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Cats

Good-bye Two

Two is the name of the cat who lived with us for 12 years, and sadly, our time together ended Christmas Day. She was too ill and weak, and so we chose to do the humane thing. Yes, we are so sad. Let me tell you about our cat, and you will understand why.

We found Two in a shelter in Northern New Mexico called Taos Feral Feline Friends, where its director had cats live in rooms in her house, except for the feral ones who had a separate building. Leanne brought us to the so-called old and obese room, and this black cat came up to me immediately. She started talking. I told Hank, “this is the one.” He wanted to look around, a fact I reminded the cat several times.

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Two on my lap from NM to Massachusetts.

We usually give our animals human names. She came with the name Dusty, but that didn’t suit us. So, we named her Two, in honor of the two best cats we owned, also black. Actually, her full name was Dusty Two Cats. (I believe she was named Dusty by her previous owners, whoever they were, because she loved to roll in dust.)

We discovered that Two, who we suspect was Burmese, was a chatterbox who tried her best to communicate with us verbally. I swear she said “no” and “I don’t wanna.” We tried but failed to get her to say “yes,” however.

She also understood when we said “eat” or “out.” I am not making this up.

Unfortunately, her previous owner had her front paws declawed — something we would never do to an animal — so we had to keep that in mind. If she wanted to go outside, we were with her, especially in Taos where coyotes are opportunity feeders.

Not having front claws also hampered her hunting abilities, but lizards were catchable. As for birds, she waited patiently until one hit the large front glass of our house and dropped to the ground.

She drove Hank nuts when she escaped inside the culvert on our driveway.

We solved that situation when he and our son, Zack, on a visit, built a secure fenced-in yard. She liked to sit beneath the tall covered gate — that’s a picture of her above  — and even once ventured onto our 36404_1503605437102_4658278_nhouse’s roof. Hank climbed a ladder to coax her down, but typically she did it when she was ready.

What else can I tell you about Two?

When Hank had hernia surgery she sat on his lap, pressed gently against the incision, earning her the name Nurse Two-Two.

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Ab anxious moment for Hank watching Two on the roof of our home in Taos.

Probably because of that experience and the fact he was home more than me, she clearly favored Hank. Two and I had our relationship although it was clear I was second banana. I wasn’t hurt.

During the winter she would sleep between us, under the covers with her head on the pillow.

She loved baking in the sunlight or beside the wood stove. Another of her favorite spots was the ironing board, especially when we were trying to iron. She didn’t play with toys and typically, wanted to be in the highest spots of the house.

During our cross-country move from New Mexico to Western Mass., she spent almost all of the 2,400-mile trip on my lap after she complained vehemently about being in a carrier.

To get out attention she sat on a newspaper or book that we tried to read, or in my case, walk across the keyboard.

Two would sit on Hank’s lap, his legs extended for more than an hour while he watched TV. I was impressed. Ten minutes was my max.

She had her favorite napping spots. Last night, I looked at the chair in our front living room and 10550038_10204551590536752_4851730321312986156_oimagined her there, curled and relaxed.

The list goes on. Two was a member of our family and so much a part of our life. She trusted us. We trusted her.

This year she had two bouts of a urinary tract infection that required antibiotics. But her decline began in late fall. She was, by her records, 17 or 18 years old. She still ate and drank water but toward the end, she began distancing herself until we decided we needed to let her go.

During the past week, I think about feeding her when I get up or that she’ll be watching in the living room window when we come home. The list goes on.

As I’ve said before, the hardest part about loving an animal is losing one.

Will we get another cat? Yes, someday. But this cat will have a tough act to follow.

Good-bye, Two. We loved ya.

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audio, books, reading

Reading While Driving

Nah, I’m not that stupid. So, I do the next best thing. I listen to someone read the book to me while I drive to and from work.

I love to read, and frankly, all those years when I couldn’t write, that’s how I learned when I finally got over that 25-year writer’s block. I was a regular at the public library wherever we lived, hauling home an armful of books. (I did this when I was a kid, too.)

Then, I got into collecting first editions. As I’ve written before, I typically buy these books at places that don’t value them, so I get great deals like the first edition but not first printing of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for a buck. I shop online and go to fundraiser book sales. My most recent score was at a local library’s sale, where it appeared someone dumped their collection of Dennis Lehane’s first editions, including a signed Mystic River. My cost? A buck a piece.

But I digress.

