Category Archives: Projects

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

Victory garden

I’d planned to start seeds indoors this year, but after the growlights I bought from Amazon turned out to be defective, I moved the whole operation outside, with the help of some new tools.

First, I took Mom’s advice and did some winter sowing, which involves turning plastic bottles into miniature cold frames. I’d been saving 96-oz. cider jugs for this purpose all winter. They turned out to be just the right size to slip down into the holes in some cinderblocks I had on hand. The blocks provide thermal mass while keeping the jugs from blowing away. I need to thin the plants, but they’re doing very well.

Tomato plant growing in makeshift cloche
A 96-oz. cider jug just fits inside a cinderblock, creating a mini-greenhouse for sprouting tomatoes.

My little cider-bottle cloches are parked in a raised bed made from a $45 feed-store fire ring and filled with a mix of potting soil and chicken litter — a technique I first used in my juglone-contaminated garden in Cape. Come planting day, I’ll mulch with cedar shavings to discourage bugs.

Raised beds made of fire rings
Note the fence to protect certain beds — necessary because Ramona is obsessed with destroying every plastic bottle she can reach.

I found a bargain I couldn’t pass up at Tractor Supply a couple of weeks ago: $40 walk-in mini-greenhouses.

Small greenhouse
This little greenhouse cost $40 and took less than an hour to assemble and anchor.

To keep it warm and protect it from the wind, I parked mine in a sheltered corner next to my office window and anchored it with cinderblocks and bungee cords.

Greenhouse interior
Cinderblocks anchor the greenhouse in place and provide thermal mass.

The new greenhouse is proving to be a nice place to start herbs:

Chives sprouting in a container
Chives are beginning to come up in a dollar-store pot.
Cilantro sprouting in a container
My cilantro is starting to come up.

Out of an abundance of caution, I decided to grow a Victory Garden this year, focusing on reliably heavy producers: okra, green beans, cucumbers, collards, zucchini, and potatoes. If supply lines get screwed up, we’ll still have plenty to eat; if they don’t, we’ll have plenty to share with people whose incomes have been compromised by the coronavirus-induced drop in tourism.

Emily

Welcome to the jungle

As longtime readers know, I am powerless to resist an opportunity to meander through a greenhouse. If it’s cold or overcast outside, or I’m having a hard day, or I just need a little boost in some direction, meandering around a nursery works wonders on my mood. There’s something about the warm, moist air, the vibrant colors, and the smells inside a greenhouse that energizes me.

This fall, I found two nurseries worthy of a wander: Coulter Gardens in Amarillo and Rehm’s Nursery in Albuquerque.

Both businesses carry a pretty nice assortment of houseplants, and I’ve spent the past three or four months rebuilding the collection of plants I had to rehome when we moved.

Above are a few of my recent acquisitions, which I’ve already had to repot a time or two. My long-term goal is to turn my office into a veritable jungle, with hanging baskets, terrariums, and shelves full of plants everywhere. I think I’ve got a pretty respectable start on that project now.

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

Drive my car

Once again, I’ve managed to neglect my blog because I was busy doing cool stuff that I should have been blogging. If you’re still with me, thanks for hanging in there.

One of the cool things I’ve been doing lately is detailed over at my teaching blog, Foolish Wand-Waving. Hop over there if you’re interested in seeing the inexpensive stim tools I’ve been cobbling together from dollar-store materials.

Another cool thing I did recently was buy a new car. I wasn’t sure this was cool at first. I wanted to drive the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar a million miles, but at 220,000, it landed in the shop with a mysterious engine problem, and school was about to start — so the day before the new semester began, I bought a Chevy Spark.

It’s not the Dreamcar, and it’s not a stick shift, but it has three redeeming features:

1. A CVT. Less fun than a stick, but optimal fuel economy.

2. A real-time mpg meter to facilitate hypermiling.

3. A trial subscription to Sirius XM, where I discovered there is an entire radio station devoted exclusively to the Beatles. Where has this been all my life?

The CVT and mileage meter are probably the main reasons I’m getting an average of 43.2 mpg (and climbing), but it can’t hurt that I am in zero hurry to arrive anywhere when I’m driving around with the Fab Four on the stereo.

Fine, Spark. You’re not the Dreamcar, but maybe I’ll love you. (Beep-beep’m … you know the rest.)

The third cool thing I did was start a free obedience class at Paws and Claws. Our first lesson was this morning. Seven dogs and their humans showed up, and Ramona happily served as my teaching assistant, demonstrating “heel,” “sit,” and “stay” as smoothly as the average Westminster champion.

I gave her a piece of bacon jerky when we got home, but I think the bigger treat for her was getting to see her old friends at the shelter. We adopted her almost a year ago, but she obviously remembered the volunteers who’d taken care of her when she was a puppy:

Woman cuddling an Australian shepherd mix
Ramona was delighted to see her old friends at the shelter.

I’m proud of Ramona. I knew she was going to be good at obedience, but she’s exceeded my wildest expectations. I suspect she’ll be able to go for walks without a leash before the winter is out.

Emily

 

Latest project

The state of New Mexico has an elaborate rubric that it uses to evaluate teachers. It is possible to score 4 out of 5 on any given category on this rubric simply by being good at your job. The only way to score 5 out of 5 is to do what the New Mexico Public Education Department refers to as “leadership,” and what I refer to as “being insufferable.”

