A Peace of My Mind

Last September my son Eli and I went on a great road trip with my daughter Bea, to deliver her, an incoming freshman, to Stanford University.

Then all of a sudden Bea was at school…

…and Eli and I were back in the van on the long drive home to Seattle.

For our trip down, we’d booked nice hotels in advance.  It was all about our last hurrah before saying goodbye to Bea.  Maybe because we didn’t want to think about coming back without her, we forgot to plan the trip home.  We were unprepared, disorganized, and we both kept looking around for Bea.

It was after midnight when we pulled into Redding, CA.

We found a place that simple, but clean, and woke refreshed and ready to move on–from Redding, and from Stanford.  We were going to write ourselves a new story.

We explored a delightfully shabby gold rush town, browsed its antique stores, and bought some dusty old tomes.  Back on the road, Eli read aloud from  The Last of the Plainsmen, Zane Grey’s 1908 memoir of a Western adventure–about the end of an era and the start of a new one.

Perhaps inspired by Zane, Eli suggested swinging by Crater Lake National Park.  It was out of our way, and we didn’t know how far because we hadn’t brought a proper map.  We hadn’t been since the kids were young enough to earn Junior Ranger Badges.  I recalled Crater Lake as a one trick pony, with one view of a lake, gorgeous, but unaccessible.  If we couldn’t get there before dark, the trip would be pointless.

It was a gamble.

We decided to go for it.  We had a few ‘Where are we going, Carl?’ moments.  Like at a crossroads, where two roads both had signage pointing to Crater Lake. The sun was sinking, and we couldn’t afford to get lost.  I kicked myself for not stopping earlier for directions.  This was a remote wilderness, without even another car to flag down.

Do you believe in spirit helpers?   I took this handsome creature’s greeting as positive reinforcement.

Upon leaving the endless forest to begin our ascent, we decided that, whatever happened, the view on the way to the crater was worth the drive.

At last we arrived at the crater rim, with sunshine to spare, but not for long.

As the sun sank behind us, the shadows crept up the side of Wizard Island, until it looked like it was wearing a little sun hat.

While we looked down on shadow, on the far side of the crater, the sun still shone.

Our goal was to visit as many viewpoints as possible before we lost the light.

Crater Lake was not a one trick pony.  It was a Horse of a Different Color.  With the constantly changing light, the landscape changed dramatically too.

Each viewpoint highlighted different sights and inspired different insights.

Whether looking from a distance…

…or close up.

We were alone on the top of the world, awestruck by the beauty surrounding us, not just of the lake, but the valley as well.

Eli captured the color and detail of an alpine meadow in this shot….

…while I had to borrow back the camera to photograph the big picture…

Feverishly, we passed the camera back and forth.  Where one of us recognized the stark beauty of an outcrop…

…the other saw a sleeping lady, perhaps turned to stone by an evil wizard.

Eli and I discovered our new superpower…

We had learned to spin straw into gold.

Golden moments.

Golden Memories.

Peace of mind.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

The Secret Object I Keep Hidden in My Underwear Drawer


Yes, I really do have a secret object hidden in the back of my underwear drawer.

It was in a bag earmarked for the Salvation Army, a tiny doll-sized white cotton undershirt, but I snatched it back from among the outgrown feet pajamas, baby booties, and Alice-in-Wonderland dresses.  Then I tucked it into the back of my underwear drawer.

It isn’t an heirloom or valuable in any way, except to me, because both my kids wore it as fuzzy-headed milk-scented most-beautiful-in-the-world newborns.  Once in awhile it still sees the light of day.  Not on those “hurry-up-or-we’re-going-to-be-late! mornings,” but on quiet afternoons when I’m putting away freshly folded laundry.  I can still smell the baby shampoo and feel the round little tummies that filled that shirt.

Recently I realized that no one in the world would know or care what happened to that little shirt unless…I showed it to my daughter Bea and told her about her first night home from the hospital. She was wearing the little shirt, or one just like it, while lying beside me on the bed to nurse.  By the soft moonlight shining in on us I watched her, filled with awe at the sight of this new person looking up at me like a little old wisewoman.  I marveled at her perfect little toes and her tiny feet and those exquisite fingers.  Just as I was moved to tears at the miracle of life and birth, she reached up with her tiny finger and DOINK! poked me right in the eye. Ever since then, I told Bea, she has kept me from taking myself too seriously.

