Life lessons, New Mexico, Western Massachusetts

In Two Years’ Time

Two years ago, Hank and I were driving somewhere in the Midwest as we made our way from Taos, New Mexico to Western Massachusetts. Hank was at the wheel. Our cat sat on my lap for almost the entire 2,400 miles.

I know for sure because Facebook reminded me. I wrote “Adios, Taos.”

We lived in Northern New Mexico for 11 years. We built a home there. I ran the editorial department of the local newspaper. Hank got into the artistic side of woodworking. We enjoyed grand views of the mesa, mountains and big skies. Great food. It was an interesting place to live.

But we had our reasons for leaving.

And a lot has happened since then. A lot of good things.

Having easier access to more of our family is an important one. Four of our six kids and our two granddaughters live in Massachusetts. (You gotta love it when your two-year-old granddaughter calls you Grandma Applesauce.) Then there is my 95-year-old mother and other kin.

We found and bought the style of home we wanted — an arts and crafts bungalow. (My wish then: we find the right house for the right price in the right location.) Youngest daughter, Julia, a real estate agent, negotiated the deal.

The home, built in 1900, has great bones. We had to fix the things the previous owners either did or didn’t do to the home. Luckily, Hank is a skilled woodworker. Me? I was the unskilled helper. The only work we hired out was the roof, floor sanding in two rooms, plumbing and electrical. But as it goes in older homes, there’s still work ahead for Hank.

We live on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls, a charming village in a rural area. Think small shops, restaurants, and our son’s microbrewery, Floodwater Brewing, which opened last November. And for the most part, friendly people. Folks come from all over to admire the Bridge of Flowers that spans the Deerfield River. We achieved our goal of being able to walk to places from our home — only four-tenths of a mile to Floodwater.

It’s been a productive year for me writing-wise. I’ve published the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series through Crooked Cat Books. I am onto the fourth.

I have a freelance gig copyediting history books for the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio. I’ve learned a lot about our nation’s history.

If that weren’t enough, I am now the editor-in-chief of The Greenfield Recorder. I didn’t think I would go back in the biz, but here I am again running the paper’s editorial department. I am glad to say I have a hardworking and friendly staff devoted to community news.

Oh, our cat, Two, who is around 15, is just fine.

Yes, we got a lot done in two years. What will the next two bring? Bring it on.

PHOTO ABOVE: A not very flattering selfie taken somewhere on our cross-country trek with our cat Two glued to my lap. She hated the carrier.






Gardening, New Mexico, Writing

Out With The Bad

I’ve been on a tear, really, about Russian thistle aka tumbleweed. First a little history: long before most of us were living in Northern New Mexico, sheep were allowed to overgraze. Prairie grass vanished. Sagebrush and invasive weeds such as tumbleweed, which has its origins in Russia, took over.

My mission is to eradicate it from our piece of property at least.

When tumbleweed is new, it is a green, spindly thing that grows into a thorny plant that is good for nothing. If allowed to grow, dry, and tumble, it spreads seeds like nobody’s business. I want to get to it before that happens.

Friends back East said they were charmed by tumbleweeds. They’ve seen pictures of them roll. Sometimes they do it in huge quantities that can clog a road. I say ugh.

For me it’s a constant battle, at least during the summer, to keep that damn plant from growing in our open spaces and along our parts of the road. So for the past few days, I’ve been out there, digging it up and chucking it in the open land across the road where it will die. It is not pleasant work. The maturing plants are scratchy. There is no way I can get all of the roots. But I do my best. Do they seem less each year? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

It’s a lot like revising fiction, although that is a more pleasurable task. I’ve set aside the next adult novel that is to be published to rest for three weeks and returned to my middle grade fiction, The Twin Jinn series. After a few years, I am taking a look at the first one, in which I introduce the family of genies hiding out in a traveling carnival. (I am planning to publish The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries this fall.)

From SOMOS Weeklies

From SOMOS Weeklies

Enough time has passed that I read it with fresh eyes. As a result, I saw parts I want to change. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad stuff, but I found sections to expand and contract. Words to eliminate or change. Points of view. Certainly, this task is more fun than yanking tumbleweeds under the hot New Mexican sun.

Another task this week: Getting ready for my solo reading Friday, July 8. I’ve chosen the short sections I will read. I want to give those who attend a flavor of the three-day bash. For those living nearby, it’s 6-8 p.m. at SOMOS of Taos on Civic Plaza Drive. I will have books for sale: $12 gets you a magic carpet ride back to the early seventies.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A wheelbarrow filled with those damn tumbleweeds.

ojo 1
New Mexico, tattoos

Tattoo You

I can remember when only sailors and bad guys had tattoos. Now it seems half the population does. At least that was the case when we went today for a soak in the mineral springs at Ojo Caliente.

My uncle was the first person I knew who had tattoos. He got them when he was in the Navy. I recall a panther stretched over one forearm. There might have been a Sacred Heart of Jesus symbol and even a Mom.

The second was a summer boyfriend when I was home from college. He was more of your bad boy type, but not really cause he was sweet to me. He dropped out in middle school — he had stayed back twice and was already 16 — and worked as a fisherman. The tattoo on one arm had a crude dagger and the words “Born to Lose” above it. He carved it himself and colored it with black ink. He said it hurt like a son-of-a-you-know-what.

