Art Abandonment, Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Pick Me Up!

That’s what it said on the piece of paper Hank found in a small plastic bag tucked between the slats of a wooden bench. He was enjoying a coffee he had bought and sitting at a favorite spot near the Bridge of Flowers in our village when he discovered the bag. But wait, there’s more: a pair of earrings was inside.

As the photo above shows, the earrings have a translucent glass bead and a flat tear-drop with gold leaf bits encased in a clear resin.

The message goes on: “(hurry before someone else does.) This handmade gift has been left here with the hope that it brings you joy. Keep it, pass it on, or leave it for someone else to find.”

Hank brought it home to me.

I was charmed by the gift and the story of how he found the little treasure when he placed his hand on the bench. Then, I tried them on. Yes, I felt joy wearing them.

But there’s more. A second note gives information about Art Abandonment, a group of artists “who leave their creations in random locations across the globe for others to find and enjoy.” It has a link to Facebook.

The discovery makes me wonder who left the earrings. The Bridge of Flowers is a big attraction in Shelburne Falls, the village where we live, so it could have been a visitor or someone local.

The concrete bridge with its graceful arches was built over the Deerfield River in 1908 by a railway to handle freight. But the company went bankrupt nine years later after trucking became more popular.

Fortunately, Antoinette Burnham suggested transforming the 400-foot bridge into a garden — two long rows of flowering plants and shrubs separated by a wide footpath. The Shelburne Falls Women’s Club sponsor the Bridge of Flowers, which celebrated its 90th year in 2019. 

Volunteers assist two gardeners in maintaining the bridge, which draws thousands of people to our village when it is open from April 1 to Oct. 31. It’s free to enter but donations are welcome. Here’s the website for more, including what is in bloom. 

By the way, I walk it every day. So does Hank. We’re often together although not that time.

But back to those earrings. I’ve worn them every day since their discovery — using a plastic backing so I don’t lose them while wearing a mask or working outside. They have indeed brought me joy, so thank you to the anonymous creator and donor.

By the way, I have met several people who have remarked about the earrings. I typically smile and tell them, “There’s a story behind them.” And, yes, they want to hear all about it.

MY BOOKS: Writing is something else that brings me joy. I am three-quarters of the way through no. 6 of my Isabel Long Mystery Series. You can check them out on Amazon. Thank you, if you do.

Havana Mystery, Teresa Dovalpage

Enjoy a Cuban mystery: Death Under the Perseids

This is a pitch for readers who like a good mystery in an exotic setting. I am writing about Death Under the Perseids by Teresa Dovalpage — the third in her Havana Mystery Series. And for Kindle readers, it’s a deal at $2.99 for the month of June. 

I will get right to it. Here’s the link: You can also get Death Under the Perseids in hard cover, paperback, and audiobook.

So what’s Death Under the Perseids about? Cuban-born Mercedes Spivey and her American husband win a five-day cruise to Cuba. Mercedes is a bit wary. Afterall, who wins a free trip like that? She goes along since this trip might be good for their marriage. But once aboard, Mercedes meets other people connected to a former boyfriend Lorenzo — and they coincidently won free cruises. Things heat up as one person disappears and another dies under mysterious circumstances. And then Mercedes has to search Havana to find her husband who has gone missing.

What I especially like about this Death Under the Perseids is that the writing and story capture the author’s energy. It’s a lively read with enough darkness to keep one guessing.

Now let me tell you about Teresa, or la Te as I call her. She writes with authenticity about Cuba because that’s where she was born and lived until she came to the U.S. as an adult. Now she lives in New Mexico, where she is a Spanish and ESL professor at New Mexico Junior College. She is also the author of nine novels and three collections of short stories. (And she is the one who inspired me to try writing mysteries. Gracias, la Te.)

We met when I lived in Taos and took the Spanish 101 course she taught at the local branch of the University of New Mexico. Then she started reporting on a freelance basis for The Taos News — I was the editor-in-chief then — for our Spanish page, plus writing features in English. 

We became friends. I enjoyed her energy, humor, and Cuban coffee. We even collaborated on a project — a bilingual series for kids. Now that we live more than 2,000 miles apart, we keep in touch via social media, email, and the occasional phone call. I can also reread her books since I own nearly all of them.

