Tag Archives: New Mexico

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

(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

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

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