Tag Archives: New Mexico

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

Goals for 2016

The other day, I talked about what I’m doing to put us in a financial position conducive to moving to Tucumcari in a few years.

Money isn’t the only thing we’ll need for a cross-country move, of course. I’ve organized two of them, and it’s a stressful proposition. Most of the stress comes from uncertainty: How long will it take us to find jobs? How long will it take to sell our old house? Will all our stuff fit in the U-Haul? Where will we buy necessities in our new town? There are a lot of moving parts, and the more I can take care of in advance, the better.

To that end, I have a list of projects I want to complete between now and 2021. It’s a pretty long list, so I’m breaking it down into six shorter lists, each of which can be completed within a year. They aren’t exactly New Year’s resolutions, but here are my goals for 2016:

1. Shop only at stores with locations (or equivalents) in Tucumcari. Tucumcari is considerably smaller than Cape Girardeau, with considerably fewer shopping options. If that’s going to be a problem, I’d like to know before I move so I can plan workarounds.

2. Repair all the cracked drywall joints in this house. The previous owners made several “improvements” that were anything but. The drywall is the worst of the lot.

3. Replace the kitchen floor. The shoddy tile job is another of those “improvements.”

4. Steam the carpets. I have a feeling “replace the carpets” will be on the list for 2017, but a good cleaning should buy me some time.

5. Replace the water heater. It’s 26 years old and showing its age.

6. Dump AT&T. Our contract is up in April. Changing to Cricket will save us about $1,500 a year.

7. Apply for a New Mexico teaching certificate. The amount of bureaucracy involved could be massive, so I need to get a head start on it.

8. Learn Spanish. This will increase my odds of landing a teaching job, and it also will come in handy in a newsroom.

9. Scan all my old 35mm photos and ditch the prints that are taking up closet space.

10. Run a marathon. This doesn’t directly affect my Tucumcari plans, but regular exercise seems to help normalize my sleep patterns, and a marathon training program is a highly structured way to get plenty of exercise. A normalized sleep schedule would free up some morning hours, which I could use to advance my other goals.

11. Go vegetarian. This should free up another $500 a year or so (grains and legumes are way cheaper than meat) and fuel my marathon training nicely.

We’ll see how this goes. What are your goals this year?

Emily

Looking ahead

I was standing in a garage at the Blue Swallow Motel with a paintbrush in my hand one bright afternoon in April when the managing editor of the local paper dropped by to talk about the mural I was working on. When he found out I was a professional journalist, he mentioned he was planning to retire soon.

One might, at this point, question why I am posting this from Cape Girardeau and not from Tucumcari.

The answer: I’d have had to take a 30 percent pay cut, and the income just wouldn’t have been enough to cover two car loans, two mortgages and the $5,000 transmission bill we’d gotten stuck with last winter. We live pretty frugally, but I know from experience that moving cross-country is an expensive proposition when you already have an existing mortgage.

A few weeks after we got home from Tucumcari, I picked up a book called Possum Living, which is about a young woman and her father who spent several years living without any sort of regular income. I loved it, partly because it validated my long-held belief that a sensible financial plan depends more on eliminating expenses than amassing wealth, and partly because it inspired me: If I paid off our debts, I could afford to move without undue stress.

I did some quick math and realized the best way to accomplish that goal would be to stop eating meals out.

In the span of five years, we’d eaten the equivalent of a new Volvo. If I took the money we were spending in restaurants and applied it to my credit-card bill, we could pay off the transmission by spring. With that paid off, we could use the newly freed-up money to pay off the car — then roll that money into the mortgage. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we could be debt-free by Oct. 15, 2021, at which point we could start shopping for land in New Mexico to build the tiny house of our dreams.

Since early August, we’ve sent about $1,850 to the credit-card company. Every time I cook at home, I write down what that meal would have cost at a restaurant, and once a week, Ron sends the credit-card company the money we didn’t spend on dinner. It adds up fast: We’re averaging about $100 a week, and I expect that to go up in April, when our cellphone contracts will expire and we can switch to cheaper phones with cheaper plans.

