Tag Archives: New Mexico

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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Vegetarian Friday: Mashed potatoes and green-chile gravy

On vacation in 2014, I ordered something called a green-chile parfait at a little diner in Gallup, New Mexico, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Said parfait was a Coke glass in which the cook had layered mashed potatoes, green-chile sauce, and shredded cheddar cheese. The execution was kind of mediocre (I think they made the parfait and then microwaved it in the glass, because it had some hot and cold spots in it), but the idea? Brilliant.

I don’t have any parfait glasses, so I just made a bowl of skin-on mashed potatoes and topped it with green-chile sauce and shredded cheddar. It was delicious. Here’s how to make it:

1. Click over to the Visit Albuquerque website to get the green-chile sauce recipe I used. I forgot where I’d stashed my plain cumin, so I subbed a tablespoon or so of my usual homemade taco-seasoning mix for the cumin, and I upped the garlic to three cloves because I grew up in a town full of Italians, and if you’re going to use garlic, you might as well do it right. For the broth, I used a cup of water and three of those vegetable-stock cubes I froze last summer. It turned out very well.

Green-chile sauce is basically brown gravy with onions and green chiles in it. It's good on just about everything.
Green-chile sauce is basically brown gravy with onions and green chiles in it. It’s good on just about everything.

2. Bake two potatoes, cut them into chunks, and mash them up, skins and all. (Time-saving tip: Potatoes bake well in the Crock-Pot. Wash them up and cook a bunch at once; when they’re done, you can dice them up or mash them and freeze them for later use.)

3. Layer potatoes, green-chile sauce, and shredded cheddar in a bowl and nuke until the cheddar melts.

Serves two, with enough green chile left for a batch of huevos rancheros or a couple of wet burritos.

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

Make-It Monday: Bob Waldmire mural

I was so busy battling headaches when I got home from vacation this summer, I completely forgot to post my pictures from the trip — including the ones I took of the mural I traveled to Tucumcari to paint in one of the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel.

I’ll remedy that with some photos of the mural in progress on this Make-It Monday.

I think this was a couple of hours in. I'm not sure why I did the headlights first, but they kind of set the bar for the rest of the project.
I think this was a couple of hours in. I’m not sure why I did the headlights first, but they kind of set the bar for the rest of the project.
The license-plate frame made me want to cry, for reasons I can't explain.
The license-plate frame made me want to cry, for reasons I can’t explain.
It's hard to keep everything in proportion and lined up properly while working in close proximity to a large image. I don't always succeed.
It’s hard to keep everything in proportion and lined up properly while working in close proximity to a large image. I don’t always succeed.
After realizing the area around the headlights was completely wonky, I painted over it and tried again.
After realizing the area around the headlights was completely wonky, I painted over it and tried again.
It took several tries to get his face right, but I think I finally got it.
It took several tries to get his face right, but I think I finally got it.

This was the most challenging mural I’ve painted up to this point. Portraits are always tricky, but in this case, I was painting a portrait of two old friends, one of whom was an artist whose work influenced my style.

The first old friend is the late Bob Waldmire, the artist behind the wheel of the VW Westfalia. The second old friend is the Westfalia herself. She had almost as much personality as Bob did, and I adored her for it.

My fondness for Bob and my respect for him and his work made it imperative that I get a good likeness, and it took either four or five tries (I eventually lost count) before I was finally satisfied with it.

Getting the Westfalia right was a matter of proportion and symmetry, which are difficult to render at that scale. Compounding the challenge was the fact I’d tried to set things up relative to the ground, which — as you can see — is gravel and not really level itself.

I wound up repainting several parts of the Westfalia, and they still didn’t end up perfectly symmetrical, although both Ron and Kevin, the Blue Swallow’s owner, were quick to note that old Volkswagens are rarely 100 percent symmetrical, either.

It has its flaws, but I think it looks like Bob, and I really like the way the headlights and reflectors on the Westfalia turned out.

Emily

A tale of corporate incompetence

I completed one of my New Year’s resolutions this week.

