Fly With It!

When my daughter Bea was a little girl, she found a seed in a seedless Satsuma, and planted it in a paper cup.  Our little Satsuma tree has lived on our kitchen windowsill for years now, as a reminder that with a little faith, anything can grow.   Creativity is like that too.

Sometimes we see beauty in the ordinary.

Or, upon reflection, we take the ordinary and transform it.

Sometimes inspiration comes to us in a flood.

Sometimes in a flash.

Or even in hindsight.

More often,  it comes in disguise.

Or as a creative response to something we feel passionate about.

Perhaps we are inspired by another artist…as in Bea’s sculpture, The Ice Scream.

I love working with a creative team…

Sometimes it’s a process.

…but the end result is worth it.

However it comes to you, wherever you find your inspiration, you are never too young…

Or too old….

…To fly with it!

May all your ideas and inspirations be fruitful!

All images and words Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of A Word a Week Photographic Challenge.

Steppingstones (and the Kreativ Blogger Award)

On the river of life we look for steppingstones and move forward one step at a time.  When the river is raging, sometimes it takes a leap of faith.  I thought when I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in English, I’d have my path laid out for the rest of my life.  Wrong again!

1. My sister Constance and I didn’t know we wanted to do, but we did know where we wanted to do it.   We threw our bikes in the back of a drive-away pickup truck and headed Out West to seek our fortunes.

Biking down the Washington and Oregon Coast was an adventure.  We were drenched much of the time–“rain forest” printed on a map doesn’t mean much to a Detroiter until she actually gets wet.  Once we built up calluses in all the right places, we covered our miles, laughed a lot, met many kind people along the way, and filled up our story banks.


…until I was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

2. I was banged up, but not as badly as my poor bike.  Just like with my birdwatching adventure on Mt. St. Helens, I’d never have wished it to happen.  But if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the opportunity to teach “Eastern Canoeing” at Montecito-Sequoia High Sierra Camp for Girls in King’s Canyon National Park.  My best friends there were Twinkle, Sneakers, Scoop, and Aspen.  But that’s a story for another day.

3. Camp ended, and I determined to make a fresh start in Seattle.  My first job was with Northwest Airlines as a reservation agent.  I would earn more than ever, plus free airline travel!  I felt like a VIP when they flew me to Minneapolis for my interview.  Then the training began.  That job lasted three days.  They sat me in a huge hall with all the other trainees lined up in row after row of desks, opposite a wall of blinking lights.  Each light represented an agent whose every call was recorded.  Every second was accounted for—how many calls, even how many seconds per call.  I didn’t even look before I leaped!

4. I took a job as a plumbing radio dispatcher, plotting the course for eight plumbing crews throughout the city of Seattle.  “KYL  97 to 88, we have a clogged toilet in Wallingford…”  I couldn’t help myself—it took me a while to figure out that my boss had a radio in his car too, and I kept getting chided for dramatic communications (think “Enterprise to Bob, red alert!  We have a sewer backing up in Federal Way…or my favorite,”Captain Kirk out…”).  My boss said he never expected me to last as long as I did—I quit after eight weeks.   The next steppingstone took me all the way to….

5.  …Wyoming.  There I waited on tables at the Chuckwagon Restaurant at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park.

It was a grand summer in the most beautiful place on earth.

I could never remember whether to serve from the left or the right, but I could spin a yarn.  I’d already been to 49 states, and had something in common with everyone who sat in my section, wherever they hailed from.  They loved the customized sketches I drew for them on the back of their checks.  I hiked, camped, biked, canoed, and filled up my story banks with each cup of coffee I poured coffee for the local cowboys, park rangers, and tourists.  From tips alone I earned more than I could have working for Northwest Airlines…

…but being the best waitress in the world wasn’t enough to hold me.  I was looking for something more, although I didn’t know what.  As soon as the tourist season ended, I grabbed my jackalope and took another flying leap.  Strong currents and prevailing winds always carried me back to Seattle.

6.  I took a job teaching at Community Day School.  I loved working with kids so much.  I didn’t think of myself as a storyteller, although our Book Nook was a very popular place for reading and storytelling.  I stuck around CDS as head teacher, helping to establish their first summer camp program.  I was able to apply all I had learned at Montecito-Sequoia and the other camp where I was a counselor, the Bar 717 Ranch.

I took a puppetry class to enrich my teaching, but I was invited by our instructors, master puppeteers, Jean Matson and Betsy Tobin, to join the Seattle Puppetory Theater.  I am still grateful to them both for recognizing and helping me develop talents I might never have known what to do with.  Puppetry was my steppingstone, and my toe in the door to the performance arts as well as writing.  I co-wrote some of the material I performed.  The piece I was proudest and most passionate about co-writing and producing was commissioned by Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons, a play for adults called Peace Porridge Hot.  It was exhilarating, whether I was behind the curtain manipulating puppets or in front of the stage, interacting with them. My favorite role was Yo-Yo the Clown.