The third is my husband, Hank. When I met him, he had a rather primitive tattoo on his upper arm: a shamrock, an Irish pipe and the word “Disease.” He got it in Jersey when he was 15 and admits to being rather drunk at the time. Hence it wasn’t the crispest tattoo. Why “Disease”? It was a tribute to when he had scarlet fever.

Hank once asked his father what he would do if ever got a tattoo. His answer: he would break off his arm and beat him with the bloody stump. So for the next few years until he left home, Hank swam in a sweatshirt at the Jersey Shore.

Years later, when we lived in Seattle, where tattoos were legal, he got his covered by a talented and rather famous tattoo artist, Madame Lazonga.

Hank showing off his new tattoo in Seattle.

Hank showing off his new tattoo in Seattle.

Hank opted for a Japanese-style chrysanthemum, which is a marked improvement over what was underneath.

Then, tattoos became legal most everywhere. Perfectly ordinary citizens got them.

In fact three of our six kids have tattoos.

Me? Nah.

So back to Ojo Caliente. I marveled at the artistry of many of the tattoos I saw. Several people had their arms, legs, backs, and chests covered by intricate patterns. Others had one small tattoo on their arm or leg.

I saw lots of flowers, birds, trees, Native American and Celtic symbols. One man had a bicyclist on one leg and a rooster with a top hat on his back. A  woman in a bikini had birds on each butt cheek — their wings rose above her bathing suit bottom. Another woman had Asian writing going down each side of her spine. I don’t know what it said but I hope she does.

It didn’t matter the body type — thin, hefty, short, tall — or age, these people wore their tattoos proudly. And I couldn’t help looking.

Native American, New Mexico

Plenty at the Powwow

It’s hard to sit still at a powwow when Native people are dancing and drumming. But I did for a while because of the flow of feathers, bells, and ribbons — and the heart-thumping beat.


Outside the arena

The Taos Pueblo Powwow was this weekend. We went Sunday afternoon, which had such a great turnout we had to park our folding chairs well outside the arbor, where a drumming group took precedence, and behind canopies pitched by families. It was as close as we were going to get to the arena. (Number one rule: arrive early at the powwow to get a good spot.)

jeanne begay

Jeanne Begay sells beaded necklaces and bracelets

We sat as Native people moved in a clockwork circle in the arena. Many waited on the sidelines for their turn to compete such as the cluster of little girls sitting near us. I marveled at the diversity in their regalia. (Another rule: don’t call them costumes). Feathers, fabric, beadwork, ribbons, fur, and metal — no two were alike.

But watching the dancing is only part of the experience. This year the powwow had a full outer circle of vendors. Some of the jewelry and goods for sale were touristy stuff, but then there were real craftsmen, mostly from the Four Corners area. I was charmed by the beadwork at one booth to buy a necklace. Jeanne Begay told me it takes her over an hour to make one on a loom — “if there are no distractions.” I paid by check. (Although some vendors take cards, many don’t. So bring cash or checks.)


Fry bread with honey

I did get my annual fix of fry bread, choosing Paulie’s, which had the longest line. The longer the line, the better the food, I figure. The man in front of me ordered $63 worth of fry bread prepared in various ways, such as fry bread with a pork chop and burgers. He told his son, “Today we will eat good.” “You mean I will eat good,” the boy responded.

While I waited for my order, I watched two women inside the booth knead dough, roll them into balls, and flatten them for frying in a cast-iron skillet. I chose plain fry bread. I drizzled mine with honey and ate it in the sun, while the dancers moved around.

Silver beads
books, Native American, New Mexico, Taos, Writing

Silver Beads from Window Rock

I promised myself I would buy a string of silver beads, Native-made, when I sold my book. It would be my reward. Alas, that hasn’t happened yet despite the earnest efforts of my agent.

So when my parents gave me a gift of money, I decided to spend a little on myself. Yes, you guessed correctly. I bought the necklace I coveted.

I knew long ago to buy the necklace at Tony Reyna’s Indian Shop. Tony, who is 99, is a survivor of the Bataan Death March in World War II and one of the most revered persons in the Taos area. We’ve eaten with his family on Christmas Eve and San Geronimo Feast Day. We’ve bought gifts from his shop, which his son, Philip, now runs.

Philip had a selection of silver beads but not the style — plain not carved  — in the length I wanted. But he said he could order one from a man he knows from Window Rock in Navajo Nation.  Philip called a couple of weeks later. He had a necklace he thought I’d like. Ironically the man from Window Rock came in soon after I left the shop. The necklace just arrived in the mail.

The silver beads go with the three pairs of earrings my sister, Christine, gave me from her collection of Native jewelry. I’ve decided to wear the beads  every day except when I work outside. So far, that’s held true.

As for treating myself when the book is sold. Well, frankly, that would be its own reward.

No comment: I removed the comments option this week. I grew tired of deleting spam from ne’er-do-wells who think they can fool me by offering clever observations and compliments about this website — the same ones over and over. Meanwhile they are pitching Nike and Louis Vuitton. So I wasn’t fooled at all.