Thanksgiving was extra special this year for three reasons: My sister Constance, my daughter Bea, and Bea’s friend Beata.
Last summer the Seattle Theater Group treated its season ticket holders to a champagne lunch aboard a Holland America cruise ship.
The closest we’d come to a cruise was a day trip from Helsinki to Talin. Thom dusted off his sports jacket…
…and we went to lunch with our friend Monica.
…there was unabashed glitz and glamor.
…they turned us loose.
We acquainted ourselves with the pool.
And the dance floor.
…and colors were striking.
It was ‘The Titanic…
…meets Blade Runner.’
A place out of time. A floating island. Everyone the star of his or her own movie.
Across the harbor it was business as usual.
Gritty stories were played out in choppy waters, a world apart from our pampered microcosm.
As we left the parking lot, we drove through a sobering intersection of poverty and privilege.
Having just left a luxurious cruise boat, I thought of the Titanic. Many historians believe steerage passengers were treated with indifference at best, and that racism and classism was a factor in the dismal survival rates of the poor. Only 25% of the Third Class passengers survived, while 62% of the First Class passengers did.
One would hope for improvement in the last hundred years, and things did get better–for awhile.
From the 1950s through the 70s, middle class prosperity grew: more people could afford higher education, resulting in better jobs and owning homes. Then Ronald Reagan introduced Trickle Down Economics, claiming that by making the rich richer prosperity would trickle down to the poor, but that just kicked economic inequality into hyperdrive. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich also made the rich richer, while depriving the nation of income that would prevent the lower and middle classes from slipping further behind.
From 1979-2007, income of the top 1 percent grew by 275%, while the bottom 80 percent averaged 29%. From 2009-2012, the top one percent raked in 95% of all income growth in the nation.
Economist Paul Krugman says soaring profits of the one percent are achieved by squeezing those below: cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions. Elite priorities exert a wildly disproportionate effect on policy, such as slashing social programs for the needy while lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
But there is hope.
In yesterday’s election, Seattle voted to shut big money out of politics, after having already led the nation in a vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
I AM SO PROUD OF SEATTLE!
When Abraham Lincoln said America’s representative democracy was of the people, by the people, and for the people, I’m sure he did NOT mean corporations.
We are all in the same boat. I’m thinking it’s time to bust out the life preservers, and this time, let’s make sure there is one for everyone.
All images and words ©2015 Naomi Baltuck
I tend to be a happy hermit, but this October has been unusually social.
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.
Eight years ago I bought three five-inch-tall end-of-the-season baby grapevines for $1.29 each and planted them in pots on the deck, hoping to train them onto the arbor. Nothing much happened for several years, although one grew tall enough to peek over Bea’s shoulder in the photo below.
So I transplanted them into the ground beneath the arbor surrounding our patio. They liked it there, and began to make themselves at home.
Time went by, and over the last few years we’ve had a few sour grapes, but didn’t mind because the leaves were so beautiful. They might’ve been more productive if I’d pruned, but we loved the shady greenery.
This summer Seattle was unseasonably hot, and we had bunches and bunches of grapes. All summer we anticipated the harvest. Thom brought in the first bunch to test for ripeness. Almost ready…
We harvested ripe juicy pears.
A few apples.
And wild blackberries…
…by the handful.
Then came the raccoons. It wouldn’t be the first time. We let them eat their fill of Italian plums, just to keep them occupied and away from the grapes. But in the wee hours one night, they got into the arbor. I chased them off with the jet hose and stood guard. They growled. They snarled. They organized. It was intense. They adapted to the water, so I rattled a deck chair to scare them off. Once they became immune to the rattle of the chair, I had to bang on the chimes with a stick, which I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate. While I was occupied by one, another approached from the other side. Finally, at first light, before disappearing into the trees, the biggest one curled its lip and said, “I’ll be back.”
We had to draw a line, and it was right in front of our first decent crop of grapes ever. Thom designed a “raccoon baffle” from metal sheeting to keep them from accessing the grapes from the south side arbor. He installed a little electric fence below to prevent their climbing up the base of the arbor. It worked for a couple nights. But the night before harvest day, we heard loud rustling just outside our bedroom window.
The dam! dam! dam! broke. Thom and I hurried out with bowls, flashlights, and scissors to power harvest everything within reach. I don’t know how, but they found their way past all the barriers to those grapes. Raccoons are the Borg of the natural world; so smart, expert at teamwork, and they adapt. While we snipped grapes, they kept creeping up from all directions. They look cute, but are wild and can be dangerous. It was illogical to take a stand there, when I could buy Safeway grapes for two bucks a pound, but I can’t deny it: I’m very territorial when it comes to my garden. Ask any slug.