7.  I retired from puppetry and teaching in 1985, but they were my steppingstones to a career as a full-time professional storyteller.  Discovering storytelling was a little like falling in love.  It was as though I had come to a bend in the river, and I could look up and see which direction to follow all the way to the horizon.  For three decades I’ve been telling stories at libraries, schools, museums, festivals.  When the kids were old enough, they joined me on the stage for tandem telling.  My husband Thom is a teacher librarian and a great storyteller.  When he jumped into the act, we began telling as the Baltuck/Garrard Family Storytellers.  I still teach storytelling and do most of my performances solo, but my favorite gigs involve the whole family.

Even if you know where you’re going, you still have to put one foot in front of the other if you want to keep learning and growing, personally and/ or professionally.  I believe there are many ways to tell a story.  Storytelling led to writing.  First I adapted traditional folk tales, then began with original short stories.  That led to storytelling publications, including an award-winning anthology, Apples From Heaven, that I am very proud of.  Then came my first novel, co-written with my sister Deborah, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, a Doubleday Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.  Eventually I found my way to writing this blog, which has opened up a whole new way of storytelling, and introduced me to blogging friends all over the world.  Where to from here?  I will keep the keyboard clacking and the feet moving one step at a time, and see where I end up.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Now there was a point to this story.  I was nominated for the Kreativ Blogger Award by Holly Michaels, a writer and a storyteller, a traveler and a mom.  Thank you, Holly Michael, for this honor. Check out her inspiring blog, Holly Michael’s Writing Straight.

Now that I’ve already told you seven (or eight or nine facts about myself), I get to recommend seven other bloggers for this award, and I hope you will check them out because they have so many stories to tell!   I have made so many wonderful blogging buddies and I have a backlog of awards to pass on, so if you did’t receive a nomination for this one, I’m sure you will for the next one!

Honesty  is a blog written by a writer, a teacher, a nurse.  She writes what she thinks, which is refreshing.  She is also looking for writers who are interested in sharing stories on her blog.

Scillagrace is written by someone who loves history and dancing as much as I do, and she spins a good yarn.  I love her voice.

The Teatime Reader is another Naomi who writes intelligent and interesting book reviews.  She always chooses intriguing books and my reading list is a mile long since I discovered her wonderful blog!

Seventh Voice is an important blog that addresses Autism and Asperger’s through poetry and prose, but more than that, it is about being human.

P ART ICI PATIO N is a blog by Dorotee Lang, who shares photographs of the world as a part of her daily journal.  I really like her work.

Sofacents: From Adman to Diaperman  follows the adventures of a 46 year old stay-at-home Dad.  It is fresh and funny, and I love the pictures.

Joy in the Moments is written by Char, a wife, a mother, a writer, and a reader who believes life should be lived for joy It’s a joy to read her blog.

Check ’em out!

Sunrise in Gibraltar

This sunrise was our reward for an early start on a big day.  We were staying near Gibraltar, and taking the ferry over to Tangier in Morocco to spend the day.  It was our first time ever in Africa, and we were a little nervous to step through that door.

Our driver Rashid was very helpful.   Rashid was a good son, who lived with and cared for his elderly mother.  His English was difficult to understand, so he and the kids communicated in Spanish.  If I had a question, I could make myself understood in my rusty French, but his replies came too quickly for me.  We worked out a system in which Rashid would reply to my French questions in Spanish, which the kids would then translate into English for me.

We were typical tourists.  We went to the market and did what most day trippers do.

We felt grateful for a quick peek into another world.

A glimpse down a dark alley could shed light on another way of life.

We walked past little shops and businesses. People work so hard to put bread in the mouths of their children.

Amizagh women sold vegetables in the market.  They are called Berbers by the Arabs and most of the world now.  Descended from prehistoric dwellers of the land, they are now a minority, but they retain the language and traditions of their ancestors.

I saw this cat in a narrow passageway, and it occurred to me that cats all over the world speak the same language.  I wondered what would happen if people did too.  Something would be gained, but much would be lost as well.

In Tangier we were given a taste of new flavors, colors, music, and customs.

It was time to cross back over the Straits.  The  kids will never let me live down the fact that I accidentally bought a rug, my only souvenir of that trip.  I wanted to bring home some of the vivid colors of a world so very different, and yet so much the same as ours.

Sunrise to sunset, long after the threads on my rug have faded, that day will stay with me.

All words and images Copyright Naomi Baltuck

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

 

Travel Theme: Oceans (and the Irish Coastline)

In Ireland, the ocean is everywhere.

