Depth Perception

Last Tuesday we went downtown to attend a concert at Benaroya Hall, commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

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The performance was called Art From Ashes, and was produced by Music of Remembrance.

I had mixed feelings about going.

It was a wet cold day in Seattle.

The city seemed dirty.

…And sad.

It would be heartbreaking to listen to works by Jewish composers whose lives and legacies were cut short at the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau.

But the music proved more poignant than heartbreaking.

These doomed artists plumbed the depths of their despair, gleaned beauty from their cruel twisted world, and imbued their swan songs with love and longing.

Each note, each word a parting glance, a declaration of love, a prayer…

“…Tearfully stolen from the distant west, a gentle pink ray on the thin twigs, settling its quiet kiss on tiny leaves..”

As Jake Heggie wrote in his song Farewell, Auschwitz, they cast off their striped clothes and held their shaved heads high.  “The song of freedom upon our lips will never, never die.”

Ashamed and bewildered by the depths of depravity to which humankind has too often sunk, I also felt a fierce pride for its passion and courage and tenacious love of life that can raise art from the ashes.

Copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck

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

 

A Celebration of Fenestration

The Latin word for window is “fenestra.”  The old English word for window, “eagbyrl,” means “eye-door.”   Just like a door, it can be used for peeking out…

…or peeking in.

Whether you are looking in or out, there are so many things to see, just behind the glass.

The earliest windows were holes in a wall.

Narrow slits, to let in a bit of light with the cold air or to shoot an arrow through.

The ancient Romans were the first to use glass.

Then came windows of animal horn or hides, cloth, and in the Far East, even paper.

The Inuit people say, “Don’t let the window of your home be so small that the light of the sun cannot enter.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said people are like stained glass windows.   They sparkle and shine when the sun is out…

…but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed.

In the Ukraine they say you don’t really see the world, if you look only through your own window.

And what a world there is out there to see!


There is another old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

…and one that says a smile is a window on your face to show your heart is at home.

The world on either side of your window can be sad…

…distant…

…daunting…

…and scary.

All the more reason to let the light in.

Let your window’s light shine like a beacon…

…and reflect upon the beauty of our world.

All the windows of the world!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

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

A Few of My Favorite Things

Sixteen months ago, I wrote my first blog post.  Since then, I’ve met fascinating people, made many friends, and discovered a new form of storytelling.  I’m like the Tortoise, not the Hare–slow and steady. Finally, I get to post for the hundredth time!

Through this blog I share my passion for travel, photography, writing, storytelling, and that which I hold dearest, my family. But if not for you, this blog would not exist.  There is an Armenian folk saying…

Three apples fell from heaven.

One for the teller,

One for the listener,

And one for the one who took it to heart.

Thank you for being here, for reading, for caring enough to follow this blog, and for sharing your thoughts, your stories, your lives with me through your blogs.  To mark this milestone, here are a few of my favorite posts from the past sixteen months.

Sunday Post:  Doors

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward Movement

Oceans (and the Irish Coastline)

Sunrise in Gibraltar

Flowers (are like people)

One Village

Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

To Shorten the Road

Reflections (On Life and the Art of Aging)

Where Are We?  Where’s Walter?  And Where is That Fleeting Moment?

Editing Monet’s Garden

All words and images c2013 Naomi Baltuck

How I Survived Turkish Cooking Class

My specialty is grilled cheese sandwiches, with the burnt side scratched off and served charred side down.  If it’s really burnt, I serve it with wine.  Lots of wine.  But cooking is my son Eli’s passion, which is how I happened to sign up for a Turkish cooking class while we were in Istanbul last October.

Eveline, owner of A la Turka, is a Dutch woman who followed her bliss to cooking school in Paris, then to Istanbul, to open her own cooking school and restaurant.  Feyzi, her master chef, is an excellent teacher.  Surprisingly, he manages to impart his wisdom without uttering a word.

Feyzi  had me with his first demonstration on the importance of presentation, as shown below.

We were cooking a five course dinner–red lentil soup, stuffed eggplant, zucchini fritters, stuffed grape leaves, sweet cakes, and even Turkish coffee.  Eli was jazzed; I was in it for the two glasses of Turkish wine they promised us with our dinner.   I waited for a task fitting my limited repertoire of culinary skills–scraping the burnt crust off grilled cheese sandwiches, and popping the cork off wine bottles.  Peeling and cutting up tomatoes for eggplant stuffing fell to Eli and me.  We took up our knives and jumped into the proverbial frying pan.

Cooking is like magic.  You start with raw materials…

…wave your magic wand, or stir it with your spoon, to be more precise.

And abracadabra!  You have crisp tasty zucchini fritters!

When I volunteered to stir the eggplant stuffing…

…I didn’t know Feyzi wanted me to do it with my hands.

