my gardens

What I Will Miss About Taos

Recently, I saw a young man riding his bike as he held aloft a snakeskin several feet long. What a find, and yes, such a serendipitous sight is one of the things I will miss about Taos.

For those not following too closely, Hank and I officially leave New Mexico for New England on July 27. We’ve made Ranchos de Taos our home for 11 years. Next it will be Charlemont in Western Mass. (pop. 1,200), where we will be closer to much of our family.

What else will I miss? Certainly, our energy-efficient home complemented by Hank’s craftsmanship in wood, plus the grand vistas of mountains and sage beyond it.

I will miss the sweetness of people. For instance, Hank and I have been regulars at the recycling center to score boxes. This week, one of the workers asked us if we needed boxes and told us that the guy from the Family Dollar should be dropping off a load momentarily.

What else? In no particular order, here goes:hollyhocks

My vegetable and flower gardens.

Soaking at Ojo Caliente.

Sunny days and dark nights.

The big, big sky.

Shorter winters, yes.

Taos characters.

Eating Christmas at Orlando’s and the friendly staff at Elevation Coffee.

Ah, Pieces Consignment, where I bought well over half of my wardrobe, no kidding.

Feast days at Taos Pueblo.

Listening to the Spanish language.

So much creative energy.

Of course, those people I call friends.

That admiring look when I tell strangers I’m from New Mexico.

I bet there is a lot more, but that’s a pretty good list.

Alas, none of these are close to our family, most of whom live in Massachusetts. Fortunately, two of our children are in Florida and California — great getaways when winter wearies arrive.

What won’t I miss about Taos? Ha, there is definitely a list, but I will keep it to myself.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: My vegetable garden.

Taos, Western Massachusetts

My Life in Boxes


While Hank was away finding a place for us to land in Western Massachusetts, I was packing, packing, and packing. I am taking care of the house, Hank his shop. I believe I have the better end of the deal. (For those who missed the last post, we are leaving Taos for Charlemont, pop. 1,200.)

My process was to start in one room, my office, then move onto the hall closet, then onto the next room. After a solid week of it, most of the house is now in boxes. All that is left are the glassed art on the walls and the large wooden boxes Hank built, plus the clothes, kitchen stuff, etc., I set aside to live on until we head out of here. It surprises me how little we need, but then again this is a temporary situation.

For me, it all comes down to finding the right boxes. My best source so far has been the recycling center. People bring the boxes they no longer want, usually flattened, and dump them into large receptacles. The trick is to come when the guys working there haven’t emptied them. It’s all in the timing because they do it all day long.

Sometimes I find great stuff like someone just moved here and no longer need the boxes. Other times I strike out and have to come back. I’m not complaining. They’re free.

When I was a college kid, I worked in a pants distribution warehouse filling orders. Once when one of the guys in shipping went on vacation, the boss asked me to fill in. That’s when I learned the proper technique to tape a proper box. It’s a skill that’s come in handy for many, many moves.

The week Hank was gone, I taped the bottoms of the boxes while I watched TV at night. The next morning, they were ready to fill.

Course, I’m nuts about bubble wrap, tape, and crumpled paper. Then, there are stickers and markers so I recall what’s in each.

Yeah, I started early, but I had the time, and besides I wanted to get this part done before I headed Back East for a week to help out with the new grandbaby, who was born June 29.

When I look at the boxes stacked in my office and in the hall closet, I think we have a lot of stuff. I did glean my possessions last summer — I don’t touch Hank’s — and I’m still doing it. But frankly, I like what’s in those boxes and feel they are worth hauling 2,404 miles away.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Flowers in my garden.

Taos, Western Massachusetts

Hello, I Must Be Going

Groucho Marx said it best. Actually, he sang it in the movie, Animal Crackers. But, yes, it’s official. Hank and I are leaving Taos next month and moving to Charlemont in Western Massachusetts.

Taos has been very good to Hank and me. Like so many people, we arrived 11 years ago with the urge to live here. No jobs. We knew exactly five people. But we had a sense of adventure, and after selling our home in Western Mass. in less than two weeks, we figured we were on the right track.

Things fell nicely into place here in New Mexico. We found a piece of land — interesting story there — and a great contractor, Beau. I started doing freelance at The Taos News, and then became the copy editor, and then its managing editor for eight years. I like to joke I clawed my way to the top — not really, of course.

Until last May I was in the thick of Taos, news-wise. I had a hard-working editorial team that was fearless and fun when it was warranted. We won a slew of state and national awards. For me, covering the news was more a mission than a job.

Hank and I enjoyed living in a place where creativity oozes from the ground. He created amazing furniture, boxes, and frames from wood. The woodwork in and around our home is his.

I wrote fiction on my own time — adult and kid novels. I even published two adult novels and a bilingual kids book (with my friend Teresa Dovalpage).

So why in the heck are we leaving? The answer is we want to be closer to the people who mean the most to us — our family. I believe people who live here with their families will understand. Four of our six kids live in Massachusetts, plus a grandchild and one on the way. My mother and other family members are there. Phone calls, visits, and Facebook are just not enough.

Then, there is the sense of adventure. And given that our home here was under contract in a week, I’d say things once again are falling nicely into place.

So right now, my life is consumed by finding boxes, packing, and seeing to details. We expect to hit the road with our stuff sometime in late July although no firm date has been set as of yet. We are going through the selling process, inspections and the like — so far, so very good. Thanks, Lisa.