Sometimes hiding in the mist…

History hangs heavy in the ocean air, like breath moistened by a story.

In rough weather…

Or calm…

Whether watching intently…

Or only vaguely aware of it…

You can still smell the salt in the air…like a ghost.

You can feel it like a heartbeat…

And hear it like a lullabye…

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer

Summertime is family time–school’s out for the kids, and Dad too.

We get to travel to new places.  Big cities….

Or little villages….

To learn the stories…

And the histories…

To take in the colors….

And the tastes….

See the sights…

Visit family…

And just be together….

Summertime sparkles!

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Weekly Photo Challenge: Together

In a museum in Vienna we saw statues of ancient Egyptian pharaohs, usually standing alone and looking very grand.  Occasionally one was portrayed with his spouse, each sitting upon a throne, like salt and pepper shakers; a matched set, but separate.  Then we came to a sculpture of an Egyptian couple sharing the same seat, a simple stone block.  I don’t remember who it was, some Ramses or other, but it didn’t matter.  He leaned into her ever so slightly, and her arm rested gently on his back in such a fond and tender gesture that it warmed the stone.  Not just mummies waiting to happen, they were flesh and blood humans who must have loved as tenderly as we do.  Togetherness for all times, and all time.

In Vienna we visited The House of Music, where we saw this Mozart Family portrait.  Seated at the piano were young Wolfgang, his sister Maria Anna, and their father Leopold.  Anna Maria, Leopold’s wife and the mother of his children had died, but they couldn’t think of having a family portrait painted without including her.  They commissioned a portrait of the deceased Anna Maria within the painting, which strikes me as sad, but sweet.  Togetherness in any case.

Oh, my gosh!  I look at this picture of my husband and kids at an open-air history museum in Switzerland, and while I laugh aloud just to look at it, my heart is melting.  My sister Con says the one who wields the camera wields the power; if you are aiming a camera at folks and ask them to jump off a cliff, she says they’ll do it for the sake of the shot.  This photo might be taken as proof of Con’s theory, but I took it as proof of their love for the family photographer and to a certain sense of loyalty and fun.   Togetherness at any price!

But if I had to choose one photo to depict what “together” means to me, it would be this one snapped in the streets of Orvieto, Italy.  It brings to mind the marriage vows Thom and I made to each other twenty-nine years ago.  “Grow old with me, the best is yet to come…”

All words and imaged copyright Naomi Baltuck

Sun (Worship)

Sunset at Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Reconstruction of an ancient home in the Jewish quarter of Cordoba, Spain.

A minaret at sunrise in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London, where prisoners came in by boat, and looked back one last time at the sun.

In Seattle we have our own kind of sun worship.

All words and images c 2014Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of the One Word Photo Challenge: Sun.

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Oddball Challenge: Week 38.

Life Will Out

While traveling in Argentina, we visited La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.   Since 1822, nearly 5,000 mausoleums have been constructed  in the highest fashion of the times, from Baroque and Neo-Gothic to Art Deco and Art Nouveau.   La Recoleta is a city for the dead, with elegant marble tombs neatly laid out in blocks over fourteen acres.

Some are maintained, for love or pride. Others, like the poet Shelley’s statue of Ozymandias, have fallen into disrepair, covered with spider webs and graffiti, littered with broken glass and faded plastic flowers.  Feral cats stare warily from marble perches and skulk away sideways if approached.

We saw the grave of Eva Peron, and other statesmen, poets, generals, and presidents.

More interesting to me was the final resting place for a mother and her infant.  They were not famous, but clearly they were loved.  Did she and the child die in childbirth or were they swept away by an epidemic? In any case, a grieving husband and father was spared to erect this memorial. Was he able to pick up the pieces of his broken life to find happiness again?

Wherever we go, we find reminders of all the stories in this world that will never be told.  When I photographed this memorial, I could be certain of only two things.  Both mother and child were subject to an early and tragic demise.  And, as seen by the lush green fern sprouting from the dust collecting in the cracks in the stone, life goes on.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare.

Unique New York!


Open mouth.  Insert foot.  Things happen.  At least that’s what happens to me.  At 85, my mother’s sister Loena suffers from heart trouble and Quilter’s Thumb, but she never complains.  She uses a cane on good days, a walker or wheelchair the rest of the time.  Aunt Loena lives in Detroit, but was always too busy taking care of everyone else to travel.  A couple years ago, with my Michigan sister Lee, my aunt flew to Seattle to come see us.

She was frail and tired easily.  Once, when we couldn’t hear her snoring, I tiptoed in to see if she was still breathing.  But we laughed often and loudly; I felt my mother’s presence so strongly I wanted to pour Mom a cup of coffee too.  The visit went so well I asked my aunt where she’d like to go next.  I figured Holland, Michigan, perhaps, to see the tulips.  But no.  Aunt Loena said, “Your mother and I were planning a trip to New York, to see the Statue of Liberty and lots of Broadway musicals.  That was before she got sick.”