Next we took eggplants, peeled them and gutted them.

  Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a breeding nest of baby space aliens?

Oh no! They’re getting away!

Eveline suggested I use paper toweling to clean my hands, instead of my apron.  I looked down and noticed the mess of red tomato-gut handprints on my front.  Dang!  And everyone else’s aprons were spotless.   Meanwhile, Eli was sprinkling pistachio crumbs over the sweet cakes too far from the plate, and he was relieved of that duty.

I decided I couldn’t get into trouble if I took a job stirring the pot on the stove.

As you can see above, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that my oven-mitted left hand had caught fire.  I did finally notice in time to save the hand, and the kitchen, if not my pride.

Eli says we were the ugly stepchildren in that class, but we did learn lots of tricks…like washing oniony hands in lemon water, or how to chop great quantities of herbs with a blade resembling a Klingon Bat’leth.

Among other things…



We were the stars of our own little cooking show, at least in our own minds.

We learned how to turn this…

…into this!

I also learned that I prefer white over red wine.  Nobody got killed.  And I’m thinking of starting my own cooking school.  Maybe I’ll call it “Cooking a La Turkeys.”

All images and words C2012 Naomi Baltuck

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

The Giants’ Causeway to Scotland

Scientists say that 55 to 65 million years ago, the North of Ireland was subject to volcanic activity, and that molten lava cooled rapidly, creating fractures in the rock that looked like giant stone pillars, some reaching a height of nearly 40 feet.

It made a vivid pattern in the rock…

…and was such a unique natural phenomenon that in 1986  UNESCO named it World Heritage Site.

But if you ask me, that’s a bunch of blarney.  Better yet, ask any local.  He’ll tell you what really happened is that a giant named Finn MacCool was building a causeway to Scotland.
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A Scottish giant named Benandonner tracked Finn to the causeway, looking for a fight.  He wanted to prove he was the greatest giant of them all.  He had already tracked down and beaten every other giant in Ireland, and Benandonner wanted to serve up Finn with the same sauce.

He hurried home to his wife Oonagh.  “Don’t worry, darlin’,” she told Finn.  “We’ll serve him up as good as he brings.”  She dressed Finn in a baby bonnet and put him in a giant wooden cradle.  Then she  baked 27 loaves of bread with 27 iron griddles baked into them, and one good loaf of bread.  When Benandonner arrived looking for Finn, Oonagh said, “He’s off to the Giants’ Causeway, to make paste out of some buffoon of a giant named Benandonner.  But come in and I’ll feed you the bread I prepared for Finn.”  Oonagh gave Benandonner a loaf with a griddle baked into it, and he broke three teeth on it. “Take it away or I’ll not have a good tooth left in me head!” he shouted.

“It’s just the way Finn likes it, nice and crunchy,” said Oonagh.  “Perhaps that one’s stale.”   Then she gave ‘Baby Finn’ the one good loaf.  When Benandonner saw him gobble it down, he shouted, “Sure I haven’t a chance against the giant whose baby can eat the bread that nearly broke my jaw!”

Oonagh smiled as she watched Benandonner racing helter skelter down Knockmany Hill. “When brains are called for,” she told Finn, “brawn won’t help.”

If you go to The Giants’ Causeway in Antrim, remember that you are walking in a land where giants once tread.

And never forget that many a man besides Finn MacCool would find himself in a pretty scrape, if not for his wife!

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel theme: Feet.

As You Like It: Reflections (on Life and the Art of Aging)

“All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…”


My mother and her sister Loena were best friends.  Wherever Loena went, she would sing or hum quietly to herself.  My mother used to introduce her to friends saying, “This is my sister Loena.  Don’t mind her; she hums.”

Mom was the one who used to bust Aunt Loena out of Detroit for road trips.  Sometimes to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister Miriam, to Maine to see my sister Constance, or to see me and my siblings in Seattle, especially if the Tigers were scheduled to play the Mariners.

Driving cross country to attend my wedding, they made a late-night stop at a hamburger joint in Iowa. They were laughing so hard the young man behind the counter came to their table and said, “Ladies, I don’t know where you’re going, but I want to come with you.”

Less than a year after Mom died, my first baby was born.  It was a wonder-full time, if bittersweet.  Aunt Loena’s visit was the next best thing to seeing my mom holding my baby in her arms.  I felt my mother’s presence, watching, smiling, loving.

But it was hard for Aunt Loena to get away.  She spent two decades housebound while caring for her mother-in-law, and then her husband.  No one blamed him for his frustration, but he yelled at everyone who came to visit or offer aid, and fired everyone my aunt hired to help with housework and eldercare.  It was emotionally isolating and physically exhausting.  She never complained, and joked that at least her medical appointments for heart trouble, cataract surgery, and blood transfusions got her out of the house.  Like my mother, she knew how to look for the bright spots.