My job as editor-in-chief at a daily newspaper — the Greenfield Recorder — takes up a lot of my time. I won’t bore you with the hours I work, but suffice it to say my reduced free time makes me choose between writing books, specifically the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, or reading them. Then, I thought, why not listen to books?

I used to listen to audio books when I had a 45-minute commute to a newsroom years back. My current commute, at eight miles, is a lot less than that, but it’s enough time. Besides, I’m tired of listening to depressing news on NPR, and the local stations don’t interest me.

So, I went to my local library, did the paperwork for my card, and checked out Stewart O’Nan’s The Odds, about a couple in financial and marital trouble who go to a casino at Niagara Falls. It took me a bit to get used to the narrator’s voice, but he kept me entertained, even doing a woman’s voice, during my commute. I’d say it was a successful experiment.

The next audiobook, Tony Hillerman’s The Sinister Pig, was a disappointment that I returned before I even finished the first disc. I couldn’t get into the marble-mouthed narrator. So, I traded it in for something else — Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover.

Our local library has a limited collection, but I can order books through the inter-library system. I am also going to try the much larger library at the city where I work.

I believe listening to someone reading a book is as good as my reading it myself. So, mission accomplished. I can use my free time to write instead.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A scene at Acadia National Park on a recent camping trip.

MY BOOKS: No, I don’t have audio books. (My attempt to do it on my own failed despite by best efforts.) But I do have books in print and digital form, including the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Get thee to Amazon. Here’s the link: Joan Livingston books

 

 

 

 

 

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books, friends

Books I’ve Kept All These Years

I moved around a lot —more so when we were younger and restless. Six months or a year or two in one place and we were ready to find somewhere else to live.

That changed when our children maxed out at six. We were settled in Worthington, a hilltown in Western Massachusetts, and stayed put for 25 years although we thankfully did move from a cheap, funky rental to finally our very own home we built. Then it was Taos, New Mexico for 11 years, and two years ago we returned to Western Mass., first in a rental and then the home we bought in Shelburne Falls and renovated while living in that apartment.

Nothing like moving, especially 2,400 miles — twice — to keep your belongings pared down. But in all those years, I have held onto certain books. I thought about this today when I was surveying my bookcases, which contain mostly first editions of authors I love and for the most part got super cheap. It’s a hobby of mine.

But here are the ones I’ve kept for oh-so-many years.

FUNDAMENTALS OF POETRY: I bought this slim book, almost a pamphlet really, in fifth grade through my grammar school for a buck and it has every part of speech a wanna be poet would want to know. This is the oldest.

THE YALE SHAKESPEARE/MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: The book, dated 1923, actually belonged to my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Lima. She held the book while she recited the play from memory, a remarkable performance. I gained possession of the book when my mother found it in a yard sale and mailed it to me, unaware of its significance. Susan Lima’s name is written in perfect cursive inside.

ROOTS AND WINGS/CONCEIT: These were the literary magazines from my college, now called Bridgewater State University. They contain my poetry, from when I was a fledgling poet, and later when I was the editor. My sister, Christine, mailed them to me. I had long ago passed them on, and am grateful she held onto them for me. One of them even has a clipping from the college’s newspaper that has my column: Hot Schmaltz by Ethel Schwartz. I did a sarcastic review of Rod McKuen’s poetry — in poetic form. Funny story there. A bunch of my hippie guy friends were hanging around outside the administration building. They decided the next woman who turned the corner would be named Ethel Schwartz. Yes, it turned out to be me.

KORA IN HELL: I ran into a dear college friend years later in Boston. He gave me this as a gift, one of The Pocket Poets Series. The story of Persephone has always resonated with me.

SOME STAY HOME: Poems published in 1977 by a poet/singer Jim Palana. My favorite is about a woman, Miss Ann Gately and her bike.

ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKE OR A JEST IN SOBER EARNEST (ORIGINALLY PLUBLISHED 1883): Another gift from a writing friend, Fred, supposedly one of the funniest books about the English language. Here’s a sample.

Of the Man.

The brain

The brains

The fat of the leg

The ham

The inferior lip

The superior lip

The marrow

The reins.

ARROYO: A slim collection of poetry by three friends I knew in college, Bob Sullivan, Jim Palana, James G.H. Moore and myself (when I had a different last name), plus art by Julie Conway. I see a lot of poetry in these books. I stopped writing that way and eventually found prose. But for my last mystery, Checking the Traps, the victim and one of the suspects wrote poetry, which meant I had to do it, too. To tell you the truth it was fun.