Life lessons, Teaching

The People Who Teach Us

I was in my mother’s room at the convalescent home recently when a woman’s voice behind a curtain said, “Is Joan Livingston here? There’s a man here who says he knows you and your mother.” Intrigued, I left my mother and in the hallway found a man wearing a mask (we all have to wear one there) who identified himself as Dennis Duval. He was my ninth-grade history teacher.

I gave the man a hug although I hadn’t seen him since my last day in that grade and I then moved onto our high school. That was a very long time ago.  

Mr. Duval, as I called him way back then, was visiting his brother who was also a resident of the home. On the sign-in sheet, he saw my mother’s name and my first name, so he put the clues together. He could have left it at that, but he decided to seek me out.

Like me, Mr. Duval grew up in North Fairhaven, Massachusetts. His father had a pharmacy in that part of our oceanside town. Mr. Duval was the youngest of ten kids, he told me.

I remembered Mr. Duval as an energetic, dark-haired teacher not long out of college who made history relevant to us kids. I was a member of the first ninth grade at what is now called Elizabeth Hastings Middle School. And as we spoke that day, I thought of the other great teachers I had. I even mentioned a few.

Mr. Mignault, who taught geography, lived in Boston and stayed in a motel in our town during the school days. It was my first exposure to the counter culture — he wanted us to understand the message behind “Puff the Magic Dragon” and told us those drills we were doing in case there was a nuclear bomb were useless. Unfortunately, he left us that year after a bad car accident.

Mrs. Lima, my freshman English teacher, recited Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream by heart. She stood in front of the class or sat on a student’s desk, holding a finger in the page but she didn’t look at the words. Decades later, my mother mailed me a box with clothing she bought at a tag sale, and at the bottom was a slim blue volume of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Yale Shakespeare version, 1923, edited by Willard H. Durham. The blue cloth is mottled with something white, perhaps from moisture. Susan Lima’s name is written in perfect cursive on the second page. I still have the book and fond memory.

Mr. Piche had a difficult time talking due to a past injury, but he brought American history alive. At the end of each lesson, he would say, “You know how I know? Because I was there.”

We brought up others like Mr. Hughes, who also taught history, and Mr. Cardoza, my math teacher.

I remember so many of the teachers I had during those three impressionable years. To be honest, a few were not among my favorites. But I would say I got a great education, and thank you Mr. Duval for reminding me.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s Mrs. Lima’s copy of Midsummer Night’s Dream.

LINK TO A FABULOUS MYSTERY: I want to let Kindle readers know that during the month of June they can buy my friend Teresa Dovalpage’s latest mystery for $2.99. Death under the Perseids is the third in her Havana Mystery Series. (Teresa was born in Cuba.) I will tell you more about Teresa and her book it in my next post, but for those who can’t wait, here’s the link:

What I See

What I Used to Ride

Years ago, when I lived in the Boston area, my only mode of transportation was the MBTA trolley system aka “the T.” In all, I lived in eight different apartments or shared homes. I was a restless person then, but in the process, I got to know the system well, especially the Green Line that served several of them.

And, recently I found it interesting link in the village where I now live — a trolley car that was used on the Green Line. Now in horrible shape (more about that below), it rests in the yard of the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. Yes, I rode that car. Many, many times.

First, a little about the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, which is located a short walk from our home. The museum is dedicated to preserving and operating the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway trolley car that ran over the Deerfield River on what is now the Bridge of Flowers for twenty years. No. 10 was built in 1896 and served both communities for thirty years. According to info from the museum, the trolley car was saved by a farmer who for 65 years used it as a chicken coop, tool shed, and playhouse. Since restored, people can ride the trolley car a short distance in the same rail yard.

But my attention during a recent walk was on the PCC Car, the last one built in Massachusetts, by the Pullman-Standard company of Worcester. After running on the Green Line from 1951 to 1985, MBTA 3321 was moved to Brooklyn, New York for a streetcar project that didn’t work out. Instead the car got badly damaged as you can see by the photo when it was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The museum is hoping to do a cosmetic restoration.

Although the car is tragically a shell of its former self, it brings back memories of being aboard, traveling above and under ground as I headed to downtown Boston or back to where I lived. 

