Category Archives: beauty

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

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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

Ask the hippie: Henna

I haven’t done an “Ask the Hippie” in ages, but I’ve gotten several questions about henna lately.

Q. What is henna, and how do you use it?

A. Henna is an exotic plant whose leaves contain a naturally occurring red dye that I’ve used on my hair for the better end of 20 years, because it produces a consistently rich, natural-looking color, doesn’t contain any scary chemicals, and is an excellent conditioner.

Its only drawback is that it’s more labor-intensive than other methods, especially if you don’t have access to commercial salon equipment. If you can find a stylist willing to work with henna, praise God and tip well. If you can’t, here’s a quick DIY lesson:

1. Assemble your ingredients.

ingredients
At a minimum, you need henna, distilled water, and a non-reactive bowl and spoon. NEVER let henna come into contact with metal, as this can turn it green.

2. Put the henna in your non-reactive mixing bowl.

powdered henna
I use a big Pyrex measuring cup because it can handle boiling liquids and won’t stain.

3. Boil a cup of distilled water, red wine or coffee.

wine
I like to use roughly equal parts red wine and coffee. Whatever you use, make sure it’s boiling when you add it to the henna.

4. Mix it up. I start with a cup of red wine, mix to a thick paste, then add coffee to thin it down to a workable consistency.

Mixed henna
If you use coffee, make it with distilled water. Henna and chlorine do not play well together.

5. Use Vaseline to prevent stains.

Vaseline
Apply to your ears, upper forehead, etc.

6. Guard your silver.

Gray streak
I love my gray streak too much to dye it, so before I apply henna, I coat my streak with Vaseline and mask it off with plastic wrap.

7. Put on gloves.

Gloves
Medical-type gloves are awesome for this.

8. Make sure your hair is clean, dry and free of styling products. When the henna is cool enough to handle, begin applying it.

Apply
Start with the roots and work your way out.

9. Keep applying.

All applied
If you’re just touching up roots, apply most of the henna to the new growth, then coat a few random sections of hair with the rest so the new and old colors will blend nicely. Freshen up the overall color every few months.

10. Cover to hold in heat.

Cover
A cheap shower cap works well. If your glasses have metal frames, leave them off.

11. Heat-set.

Dryer
Heat-set for at least 45 minutes. I put the dryer on the highest setting. You can use a handheld dryer, but a tabletop bonnet dryer (about $60) works better and leaves your hands free to play Angry Birds while you wait.

12. Rinse. This is the worst part, because the henna thickens as it heats. Under running water, comb out the tangles, starting at the ends and literally inching your way up. Don’t worry about getting all the henna out at this point; just detangle. Work in plenty of conditioner, rinse, and repeat until the grit is gone. Conditioner and a comb will save you a good 15 minutes if your hair is long and/or thick.

The finished product
The finished product.

Yes, it really turns out that shiny.

Emily

Go listen to this.

This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. It’s crickets. CRICKETS. The sound you hear in that link above is being produced by those nasty little jumping-cockroaches-with-good-press that the cat likes to stalk and eat and then yakk up all over the carpet.

Apparently when crickets chirp at night, they’re actually just having a big ol’ cricket flash mob, like that choir that pops up and performs Handel’s Messiah at shopping malls. We just don’t notice because they’re singing really fast; after all, they only live a few days, so for them, a four-minute song would be the equivalent of a human singing for several weeks. When you slow them down to human-lifespan-pace, you get an angel choir.

I’m gonna have to rethink my position on crickets.

(Just don’t expect me to start tolerating cicadas. I don’t care if those creepy bastards secretly sound like Emmylou Harris and Mary Travers singing backup for Judy Collins on an album of Joan Baez covers; I still don’t want them body-slamming my front door every time I turn on the porch light, because ewww.)

Emily

Folk Thursday: Peter, Paul and Mary

I heard this song for the first time a couple of weeks ago, after downloading Peter, Paul and Mary’s Lifelines album at the suggestion of a friend who shares my fondness for folk. I was listening to it as I was driving down Illinois 3 and honestly thought I was going to have to pull over and have a good cry when they got to that last verse.

The version on Lifelines is prettier than this live version, but you get the idea. If you enjoy folk at all, you should probably go download Lifelines when you get done here. It includes a bunch of other artists singing with them, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on “Deportee” and Richie Havens on “The Great Mandala,” which might be the most awesome thing I’ve heard since Woodyfest.

Emily