Western Massachusetts

The Process of Elimination

Moving 2,400 miles, from one state to another, requires changes. Lots of them. Yes, we have a list, and I began checking them off one at a time after we had unpacked.

Most of the changes are mundane, but necessary such as getting internet (check), obtaining renters insurance (check), opening a local bank account (check), getting our Massachusetts drivers licenses (check), and notifying everybody we do business with that we have a new address (check).

We bought a used Subaru, which we will need to handle snowy roads. (Check, although it took a lot of time and energy.)  Then we had to get insurance and register the car in Massachusetts (check) and do the same for our Toyota (check).

This week I found two money-making opportunities: a steady freelance writing gig with a magazine and copyediting for a book project (check).

I won’t bore you with the little things, such as where we buy our groceries and get our hair cut.

All that is left is changing our health insurance, and the biggie, finding a permanent place to call home. The second is an ongoing quest.

Hank and I lived in Western Massachusetts for 26 years before moving to New Mexico for 11. Upon our return, we landed in the northern part, Franklin County, to be exact. We want to live here for a number of reasons, but finding that home has proved to be more elusive.

Every week we visit at least one new town to check it out. This week it was Northfield and Bernardston. The previous week, it was Orange and Wendell. We’ve been to others. We drive and and walk around to get a feel for the place’s energy. Does the town have a downtown, even a small one? What other amenities does it have? Do people just sleep there? Do I see myself being happy here?

Each time, I find myself circling back to my top choice — the Village of Shelburne Falls.

As part of that process, we look at houses online, plus at the MLS updates our daughter, Julia, who got her real estate license, emails us. If the house is empty, we find it and peek in the windows.

This week, we brought friends to check out a foreclosure. Victor, who worked in construction, gave it a thumbs-down. Maintenance on this older house had been let go a long time ago. It would cost too much to fix. That’s too bad since it must have been a very nice home at one time. We’ve also discounted buying a lot to build on because of the cost and the traffic noise from nearby Route 2.

What kind of house are we looking for? Preferably something small — but not too small — with a garage, barn, or walk-out basement for Hank’s shop. An arts and crafts bungalow is at the top of our list. The house may need work, but hopefully the right things were kept up or updated. We’d like to be able to walk to a coffee shop or a bar. Yes, a yard for a garden would be nice. Of course, price is a factor.

I know we will find what we want. Everything else has fallen into place. The same will happen. Patience, I tell myself, patience. It’s a process of elimination.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank walks in the Deerfield River, the swimming hole that’s a short drive away from the place we’re renting. We cooled off there on three summery days this week.


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.


Nine Years in Taos

Nine years ago, Aug. 10, we sold our home and left western Massachusetts. We arrived in Taos four days later after a long trek in our old Toyota pickup.

It’s been an adventure living in Northern New Mexico. Taos is not paradise, as some people are quick to say. No place is without its problems. But Taos is an interesting place to live, and for that I am grateful.

Here is a sampling of what it’s brought me during that time.

hank firepit

Hank with the fire pit he and our son Zack built.

We built a passive-solar, pumice-crete home with Trombe walls — a design and material new to us. Fortunately I have a skilled husband, Hank, who continues to work with wood — and stone — inside and outside our home. We also have a helpful son, Zack, who likes to do projects when he visits. The newest addition is a fire pit of sandstone.

Our family has had two marriages and the birth of a granddaughter. There have been new jobs, academic degrees, and homes. One son discovered he’s a stand-up comic. A musical son produced a CD and now has a band. They are spread around the country and we typically spend our vacations visiting them.

I keep writing and looking for my publishing break. I have written an adult novel, three books in a Middle Grade series and started the fourth, and three books in a bilingual series (English and Spanish) for young readers. I rewrote two adult novels to vastly improve them. I launched a blog, then converted it into this website.

I found new authors to love.

I first worked as a freelancer at the local newspaper, and then was hired as copy editor, and seven years ago, its managing editor. I am part of a great editorial team that covers the heck out of this area.

I knew four people when we moved here — all used to live Back East. Now, I couldn’t count how many people I know.

I have been hugged by perfect strangers more times than I have in my entire life. Chalk it up to the Taos hug.

I know a little Spanish but want to learn more.

I handle living at 7,200 feet better.

I grow a lot more food in my garden.

And I’ve enjoyed flaming sunsets, light-filled winters, and starry skies. The view from my office window of the sage-filled mesa — if I squint it looks like the ocean — and mountains is a gift.

NOTE: The photo of the gladiolas above was taken yesterday at the Taos Farmers Market in the Plaza.