The 911 response team knew her by name, as she had to call whenever her husband fell out of the recliner where he slept.  It was time for a nursing home.  She visited him twice a day, until she caught meningitis.  Her doctors didn’t think she’d survive.  I flew to Detroit to say goodbye, but Aunt Loena is a two-time cancer survivor, who has come back from the brink so many times she makes Rasputin look like a weenie.  It was a wake-up call, however.  She checked out of the hospital with a bucket list.  My aunt is 86, anemic, subject to dizzy spells and shortness of breath.  Oh, yes, and always up for an adventure, so long as it is wheelchair accessible.

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Aunt Loena with my sister Lee and my son Elijah

Our first adventure was a trip to Seattle.  We knew she had a great time, because wherever we went, she hummed to herself like a purring kitten.  That trip was just a warm-up for her dream trip to New York City.

Aunt Loena in Central Park with Bea and me.

When it was time to leave New York and go our separate ways, it was too sad to say goodbye, so instead we said, “Where to next?”  She’d always wanted to go the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.  So that’s what we did.  My son Eli flew in from college in Maine, I flew from Seattle, and my sister Lee joined us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

 We went in October, to take in the fall colors as well as the plays.

I chose our motel for its name.

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In Stratford I discovered the secret to longevity–a nightly dose of Miss Vicky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips!  Aunt Loena is a teetotaler, but she’s not afraid of a little salt and grease.  Got sugar?   Bring it on!

Each time we part, I fear another long drive or a cross country flight will prove too much.  We make a date and look forward to it, but  I always check before I make plane reservations.  “You’re sure?”  And she always says, “Oh, yes.  As long as I’m sitting down, it’s almost just the same as sitting at home.”

We promised to bring her to Seattle for fish and chips this summer, but Lee couldn’t make it.  I asked my friend Monica, also a Detroiter, if she’d consider escorting Aunt Loena.  The next morning I got her reply– she would be delighted!  What a gift to us all!  We couldn’t have pulled it off without her.  Monica and Aunt Loena had been hearing about each other for years, and felt like they already knew each other.  We kicked off a week-long PJ party by attending a performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.”   We also enjoyed Teatro Zinzanni’s very silly but impressive dinner theater show, “Gangsters of Love.”

Aunt Loena made her famous egg salad sandwiches.  Years ago, when we all drove to D.C. to visit our sister Miriam, we weren’t out of Detroit yet when Mom said, “Who’s ready for an egg salad sandwich?”  It was 10am, but so what?  We were ready for another one by lunchtime.

We picnicked at Green Lake–egg salad sandwiches, my brother Lew’s homemade cookies, and Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.  We couldn’t get to a picnic table, because we didn’t have an all-terrain wheelchair, but from our park bench we had a gorgeous view of the lake.

I would love to take Aunt Loena to Hawaii or Europe; even she feels it might be too far.  But her eyes lit up when she said church friends had gone to a casino, and she thought it might be fun to try her luck just once–if there was a smoke-free one with wheelchair access.  I don’t know anything about casinos, but an internet search and a few phone calls was all it took to locate a smoke-free casino in Toledo, not far from their wonderful zoo.  I sent Aunt Loena home with a roll of quarters and a promise.  Guess where we’re going next spring!

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.”  And that’s what they always did, she said.  But this time we all had to cry, just a little.

Most people in my aunt’s situation prefer the security of a recliner, the proximity of their own doctors, and to be in control, even if that just means the remote to the television.  Who can blame them?  With advanced age, circumstances often change, especially where health, finances, and family support are concerned.  Aunt Loena lives her life as an adventure, and adjusts the size of her dreams as necessary.  But for her, everything is icing on the cake.  New York is as good as Hawaii, and Ohio is as good as New York.  But she would be just as happy humming quietly and playing cards with a friend while snacking on a bag of Miss VIcky’s Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips.

I want to grow old like Aunt Loena, to go out swinging or at least singing.  When I told her she was brave for coming all the way to Seattle, she laughed and said, “All I need is a wheelchair, and someone to push it.

You got it, Aunt Loena.  And you don’t even need to ask.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Black and White (or not)

A black and white photo is light and dark, its sharp contrasts easy on the eye.

Perhaps black and white is easier on the mind as well.  No difficult decisions, no wavering, no questioning right from wrong.  But real life is in color, with many subtle hues and shades.  Condemned prisoners who crossed over The Bridge of Sighs in Venice got one last peek at their beloved city.  Did they see their world in terms of black and white, or in color?  Perhaps one’s perception depended upon whether one was looking in or out, whether one was coming or going. It is easy to cast judgements, until you have walked a mile in another person’s shoes, looked into her eyes, heard his story.  The world is not black and white.  It is the color of flesh and blood, with many gray areas.  What is the color of a human tear?