After six months of fighting with 3M Cogent — the breathtakingly incompetent vendor to which the state of New Mexico has outsourced all its background checks for professional licensure — I received my New Mexico teaching certificate in the mail Tuesday morning.

The end result delighted me, as New Mexico accepted my Oklahoma math certification, thus granting me dual endorsements in math and English at both the middle- and high-school levels. (Because of differences in certification requirements from state to state, I wasn’t sure I’d get a New Mexico math endorsement without taking their test.)

My joy at this outcome in no way excuses Cogent’s ineptitude, which turned what should have been a simple process into a six-month ordeal requiring at least 15 phone calls to nine people in three different offices.

How incompetent is Cogent? Read on.

February: I begin compiling my application packet.

Early March: I submit my packet, including the two fingerprint cards required for my mandatory background check.

Early April: Cogent sends me a letter saying the FBI rejected my first card because the prints weren’t clear. “If you originally mailed hardcopy fingerprint cards, the second card will be automatically scanned, and no further action is required,” the letter states.

Early May: I receive a letter from the New Mexico Public Education Department, saying I need to go to a Cogent office in New Mexico and be re-fingerprinted. (Cogent has an office a mile from my house, but it only fingerprints applicants for Missouri certificates, despite the fact Cogent is a national company using an electronic system to request background checks from a federal agency.)

-__-

I call NM PED to explain I live 1,000 miles from the nearest approved Cogent office. PED tells me to call Cogent.

I call Cogent, tell their rep I’ll be in Tucumcari in early June, and ask whether I should just go to their Tucumcari office to be reprinted while I’m in town. The rep says I should NOT do that, as it will cost extra and create unnecessary confusion. Instead, she says, I should call the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to request a “name-search background check” using my Social Security number.

Phone tag ensues.

Mid-May: I finally reach a NM DPS officer, who says she has no idea why Cogent keeps sending people to her, as ALL background-check requests have to come from them. She says if my first card is rejected, the second will be scanned automatically, and if the second is rejected, a name search will be initiated automatically, so I should just wait.

I wait.

I go to Tucumcari.

I come home.

I wait.

School starts.

Still I wait.

Aug. 19: I call Cogent. A Cogent rep says my first fingerprint card was scanned and rejected, whereupon the process stopped because I didn’t call and ask them to scan the second card (which their letter said would happen automatically).

-______-

The Cogent rep says it’s been so long, the second card may have expired, in which case I should come to a Cogent office in New Mexico and get re-printed electronically (like the other Cogent rep specifically told me NOT to do when I had the chance).

-___________-

Aug. 23: Another Cogent rep calls and says the FBI has scanned and rejected my second card. This rep gives me two code numbers and tells me to call NM DPS, give them those numbers, and ask them to start my name search.

I call DPS.

DPS: Only Jesus can help you.
ME: Can you transfer me to him?
DPS: He’s out of the office.
ME: That sounds about right.

Aug. 29: I finally reach Jesus, who has no idea why Cogent keeps sending people to him.

-__________________-

Jesus says once the second card is rejected, NM PED requests a name search automatically, but given my experience, I probably should call them just to be sure.

I call PED, leave a voicemail, and follow up with an email explaining my situation.

15 minutes later: I get a very apologetic email back from someone at PED, saying Cogent CONSTANTLY pulls this crap on out-of-state applicants and telling me she has just requested my name check, gotten results back, and printed my certificates.

Got that? New Mexico paid Cogent to spend SIX MONTHS blowing off tasks a state employee completed in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, schools are missing potential hires whose credentials have been taken hostage by Cogent’s ineptitude.

If I were a New Mexico taxpayer, I don’t think I’d be pleased to learn this.

Emily

Another recent project

Following up on yesterday’s post, here’s another little project I did recently. The Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico — which we have long since established is my favorite place in the known universe — has a set of black cardboard information boards under the glass on the front counter. The boards have been in existence for as long as anybody can remember and provide information about other local businesses and services that might be of use to guests.