Hank went Back East to find us a place to land. Finding a rental was tough. People are opting for Air B&B and I understand why. But we have a nice, affordable place to live before we find something permanent. Charlemont is a sweet town, population around 1,200, near the Deerfield River.

There will be parts of Taos that I will miss: the people, views, and short, sunnier winters. That’s just for starters. Taos is indeed a special place, but, hey, I must be going.

Here’s the link to how Groucho Marx sings it in the movie Animal Crackers

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Penstemon flowers blooming in my garden.

kids, Taos, Writing

Teaching Kids to Be Authors

I have added another gig: teaching creative writing to fifth-graders. It’s part of the Visiting Artists Program at the Taos municipal schools.

Others in the program are bringing what they do creatively in real life into the district’s classrooms. I work with Kathy Serna’s twenty fifth-graders at Ranchos de Taos Elementary School. My focus is on flash fiction, which I believe fits their writing level and the time I will spend with them — one or two hours a week.

I remember a similar opportunity I had when I was a fifth-grader. That year, a few children from each elementary school in my town — there were several then — attended an enrichment program on Wednesday afternoons. We were taught advanced science and creative writing.

The science was fine. Creative writing, taught by Mr. Graves, was definitely my favorite. I learned about expressing myself using similes, metaphors, and other figures of speech. At that early age I was inspired to do what I have done as an adult — write creatively.

I hope I can do the same for these kids.

My first day was last week. They got to know a bit about me, and I asked them to tell me about themselves via a writing assignment. (I admit I will have to work hard to remember everyone’s names given the short amount of time I have in the room.) I explained about flash fiction and how we will be publishing what they write in a magazine format. We read samples together.

On Thursday, I let them choose a photo  from the pile I cut from magazines. Tell me a story, I asked them. They had pictures of people and animals in a variety of locations. The animals, especially the coyotes were popular. One boy flipped his page over and decided to write about a couch in an ad. It’s a magic couch, he told me.

This time they worked on the computer although some preferred to write their first draft in longhand.

They are a great group of students, eager and polite. Several are bilingual or their primary language is Spanish. Their teacher called them “the best of the best.” I believe Kathy. She’s also a dedicated teacher. I am learning from her as well, like when she said to talk and read with them at the rug area rather than have them sit at their desks. You can lose them there.

I am also eager to learn what these students will teach me about writing.

On Tuesday, the students worked more on their stories after a brief lesson on onomatopoeia. (You know words that sound like the noise they make, like crunch and howl.) A group of girls are including each other in their stories. The same goes for a pair of boys. Kathy and I help the students as needed.

The hour flew by. Kathy told the students they could get together and share their writing with each other. They gathered in the back corner of the room, chatting excitedly when I left. Now that made me feel good.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The students wrote about themselves on those sheets of paper.

book review, Southwest, Taos

Writing about Reading

I’ve done a lot more reading since I became a book reviewer six months ago. My biweekly column, The Write Stuff, appears in Tempo, the arts and entertainment section of The Taos News.

I proposed the column before I left my job as the newspaper’s managing editor, and Tempo editor Rick Romancito agreed. By my count, I’ve read and reviewed 23 books — 25 if you include the two in the column I emailed Rick this week. And I’ve started the next. Right now I am reading Andrew Gulliford’s adventure anthology Outdoors in the Southwest.

So far, my requirement is that the books must have some connection to the Southwest. Either the author lives in this part of the world, or wrote about it, and often both.

I will read books published by presses and by the authors themselves. I know there are newspapers that refuse to review self-published books. I think that’s snobbish given the changes in the publishing industry. (I will save that for another post.) But the book must be available in print.

All I ask is for a hard copy to keep.

I feel a great responsibility when authors, most likely those who have published the books on their own, ask for a review.

So, I read each one cover to cover. As I find a passage I may want to use or quote directly, I mark that page with a sticky note. By time I am done reading and have absorbed what the author was writing about, the notes are handy references when I start composing my review.

I try to have fun with the language I use for my columns, whether the book is serious or humorous. Yeah, I enjoy writing them.

I am not a book critic but a book reviewer. In my mind, that means I give readers my interpretation of the book and let them decide if they want to buy it. I will note what I liked about the book and when I feel it’s appropriate, its shortcomings. Fairness is a word that comes to mind.

Have I loved all the books I’ve read? Of course not, but I admit finding something in each one that was worthy of my time. I’ve read about topics and genres that I would not normally pick. I’ve even read poetry.

A few books made me laugh out loud. (Thank you.) Others made me shake my head.

I have heard from many of the authors, usually to thank me. A few will post the review on line. Others don’t say a word. It’s okay. That’s not why I write them.

I have had a few people send me their books with the caveat: I hope you don’t think my book is awful, or something like that.

After The Write Stuff appears in print, Rick posts it online at I usually try to tell the world when that happens.

By the way, if you are planning to do a reading in Taos, give me at least a month’s heads-up and a note about the date for the event. For sanity’s sake, I work way ahead of deadline.

Finally, if you are an author who fits the above description, mail your book to: Joan Livingston c/o The Taos News, 226 Albright St., Taos, NM, 87571 or drop it off at the newsroom. The staff will let me know it arrived.

One really last thing, you can find and review my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What online at Peace etc. on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank and I hiked a trail at the Taos Valley Overlook. That’s the view of the Río Grande in Pilar at our midway point.