I told Bea how four year old Eli rubbed her tummy and told his baby sister all she would need to know to get by in the world. “You only get to drink milk now, but when you’re big you get macaroni and cheese from a fork. You’ll learn to walk and then run, but be careful or you might fall and scrape your knee and bleed, but blood has platelets that make a scab, but don’t pick it or it’ll bleed again…”  What a warm, wise welcome into our family!

On my kitchen wall is a picture Bea drew of a paintbrush and an artist’s pallet.  Underneath she wrote,”Only the artist knows the story of her painting.”  Too true. So tell your stories to your kids, your friends or your enemies, lest they disappear when you do.

Whether you write them into your memoirs, or tell them from your mouth, let them see the light of day, feel the moisture of your breath, live in stark black beauty on a crisp white page.

One day Bea might show that tiny shirt to her children and say, “When I was a baby…” Even if it finds its way to the Salvation Army, she might say, “My mom once saved a tiny white undershirt from the rag pile and kept it in her underwear drawer.  Sometimes she took it out, and told me stories about when I was a baby…”

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

(Except “Mrs. Bradley Ripley Alden and Her Children” painted by Robert Walter Weir, 1852)

Everything But

I was as excited as the kids when we traded our Little Tikes dollhouse for an elegant wooden one–the kind grownups like to play with.  Out came the cherished Petite Princess furniture that survived my childhood.   We sculpted Fimo into tiny bagels and fruit.  The kids drew itsy bitsy pictures and notes for the refrigerator door. In England we bought a miniature toast rack, an umbrella stand and suit of armor to scale.  At Dolly’s Dollhouse we purchased a washer and dryer for the kitchen, bunk beds for the kids’ room, roll-top desk for the study, and a piano for the heckuvit.  At the Miniature Show we found a hamster cage, a menorah, a dolls’ dollhouse.  The bathroom was furnished with soap dish, rubber ducky, hair dryer, potty, toilet paper, even a plunger.  On the bathroom shelf tiny china were mugs printed with our names, in each one a toothbrush.

I’d peek inside, never knowing what I’d find.  Tiny picture books in the bathroom by the potty?  My daughter Bea told me Baby was toilet training.  A teddy bear, Monopoly game, playing cards, and tissue box on the coffee table in the parlor, and Little Sister reclining on the couch?  Bea said she was home sick from school that day.  The hamster missing from its cage, and the Little Family searching in the attic, under the bed, behind the stove?   Bea didn’t even need to explain.  Been there, done that.

One year, before leaving for the Miniature Show, the kids and I checked to see if we needed anything in particular.   I was amused to discover—and I pinky swear it’s true—we had everything but the kitchen sink!

Our dollhouse combined elements from my childhood and theirs; my Petite Princess trappings, their pet hamster, the messy toy box spilling onto the floor, Fimo cookies fresh out of the oven, still cooling on the cookie sheet.  But while we couldn’t afford a full-sized suit of armor, our Little Family could.  We had no room for a grandfather’s clock or a fainting couch, but they did.  From that odd mix of fantasy and reality, Bea created miniature vignettes.  The dollhouse wasn’t picture perfect, but it came alive with these messy, humorous, chaotic, often unglamorous glimpses of life.

I strive for that in my writing, borrowing from childhood memories, life experiences of my own and others, then mix it with fiction and fancy.  Whether it is a miniature or a literary world, I am the creator, but the details give it the spark of life.  Bea knows how to do it, and my mother did too, although she never wrote a word of fiction.

For instance, instead of telling us that Daddy loved her, my mother told us her kitchen sink story.  Our house was neither big nor fancy—three small bedrooms had to do for my folks and their seven kids.  But because Mom was tall, Daddy paid extra to have her kitchen sink built especially high, so she wouldn’t have to stoop to wash the dishes.  In spite of all their struggles, my mother never forgot that.   And now I never will.

When furnishing your fictional world, it is the quirks and surprises, the fun facts, the little twists and turns we draw from our experience that ring true, and catch our readers’ interest.  And, oh, yeah, don’t forget the kitchen sink.