We processed the grapes like we grew them–haphazardly, making it up as we went along. My sister Constance helped boil them into a thick syrup.
The crock-pot works well for this too, and you don’t have to stir constantly.
When the mixture turns purple and thickens, throw in a bunch of sugar. Please don’t ask for proportions. A bunch of grapes and a bunch of sugar. Strain it a couple times with cheesecloth, coffee filters, or a clean dishtowel (we used them all), and pour it into a container.
Heat the syrup in the microwave, mix it with a little brandy.
Or Vernor’s ginger ale. Here too I must draw the line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: only Vernor’s will do.
And don’t forget the cocktail umbrella.
What you end up with is grape-flavored liquid Sweet Tart, best savored one sip at a time.
After we harvested enough grapes to call it a day (or a desperate last stand of a night), we surrendered the remainders to the raccoons, squirrels, and one particularly noisy possum. They are smarter than we are, and we figure they earned it. Now sometimes at night we hear them munching, run for flashlights, and watch them feast at eye level from our cozy raccoon blind. That’s not sour grapes talking. In fact, I’d call it a win-win situation.
All words and images copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.
If you want to learn more about raccoons, watch this PBS program on urban raccoons titled Raccoon Nation. It will shock and amaze you!
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have the time and space to look at our lives…
…and the people we share them with. I’ve spent well over half my life with Thom.
He is such a good sport…and pretty darn cute too.
He has put up with all my quirks, neuroses and annoying habits all these years…
…which is probably a little like being married to Lucy Ricardo.
Come to think of it, he’s always quick to jump on board the family bandwagon.
Such a gentle and compassionate soul.
He is my playmate…
…my safe harbor…
…the kids and I know he is always there to catch us should we fall.
We would follow him anywhere.
And that means anywhere!
Dear Thom, here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday, and many more!
All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.
The summer days flew by in a blur.
One of our family’s favorite ways to connect is to share a travel adventure.
We stopped over in England to raise a glass with Cousin Nancy at The Eagle and Child, a favorite hangout of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Then on to Romania…
It was like stepping back in time.
In some places horse-drawn carts and hay wagons were almost as common as automobiles.
Travelers shared the road, no matter what their mode of conveyance.
During haying time in Romania…
…everyone seemed to be out working in the fields with their wooden rakes and hayforks.
Grandma and Grandpa too.
While shepherds watched over their sheep, as they have done since time out of mind.
We visited beautiful villages…
We saw the ancient painted churches of Bucovina, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We tried some new things…
…met some new friends…
…and made memories which we shall enjoy for the rest of our lives.
It’s thrilling to go out into the world, but just as wonderful to come home again.
We found a treasure or two on our travels, but the best souvenirs…
…are always the new friendships, insights, and perspectives we carry home with us.
All words and images c2015 Naomi Baltuck.
We went to Sighosora, Romania…
…and stayed in the Old Town.
In the passage to the courtyard we found a nest, with two baby birds huddled nearby.
There had been a fierce windstorm the previous night that must have blown the nest from its nook in the wall, our Romanian host told us when delivering the key to our flat. My husband Thom replaced the nest, but when he tried to return the birds to the nest….
…he discovered two of their legs were tightly bound together by a long blond hair–nesting material gone terribly wrong.
We had a knife, our tiny blunt-nosed travel scissors, and a larger pair of scissors scrounged from the kitchen. Thom and our son Eli hoped to separate the birds with a quick snip. But the hair had been there for a long time, the legs were swollen around it, and every effort set the birds fluttering in a panic, which we feared would cause further damage. Our host wished us good luck, and left for work.
We felt helpless. We were there for only one night. To whom could we hand off these birds? We could return them to the nest and let nature take its course–a slow and painful death by starvation and infection. Or should we put them out of their misery? The only other possible solution was harsh. If we did nothing, both birds would surely die. By amputating one leg, one bird would likely die, but the other might have a fighting chance. One delicate leg was unresponsive to the touch, probably already broken. Eli braced himself and severed the mangled leg, cutting through the hair. Immediately both birds were free and fluttered off.
The one-legged bird landed on the ground nearby.
The stronger one fluttered all the way to the far side of the courtyard.
We heard a cackling overhead. Even without the family resemblance, we recognized an anxious mother, calling to her babies from the rooftop. We felt a glimmer of hope–their mother might yet take them back under her wing!
But our presence made her nervous, so we watched from inside, then left to explore the area.
By suppertime, the stronger bird had flown up to a perch in the courtyard…
…high enough to be safe from hungry cats.