TROPIC OF CANCER/TROPIC OF CAPRICORN/BLACK SPRING: I bought these hard-cover books in Seattle and have brought them along on each move since, a bit of a miracle really.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS: Here’s the link to the ones I wrote … on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

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Second-hand stores

My First Choice: Second Hand

I am a huge fan of second-hand stores. So is Hank. Our reasons are identical. We love buying quality clothing and furnishings we can’t afford to buy new but can find in these types of stores. Let me add — if we’re lucky. And honestly, that’s part of the fun.

I will admit a majority of my wardrobe was found in a second-hand store. I like clothing with quality fabrics and classic designs, which I often can’t find new in stores. (Retail outlets used to have good finds until the stores started making clothing specifically for this market.) I feel the same way going to second-hand bookstores.

The best place to find a good second-hand store? Where rich people live and donate what they no longer want.

My technique is simple. I go along the racks, looking at the fabric. If I see something I like, I check the style and size. I also check whether it needs to be dry-cleaned, which might be a deal-breaker for me unless it’s a special garment like the Saks Fifth Avenue silk dress coat and a wool Pendelton dress jacket I found.

When in doubt, I try it on. I also check the discard rack near the dressing room.

But my ultimate rule: I gotta love it.

And a second ultimate rule: sometimes I win, oftentimes I don’t. But to be honest, if I go to a second-hand store a few times and consistently strike out, I won’t be back.

But in my shopping experience, I rank two that are the crème-de-la-crème of second-hand stores.

The first was a consignment store in Northampton, where the owner only carried quality clothing that was less than two years old. That was 15 years ago, and I still wear clothes I bought there. Unfortunately, the store is no longer in business.

The second was Pieces in Taos — the town in Northern New Mexico where I lived 11 years. Hank and I tested our luck at least once a week and over the years got great clothes and furniture like our Stickley couch and lamp.

One of my favorite finds was the set of pinecone candle lamps. That’s them above.

When we think of the things we miss about Taos, shopping at Pieces is one of them.

Alas, I saw a post on Facebook (from The Taos News) that Pieces is closing for a number of reasons. I am sorry that is happening, but I treasure the hours I spent there on the hunt for great stuff at great prices and the stuff I scored.

 

 

 

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Author Interview, Business of writing, Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Getting the Word Out

First, if you’re a writer, you have to get the words down. Then, you gotta get the word out. Well, that’s the case when you are an indie author competing with other indie authors, and then there are those who have a lot of muscle behind them via a big shot publisher.

Ah, as I’ve said many times before — there’s writing and then there’s the business of writing.

I much prefer the first.

But then an author gets unexpected help. That’s what happened recently when Carrie Healy of New England Public Radio contacted me to be a part of a summer series that featured author on Friday mornings. She requested a copy of my latest book, which in this case is Checking the Traps, third in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Then after reading the novel, she arranged for a recorded interview, which conveniently took place in an empty office at the Greenfield Recorder. (My day job is editor-in-chief.) She had a list of good questions. I hoped I came up with good answers. I read aloud a bit from the book’s start. (Carrie took the photo of me above.)

I found out Aug. 1 when Carrie sent me a link. She nicely took out the stumbles and the ums. I thought it came out well. I suppose others did too since I had a jump in sales, especially for the first in the series: Chasing the Case. And people were kind to mention they heard me on the radio.

Here have a listen. Here’s the link: http://www.tinyurl.com/yyjsr7fo

Four days later, I gave a reading at a bar in Northampton. It was the monthly event for Straw Dog Writers Guild at the Basement. First a duo played and 10 people in the audience each got five minutes to read from a work in progress, poetry and prose. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety, how 3cef0c4a-159e-4416-a3ba-49dcfb34e7ebpeople use our language to come up with stories and different ways to tell them.

Then, I had my chance to speak as the featured writer. I did less reading from Checking the Traps and more talking about my adventure with writing, how I started as a poet long ago, had a 25 years writers block, and finally found my creative outlet. Yeah, I talked about writing and the business of writing. And, smile, people bought books.

A few days later I noticed on Amazon a bump in sales for the next two books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. (Redneck’s Revenge is number two.)  I am guessing those who bought the first liked it enough to read the rest. Well, readers, thank you very much.

Here is the link if you want to check out my books on Amazon:

http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

 http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

https://mybook.to/checkingthetraps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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