uprisings, the governor of St. John declared an end to slavery on St. John.

This statue of a slave, sugar cane knife in hand, blowing a conch shell to sound the call to freedom, celebrates hard-won liberty.

Today 78 percent of the population is descended from African slaves.

The Virgin Islands are brimming with color, whether it be in nature’s sphere…

…or made so by human hand.

 It is a place filled with joyful music…

…and lively spirits.

They know how to live down there.

They work hard.

And play hard.

 And take nothing for granted.

All words and images 2014 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

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

Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Mischievious

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Testing One’s Mettle

“What are you afraid of?” author Bob Mayer asked at a writing conference, “because that’s what’s holding you back as writers.”

At the time, it was social media–mastering new technology, committing to cranking out a weekly post. But I started a blog, and am glad I did.  Since my first blogpost I’ve made new friends, discovered photographic storytelling, which I love, and crossed a whopper off this writer’s to-do list.

Marriage was another commitment that terrified me, but I faced that fear too.

It took seven years before Thom and I felt brave enough to assume the awesome responsibility of parenthood.  It’s the most joyful, most difficult, most rewarding, and most important undertaking we’d ever signed on for, or ever will.

Whether we choose them ourselves or take what fate throws our way, the most daunting experiences are often the most edifying.

The most challenging ones tend to be the most rewarding.

With the toughest climbs come the best views.

After the kids were old enough to change their own diapers, we thought could rest on our laurels, but there was an unexpected twist to the parent/child relationship.

We raised kids who challenge themselves.  Bea watched her big brother do his math homework, and designed her own “Really Hard Math Problem.”

As they tested their own mettle, and created their own challenges…

…we were forced out of our comfort zones just to keep up.

Thom and I would never have chosen to go to the Amazon jungle if the kids hadn’t been keen to go.

It was hard to watch my kids twist and turn like little spiders on a web as they climbed 200 feet up into the canopy to zipline.  And for the first (and probably last) time in my life, I went ziplining too.  You never know when someone might need a bandaid or some bug repellant.

Only for my kid would I board a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, another thing I swore I’d never do. But it’s good to feel a fire in your belly and rise above your fears.

We are not extreme travelers.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most of the adventures I have are in my own mind.  But for the sake of my kids, I’ve put on my big girl panties and donned a hard hat once or twice.

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.

 I appreciate people who can lure me out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes it’s good to commit to a path with unexpected twists and bends.

I’m sure I’m a better person for it. And if nothing else, Life Outside The Comfort Zone provides great material for a writer.

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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

Got Glow?

Have you ever met someone who seems to radiate light?

 And you wonder, is it magic?

Or love?

Or faith?

Or creative passion?

Or the simple joy of being alive?

i

It is inspiring.

Even contagious!

May you find whatever it is that makes your cheeks glow…

 

…your imagination take wing…

 

…and your heart sing.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme.

Chasing Rainbows


If a tree falls in the woods and I don’t photograph it, did I really see it?

Last week, amidst the throes of last-minute packing for spring break in Hawaii, I was mentally outlining the next chapter of my manuscript. That’s the only excuse I can give for walking out of the house and onto an airplane…

Without. My. Camera.

So Thom gave me charge of his new toy, a Pentax underwater camera, for use in or out of the water.  My hero!

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Its zoom wasn’t as powerful, but I was grateful.  As they say, “Any port in a storm!”


I snapped a handful of shots before it died. We changed the battery and…nothing.  Arrrrgh!  I thought about buying a new camera, but it seemed wasteful; I’m happy with the one at home.  Maybe just a one-use camera, a single roll of film in a recycled plastic case?  No, those photos always look washed out. Then I thought, I’ve been to Maui, and I’ll be back.  How many sunsets do I need in my archives?

 

I don’t need to chase rainbows

 

I decided to make a clean break of it, go cold turkey.  Perhaps my travel experience might even improve without a lens between me and my world.

Look, Ma!  No cams!


I confess, I felt the pangs of withdrawal.  My photographs help refresh memories I might otherwise forget.

 

 With my camera, I am never alone.

I anticipate with pleasure the sharing of pictures with friends, family, my blogging community.  Even sans camera, I was constantly framing shots in my mind’s eye. Sea turtles gliding in ocean currents.  Two hotel maids walking arm-in-arm down a deserted hotel corridor.  The underwater service station run by a pair of enterprising Cleaning Wrasse, with bigger fish lined up like cars at a car wash, patiently waiting their turn to be picked clean of parasites.

Oh, yes, and the kid in neon snorkel gear who shouted, “Mom!  Dad!  I can hear the whales singing!”  Eli and I smiled indulgently at his vivid imagination.

The next morning we were snorkeling off that same beach when Eli said, “Mom! Dad! I can hear whales singing!”  I thought he was teasing, but I ducked under the waves, held my breath, and listened.  And I could hear them too.  For an hour or more, we held perfectly still, just letting the whale song wash over us. I’d been coming to Maui for twenty years, but had never heard them. Had they been there all along? I was an astronaut, observing an alien planet from my little floating bubble, and was unexpectedly invited in for tea!  And inside my snorkel mask I cried.

When we staggered onto the beach and looked out at the water, we saw them spouting, teasing us with glimpses of their fins and shiny black backs.  We also saw the whale watching boat hounding them. Had they been communicating distress or just watching out for each other?  Finally the boat left.  And the moment it did, the whales began breaching and splashing, showing their big white bellies, time and time again!  I suspect they were jumping for joy and shouting,”Woo hoo!  We ditched ’em!”

It was like discovering your house is haunted with friendly ghosts going about their business, oblivious to that other world, except on those occasions when your worlds intersect.  I decided the rolling ocean is The Poker Face of the World, and just beneath the surface, a swirl of emotions, life and death struggles, joy, pain, drama, and countless stories play themselves out.

There was no way a camera could have recorded that breathtaking experience, and no way I would ever need the help of a camera to recall it.  Just when I resolved and resigned myself to a camera-free existence, Eli and I went for an afternoon walk.

And he taught me how to take photos with his Smart Phone.

 

Okay, forget everything I just told you about a camera-free life.  Because then Saint Eli indulged me completely, taking me back to revisit all the beautiful sights I’d admired.  We snapped all these pics and more with his Smart Phone.

Pretty pictures of stationary subjects…

 …that practically come when you whistle for them.

Other photos depended upon conditions like weather.

Or light.

Or where our feet happened to take us.

 

 My favorite shots are the unexpected ones, that dropped like ripe fruit falling from a tree into my lap.

Sweet.

Sweeter.

Sweetest!

 

As we sat on the beach watching the sun set, directly ahead of us a whale leapt out of the ocean so close I could see the lines on its belly.  It thrust one long fin into the air and waved goodbye. Exhilarating! A flash of wonder!  A glimpse of the sacred just for us! It is forever engraved in our memories and upon our hearts.

But I’m THRILLED that Eli caught it on his Smart Phone!

 

 

Okay, time to come clean.  I ADORE chasing rainbows…

…and I will ALWAYS go for the gold!

WOO HOO!

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck (and Eli Garrard!)

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