Home, Taos

A Bad Road Makes Good Neighbors

Actually by local standards, our dirt road is not that bad. It was built by the man who subdivided the land and sold off lots — long before any of the current neighbors moved here. We’ve lived here since 2007 and the road held up nicely until last winter when it turned into deep mud and ruts.

I wrote about living with a muddy road in a Jan. 31 post called Stuck in the Mud. A mixture of snow and above-normal temps, plus a couple of inopportune propane deliveries and trash pickups changed our normally mild-mannered road into a mess. I parked at the end of the road and hiked in. Here is the post: http://www.joanlivingston.net/home/stuck-in-the-mud/


Hank walking our muddy road last winter.

Fortunately, we had a resourceful person help us. But as one of our neighbors wisely reasoned, that fix wasn’t going to last.

So this is where the good neighbors come in.

Many subdivisions have legal neighborhood associations. Ours doesn’t although we do have covenants. We haven’t formed an association because many of the lots, bought for an investment I suppose, are still empty and with construction costs these days, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The last house was built shortly after ours.

But the people living in our neighborhood’s seven homes — two were recently bought after being on the market for a while — agreed the road needed care. After all, no maintenance except for last year’s emergency repairs have been done in who knows how many years.

So the wise neighbor talked with the man who put in his driveway to walk the road, plus a smaller one leading to two homes. The man, who has an excavating business that puts in roads and driveways, gave an estimate.

That neighbor spoke with others. All agreed to chip in their fair share. Another neighbor keeps everyone informed via email. Last week, the neighbors who were home walked the roads with the excavator. They agreed the road needed to be graded and the excavator knew someone close by who could do the work.

Yesterday, the roads got graded. As I harvested the last of the beets and chard from my garden, I watched the machine’s blade give our roads a better shape. Tomorrow, truckloads of coarse road material will be added. This is good timing considering we might get snow later this week.

Was the process as smooth as it seems? I will admit there was concern by one of the neighbors who discovered when he was buying his house the property line extends a bit into the road. But we neighbors had a meal together and talked it out. I believe we all came to a good solution on our own.

Over the years I have had many neighbors. Some, like Mary and Val, who live across the arroyo that divides our properties, are good friends. With some I have had cordial but not close relationships. Others I steered clear of for very good reasons. And there are others who prefer for whatever reason to keep their distance.

During this road process I’ve gotten to know my neighbors a bit better, and they make me glad I live here.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The grader at work Saturday.


Home, Taos, Writing

Burning Time

It snowed when the firewood was delivered Wednesday. The ground was too warm for any of it to stick, but the gray, raw day was enough of a reminder we had to stack this wood and get it covered. Winter’s on its way. We’ve already started firing up the woodstove at night.

So Saturday after the morning errands were out of the way, I got my gloves and headed to the woodpile. I synced the phone and speaker for some bluegrass on wood pilePandora. I would see how far the afternoon takes me. We only burn a cord thanks to the passive-solar design of our home but it looked like a lot more when it was dumped.

For the next few hours, I stacked split logs, making sure to build sturdy ends to keep the rows from falling. I tossed aside the logs too large to fit our stove so Hank can split them later. (Meanwhile Hank was moving the clothesline to the front yard where it could get sun this winter — a more complicated chore than expected.)

The rows of firewood are located in a sheltered but sunny spot between the west side of the house and the arroyo. They’re close enough to the back door so it’s an easy task to carry logs for the wood box inside.

Last winter I kept finding pieces of spiny cactus among the logs. I tossed them into the arroyo but they would reappear. At the end of winter, Hank discovered a pack rat nested there. The rat fled when Hank dismantled what was left of the rows.

There is a certain finesse to stacking free-standing rows of wood. The ends are important. I also make sure the rows have a solid base and there are no gaps among the logs. It is a bit of a puzzle.

I often use a mindless chore like this to dwell on my writing. Sometimes I’ve unraveled a knot in a plot or learned more about a character when I am doing something busy with my hands.

Back East, we burned about four cords of firewood. We bought the hardwood green and let it sit for a year. Our fall chore included bringing the now-seasoned wood into the basement and beneath the deck. Then, we stacked the new wood in a row. It took weekends.

But one cord of dry wood? It took me a couple of hours on Saturday.

I can check that off my list.

Home, Taos

Sun Dried

Recently, my friend Marcia posted a photo of a clothesline on Facebook and asked if anyone still uses one. I responded, well, yes, I do.

Actually I never owned a dryer until the kids were out of diapers, except for a very brief time in Seattle, where it is too damp to hang clothes even on sunny days. (And then there were the times we didn’t own a washer and I had to haul the clothes in a cart to the Laundromat.) It would have been handy having one to dry cloth diapers and all the clothes six kids wear. Instead, I hung them on a pulley line.

