Category Archives: New Mexico

‘Til the storm passes by

The world is losing its mind over the coronavirus.

In big cities where people live, work, and socialize in close physical proximity to each other, that probably makes sense.

Here in Tucumcari, where we aren’t in each other’s faces all the time, very little has changed — which also makes sense.

School is out statewide for at least the next three weeks. A lot of churches have canceled services. I assume the bars and restaurants are all complying with the governor’s order to modify their seating arrangements. But otherwise, things are pretty normal.

The grocery store is still well-stocked. The hardware store still had plenty of dust masks when I needed one for the flooring project I’m working on. Nobody has treated me like Typhoid Mary this week, despite an ill-timed cold that turned into laryngitis just as the governor’s emergency order came down.

I am concerned, of course. I have friends in high-risk groups. My community’s economy depends, in part, on tourism. I’m not impressed with the contradictory messages coming out of the White House. But I am heartened by the common sense I see around me. People are being reasonably careful, but they aren’t letting fear get the better of them.

As I think about it, being in Tucumcari in the midst of this unprecedented disruption feels rather like being in Red Fork during a tornado.

In Red Fork, if a tornado warning went into effect, nobody panicked. Everybody just grabbed a beer and stood on their front porches to watch the storm. They weren’t stupid. They knew when it was time to go inside. But they also knew that worrying has never changed the trajectory of a storm, and they’d been through enough storms to know that this one, like all the others, would pass, and when it had, they would simply get up the next morning, survey the damage, and start cleaning up the mess.

Rural New Mexico hasn’t been through anything like this. But people here are pretty self-sufficient, and they know that if all hell is going to break loose, panicking won’t dissuade it. So they watch the storm, and they wait, and they know that when it passes, it will be time to start cleaning up the mess.

There’s something reassuring in that.

Emily

 

(Just Like) Starting Over Again

Ah, what the hell — let’s start the new year by pretending I’m going to update this blog on a regular basis.

As I mentioned last summer, I’ve been researching Celtic folklore for a project I’ve got brewing. This mostly involved trips down online rabbit-holes while I was recovering from surgery, but in early August, an acquaintance heard me mention my project and brought me a stack of books on the subject. Before I had a chance to dive into them, school started, bringing with it some unexpected challenges. It was a deeply rewarding semester, but also deeply demanding, and I didn’t get a hand free to start my research in earnest until Sunday.

Three days later, I’ve skimmed four books, read two cover to cover, and gotten about two-thirds of the way through Patricia Monaghan’s fascinating The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog, which I highly recommend.

The project that prompted all of this is another novel that is simultaneously a prequel and a sequel to Greetings from Coldwater.

Here’s what I can tell you at the moment:

It is set in Coldwater and includes several familiar faces: Sierra, Miss Shirley, Joey, Abuelito, the denizens of the liars’ table at Casa de Jesus, and at least one other character I’ll keep to myself for now.

While Greetings was magical realism, this new book crosses the line into unapologetic fantasy. The new characters include a pair of banshees: Morgan, a lonely, awkward seventh-grader, and Holly, the middle-aged school administrator who becomes her mentor. We’ll also meet Holly’s girlfriend, an acerbic banker who is wholly unbothered to find herself dating, as she puts it, “an incarnation of an ancient Celtic spirit most Americans either haven’t heard of or don’t believe really exists.”

The story is more plot-driven than Sierra’s last outing, and while my intent is for Morgan to be the primary protagonist, I have four very strong characters on my hands, so there’s no telling where this thing will end up by the time I wrangle it out of my head and onto paper. At this point, about all I can say with any degree of certainty is that it’ll pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

If you’re nice to me, I might post a scene now and then. Stay tuned.

Emily

Winning

So tonight, I found out that the girl who bought our old house in Cape — who insisted she really, really loved it and was just DYING to move into it but simply could not get her lender to approve her for more than the pittance she was offering — never actually moved in. She just used it as an Airbnb, then flipped it for about $12,000 more than she paid for it.

Now, it’s possible she was telling the truth, and her circumstances simply changed unexpectedly, but I’m skeptical.

I should probably be irritated over losing my arse because I allowed somebody to manipulate me into letting her pay way less than fair-market value for a good little house that I worked like a dog to make into a great little house just so she could turn around and sell it for more than it’s worth, but here’s the thing: I have Joni Mitchell on the turntable, bizcochitos in the oven, and a view of Tucumcari Mountain from my front window.