I’ll take you!” I blurted.  Then I felt sick.  I’ve always suffered from Foot in Mouth disease.  My other chronic illness was Newyorkaphobia.  In my mind NYC was big, bad, dangerous.  AND expensive.  I had the money, but it was tucked away for a trip to England, a place I really did want to see. But a promise is a promise.

I researched airfare, hotels, even how to hail a cab.  We picked up travel companions right and left, like Dorothy on her way to Emerald City.  I ordered show tickets, mailed maps and instructions to them all.  My daughter Bea and I flew into JFK.  My sister Con flew from Alaska to her daughter Jane’s, and they trained in from Boston.  Lee and Aunt Loena flew into Newark from Detroit.  We all arrived within twenty minutes of each other at the Casablanca Hotel, half a block from Times Square!

I chose the hotel for its proximity to theaters and its uniqueness–the breakfast room is called Rick’s, after Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca.  Six women crammed themselves into a suite meant for four, but the staff didn’t seem to mind.  Everyone was helpful; they even provided a wheelchair.  At  Casablanca’s Happy Hour, we had fruit, cookies, wine and cheese.

Jane, Constance, Bea, Lee, and Aunt Loena at a Very Happy Hour.

Then it was time to go to our first Broadway musical, Billy Elliot.  Jane had made other plans, so five of us stood outside the hotel while I hailed a cab.  It pulled over to the curb and we all crowded in.

“Only four, please.”  The driver had an accent, and was clearly from somewhere in Africa.

“The theater is just a few blocks,” I said, “but my auntie can’t walk.”

“I cannot take more than four passengers.”

“We don’t mind Cozy.”

“No, no, no.  I mean I get into big trouble for carrying more than four passengers.”

“Oh, we don’t want to get you in trouble.  It’s not far.  My sisters can walk, and we’ll meet them there.”

Lee and Con got out and started walking. He put his hand to his forehead and sighed.  “Call them back.”

“Really?”  I hollered for my sisters, and soon we were all back in the cab, with Bea ducked down out of sight.

Our driver was Daniel, a doctor from Togo, who was making better money driving a cab in NYC than in the medical profession in Togo.  We asked about his family, and whether he missed his home.  “It’s best for the children,” he said. He was curious about our lives too.  As we talked, my fears dropped away.

Fool’s luck must have sent Mr. Adenje to us on our first evening in New York.  I knew we were in good hands, even before he refused any money for the ride, even the twenty dollar tip I tried to give him.  Where does THAT ever happen?  Certainly not in Seattle!  This couldn’t be the ugly city that so terrified me!  At first I thought Mr Adenje was an angel in disguise; I have come to think of him as the spirit of New York.

The whole time we were there we never met an unkind person.  Everyone had a story to tell, like Fergus, the driver who gave Aunt Loena her first buggy ride.  He told us he gained fifteen pounds in one week when his mother came from Ireland to visit and meet her first grandchild.

Fergus, Bea, and Aunt Loena.

At a hot dog stand in Central Park, the elderly gent ahead of us insisted on treating.  Aunt Loena was convinced he was Scottish, despite his yarmulke and Yiddish accent.  “In any case,” I told her, “you’ve still got what it takes!”   My aunt laughed and pshawed, but still she blushed like a young girl.

Central Park is an oasis in a concrete jungle.

The next night, by the time Aunt Loena could shuffle out of the theater, where we saw Phantom of the Opera, the cabs were all gone.  But a man in a rickshaw pedaled up; another ‘first’ for my aunt.  She and I sat with Bea on my lap, as Rene from El Salvador wove through late-night traffic, cutting off stretch limousines, jumping potholes like a Latin Evil Knievel, and cutting through dark alleys.  He hadn’t been home for six years, and had a daughter he had never seen.  He said he liked working the late night shift, because the days could be so very hot.  While we talked with Rene, Aunt Loena smiled and waved to strangers on the street, and they all smiled and waved back.

Bea and Auntie Lee on our city bus tour.

Ghosts of New York’s past can still be seen.

And then there is the Natural History Museum.  Very Educational.

 Since then I have returned to the Big Apple of my own free will.   I brought my husband, my kids, and an open heart.


I am learning to let go of my fears.  There are so many places I still want to see, too many stories out in that wide world I have yet to hear.  I hope I never get too old to enjoy them, or too afraid to try.  After all, I’ve already seen how high an old lady can kick up her heels while keeping a sturdy grip on her walker.

All images and words copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

For more great photos of New York, check out “I Love New York” in writer Kourteny Heintz’s Journal!