It was rough in the winter. I stood on the back stoop to hang them barehanded since gloves would have gotten wet. The clothes froze the first day and were dry the second. I did use wooden racks to hang some of the clothes near the wood stove.

I captured that experience in one of my novels, Northern Comfort. This is how the book begins: “Willi Miller pinned her best blouse to the rope line. She shook her bare hands to keep the blood moving before she reached into the plastic basket for another. She should have done this miserable chore before she went to work this morning, but she didn’t have the time.”

Willi is dirt poor, and what happens to her and her young son during the next several pages turns tragic.

But that is strictly fiction.

After a hiatus, Hank and I have taken to hanging clothes again. He installed the clothesline a year after we moved here. We used it for a while, and then fell into the habit of throwing clothes into the dryer. Now we are thinking about saving energy and money.

sangre de cristo

View from my clothesline

Also I have a good role model for hanging clothes. My 91-year-old mother still does it. The pulley reaches the bathroom window so she can hang them from inside and let the clothes sail into the sunny part of the yard.

There is an art to hanging clothes: giving them a good shake and pinning them so the fabric doesn’t stretch. (My mother gave me some pointers on that last part.) I check the pockets carefully and separate the potentially fuzzy whites from the dark clothing.

With about 340 days of sunshine in Northern New Mexico, it is silly not to use the sun to dry our clothes. Besides I have a great view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains when I do this not-so-miserable chore.


Last day of the Taos Farmers Market, Oct. 31



Home, Taos

Sweat Equity

I’ve written before about our road woes — snow then mud — and fixing them. Then the monsoon season came early this year to Taos and our neighborhood got a good shellacking by heavy rainfall. Most of the road held up fine except for a gouge, about a half-foot deep, where gravel got washed away.

I’ve avoided driving over that spot. So have my neighbors. I pledged to do something about fixing it before it got worse but kept putting it off.

Then, the other morning I saw Mary, my neighbor who lives across the arroyo, walking her dog as I headed to work. When I stopped to chat, I noticed she held three round stones. Mary told me she has been laying stone in the gouge each morning she walks Kona. How neighborly of her.

I told Mary I planned to do the same this weekend.

And so I did. Yesterday, I pushed my wheelbarrow, rake, and shovel along the road. I knew where there were good round stones from where Armando did work this winter. I also looked for piles of gravel and crushed stone Armando deposited along the road in his attempt to clear off the mud.

I started where Mary left off. I lay the stones, and then spread gravel and stone over them to make a smooth surface.

The sun was hot — I wore my straw hat and covered myself up — but the work wasn’t too hard. I chose stone and gravel in spots that had easy access and a little uphill from my work area so I would be pushing the loaded wheelbarrow downhill.

During the process nearly all the neighbors stopped by on the road to talk or give a wave.

I got 12 feet done Saturday. It was the worst part actually. I figure I have 24 more to go. I will head up later today to see how far I get.

I make my living using my mind and creativity. But I don’t mind doing physical work. It could be painting, building a garden, and any number of chores necessary when you own a home. I would rather do it than pay someone else. And that includes fixing a gouge in a dirt road.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: We went Saturday to the reception for Art de Descartes, in which artists use junk as material. Robert Nelson created the sculpture Weidelfish using 40-plus pieces of reclaimed wood plus plastic inside. This gives you an idea of the exhibit.



books, Home, mothers

Mothers in My Life

That’s a picture of me with my mother. I believe we’re just home from the hospital or perhaps after my baptism since I am quite small. My mother Algerina looks young and pretty. We were living then at my grandparents’ home, on my father’s side. This was before my parents built a house two doors up with their own hands and before they had two more girls and a boy. They gave me a good childhood, a little quirky, but good.

From my mother I learned to love reading. Twice a week she took us to the town library, or to the bookmobile at the bottom of the street. I learned to lose myself in stories — and now I try to do the same as a writer.

Thank you Mom.

I had two wonderful grandmothers, both who were immigrants, one from Madeira, the other from the Azores Islands, to find a better life in America, of course.

Vovó Maria, my father’s mother, took care of me when I was a baby. I bet I sat on her lap the entire time. When her boys served overseas during World War II she moved on her knees up the church’s center aisle, praying all the time for their safe return. She always carried Rosary beads. She taught me about faith.

Thank you Vovó.

I knew my mother’s mother, Angela, longer. She came over on a boat during a terrible storm when she was 16 and never saw her parents again. She worked in the textile mills in New Bedford. When her husband was confined to a mental hospital during his last years, she made it on her own.  She taught me about bravery.

Thank you Vovó.

I raised six children, now young adults. They are all people I would want to know even if I weren’t their mother. They bring me joy. One of them now has her own daughter — smart, pretty, and funny like her mother.

Thank you children.