I’m also losing weight (I’ve dropped 20 lbs. since July) and generating less trash via paper wrappers and cardboard boxes, which is better for the environment.

If we keep going at this rate, we should be debt-free in 2,119 days. Go, us!

Emily

Tee Pee Curios mural

tepeeday1
All in a day’s work. This was about four or five hours into the project. Love, love, love how that turquoise note turned out.

As promised a couple of weeks ago, here are photos from the mural I completed in October on the east side of Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico. I still can’t get over how fast and easy that neon technique is.

koko4
All done; just waiting for the scaffold to come down.

koko3
Detail shot.

koko2
Gar wanted a mural that would catch the eye of passers-by. Even on a cloudy afternoon, I think this pops out nicely.

souvenirs
I picked up a souvenir while I was in town. This great hoodie came from the Dollar General store in Tucumcari. I have matching sweatpants I bought on the same trip. I wear them all the time.

Spending a couple of weeks in Tucumcari this year has confirmed some things for us. First, it showed us we’re definitely on the right track with our long-term goal, which is to build a tiny house in northeastern New Mexico and retire there. The people in that area seem really nice, and the town is just about perfect in terms of size and proximity to larger cities and wilderness areas.

Second, the enthusiastic responses I’ve gotten to my murals have shown me this might make a nice cottage industry, so after New Year’s, I’m planning to take out an ad in the service directory part of the paper and see if I can rustle up a few mural-painting gigs in Southeast Missouri or Southern Illinois. Even small projects would bring in a nice chunk of extra income to save toward the tiny house of my dreams.

It’s good to have a long-term goal and a specific plan for reaching it. Even if something happens to throw us off-track, there’s never a down side to retiring debts as quickly as possible, learning new skills, or saving money for things you really need.

One day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll share our six-year plan for paying off our debts and putting ourselves in a position to make our very specific dreams come true. It’s a pretty good to-do list, even if you’re not planning to build a micro-house in the high desert.

Emily

My novel is out!

So this happened:

bookfront

bookback

Can we just talk about how excited I am to have this in my hands at last? I’ve been working on this book for five years, not counting the 19 years I spent before that with the main character in my head, trying to figure out what to do with her.

It’s available to order now. Click here for the Kindle version; click here to order it in paperback.

Is it any good? I think it is, but I’m hardly an objective critic. I wrote a novel I wanted to read, set in a town where I’d like to live and populated with people I’d like to meet. It’s hard to be objective about something you’ve been working on for years, but I’ll put it this way: The writing process being what it is, by my most conservative estimate, I’d say I’ve read most of this novel at least two dozen times, and yet I still enjoy reading it, and every time I do, I still find something that feels new — some detail I’d forgotten I wrote, or some flourish that resonates differently now than it did the last time I looked at it. When I sat down with the printed proof a couple of nights ago to look for printing issues and any other little concerns I might have missed, I thought, “I’m really looking forward to reading this just for the fun of it.”

If I can edit a book 24 times and still look forward to reading it just for the sheer enjoyment of the finished product, I feel fairly safe in assuming the average reader will enjoy reading it at least once or twice.

I feel light this afternoon. And free. And at the same time, a little lost. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up without Sierra in my head, demanding to be written. She’s been part of my consciousness since 1991. But finishing her story has silenced the irrational but persistent fear in the back of my mind: What if I die before I finish my novel? It’s a relief to know I don’t have to worry about that any more, but it’s also a little strange to be finished with what I always assumed was my life’s work. I’m only 40. What now? I’ve got other projects going, of course — I’ve always got projects going, and plenty of them — but nothing as all-consuming as this book.

What will rise to take its place? I’m waiting to see. It’s strange to swap a bucket list for a blank sheet of paper and a couple of Pinterest boards, but it’s kind of exciting, too.

Emily