All images and words by Naomi Baltuck, copyright 2012

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Subtlethe w

Weeklt

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo-a-Week Challenge: Muted Colors

For another facet of this topic,  check out this link by Carbon Leaf, The War Was in Color, and my post Remembering Uncle Lewis.

Should Have Seen This One Coming!

Should have seen this one coming!

All images and words Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more images of Cee’s Oddball Photo Challenge.

To Shorten the Road

There is an old Irish folk tale about a father and a son who set out on a long journey.

“Shorten the road, my son,” said the father.  His son walked faster, to cut short their time on the road.  But the father rolled his eyes and went home.  The next day, they set out again.

“Shorten the road, my son,” said the father.  The same thing happened, and his father turned back.  On the third day, the lad’s mother whispered, “Tell your Da a story he has never heard, and you’ll no be back again soon.”   She was right.

My family and I have just returned from a journey of our own, but we already knew how to shorten the road.  In fact the North Central Library System hired The Baltuck/Garrard Family Storytellers to come tell stories on the dry side of the mountains.

Along the way we discovered more than one way to shorten the road…

It’s amazing, the fun you can have with one little bag of Space Adventure Goldfish Crackers.

That’s  probably not what the Irish storytellers had in mind, but there were also plenty of stories told to shorten the road, and the miles flew by.  On our storytelling tour we visited ten libraries in ten towns.   Each town and each library was different.  I loved the bleachers at the Brewster Library, especially when it was filled to the ceiling with kids who had come to hear us tell “Stories that Go Bump in the Night.”

Jennifer, one of the librarians at the Chelan Library, even made us a campfire!  Over a hundred people came to enjoy it with us.

Between performances, we explored.  On the wet side of the mountains, we sometimes forget how beautiful it is on the other side of the Cascades.

The Methow Valley is not just for skiers…

There was wildlife…

…right outside our door.

Sunsets were breathtaking, from Winthrop…

…to the streets of Chelan.

Everywhere we went, we found stories to shorten the road.  Many were true stories of Washington pioneers, as featured in this mural in Omak.

At the historical museum in Chelan, we learned about the First People of the land too, and then played ‘dress up’…

After our show in Manson, we ate at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant steeped with stories and decorated with a lifetime of memories from Grandpa’s shed.  It gives me hope–and ideas–about what to do with my own overcrowded storage room.

We sat outside on the deck overlooking their own blueberry fields…

The blueberries were as big as grapes…

…and the food was great…

…but the stories were what made this place really special.


In Twisp, every grocery run is memorable if you shop at Hank’s.  Hank and his son share their passion for big game hunting by lining the walls and topping their shelves with displays of their hunting trophies. It is an odd, but personal touch that piqued my curiosity about them. Perhaps next time I will learn more of that story.

After performing in Winthrop and Twisp…

..we dined at the Twisp Pub with our friend Carol. She stays with us in Seattle every May during the Northwest Folklife Festival, and at Christmas. It was a special treat to sneak in an extra visit to catch up on personal stories while sipping local cider and raspberry soda.

On our way to the Bridgeport Library the next day, we watched another story unfold as firefighters fought to control a brushfire. On our recent trip to Colorado, we steered clear of the fires, but the road to Bridgeport took us right past this one.  These folks are of sturdy pioneer stock, and they seemed to take it in stride, keeping one eye on the fire and the other on the tasks at hand.

It is nearing the harvest season, and there is much to be done. Central Washington is farm country.

Apple orchards everywhere have stacks of wooden boxes ready to receive this year’s harvest.

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On our way to Ephrata and Moses Lake, we saw acres upon acres, miles upon miles of wheat ripening in the fields, reclaimed from the desert…

…while the wind farms were busy harvesting nature’s energy.

Little towns and farms were carved out of the desert…

…and every road tells another story.

We passed through Dry Falls, a stark and dramatic landscape, reminiscent of the Badlands…

Before we knew it we were heading back over the mountains toward the ocean, the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, and Lake Washington.


But we had filled up our story banks…

…on the roads of Washington, a land of stunning beauty, stark contrasts, good people, and rich history.  A well storied land.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken.

Keep Moving

Movement, big or little, is a part of human nature.  There are social movements…

And musical movements…

We use movement to express ourselves…

To test ourselves…

Out of playfulness…

…or out of necessity.

We celebrate forward movements…

The world keeps turning and so must we…

Don’t forget to have fun along the way.

…or to stop and smell the roses.

It’s okay if you move at your own pace…

…or to give and receive a little lift along the way…

But…

…just…

…keep…

…moving!

All images and words Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

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