My Hero!

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.

But he is a calm voice on whom the kids and I can depend for a fresh perspective.

Such a gentle and compassionate soul.

He is my playmate…

…my safe harbor…

the father of my children…and it shows.

And in this world of uncertainty…

…the kids and I know he is always there to catch us should we fall.

We would follow him anywhere.

Anywhere!

 

And that means anywhere!

My friend.

My love.

 

 My prince.

Dear Thom, here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday, and many more!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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Jiggity Jog

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

…Hungary…

…and Slovakia.

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…

…and cities.

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.

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

Out in the World

 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.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Wind.

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

Just Around the Corner

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.

Unique New York

As You Like It: Reflections Upon Life and the Art of Aging.

 Painting by Charles Willson Peale, 1822, The Lamplight Portrait.

All words and images, except where stated, copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Off Center.

Magic Carpet Ride

In Turkey, everywhere we turned there were carpets…

…dressing up every room in the house.

Indoors…

…and outdoors.

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

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

You Don’t Have to be Einstein…

Yesterday was my Cousin Albert’s birthday!

Actually, he was my fifth cousin, and we never met. My personal theory of relativity is that some relative of his got together with some relative of ours somewhere in the old country, and we have the DNA to prove it.

An indisputable fact is that he was a genius, whose life work changed the way we see the world.  He also had definite ideas about intelligence and education.

Cousin Albert said it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Last month Thom and I drove to Olympia to protest oppressive high-stakes standardized tests. This disturbing trend towards over-testing affects the quality of education for children all across the U.S. by reducing the time to teach and the time to learn.

Since both teachers and students are evaluated by those test results, teachers feel compelled to spend their class time working on tested material, leaving no time to nurture creativity, exercise imagination, or teach a higher order of critical thinking.

Standardized tests don’t account for students testing on empty stomachs because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast. Or those who didn’t sleep because their parents were arguing about a divorce.  Or homeless children with no place to study.  Or those who can’t afford reading glasses.  Test scores won’t cut any slack for students with learning disabilities, or recent immigrants who haven’t mastered English, or orphans of suicides, or children suffering from depression, or those who simply don’t test well.

The system of assessment is unfair. For example, in Florida an excellent music teacher was fired because of her students’ low math scores, even though she was not responsible for teaching them math.

Cousin Albert said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

He also said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We honor that sacred gift of the intuitive mind when we allow teachers to assess each child’s strengths and needs, and design teaching strategies to nurture that child’s curiosity and passion into a lifelong love of learning.

Standardized testing is the servant of the rational mind, reducing children into test scores.

Who benefits from over-testing?  Not students, who are stressed and most of whom will be labeled as failures.  Not teachers, who either teach to the test or risk losing their jobs, regardless of whether they manage to pull kids out of their Learning Comfort Zone, and encourage them to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The benefits are reaped by corporations like Pearson, that specialize in testing.  Or technology companies that sell schools the massive amounts of hardware students use to take these computer-based tests. Or private charter school operators who are waiting to step in as soon as public schools are labeled failures.   Tests are designed so that 68% of those taking the tests will fail.  It’s better for business.

Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst, says, “It’s all about…propping up a vast and growing “education industry” that’s only worth the trouble (money) of the likes of Gates, Murdoch, the Waltons, and the Bushes….if it’s standardized and millions of customers–I mean children–are buying.”

Cousin Albert grew up in Germany, where the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

He was among the scientists and intellectuals who escaped the Nazis, those methodical masters who were terrifying in their efficiency.  Cousin Albert was lecturing in the US when the Nazis put a price on his head, and confiscated his property, turning it into a Hitler Youth camp. But as efficient as the Nazis were, according to Cousin Albert, they lost their technological advantage and eventually lost the war because they murdered or drove out all the creative free-thinking innovative imaginative intellectuals.

     Cousin Albert said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

And you don’t have to be Einstein to get that.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

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

If you’d like to read more, here is a link to an excellent article about the results of the protest, and a bipartisan bill proposed to repeal Common Core.

He Lived Long and Prospered

 I mourn the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought depth and integrity to the role of Mr. Spock in the classic Star Trek series and films.

I grew up on Star Trek reruns.  The show helped me formulate ideas about writing, as well as life.  It was an enthusiasm I passed on to my kids.

No wonder I became the Proud Mom of a Starfleet Cadet and that so many of our parties…

…favorite toys…

…and family fun has been inspired by Star Trek.

 

Leonard Nimoy co-wrote and directed Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, which was my favorite of all the Star Trek movies.  His vision for the story was to have “no dying, no fighting, no shooting, no photon torpedoes, no phaser blasts, no stereotypical bad guy.”  It was funny and quirky, and didn’t take itself too seriously, yet its message was important– advocating protection and conservation of our world and its creatures.

There was much more to the man than Star Trek or Mr. Spock.  He was the son of Ukrainian Jews, he spoke and wrote Yiddish, was a photographer, a poet, and a man of principle.

According to NPR, when he found out that Nichelle Nichols wasn’t being paid as much as the other actors on the show, he protested on her behalf.  When he found out that she and George Takei were to be excluded from the animated series, again he went to bat for them and they were hired on for that series.

His last message to his fans was very appropriate, wise, even logical:  “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

He lived long and prospered, but he also lived well.

And we will never forget him.

c2015Naomi Baltuck

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

A Theory of Relativity

I met a little Elf-man, once…


…Down where the lilies blow.


I asked him why he was so small…


…And why he didn’t grow.

He slightly frowned, and with his eye

He looked me through and through.

 

“I’m quite as big for me,” said he,


“As you are big for you.”

—JOHN KENDRICK BANGS.

All images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of  The Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale

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.

 

Using Your Outside Voice

Before publishing my very first blog post, I ran it past my teenaged daughter Bea.

She said, “Mom, you’re using your storyteller voice again.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Oh, you know…narrative, formal, soft and wise. You might think like that inside your head, but it’s not the way you talk.”

“How do I talk?”

“You’re funny.  And sassy.  Mom, your idea is good.  Just say the same thing, only write like you’d say it. Write in the same voice you used to write Real Troopers.”   Out of the mouth of babes.

How many times were we told as children to use our Inside Voice, the demure, soft, polite, quiet voice that will offend and disturb no one?  I’ll tell you: LOTS.  Now my own child was urging me to use my Outside Voice, that of the goofball, smart ass, class clown.

It’s the sometimes-too-loud voice that spills out of my mouth when I’m with trusted family and friends. As Bea observed, it’s the voice I use in my novel-in-progress, Real Troopers.  Maybe I struck the right chord in Real Troopers because it’s about sassy funny Girl Scout leaders, written from the point of view of a middle-aged woman who is desperately trying to find her real voice.

So I turned that first post into more of a conversation than a story, and Bea was right—I like it so much better.  I’m happier when using my Outside Voice, in my backyard, in my living room, and in my writing.

Or perhaps I should say, ‘When I allow my Inner Voice to go Outside to play.’

All I need now is to make my readers a virtual cup of coffee, and come to the table–or the computer–in my jammies for an early morning chat.  Hey, got a minute? Wanta cuppa? Cream or sugar?

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

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

BTW: Adventures in Hats is my daughter Bea’s writing blog.  I won’t embarrass her by telling you she’s won awards for her poetry and her stories.  But I will say that I can almost hear her voice when I read it, and her illustrations are delightful.  If you drop by, tell her I said ‘howdy!’