Basically, to hit that top level, you have to be willing to tell other people how to do their jobs.

I found a loophole as I was working on my state-mandated professional-development plan a couple of months ago, and in a moment of weakness, I acted on it: Swapping ideas with people online appears to count as a form of leadership, at least in some categories, so I said one of my goals for this year was to create a special blog just for sharing stuff I was doing in my classroom.

Yeah, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, either. I forget they make you follow up on that crap twice a year and report your progress. I remembered when my boss told me to log onto the PDP site and post my midyear update the other day.

In the interest of staying out of trouble, I spent part of this weekend setting up the new blog. There’s no content on it yet except for a header photo and an introductory post, but if you’re interesting in seeing it, you can find it at: https://foolishwandwaving.com/.

The name is a reference to the Harry Potter books and Professor Snape’s announcement that there would be “little foolish wand-waving” in his class. Alan Rickman was magnificent, but I am certain that if Snape were a real person, we would NOT get along at faculty meetings, because my teaching style is the polar opposite of his. Somehow I can’t see him decorating the potions lab with tinsel curtains and mermaid pillows or letting his kids play Vocabulary Jenga as a means of learning the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane.

Emily

Outdoor office

I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago. It’s much smaller, lighter, and sturdier than my old one, which makes it just right for using outdoors.

I really like the idea of taking my lesson plans and curriculum-writing projects outside to work on while the dogs play in the yard. I like my home office, but fresh air and sunshine are always better than sitting inside on a pretty day, and this is the time of year when we’re likely to get a few pretty days.

With that in mind, I’ve been surfing Pinterest and poring over hardware-store websites in search of furniture of the right size, stability, and durability to use in an outdoor office.

Most of the ready-made stuff I found was either too light to withstand New Mexico winds, too top-heavy to withstand regular assaults by a blind rat terrier and a clumsy shepherd puppy, too finicky to sit up straight on uneven ground, or too expensive to meet with Ron’s approval. And none of it seemed to fit my style or go well with anything else in my yard.

As I was winterizing the pond and trying to figure out what to do with the cinderblocks I’d been using to support the now-obsolete clarifier and gravity-fed external filtration system, inspiration struck.

Monitor-riser mode. If I want to work on a deeper surface with the laptop keyboard lower, I just move that top paver down.

Twenty minutes’ worth of elbow grease and a few flat pavers yielded a dog-proof, windproof, mid-century-inspired, faux-Brutalist desk and stool with a top that easily converts into a monitor riser if I feel like bringing out a keyboard and mouse.

Ignore the color variations. Some of the blocks were wet because I’d hosed dirt and cobwebs off of them.

I rummaged around in the carport shed and found a couple of bungee cords just the right length to anchor an outdoor pillow (purchased on sale for $3.50 at the dollar store) to the pavers on the seat.

Bungee cords anchor the cushion to the seat.

I test-drove it while blogging the day I built it, and it works just about right. If I end up using it a lot, I might see if I can rustle up some breeze blocks somewhere and expand it into a bigger and more ornate desk with some built-in storage, but for now, it’ll work just fine for typing up lesson plans and posting blog entries on sunny afternoons when it’s just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how much desk work I need to do.

Emily

Winterizing the pond

While I was working in the garden last week, I decided to do some cleanup work around the yard and start getting the pond ready for winter.

Sometimes winterizing includes a water change. Sometimes it involves skimming out fallen leaves. But it always involves removing floating plants and bringing a few inside before they freeze. Too many times, I’ve neglected to do that in a timely fashion, and I’ve found myself scooping slimy, dead, decaying water hyacinths and sludgy remnants of what used to be water lettuce out of the pond in the spring because fall turned to winter faster than I expected, and I didn’t get the plants out before they froze.

Gross.

Not this year. Last weekend, I used a pitchfork to scoop most of the plants out of the pond, leaving just a few lonely specimens floating on the surface to provide cover for the goldfish until it gets cold enough for them to go dormant.

If you look closely, you can see some of the fish under the water.

When I removed the plants, I was delighted to discover all six of the feeder goldfish I’d dumped out there this summer were alive and well.

I moved a few plants into a bucket of water and stuck it in a sunny corner just outside a south-facing window, where it should stay above freezing all winter.

Hedging my bets, I also half-filled a miniature washtub with water, threw a hyacinth, a clump of water lettuce, and a few stray bits of duckweed in there, and parked it in the living-room window, where it should make a nice centerpiece for the next few months.

With nothing but fish and algae to muck up the water, the pond doesn’t really need the elaborate, multi-stage filtration system I designed for it last spring, so I disassembled the whole setup and replaced it with a variant on the biofilter I had on my pond in Cape. I upgraded the original design by placing the pump inside a half-gallon sherbet tub with 3/8-inch holes drilled in it, wedging chunks of old memory foam around it, and setting the whole thing inside a one-gallon ice-cream tub with 1/4-inch holes drilled in it. I slipped a layer of Scotch-Brite pads between the tubs, providing additional filtration, and anchored the lid with a bungee cord.

After I put away the excess filter components, I was left with a stack of cinderblocks just right for another project I’d been considering for several months. I’ll show you that one tomorrow.

Emily