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.

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.

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.

One Village

In my travels I prefer a village setting to a big city, and will bypass London for thatched roof country, or head straight out of Rome to explore the ancient villages of Umbria , Tuscany or Ligurnia.  All over the world, they are so different.

On the little island of Aeroskobing in Denmark…

…or above the clouds high up in the mountains of Switzerland.

At sea level in Iceland…

….or at the foot of a Norman castle in Ireland.

In the shadow of Cesky Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic…

…or on the shore of a fjiord in Norway.

Beneath an ancient Roman aquaduct in Spain…

…or on a little cobbled street in Dorset.

Each has its own unique story and history…

Tastes…

 

Traditions…

Colors

And characters…

All so different and yet so familiar.

Almost like family.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Lucky Ducks and Bright Spots

 

Thanksgiving is in the air.  No, not the spicy fragrance of pumpkin pie.  ‘Tis heartier fare I speak of, more refreshing than a double shot of espresso to a caffeine addict marooned on a desert isle.  I’m talking about Bright Spots.

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My mother, widowed with seven children, taught me to recognize them, from a distance, in passing, and in disguise.

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It’s like bird watching. Flashy red cardinals and blue jays naturally draw the eye, and you can’t miss the shiny green pate of a male Mallard.  But look among the mottled brown feathers of a female Mallard, and you can see the lucky lady sports a striking patch of iridescent blue feathers on each wing that would make a peacock proud.

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Each night when I tucked my kids in, we looked back on the day and counted our blessings.  I had proof this lesson ‘took’ when I took my daughter Bea to England.  We spent our first day at Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, Hever Castle, and our first night in ‘Heaver Hell.’  Bea got sick all over her bed.  When I put her in mine so I could clean up hers, she barfed on my bed too.  In the wee hours of the morning, after the 10th upheaval, Bea flashed me a weak smile and said, “At least now I can brag that I’m into the double digits.”   That’s what I call looking at the bright side!

Bea at Bodiam Castle, feeling MUCH better!

All words and images ©2016Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme.

 

The Egg Chain

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My mother would sooner have gargled with toilet water than sit me down and explain the Facts of Life.  But I had four older sisters, and the Trickle Down Theory of Knowledge worked for me.  By age fifteen I thought I knew everything I needed to know, more or less, about the birds and the bees.   I was wrong.   One day a question popped into my head, and wouldn’t go away.   I went to my Grandpa Gus, who was a farmer, and asked him the question that was burning a hole in my brain.

“Grandpa, how can chickens lay an egg a day?   There just isn’t that much room.  Where does she keep all those eggs, and wouldn’t it be very uncomfortable?”

“Here’s how it works, Slivers,” he said.  (My Grandpa always called me ‘Slivers;’ I was a skinny little thing in those days.)  He reached for a pencil and sketched what he called “The Egg Chain,” a string of eggs like so many beads, graduating in size from tiny to AA large.  Only one is a full-sized egg; the others are smaller, but growing.  They are all connected and nurtured by a single egg sack.  Each day when the hen lays a mature egg, its little brothers and sisters move up one spot on the chain.  The next in line has one more day in the batter’s circle before stepping up to the plate.

My book ideas grow in the same way.   They say “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” but it works for me.  I have a mental vision of my own writer’s egg chain, with all my chicks in a row, a half a dozen books-in-progress.  The first on the egg chain is the story I am currently hatching, next comes the story I plan to tackle once that one is brought to market, and so on.

Ideas for future writing projects are added, upon conception, to the end of this writer’s egg chain.  They are not so well developed as the big one, but are nurtured daily, perhaps by a conversation, a chance meeting on the street, a news story, during quiet time in the garden, or through purposeful brainstorming.  Each one is a little nest egg, with its own file in my computer, in which I save all my pertaining notes on plot and character.

Every writer should have her own egg chain.  Why?  Because already having a work in progress is an excellent way to avoid Empty Nest Syndrome once you send off your manuscript.   If you have Writer’s Block, you can work on another project guilt-free, because you’re still working on The Chain Gang.  And you never have to worry about all your eggs being in one basket.   So let’s get cracking.

 

Do you throw all your eggs into one basket, or prefer to plan several projects ahead?  

Photo by Carlos Porto
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=345

Berry Picking, Blogging, and a Piece of the Pie

Do I have to?  I don’t want to put on my shoes, and it’s freakin’ cold outside, and now even doing last night’s dishes is starting to look good.  But if I don’t get my butt out into my garden every other day or so, especially now that it’s wet and cold, those ripe red raspberries will grow moldy and drop off the vine into the dirt.  And because I am the daughter of a Depression Baby who ate tuna salad that was green and fuzzy rather than let it go to waste, those fallen berries haunt me like fuzzy green ghostlets.  Waning daylight pokes at me like a sharp stick before I finally get my fanny out the door.

Once I get going, I always wonder what took me so long.   Sure, a spider might drop down in my face, but I try not to scream—it scares the neighbors–and toss the whole bowl of berries into the air like juicy fireworks—all those perfectly good berries hitting the dirt would send my poor mother spinning.

But I can’t hear the robins singing from my armchair, and I enjoy listening to the neighbors calling their kids in for supper.  And while my hands are busy, my thoughts carry me to unexpected places.  This evening I spent a little while with my Grandpa Gus, remembering how he would turn us loose in his garden to fill our bellies with sun-warmed berries.  For the grownup me, the icing on the Forced March Out to the Garden Cake was a colander brimming with raspberries, which turned out to be the filling for the pie.

In the garden I had a quiet moment to reflect upon the writing life.  If you’ve been a writer for more than fifteen minutes, you’ve already heard that if you want a piece of the pie, you need to establish a social media platform.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, other ones of which I’ve never heard so I can’t even spell them, and a blog.  Kristen Lamb, the social media expert for writers tells us to blog at least once a week, ARGH!  But three posts would be better.  TRIPLE ARRRGGGHHH!

I was born an old dog, and new tricks don’t come easy.  My long suffering husband had to drag me to the computer (what is that thing and why are you making me touch it?), tie me to a chair, and force me to learn how to use it.  This happened only about a hundred times before I was willing to trade in my quill for a Mac.  Now writing equals cut and paste, and I use my quill for dusting the keyboard.  Then came e-mail.  (Why bother with that when I can’t keep up with snail mail, and it probably won’t catch on anyway!? )  But you can’t hold back the tide with a teaspoon.  E-mail and the internet were keepers, too; without them I couldn’t run a business, network professionally, or find nearly so many fascinating ways to procrastinate.

I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with the raspberry harvest this year.  If I can do that, I reckon I can learn one more new trick, and keep up with the blogging.  So here I go.

Copyright 2011 Naomi Baltuck