Front Porch, Writing

Views on Our Front Porch

Given this heat, I’m spending a great deal of my time on our front porch. Alas, we don’t have air-conditioning, just two noisy fans that at least keep the warm air moving inside the house. So, out of necessity and comfort, it has become my new writing and research space as well as our living and dining room. Yes, I am writing this post out here. I have my first cup of coffee with me. I’m still in my night clothes, but it’s early, so nobody’s around except the cat and me.

I sincerely thank the people who built this bungalow in 1900 for creating a front porch that is large and situated so it channels the breezes from the tree-filled hill to the right of it. I’m glad the owners before us didn’t glass or screen it in.

Hank built its four comfy Adirondack chairs with wide enough arms to accommodate my laptop and piles of paper, so handy as I come to the end of editing my most recent book — more later. There are two rockers, tables, and houseplants that are summering outside. We have mellow chimes and bells collected over the years hanging from the light blue ceiling.

To the right of our property, ancient trees separate us from the village’s Catholic church. (During the height of COVID, they celebrated Mass in the parking lot so it was like we were there with the parishioners.)

Here, I have a good view of our neighbors’ homes, old like ours, and what the people who live there do and grow in their yards. Nothing outrageous I might add. I’d say we are lucky to have such good, friendly people living near us. We converse and even play cribbage or scrabble. The woman who lives to the left always shouts “Howdy, neighbor!” when she sees us. Way beyond this part of our village is a large wooded hill with a fire tower. We can watch the leaves change — greening in the spring and reddening in the fall.

Hank and I will sit out here talking or not talking, often with a hot or cold beverage, as we watch and listen to the birds, especially the cardinals and blue birds, but even they are staying put during this heat. The bugs surprisingly are minimal. There are small wild mammals and lots of cats. The other day Hank was startled from meditating — yes, it is a great spot for that — when a groundhog walked onto the porch. I heard the laughter when he was startled by the animal walking toward him although it eventually left.

Right now, our cat, Stella sits on the porch railing as she overlooks her realm. While I was editing my book Saturday, she came toward the porch, making a sound that means she is damn proud she has an animal in her mouth. She dumped the rather large mouse, close to death, near my footstool, played with it a bit, and then moments later proceeded to eat it. I could hear her teeth crunching bones. She left behind the head, heart and guts, which I had to clean up. Thanks a lot cat.

So here’s the part about the book. Following the Lead is no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, which I began in February, is done, well, sort of. Yes, I reached the 75,000 word mark. The next step was to print the manuscript and get out a red flare, my weapon of choice. Every day last week, including a rainy one, I sat on the porch, marking up my manuscript before I loaded the edits into the computer.

I feel happy about what I accomplished with Following the Lead, so today I will used my computer’s read-aloud function to listen to my book. It’s part of the editing process. I bet the neighbors won’t mind.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the manuscript for Following the Lead on my outstretched legs on our front porch. Yes, I do have long feet. You can read about them in this post from 2013 when we lived in Taos:

MY BOOKS: I’ve started rereading my Isabel Long Mystery Series from the beginning. I want to make sure I’m maintaining the same quality throughout, especially as I mentioned above that I am near the finish line for no. 6. I’m on the first, Chasing the Case and enjoying what I wrote, which frankly is a huge relief. Here’s the link to the my books, including the series:


This Is Where I Write

I can write anywhere. I proved that when I was a journalist. But the kind of writing I do now — fiction — deserves its own dedicated space. Fortunately I have one in our home.

Recently, I reread Stephen King’s book On Writing in which he talks about his writing space, a desk shoved in the corner of a room beneath the eaves. He traded in his grand desk for something handmade and smaller.

Years ago, a friend gave me the book, The Writer’s Desk, which contained photos by Jill Krementz of where 56 famous authors wrote. Published in 1996, many of them are no longer with us although their writings certainly are such as Ralph Ellison, Katherine Anne Porter, and Kurt Vonnegut (Krementz’s husband). Many have spaces filled with paper. Most have windows. Their computers are antiques by our standards.

Each author offered a short essay about their writing space. Here’s one I can relate to from Amy Tan, “I surround myself with objects that carry with them a personal history — old books, bowls and boxes, splintering chairs and benches from imperial China.”

My space is situated in our second bedroom, where through the windows I can see our large deck, the neighbors’ homes, trees, and beyond, a high wooded hill with a fire tower on top. (It is certainly not the view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains I saw from my office when we lived in Taos, New Mexico, but this is New England village life.)

Most of the time I don’t bother looking. My attention is on my computer screen.

I am fortunate to have furniture hand-built by Hank. Or I should say Hank-built. The desk is Shaker-style, when he was into that style of woodworking, with the top made from black walnut he salvaged from a job long ago — the homeowner told him to get rid of it. It has enough space for my laptop and on either side, the tansus Hank built with drawers and shelves to hold paper, writing and tech supplies. On the top of one is a collection of odds and ends I’ve collected or have been gifted over the years — from a hand-carved, painted Japanese couple I found in a library yard sale to interesting rocks, a bar of soap from Portugal, and pieces of driftwood. A clay vase resembling an Aztec relic, which I bought at TJ Maxx, strange by true, holds writing utensils. 

Hank also built a trashcan I use to recycle paper and a filing cabinet that holds my printer. Yes, I am lucky to be married to a skilled woodworker.

The office chair, which I bought for five bucks at the church’s annual tag sale next door, is kind of crappy. I have a nice oak office chair I got at the same sale last year, but I need to make some cushions.

On the walls I have a bulletin board (yes, built by Hank), photos, art and Native weavings.

I keep the space neat and don’t let the paper, coffee stains or crumbs get out of control.

No music except from the birds outside.

Sometimes I bring my computer onto the front porch of our bungalow or to the deck’s table to work. Usually it’s to catch up on email or do research. Sometimes, I will print a few chapters to mark up. But nothing too serious happens in either place.

When I sit down to write, say around 6 a.m. (a far more civilized time than 5 a.m. when I had a job), I feel this is my place. Here, I am at my best channeling whatever’s in my brain into the book I am writing. Right now, I am several thousand words away from finishing the sixth book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. This is the exciting part where all the pieces fall together and fortunately, I have just the space to do it.

IMAGE ABOVE: That’s my writing desk.

MY BOOKS: Here’s the link to my books on Amazon and thanks for your interest:

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: