Category Archives: beauty

Abandoned

I really like this little building.

I’m fascinated by this little building and its mysterious walled backyard. It’s just a few blocks from our house, and we pass that fabulous arched gate several times a week when we walk the dogs. Seeing the Coke sign from a distance, I thought it was a long-shuttered corner store, but as I was taking a picture of the sign the other day, I realized there was a ghost sign above the door:

A beauty shop in this neighborhood makes more sense than a grocery store.

The hours should have been a pretty good tipoff that this wasn’t a grocery store.

This little archway just knocks me out.

Exploring Tucumcari with Ramona is one of my new favorite pastimes. We go out for a walk or a jog almost every evening. She likes sniffing stuff, and I like slowing down and seeing cool stuff like that abandoned salon.

Our evening workouts actually made the Washington Post website recently. Click here to see it. Our part starts at 1:20.

In other news, I worked on office upgrades today. I now have a mount that gets my monitor and laptop up off my desk and a curved shower-curtain rod above my desk with a pretty curtain hanging from it to reduce distractions during Zoom calls with students.

I also went to the hospital today to get a blood test to see whether I had COVID-19 when I got sick in early March. People who have already had the virus can donate plasma to help active patients. I should know whether that applies to me by the middle of next week.

Emily

Grand total: 190

We completed our breezeblock inventory this afternoon. By my count, Tucumcari (pop. 4,915) has 190 properties that feature either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or some combination of the two — and at least 100 of them are within a mile of my house.

I knew we had a lot, but by “a lot,” I was thinking maybe 50. We have nearly four times that number — and I probably missed a few that weren’t visible from the street. Incredible.

Here are some samples from today’s explorations:

We saw this fan-style block atop an unfinished wall in a newer subdivision. The owner appeared to be test-driving samples.

Square-in-square style breezeblock
This double square-in-square was perched atop the same unfinished wall as the fan-style block.

We saw this angular riff on the Starlight pattern at the same property.

I don’t know the name of this pattern, but it seems to be the 21st-century answer to hidden circles.

I like this sort of inside-out approach to installing hidden circles, spotted in an alley while we were walking the dogs this afternoon.

The top image is from a house down the street. The breezeblocks appear to be a later addition, as they don’t really match the architecture of the house, but I imagine they’d come in handy if you were fumbling with your keys on a stormy day.

The research for this project has been fascinating. I knew Tucumcari pretty well before I started, but systematically driving every street in town in search of one specific architectural detail has forced me to pay much closer attention to my surroundings. It’s also given me an appreciation for the ingenuity of the people around me, who are sculptors, muralists, architects, landscape designers, homesteaders, and creative problem solvers of the highest order.

No wonder I love this town so much. It’s full of kindred spirits.

Emily

Ridin’ Around in the Breeze

Well, it’s all right, ridin’ around in the breeze.
Yeah, it’s all right, if you live the life you please.
— George Harrison

For the third day in a row, Ron and I worked on my breezeblock inventory. This time, we were in our own neighborhood. In an hour and a half, we covered all the east-west streets in an area six blocks wide and maybe a mile long. We found 52 properties with breezeblocks and one with shadow blocks. That brings our total to 139, with about 75 percent of the inventory complete.

Here’s a wall of tightly stacked snowflake blocks, protected by a ferocious guard dog:

Snowflake-pattern breezeblocks, magic light, dramatic shadows, and a Chihuahua in the window — what’s not to love?

I was really excited about these Pompeian (sic) blocks. (I was less excited about the manufacturer’s spelling.)

Pompeian breezeblocks in a wall
Pompeian blocks cast interesting shadows on the wall behind them.

Breezeblocks casting a shadow on a concrete wall
Two styles for the price of one: Pompeian shadow next to hidden circles.

We also spotted some double-Ys:

Double-Y breezeblocks in a concrete wall
This is one of the more creative uses I’ve seen for the double-Y pattern.

Some newer walls featured styles I haven’t encountered in any of my research. This one looks like what you’d get if you crossed the arcs in a hidden-circle block and then flattened it out:

Breezeblocks in a concrete wall
I don’t know what this style is called, but it seems to be a latter-day design. I like this installation.

Breezeblocks in a concrete wall
Notice how the same pattern can look very different depending on the installation.

The pattern in the top image is another latter-day design. It looks like arch or cathedral, except it’s missing the diagonal reinforcements.

We got a late start today because of work commitments, but we’re hoping to go out earlier tomorrow and finish our inventory. Once that’s done, I can start designing my map. I’m really excited about this project. If it looks half as good on paper as it does in my mind, it’s going to be one of the coolest projects I’ve ever done.

Emily

More breezeblocks

Ron and I went hunting breezeblocks again this afternoon. My list now stands at 86 properties with either breezeblocks, shadow blocks, or a combination of the two. I have found 51 examples of hidden circles; seven examples of Empress; six of square-in-square; five of double-Y; two of double-X; one each of arch/cathedral and snowflake; assorted squares and rectangles; and a handful of mystery styles, including a couple of Empress variants I haven’t been able to identify. I also spotted at least nine examples of shadow blocks in varying patterns — and we still haven’t inventoried the mid-century subdivisions in the southwest quadrant.

The featured photo at the top of this post is one I shot in December of the front of my church — a gorgeous A-frame with a snowflake-pattern breezeblock wall out front. Here are a couple more views, showing that stunning backlit cross:

A-frame church with backlit neon cross and breezeblock wall
I love this architecture.

Backlit neon cross against a breezeblock wall
This is the most mid-century church I’ve seen since Benjamin interrupted Elaine’s wedding in “The Graduate.”

First Presbyterian doesn’t have the market cornered on ecclesiastical breezeblocks, though. Immanuel Baptist Church makes nice use of hidden circles here:

Church with hidden-circle breezeblock screen on one end
This screen really dresses up the building.

We also found quite a few commercial installations:

Square-in-square breezeblocks on a Plains Commercial building
I can’t decide whether retrofitting an early-20th-century Plains Commercial building with mid-century breezeblocks is awesome or awful, but either way, it’s eye-catching.

Closeup of star-patterned breezeblocks
At first glance, I thought this was the large diamond/Bali/Rotary pattern, but it’s much too angular for that.

Large square-in-square breezeblocks with vertical rectangles in between
Square-in-square blocks at the Elks Lodge. Note the darker vertical rectangles in between.

Motel designers were especially fond of breezeblocks:

Square breezeblock wall
I like the alternating large and small squares in this wall at the old Town House Motel.

Closeup of square breezeblocks in two sizes
Closeup.

Shadow blocks on wall
Shadow blocks at Motel Safari.

Small square breezeblocks in wall with Elvis and a classic car painted on it
Carport wall at Motel Safari.

Decorative breezeblock wall with googie boomerangs painted on one end
Patio at Motel Safari. Dig those boomerangs.

Decorative hidden-circle breezeblock wall
A hidden-circle wall at Roadrunner Lodge.

And last but not least, here’s a pretty residential application:

Square-in-square breezeblock wall
I need a wall like this in my backyard to keep Ramona out of the garden.

It was at this point in the trip that I turned to Ron and said, “If he’d build it out of breezeblocks, I might have to rethink my position on Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall.'” And then I had an idea for the greatest political compromise in the history of ever … but that’s another post for another day.

Emily

Shooting the Breeze

One of the delightful surprises about moving out here in 2017 was the discovery that Tucumcari has a plethora of breezeblock walls.

A few weeks ago, I decided it would be cool to spend part of my summer taking an inventory of Tucumcari’s breezeblocks and creating a Bob Waldmire-style map detailing the style and location of each. I figured it might help promote Tucumcari to mid-century modern junkies like me, and it seemed like the sort of thing Route 66 travelers would appreciate, given our fondness for all things retro.

With most of New Mexico shut down until further notice, Ron and I decided to take advantage of a free afternoon to start the inventory. After lunch, I got online, researched breezeblock styles, and made myself a little chart identifying all the patterns I could find. Then Ron spent about three hours systematically driving down every street on the north side of town while I rode shotgun with my iPhone and a notebook in hand. By the time we called it a day, we had a list of 40 properties, featuring 15 different styles of breezeblocks.

Here are a few highlights:

"Hidden circle"-style breezeblock wall
This example of “hidden circle”-style breezeblocks is about the only structurally sound remnant of our vet’s old building, which burned several years ago.

Hidden circles were extremely popular. I counted 25 examples today.

Concrete wall with empress and arch-style breezeblock details
Empress-style blocks dominate the foreground, but if you look closely at the wall on the left, you can see arch — a.k.a. cathedral — blocks as well.

The Empress pattern looks similar to hidden circles, but you can tell them apart by looking at the diamonds between the circles: Hidden circles have a horizontal line bisecting the diamonds.

Concrete-block wall with double-X breezeblock accents
This mostly solid wall features occasional double-X — a.k.a. “Dos Equis” — accents.

I found a couple of examples of the double-X style, which some sources identify by its Spanish name, Dos Equis.

Square-in-square, or "Vista Vue," breezeblock in a concrete wall
I found three examples of the square-in-square style.

The square-in-square style was identified by a couple of sources as “Vista Vue.”

Breezeblock wall using what appears to be a variant of the Empress pattern
These blocks appear to be a variation on Empress.

I haven’t been able to track down the name or manufacturer of the breezeblocks screening the stairwells at Roadrunner Lodge (above). I’m also at a loss to identify the rectangular pattern on the blocks at the Pow Wow Inn (top image).

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the south side of town, including a mid-century subdivision that’s positively teeming with breezeblocks.

Emily

New job, new house, New Mexico

I’ve been threatening since 2001 to run away to New Mexico for vacation and never come back. Last month, I made good on that threat.

I’d intended to post an update earlier, but things happened so quickly, tonight is really the first chance I’ve had to catch my breath.

In late September, I interviewed for a job teaching English at House High School in House, New Mexico. I was offered the job Oct. 2, with an Oct. 9 start date. In between, we’d already scheduled our vacation, with plans to leave Cape the morning of Oct. 5 and arrive in Tucumcari the evening of Oct. 6.

This is the view from my front porch.
We rolled into town in time for dinner Oct. 6, put an offer on a mid-century house with a view of Tucumcari Mountain from the living room on Oct. 7, and I started my new teaching gig the morning of Oct. 9. House is up on the Caprock Escarpment, about 47 miles from Tucumcari; my 50-minute commute across the Llano Estacado and up the Caprock takes me past Tucumcari Mountain, Bulldog Mesa, and Mesa Redondo every morning and evening, usually just in time to watch the sun rise and set. That picture you see at the top of this post was the view as I came down off the Caprock one afternoon during my first week of school.

This is my new kitchen. I need to do a whole post about the glorious mid-century time capsule that is my new house.
We’re on a four-day school week, which basically means I get to use every Friday as a planning period, and I have a grand total of 14 students, which means I rarely, if ever, have to bring home papers to grade. My kids are hilarious, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Living in a small town with limited amenities makes some of the prep work a little challenging (I can’t just run to Michael’s or a teacher-supply store when I need something), but ultimately, it forces me to plan better and be more creative, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ll have some stories about that — along with tips and tricks for other teachers — in future posts.

At the moment, the only real drawback is the fact Ron, Walter, and the dogs aren’t here yet because Ron is still trying to tie up loose ends in Cape Girardeau. (Speaking of which, somebody buy our house. It’s cute, energy-efficient, and totally move-in ready, thanks to all that work I did to whip it into shape over the past two years. Tell your friends.)

I’ll have more detailed posts about my adventures — with plenty of photos, of course — at some point in the future. In the meantime, keep chasing your dreams. They really do come true, and sometimes in finer style than you imagined possible.

Emily

Sunday Self-care: Funny Farm

We were driving down Route 66 in Granite City, Illinois, one spring afternoon in 2004 when the thought came out of nowhere:

It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer. It’s going to be a really good summer.

That summer, we moved to Tulsa.

I was driving down Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, one winter afternoon in late 2012, thinking — as I often do — that we should just move out there and be done with it, when the thought came out of nowhere:

Hang on. I’ve got a better idea.

That spring, we moved to Cape.

We were driving down Route 66 in Granite City one afternoon last February when the thought came out of nowhere:

It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer. It’s going to be a really good summer.

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but given my track record, I started bracing myself for major life changes.

I bookmarked the websites for several school districts in the Southwest. I bookmarked the New Mexico page on JournalismJobs.com. I kept an open mind. I listened for guidance. I waited. And while I waited, I worked.

I applied for a New Mexico teaching certificate. I looked into local possibilities. I gave serious thought to applying when two positions opened up in the Illinois newsroom where Ron and I met. And I spent a lot of time doing projects meant to make our house attractive to prospective buyers.

It is almost September.

We haven’t moved to New Mexico. We didn’t go back to Illinois. I didn’t change careers.

But at the end of this very interesting summer, I’m $6,000 closer to paying off my Subaru. I’ve redone the living and dining rooms. I’ve covered my porch with plants, installed new flowerbeds, covered an arbor with wisteria, and filled my home with mid-century furniture. Our bungalow looks warmer and neater and prettier than I ever dreamed it could. And I am content.

I suspected this might happen.

basil

One spring morning, as I was tending the garden, I thought:

You watch. This is gonna be like the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm.

Remember Funny Farm? A Vermont couple bribe their cranky neighbors into helping them charm prospective buyers so they can sell their house — and in the process, they charm themselves into staying.

That’s basically what I’ve done. In trying to make my house irresistible to buyers, I’ve made it irresistible to myself.

arbor

I’d still swap it for New Mexico. And if I feel led somewhere else, I’ll go, as I always do. But for the moment, I am content — and it has, indeed, been a very good summer.

Emily

The politics of beauty

Recently on Facebook, an old friend reflected on the fact that people frequently tell her she has arms like a man’s. She’s a competitive bodybuilder and has worked hard for those arms, so she takes the observation as a compliment. But she’s not stupid. She knows it frequently isn’t intended as a compliment, and she mentioned that in her post.

Her theory is that people are jealous. I suspect that’s part of it, but I think it goes much deeper. I see two primary things going on here:

1. People don’t know how to respond to beauty that doesn’t fit Madison Avenue’s rubric. I’ve riffed on this before, but it bears repeating: When someone strays too far from society’s artificial (bigoted) standards of beauty, we don’t know what to do with her, so we either attack her or ignore her. That’s because …

2. Madison Avenue’s rubric is based on every hangup you can think of. It’s sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist and ableist.

I suspect most of the comments about my friend’s physique are — like most attempts at body-shaming — motivated by pure misogyny. A man in her sport will reap nothing but compliments, but female fitness competitors frequently are derided because they refuse to accept the notion that women should be small, soft and weak.

If you’ve got the gumption to spend umpteen hours a day in a weight room and then walk out onto a stage for the express purpose of having other people critique your appearance in microscopic detail, you are clearly not the kind of girl who can be controlled through conventional means, and you are most definitely not following society’s unwritten rules, which state that as a woman, you have exactly two options: Be invisible or be a target.

Think about it.

An overweight woman who keeps her mouth shut and hides her body under baggy clothing generally will be ignored. An overweight woman who wears stylish or revealing clothes will be fat-shamed for daring to be confident. And an overweight woman who goes to the gym, works her arse off and becomes a highly competitive athlete will have her femininity called into question at every turn.

Meanwhile, the same rules apply to underweight women. I was a skinny kid, which meant I could either hide my body under oversized clothes or be ridiculed for my flat chest and “flamingo legs.” But of course, once I grew up and found myself hauling around a set of triple-Ds on an otherwise average frame, I discovered that my choices remained the same: I could dress for invisibility, or I could wear something flattering and be slut-shamed.

The insults change, but the demand remains the same: Disappear or pay the consequences.

It’s not about our bodies. It’s about other people feeling they have the right to police our bodies. It’s about other people projecting their hangups onto us. It’s about other people trying to control us. It’s about silencing us and rendering us invisible.

It’s crap.

And it’s about damn time it stopped.

Emily

Small hint of spring

Before the sky decided to dump another round of ice on us, the weather warmed up briefly, and I caught a flash of yellow peeking from the layer of leaves huddled around my front porch.

I brushed back the leaf mold to find this:

yellowcrocus

 

One of the best things about moving into a new house is spending the next year finding the surprises previous occupants planted for you along the way. At our old house in Tulsa, we discovered grape hyacinths, one regular hyacinth, crocus, calla lilies (until too many years of drought killed them) and — once — a single red tulip. To that, we added a flowerbed full of peppermint and chocolate mint that release fragrance as you brush against them on the way to the front door, a prickly pear from Texas in one corner of the front yard, and a wisteria vine that festoons the pergola with clusters of soft purple blossoms from April to October. I hope the new owner enjoys them as much as we did.

Emily