bilingual, books, Pecha Kucha, Taos, Writing

Dos Chicas at Pecha Kucha

¡Viva Pecha Kucha! That’s the title of the next Pecha Kucha in Taos, and this time I’ll be a participant with my friend Teresa Dovalpage. On Feb. 18 we’ll share images and talk about ourselves but mostly about our Los Primos bilingual series for young readers.

What’s the name of our act? Dos Chicas y Los Primos.

The event will celebrate Hispanic art and culture. Here’s how the Pecha Kucha people are pitching it: Celebrando el arte y la cultura de Latinos y Latinas, Taoseños y Taoseñasand everything Hispanic.

In Pecha Kucha — Japanese for “chit chat” — each presenter has 20 images projected onto a screen and 20 seconds to talk about each one. In all one spends 6 minutes and 40 seconds on stage — not such a frightening amount of time for the performer or audience.

So you have to get right to the point and be entertaining about it.

Let me tell you about our Los Primos (The Cousins) series. The main characters are cousins Diego and Sofia. They’re also neighbors. And after school they go on adventures with their Grandpa Roberto, who likes to tell fanciful stories. I would categorize the series as magical realism.

In the first book, the cousins and Grandpa catch a magic fish that grants them a wish for letting him go. In the end they choose the wisest wish.

The second book features an invisible dog — inspired by Teresa’s very visible pet Maxx — and in the third, Grandpa comes to the cousins’ school as a one-man band.

I write the books and Teresa tells them in Spanish. (She’s a professor and author of books in English and Spanish.)

Here’s an older post on the topic.

The books are for young readers whose first language is either Spanish or English — although I believe they’d be a fun read for others. They come with illustrations by my artist son Ezra Livingston.

We are working on ways to get these books into the hands of readers.

As for ¡Viva Pecha Kucha! Teresa and I have been planning ever since we got the green light to participate. We came up with a list of images we thought we’d need. Teresa and Katharine Egli, The Taos New photographer, shot several. We’re using Ezra’s illustrations among other images.

Musician son Nate Livingston composed a 20-second tune for our one-man band/el hombre orquesta segment. Here it is.

Yesterday, Teresa and I got together to put the images in order. We start with photos of ourselves when we were little girls.

Teresa, who grew up in Cuba, is reading a book. She’s about nine.

2 Joan_child copy

That’s me ready for Halloween, I presume.

I chose one of me wearing a costume. I’m about five and my last name then was Medeiros, a good Portuguese name.

On Saturday, we practiced talking about each image for 20 seconds, using the timer on my phone. We decided Teresa will speak in Spanish and I will use English to make it truly a bilingual performance. ¡Orale!

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: Los Primos Diego and Sofia by Ezra Livingston.


back yard
Taos, Writing

Where I Write

I am fortunate to have a room to myself when I write. It’s located on the northern end of our home in Taos, and a large window in front of my desk gives me an expansive view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the sagebrush-filled mesa and a great big sky.

The scenery is not a distraction but a nice reprieve when I raise my eyes above the laptop’s screen.


Where I write

Years ago, a friend mailed me the book, “The Writer’s Desk,” which contained photos by Jill Krementz of the places where 56 famous authors write. Among them are Stephen King, Bernard Malamud, Pablo Neruda, Katharine Porters, Ralph Ellison, and Tennessee Williams.

Several like Jean Piaget’s office are seriously cluttered with paper. Krementz’ book was published in 1996 so there are museum-worthy computers, typewriters and pens. Most of the authors have windows near their desk. I jealously note E.B. White’s overlooks an ocean.

The book includes quotes from each author about the writing process. Eudora Welty said she thinks best in the morning. Amy Tan wrote, “I surround myself with objects that carry with them a personal history — old books, bowls and boxes, splintering chairs and benches from imperial China.

While admittedly not in these authors’ league, I too have a writer’s office. My husband Hank made me a desk from black walnut boards a customer said to throw away. I have other furniture he built: the arts-and-craft-style Morris chair, book cases, an end table, a filing cabinet (yes of wood), frames for the art, and a bed we use for guests. I am very lucky.

And like Amy Tan, I surround myself with objects that are so personal I don’t know if they would mean as much to others like the chunk of driftwood I found on a Block Island beach, a lobster-shaped bell that belonged to my grandmother, and other stuff I’ve picked up along the way.

The bed has a Pendleton blanket and above it a Navajo weaving, a gift from my sister Christine.

I have no source of music — I never write to it — although sometimes tunes drift in from Hank’s workshop on the other side of the wall.

My friend Teresa Dovalpage, who is an author and my collaborator for a bilingual kids series, remarked once my office was a reflection of my personality. I believe she’s right.

So when do I write? I get up early before I leave for the newsroom. I have a cup of coffee and a half bagel to get me started. And, if I take my eyes off my computer, I can watch dawn break over the landscape.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s a winter view from my office.

cars, Taos

My Trusty Subaru

We have had a spate of snowy weather in Northern New Mexico — three storms in five days. Those predicted one-inchers turned into multi-inchers, especially closer the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Road conditions can get iffy here. That’s when I take the Subaru.

The Subaru, a 2003 Impreza we’ve owned since zero miles, doesn’t have a name although it should. Until the past couple of years, she (alright the car has a gender) was my constant companion on the road through good weather and some really awful weather.


The snowy scene this morning across the arroyo to my neighbor’s home.