The other remained quietly earthbound. We wondered what the morning would bring.
The next day, the stronger of the two was gone, as was its mother. The injured bird remained, probably abandoned as a lost cause by its family. We checked back only moments later to discover the one-legged bird was now gone without a trace. In a laundry room off the courtyard were two domestic workers. Could they have removed the bird like a piece of litter? Or perhaps a crow had carried it off to feed to its babies.
Out in the world, we often catch glimpses of a story, or a life. Sometimes they are as sweet as a single drop of honey.
Others are stories of sorrow and want.
Too many will be lived out in the shadows in quiet desperation.
As with the baby birds, sometimes we are helpless to help, sometimes we can offer only a bandaid, and most times we will never know how the story ends.
What makes the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy? Survival of the fittest? An accident of birth? An ill wind, perhaps. But sometimes it falls into our power to make a difference. When that happens, even for one tiny being, it can make all the difference in the world.
All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.
Dear friends, I have been away so long. A lifetime. You might say I’ve been in another state.
I went to Detroit to say goodbye to my Aunt Loena.
They say for everything there is a season, but how can one ever be prepared for the last goodbye?
At her funeral we connected with cousins we hadn’t seen for ages, and did what we could to help Loena’s kids, who’d generously shared their mom with us over the years.
I fulfilled a promise I’d made to my aunt, to help her clean out her craft room. We brought baskets of ornaments she’d sewn for friends to take home as keepsakes, which would’ve pleased her.
Aunt Millie brought notebooks and pens, and encouraged people to share their stories of Loena for her kids to read and treasure, perhaps when their hearts are not so sore.
Saying goodbye is hard. Aunt Loena said Mom always told her, “Whatever happens, we won’t cry. We’ll smile, kiss the kids goodbye, and stop the car around the corner to do our crying.” I still cry when I think of her, which is often. Everything I might say or write feels trivial, so I’ve said and written very little.
If you’re the praying sort, as she was, please say one for her. Better yet, an act of kindness would be the most appropriate way to honor a compassionate woman, who devoted her life to the care and service of others.
Thank you for your patience. When I find my center once again, I’ll stop by to see what all my blogging buddies have been up to. For now, here are some stories about my loving, funny, good-natured Aunt Loena, my other mother, who always had room in her heart for everyone.
Painting by Charles Willson Peale, 1822, The Lamplight Portrait.
All words and images, except where stated, copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.
In Turkey, everywhere we turned there were carpets…
…dressing up every room in the house.
Sometimes in the most unexpected places.
There are special prayer rugs in the mosques.
Even Turkish camels use them.
Cats love them too.
They really really love them.
And so do I.
They are important to the tourist trade.
I was willing to do my part to boost the economy.
But how to choose?
So many variables. Size, color, intricate patterns…
We knew we should research the market, measure the space, photograph the rug, walls, and furniture we wanted our purchase to match. But we didn’t.
The wine helped. Hospitality is customary in Turkey, but it doesn’t hurt to soften up potential buyers. We didn’t care: we knew from the start we would walk out with a new carpet.
Relying on instinct, we pared it down to two rugs. Then Metin explained the symbolism, and the deal was sealed. The tulip border on our favorite was a common Turkish motif, symbolizing the Garden of Eden.
Tulips recall Turkey’s rich history and culture, from the ‘tulip mania’ that brought “the Konya flowers” from Turkey to the West, to the many doors of understanding and appreciation opened on this shared journey.
One border design depicts water…
…for freedom and triumph over difficulties, because water follows its own path around, below or above any obstacle.
It also symbolizes fertility.
Red is for vibrance, passion, happiness. The ‘S’ border is for the first letter in the Turkish word for love.
The oleander flower, strong and drought resistant, stands for protection. It can be poisonous but is used to treat cancer, epilepsy, heart conditions, and more. Thousands of years ago Roman soldiers took it to cure hangovers.
Could our Turkish carpet brother be reading us so well that he could tell us exactly the story we want to hear? Love, passion, protection, and satisfaction guaranteed? Absolutely!
We weren’t worried about cutting the best deal or finding the best bargain: that was the happy ending to someone else’s adventure. It was the love story that stood out for us, the one we felt invested in, the one we happily bought into.
And the rug was a perfect fit–although not where we’d intended to put it, but–surprise!–we found an even better place for it, and we love our carpet more than we hoped or imagined.
We choose our own stories, just as we choose a carpet or a mate.
A little glass of wine can help. Don’t worry about the ticket price, go by instinct, and carry it home. Not every day can be a magic carpet ride, but these things hold their value, and a good one will last a lifetime.
All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck
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.
…friends and family…
…and more stories.
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.