Holiday House

I was in Juneau, Alaska last week.

It was a treat to see real winter, as ours in Seattle tend to be mild.

Mostly I was there to see my sister Constance, a well known Alaskan artist.

Her solo show, “Breakthrough,” was at The Juneau City Museum, and scheduled to open for Juneau’s big annual Gallery Walk.

We hung her paintings the night before.

Her work is vibrant and exciting.  It catches your eye from across the gallery…

 

…and is mesmerizing up close as well, with intricate detail and creative use of negative space.

 

Then we shopped for cheese, crackers, nuts, and veggies to serve at the opening.

Constance’s friend Nancy made five dozen deviled eggs, which were also a work of art. (Nancy’s husband Andy applied the garnish.)

 There was a great turnout, and Constance sold some beautiful paintings.  Her work will be on display until December 27th.  To view her artwork for this show and to read her artist statement about it, click here.

The whole town turns out for Gallery Walk.  Every shop and gallery in town serves refreshments and features local artists.  People come out in droves, wearing their sequins and snowboots. I popped over to Annie Kaill’s and saw my sister’s painting, Holiday House, in the front window of the shop.  This festive painting was on loan to the gallery from its owners.  Someone I talked to said he overheard people praising the painting in St. Petersberg! My favorite art tells a story, and this one tells a story I know.  Constance painted it as a gift for her neighbors Jeff and Terry.  Look closely and you can see Jeff in his brown overalls on a ladder, putting up his Christmas lights. Jeff is the kind of neighbor every neighborhood wants and needs, but few are fortunate enough to have.  When he mows his own lawn, he also cuts the grass of an elderly neighbor.  If Constance comes home and finds her driveway shoveled, she can guess who did it. Constance met him for the first time decades ago, when she bought a sandbox for her kids out in the valley and it wouldn’t fit in her car. She recognized him and, not knowing what else to do, asked a stranger’s help transporting it in his pickup.  It was all set up in her yard when she got home.  On our visit to Juneau last summer he heard that my son Eli was interested in fishing, and offered to take him out on his boat.  Jeff helped Eli land a thirty pound king salmon.  It was the highlight of his trip–all of ours, really, because eight of us ate fresh King salmon every night and there was still some to share with the neighbors. Every year Jeff spends the weeks preceding Christmas putting up tens of thousands of lights on his house, and at least a dozen Santas and snowmen.  His electric bill spikes each December, but the people of Juneau count on him to put some serious twinkle into their holiday. Some people save their treasures for heaven, but I think there’s a twinkle light shining on his house for each kindness Jeff has paid to others.  They add up, all those little lights, and push back the darkness for us all.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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Rather Than Curse the Darkness, Light a Tiki Torch!

We love to share the occasional Murder Mystery, D&D adventure, or Sci-fi party with friends, not to mention New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve, Hanukkah and Lincoln’s Birthday.  But it was our first Valentine’s Day without the kids to help plan the party, and share in the fun.

Bea was away at school.

…Eli was visiting her in California…

 …and poor Thom was too sick to venture out of the bedroom.

Romance was out of the question, but that has never been the focus of our Valentine’s Day.  Thom and I find many days and ways to express our romantic feelings for each other.  Valentine’s Day has been a day to share with our wider circle of loved ones, and especially our kids.

I worried that instead of this

…the party would look like this.

Rather than curse the darkness, I lit a tiki torch…

…and celebrated Valentine’s Day with an Aloha Party!

 Aloha is difficult to define.  Literally it means ‘divine breath.’  But it can be used as a greeting, a salutation, a farewell.  It is also used  to express ‘love,’ ‘sympathy,’ ‘compassion.’  It’s as versatile as ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,’ but I like it so much more.

So I tossed the invitations up into the air, lit the tiki torches, set up a goody table, and here’s who the trade winds blew in.

Jim and Aarene came bearing papaya, pineapple, and delicious homemade plum wine.  They are horse lovers, storytellers, and co-hosts of Global Griot, a storytelling program on 90.7 FM KSER.  Aarene is the author of two very well received books, Endurance 101 and Sex in the Library.  Jim served in the navy as a submariner before becoming a professional Santa.  (Which explains the chapeau, and perhaps also why he’s drinking a Bosun’s Mate.)

The party was in full swing when Rick and Sue arrived with a huge Pineapple Upside Down Cake!  I was filling orders for drinks and couldn’t get to my camera, but here they are in their Hawaiian plumage at our 1950s New Year’s Eve party.  They are some of the most creative people I know.  Rick is the art director for WildTangent Studios, and an amazing artist/cartoonist (I own a copy of his book!).  Sue is a prizewinning baker and my exercise buddy, which is only fair, since I have to work off the wonderful treats she brings.  For our sci-fi party, it was an ice creamy concoction they called Ketrecel White, which was tasty but potent!   I can’t believe my good fortune in having so many friends who are unabashed geeks.

See that beautiful cake, just left of the pineapple?  It was delicious!

The best parties start in the kitchen.

Seattle storyteller Norm Brecke and Portland storyteller Anne Rutherford caught us up on their news.  Norm spent the week performing “The Lighter Side of Lincoln,” while Anne had just finished a run of a show called “Scenes From the Future” at The Fertile Ground Festival of New Works in Portland.

What a lovely mix of family, old friends, and new friends too.  My cousins Nancy and Ian…

…brought a carload of people, including my brother Lew…

…and their neighbors, Joanne and Ian, who I met while walking around Green Lake with Nancy and Sue each week.  Joanne seemed always to be walking around the lake one way, and we were always walking around the other way; somehow it seemed natural to just start walking in the same direction.  Joanne is an artist, a quilter, a jewelry maker; every time we talk I find another shared interest.  Her husband Ian has been everywhere, and I particularly loved hearing about his travels in The Galapagos.  It was their first visit to our home, but I hope it will not be the last.

Jim and Megan are storytellers too.  They arrived with their daughter Tara, who I was very pleased to meet (she loves games and is quick to catch on!).

Many of the stories Jim Douma tells are the ones he sings.  He is a folk musician and played for years with the Celtic band, Clay Pipes.  He gave me a copy of his new CD, Flying Blindwhich he made with the help of my friend Rob Moitoza, who also produced and engineered my CDs.

Jim wrote the music and words to this splendid heartwarming collection. His daughters Tara and Meredith sang with him, and Meredith designed this striking and beautiful CD jacket.  Jim and Megan have clearly nurtured and passed on their creativity to the next generation of their family!

I was glad to welcome Gene Gousie and Kathy McMullen.  I did my very first professional storytelling with Gene Gousie thirty years ago!  He came to our wedding with his baby daughter Brie in a snuggly and I swear, he hasn’t changed a bit since then!

The party spilled into the living and dining rooms.  People visited, played games, and once again our home was filled with music and singing.

I was painfully shy as a kid.  I always had a special friend or two, and my sister is and has always been my best friend.  But it has taken me years–decades–to build such a lovely circle of exceptionally kind, funny, creative, and pleasantly quirky friends.  What I love best about a circle is that there is always room for one more.  It gives me such satisfaction when two of my friends who don’t know each other ‘click’ and thus the circle grows.

On Valentine’s Night, the wind was blowing and the air was crisp, but the aloha spirit was alive and well, and kept the darkness at bay.

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‘Kākou’ is the word that represents the Hawaiian value of inclusiveness.  ‘Aloha kākou’ means ‘May there be love and kindness between us all.’

Aloha kākou, dear friends!  

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

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