I’m not sure what was used to make the white letters on the boards, but it doesn’t respond well to spills, and despite the glass over them, moisture occasionally reaches the signs and smears the lettering. I’ll be in New Mexico soon to lead a motorcoach tour, do a few projects at the Swallow and spend a couple of days signing books at a festival.

The owner asked whether I could include restoration or replacement of the information boards among my projects. Based on the historic nature of the originals, we decided the best course of action would be to leave them as-is, remove them from harm’s way, and replace them with a set of updated boards featuring current businesses. Using paintmarkers and black poster board, I created these modern versions, designed to approximate the style and dimensions of the originals. The originals will preserved in some manner that maintains their historic integrity and protects them from further damage. I had the new ones laminated. Hopefully they’ll last as long as their predecessors.

The originals advertised a package-liquor store and a restaurant, both of which have since closed.
The originals advertised a package-liquor store and a restaurant, both of which have since closed.
A funeral home seems an odd thing to promote to travelers, but at the time the originals were created, there was no 911, and the local funeral home also ran the ambulance service, so it was good for guests to have ready access to the phone number in case of a medical emergency.
A funeral home seems an odd thing to promote to travelers, but at the time the originals were created, there was no 911, and the local funeral home also ran the ambulance service, so it was good for guests to have ready access to the phone number in case of a medical emergency.
The original version of the top featured a local car dealership, with stylized logos for the brands they sold. The bottom was just like this, except it had the original owners' names.
The original version of the top featured a local car dealership, with stylized logos for the brands they sold. The bottom was just like this, except it had the original owners’ names.
The original featured the Odeon and a long-closed drive-in movie theater.
The original featured the Odeon and a long-closed drive-in movie theater.

I’m looking forward to getting to Tucumcari and starting work on the mural I’ve got planned, which will be something of a tribute to Bob Waldmire. I haven’t had a good dose of New Mexico since October, and I really need one. While I’m out there, I’ll be signing copies of Greetings from Coldwater and the new print edition of Route 66 for Kids, which has been updated for 2016. (There’s also a Kindle version of the guidebook, but it’s the 2015 edition. I haven’t had time to figure out how to update it and link it to the print version yet. The information is mostly the same, but a few places have raised their prices or changed their hours in the past year.)

Emily

Why I’m not buying a Powerball ticket

This ever-increasing Powerball jackpot has prompted a lot of conversations revolving around what people would do if they won.

I appreciate that people enjoy dreaming, and they’re willing to spend a couple of bucks on lottery tickets to fuel those dreams, but I’m not buying a ticket, because I don’t have ten-figure dreams. I don’t even have seven-figure dreams. Everything I want is either free or within reach using resources I already have.

I want another marathon. I can’t buy that. I have to earn it, and the only way to do that is to get up off my arse and train.

I want my hair to grow out and finish turning gray. I can’t buy that, either; I just have to let time do its work.

I want to get up every morning and watch the sun rise over Tucumcari Mountain. It will take money to move, but I don’t need a billion dollars; I just need to pay off my mortgage so I can afford to work for a smaller paper. A lottery jackpot would do that overnight, but I’d lose something precious in the process.

Y’all know I’m a road-trip junkie. I never fly anywhere I can drive, because I enjoy the trip itself almost as much as I enjoy the destination. In many ways, this quest to move to New Mexico is the ultimate road trip. It’s slow. It’s tiring. But it’s teaching me lessons I’d never learn otherwise, showing me things I’d never see otherwise, and introducing me to people I’d never meet otherwise.

If I had a plane ticket — or a winning Powerball ticket, as the case may be — I’d end up flying right over all the sights and lessons and experiences this journey has to offer.

A bed at the Blue Swallow is never more comfortable than when I’ve driven 14 hours to get to it. This is the magic of the road, and I trust it will hold true for my current journey: That first sunrise over Tucumcari Mountain will be that much more dazzling, that first bite of green chile stew at Watson’s that much spicier, and that first sopapilla at the Pow Wow that much sweeter for having been hard-won.

I wouldn’t trade the spoils of that journey for a billion dollars.

Emily