All she has is $12,000.

It’s hard to muster up anything stronger than mild annoyance at losing money on a real-estate deal when you have literally everything you want.

Emily

Green-chile stew

Green-chile stew is one of the reasons I find fall and winter exponentially more tolerable in Tucumcari than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I’m pretty sure everybody in the entire state of New Mexico has a different recipe for this cool-weather staple, and everybody who makes it is sure his or her recipe is the best (and probably only proper) way to make it.

Here’s the way Celtic white trash from a town full of Italians makes New Mexico’s favorite winter dish: heavy on the potato, loaded with garlic, and doused with cheap beer for good measure.

Ingredients:
1 medium yellow onion
2 tbsp. olive oil
5-6 cloves of garlic
2 big baking potatoes
At least 1 lb. roasted green chiles
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (optional)
Decent-sized pork roast (at least 1 lb.; amounts aren’t precise, but never use more pork than chile)
1 can cheap beer
At least 1 tbsp. each of cumin and chile powder (or use my Mexican spice blend)
Salt to taste

Chop the onion and saute in olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until clear. If it browns a little bit, so much the better. While onion cooks, crush and mince the garlic and set aside, then dice the potatoes and chiles and toss them into the Crock-Pot along with the tomatoes (if using).

Trim the fat off the pork roast and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. Transfer the onion to the Crock-Pot and brown the pork in the skillet. Add the minced garlic and saute briefly before adding the pork-garlic mixture to the Crock-Pot.

Deglaze the skillet with the beer and add the resulting liquid to the Crock-Pot. Stir in spices and salt, add water to cover, and cook on low overnight. Serve with warm flour tortillas.

There is no shame in eating a bowl of the finished stew for breakfast after dreaming about it all night as it simmers, but it will taste even better if you let it rest in the fridge all day and then warm it up for dinner.

NOTE: Green chile does not mean “any random chile pepper that is green.” Green chiles are a specific type of pepper grown in New Mexico and parts of Colorado.

Emily

Lost among the stars

I really need to find myself a good constellation map. The stars out here are incredible. I’m pretty sure I knew what some of them were when I was little and Daddy used to take me out stargazing in a vacant lot a couple of blocks from our house, but I’ve forgotten most of what I knew, and at this point, I’m lucky if I can find the Big Dipper and Orion’s belt.

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: On procrastination

I will never understand why I procrastinate. Putting off a difficult task makes sense. Dreading a challenge makes sense. But altogether too often, I put off projects I really want to do, jobs that will make a big impact when they’re completed, or simple tasks that are likely to take half an hour or less.

Sometimes it’s inadvertent: I make a to-do list for my day off, prioritize it, and then get tired or run out of time and carry the lower-priority jobs over to the next week. If they don’t have deadlines, they end up at the bottom of the next week’s list, too, and the cycle starts all over.

After a few weeks of seeing the same unfinished job on my to-do list, I start to feel overwhelmed. The longer it’s on the list, the more Herculean it starts to look.

If there is an up side to this phenomenon, it’s the exquisite sense of relief I feel when I finally finish the project I’ve been delaying.

I had that feeling this weekend.

About 15 years ago, Ron commissioned a replica of one of the neon swallows that hang above the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel. When we moved here, I had to keep it in storage, because I didn’t have a good way to keep Walter from knocking it down.

Several months ago, I found a vinyl channel that would mount to the wall and keep the cord from dangling and turning my beautiful swallow into a cat toy. All I needed to do was paint it, install it, and hang up the sign.

As usual, one thing led to another, and the neon installation drifted to the bottom of the to-do list until Friday, when I finally got a hand free and forced myself to do the job.

Hello, old friend. I've missed you terribly.
Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you terribly.

It took longer to unpack the swallow than it did to install it.

This piece was the literal light of my life in Belleville, where I’d turn it on and look at its soft argon glow whenever I was depressed and needed a break but couldn’t quite manage a 14-hour road trip to Tucumcari. I denied myself access to that soothing blue light for three months longer than necessary, and I have no idea why.

Lighting the darkness.
Lighting the darkness.

If you’re feeling out of sorts, try turning your to-do list upside-down just long enough to complete that task you’ve been deferring for weeks. I suspect you’ll find the sense of relief and accomplishment that follows will lighten your mood as surely as a neon sign lights up a dark wall.

Emily