New Year

Smoky Bars and a Derailed Train

It was New Year’s Eve in our small hilltown’s only bar and everybody in the joint seemed to be planning to quit smoking at the stroke of midnight. So naturally, they were all smoking heavily until then. 

That was before Massachusetts officially banned smoking in bars and nightclubs in July 2004. I was a non-smoker, but that night I couldn’t stop inhaling the cigarette smoke that hung in a thick cloud over our heads.

The man in the next table chain-smoked. “Quitting for the new year?” I asked. Yup, he said, although as I recall he ended up sticking with the habit.

Here’s another memorable New Year’s Eve: getting stuck on a train from Boston to Philly to meet my future in-laws because another train had derailed. Most of the passengers on our train were headed to Times Square in New York City and keenly disappointed they weren’t going to make it. People got drunk. Really drunk. And pissed. A fight broke out and the cops had to come on board somewhere in Connecticut to remove them.

Over the years, we’ve gone to friends’ houses, First Nights, bars, and many years, when the kids were little, stayed home where it was quiet. As I write this on New Year’s Eve, our plans are to spend the evening at the taproom of Floodwater Brewing, owned by our son, Zack — a great gathering spot for people in our village and beyond who like handcrafted beer, conversation, and local music. I probably will raise a glass of Cyborg Joan, my namesake brew, to the new year. (Yes, there’s a story behind that name.) That’s it in a can in the photo above.

Resolutions? I make them year round when I’m inspired, so I won’t bother tonight. 

Reflections? Personally, it was a pretty good year. My family is thriving. I am grateful for the health care I’ve received. I relish the amount of time I get to spend writing creatively now that I no longer have a job. Two books were published — thank you to my new and loyal readers. I ran unopposed for the Select Board (similar to a town council) in my town of Buckland. Now I am immersed in local politics, certainly an educational experience. The only blight has been the loss of a person close to me. 

For the past few days, I’ve been saying “Happy New Year” to strangers such as grocery store cashiers and post office clerks. Everyone has been receptive. I wish the same for you. To a Happy New Year. I like the sound of it myself.

New Year

Good Intentions for the New Year

Yup, I’m one of those people. The new year comes and it’s my chance to start over, at least for that part of my life that needs a bit of revving.

To backtrack a bit, I can say my New Year’s Eve celebrations have run the gamut from quiet to raucous. Quiet means the two of us staying at home, perhaps not even being awake for when the clock strikes midnight. Then there have been parties with the usual amount of misbehaving or awkwardness. Sometimes we attended a festive series of concerts for First Night, which seems to be a bit of a misnomer, although events like that are on hold this year.

I recall the first one Hank and I spent together. We were on a train from Boston to Philly, where I was going to meet his parents. The train was rocking with those who were already imbibing and on their way to Times Square in NYC for that famous ball to drop. Too bad the train broke down somewhere in Connecticut and the cops had to come aboard to quell the drunks.

Last night we were at our son’s, Floodwater Brewing, which is a short walk from our home in the Shelburne Falls village. Good music and company. Great beer. I had the Young Hankenstein. Cyborg Joan wasn’t on the menu. Yes, Zack named two beers after his parents.

But my attention each year is on the first day of the new year and what I can change about myself.

I’d say it typically comes down to habits. There are, of course, the one about making healthy choices. Just a few adjustments needed there, I believe.

But a huge change ahead — leaving journalism for good — should bring interesting opportunities. I officially end my job as the editor-in-chief overseeing three daily newspapers on Jan. 7 and will stay on three to four weeks to help with the transition.

After that my time is mine.

Last year, I was able to complete Working the Beat, Book No. 5 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. (The proof arrived yesterday, thanks to the considerate postal deliverer who left it on our porch out of the rain. There it is above.) Considering the hours I put in as editor-in-chief, it was a bit of a miracle, getting up at 5 a.m., to complete this novel.

My goal for 2022 is to complete two. I’ve already started No. 6.

I also have three adult novels that unfortunately don’t fit my publisher’s genres. I will try to find a home for those.

I will do better at self-promotion, figuring out what works and what is a complete waste of time or money.

Yes, we will go on a road trip, hopefully fitting in Taos, NM, where we lived for 11 years.

I will get to spend more time with our family, including my mother.

And I look forward to reading something other than news and feature stories that a reporter wrote for a newspaper … like the books sitting in my Kindle and on my shelves.

Last year on my commute, I listened to language learning audio books: French, Spanish and Portuguese. I will continue working my way through Portuguese, which was the language of my grandparents. Japanese is next.

Jan. 1 is a great time to reflect. I say bring on 2022.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s the proof to Working the Beat. You can pre-order yours on Amazon at Thank you if you do.

New Year

Happy 2018: Dang It’s Cold

So how cold is it? As I write this post on the first day of 2018, it is -7 Fahrenheit. (For my UK friends that is -21.6667 Celsius, which makes it sound a whole lot colder.) High today is expected to be 6, oh boy. This arctic blast is not supposed to end any time soon. I offer my sympathies to those living north of us.

Dang, it’s cold.

I hear the furnace cranking below us in the cellar as it heats our apartment and the two above us. I’m glad none of us are paying for it. After the pipes froze in the second-floor bathroom, the landlord dropped offer space heaters. Yes, we’ve got that going, too.

Our new, old house in Shelburne Falls Village, which is undergoing renovations, is doing just fine with a relatively new furnace. There’s a woodstove in Hank’s workshop, which does its job after it’s been fired up.

Yes, it’s a good time to work inside, such as assisting Hank at the house. (I am definitely his unskilled helper although an expert cleaner and hauler of demolition materials.) I write, read, and now that I’m working with an editor on Chasing the Case — my mystery coming out in late spring — I go through her edits.

Not everyone is as lucky as I am. Some people have to work outside. On my weekly dump run last Wednesday, Russell, who runs the transfer station, was outfitted in lined canvas coveralls and insulated boots. I told him, “Russell, you are the best-dressed man in town.” He laughed.

Speaking of clothing. Long johns are officially a part of my wardrobe until spring. When I got some money for Christmas, I spent it on more long johns and some really warm mittens. I wear layers and a hat. I’m not fooling around.

The Deerfield River in our back yard is covered with ice where the flow is low and close to the village of Shelburne Falls.

Folks ask if we miss living in Taos, New Mexico because it’s been so cold here in Western Massachusetts. Actually, Taos has a real winter because it is 7,200 feet high on the mesa and a lot more in the mountains. My understanding, however, is that it’s been a mild winter there so far, but that can change. I will admit with the sun, Taos never seemed as cold as this. I recall sitting outside in 40-degree weather and feeling as if it were 20 degrees warmer.

But the answer is no. This is where we live now, and I’ll just tough it out.

One more thing: yes, this is the first day of the new year. Do I make resolutions? I prefer goals. I’ve been pondering them for the past few days. Putting them down in writing will be another indoor task. By the way, I did really well with the ones I made in 2017.

Last year was packed with events big and small including a 2,400-mile move from New Mexico to New England. We sold a home and bought another. I made progress with my writing by signing with Crooked Cat Books. I wrote two mysteries — have begun another — and self-published one of my hilltown novels. We had family milestones including the arrival of a new granddaughter, Corinna.

I anticipate the momentum will continue into 2018. Dang!

AUTHOR SERIES: I will leave this post up for a couple of days and then return with my series on fellow Crooked Cat Books authors. Next up is Val Penny.

ONE LAST THING: Thank you to everyone who supported my writing last year by buying and reading my books. Here is a link to my books on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Massachusetts. They’re not free, but they are for the taking. Check them out: Amazon