When I worked back East, I had a 40-minute commute from a hilltown in Western Massachusetts to a newsroom in Northampton. My trip took me on a state-numbered route through three small towns. It included two serious hills — in West Chesterfield and Williamsburg — and a number of curves. The highway crews were diligent as they could be but they had a lot of miles to cover.

With three buckets of sand in the back for ballast, my trusty Subaru got me through freezing rain, ice storms, and snowstorms of varying depths.

I recall one early morning being stopped on the top of Burgy Hill by a cop who noted the highway crew was just getting there. It was black ice all the way to the bottom so I should take it slow. We sure did.

One April 1, a heavy, wet storm got past the weather forecasters. I left work early and my Subaru had to maneuver around a jackknifed tractor-trailer going up Burgy Hill. But I made it home through the cement-like snow.

These days, Hank drives the Subaru. It is the first vehicle for him that isn’t a truck or van. I got the Prius, which is heavier and does OK in the snow because it’s front-wheel drive — and is a helluva lot better on gas.

The Subaru now has 137,000 miles. Her black paint has suffered in this Northern New Mexico sun. The radio stopped working and the driver’s door lock is getting a bit funky. She got a tick in the engine no mechanic could figure how to fix a 100,000 miles ago. But she’s taken Hank twice across country and once to Vegas. When she gets going, she’s a smooth ride. She’s also got great visibility and a champ of a heater.

She’s also a dependable ride.

And so Wednesday morning she made my choice easy. I left the fancy schmancy Prius home and took the Subaru to work. I did the same at 6:30 a.m. on Friday. We already had a couple of inches on the roads. And, I felt like an old friend had come along for the ride.

PHOTO ABOVE: There she is in the newsroom’s parking lot.

art, Taos

Another Creative Place in Taos

Taos has four art museums that are free Sundays to the people who live here. Lucky us. Last Sunday, with a bit of free time on my hands, I went to the Ernest L. Blumenschein Home and Museum.

Blumenschein, or “Blumy” as he was called, was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists a hundred years ago. He and fellow artist Bert G. Phillips stumbled upon Taos during a painting expedition when the wheel on their wagon broke. Blumenschein, who lost the toss, made the twenty-mile trek to town to get the wheel fixed. And that was the start of an intense period of art in Taos.

blumenschein portrait

Blumenschein’s portrait on a sign outside the museum.

I hadn’t been to the Blumenschein museum in a while. But the events surrounding the anniversary — and interviews for stories I did with the artists’ descendants — inspired me to take another look. From those who knew him, Blumy was very sure of himself and his talents. He was competitive in whatever he did. (The museum has trophies he won playing tennis.) And he was a wonderful artist who captured the landscape and Native people of his time.

Blumenschein’s wife Mary and their daughter Helen were also artists. The museum, where they lived is filled with their furniture, belongings and their paintings and those of their colleagues. (Sorry, photos weren’t allowed.)

The museum’s current exhibit is: “The Founder’s Daughter, Prints by Helen G. Blumenschein and Friends.”

Helen gave the homestead and its furnishings to the Taos Historic Museums in 1966. Like the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, where two members of the Taos Society of Artists — I.E. Couse and Joseph Sharp — lived and worked, the Blumenschein museum gives visitors a feel for the time.


Entrance to the museum

The Blumenscheins acquired the home in pieces from 1924 to 1931. It has adobe walls, vigas (log beams) and latilla (aspen pole) ceilings.

My favorite room was the studio with its large windows that capture natural light and high ceilings. A tall, wooden easel is marked with paint dropped from a brush. Here Blumy painted — yet another creative soul who found his way to Taos.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the exterior of the museum on Ledoux Street, the oldest in Taos. And here is a link to a story I did for The Taos News on the descendants:


Lighting the Way in Taos

Yup, it’s a paper bag with a lit candle. Farolito it’s called in Taos, which often does things differently, and luminaria everywhere else. Saturday night, Ledoux, the oldest street in Taos, was lined with them.

Lighting Ledoux. For me, Christmas is officially here.

Starting in the evening, people strolled the street, which includes galleries, businesses, some homes, and two museums — the Blumenschein and Harwood. And because it gets awfully cold in the high desert after sundown, people bundled up and warmed themselves beside the fire pits. (The folks at Inger Jirby Gallery handed out sticks loaded with marshmallows to toast.)

Musicals play outside the Harwood Museum.

Musicians play outside the Harwood Museum.

The owner of Stella’s, an Italian restaurant, served free cups of meatball soup. The Harwood had hot cider, I believe, although I gave up because of the long line. And, everyone had plenty of cookies.

This year, we missed the short parade, where Taos firefighters drive Maria, their circa 1936 engine, to give Father Christmas a ride down Ledoux.

People sang and played instruments. One musician was setting up his bagpipes as we were leaving.

Afterward we strolled through the Plaza, where the old cottonwoods are lit up in a really big way. The town had its tree-lighting ceremony the night before.

I joke sometimes Christmas in Taos is awfully like Halloween. It certainly is unlike any I have experienced elsewhere.

Next week Bonfires on Bent Street will serve posole soup and have its own fun.

Taos Plaza lit up.

Taos Plaza lit up.

On Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo, a statue of the Virgin Mary will be carried through the historic village as rifles are fired into the air. High stacks of pitchy wood, some a story high, will be set on fire. We’ve gone several times, and I like it best when we bring someone who’s never been, like a few of our kids last year.

Of course, those are a few of the holiday activities in Taos, but they are my favorite.

It’s joy without the toy.