I remember bringing four little kids on board, the littlest one strapped to me. All of us holding hands. Or when I was pregnant with one of them. Sometimes I had a folding stroller with me. It was easier to get a seat going toward Boston then going out. I’d stand there holding onto the pole, my belly out to there and keeping the little ones close, maybe one in my arms, until typically some old lady would yell at the men for not offering me a seat. Or she would give me hers.

We did grocery shopping, visited Boston Common, Red Sox games, restaurants, museums etc. You name it, our family went to it on the T. Even now when we visit family who live in the Boston area, we take the T although that’s on the Orange Line.

I developed good balance, enjoying the slight sway of the trolley. And it was a great people-watching opportunity whether on board or waiting on the platform for the next available car. 

I can recall the T breaking down and being led through one of the tunnels. 

And now I will tell you the best thing I ever saw.

I was walking down the long stairs at the Park Street station to board the T when I noticed a man and dog getting on board when I did. The man spoke to the dog with a command to go home and then left him behind onboard. The doors shut and the trolley moved forward. The dog, some kind of mutt, wasn’t interested when anyone spoke to him. The train kept moving and stopping at various stations. The dog stayed put. And then when we reached a certain stop, Kenmore Square, I believe, the dog got off and presumably did go home.

Now that was a memorable ride.

Chasing the Case, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Batting a Thousand

Technically, it means a ballplayer gets a hit every time they’ve been up to bat in a game. But for me as an author, it has a whole different connotation because Chasing the Case, the first in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, broke a thousand reviews Friday on Amazon. As I write this, sixteen more came in.

First, thank you to those who chose to read my book and made the effort to tell people what they thought of it. These days, many people do ratings while others give a bit of feedback. Both are welcome. The general outlook is 4½ stars, which makes me smile.

I will admit I am not obsessive about reading reviews, especially since you will get a couple of stinkers like the person who gave a one star for another book and wrote he/she doesn’t do reviews. One person complained it was obvious I wasn’t into religion because my main character isn’t and couldn’t finish the book. I am aware not everybody is going to love or even like what I write. And being a journalist for 35 years gave me the hide of a rhino when it comes to criticism.

What did captivate me was watching the reviews grow. I recall being excited when Chasing the Case broke a hundred, then two hundred. A successful promo in January with BookBub got it downloaded by 31,000 readers. It was no. 1 for free books in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. That promo threw the proverbial gasoline on the fire. (Thanks BookBub.)

Yes, the book was free but my publisher and I get royalties for pages read if the reader subscribes to Kindle Unlimited. Of course, those who aren’t subscribers got the book outright. That’s to be expected.

Here’s a sampling of the most recent reviews, all except two, which I note, gave five stars. By the way, Amazon requires reviews to come from a verified purchase.

A solid whodunnit — enjoyable read.

The author has created believable characters and a relatable community. She builds the story patiently and discloses just enough information to keep you guessing without being totally blindsided by the ending. I will be checking out more of her work!

A great read

I really enjoyed this book. I loved all the characters . They felt so real. The mystery was excellent. Very well written, even a touch sad.

Good Mystery

The author dumps the reader in the middle of Isabel’s life and it’s hard to get away from her. Isabel is a great character. Her mother is also. I liked the way Livingston plotted Isabel’s investigation and let the story lead the action. The Old Farts are a particular enjoyable part of the book. Good mystery. (This one gave four stars.)

Small Town Secrets

I loved the small town feel, the closeness and protective nature of the residents. The Old Farts are perfectly adorable. I’m glad Isabel has her mother for company and I’m happy Jack came back.

A decent read but a long way to get there  

There were so many space-filling dead ends and smoke screens plus descriptions about the town(s) and just stuff, that this could have been told in half the time. It needs more honest insights and ‘distractors’ to be a better-than-average read. (This one gave three stars.)

My hope is that if readers like the first book, they will want to buy the next four in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, actually five since I am two-thirds of the way writing number six. I typically aim for 500 words a day, a manageable and enjoyable pace. But on Friday, I surprised myself and wrote a thousand. Yes, it was a good day.

PHOTO ABOVE: On my daily walk Monday, I came across this flowering bush, so fragrant I kept inhaling its blossoms. I returned yesterday just to smell it again.

MY BOOKS: Interested in reading my series? Here’s the link to all of them on Amazon: Joan Livingston books