You don’t know what you don’t know

(Post title inspired by Donald Rumsfeld:

As is obvious by my recent posts, Andrew and I have been in the mindset of fixing and house projects. A few weeks ago, I pulled back some paint (yes, it literally pulled back like a piece of vinyl) that had been bothering me in the kitchen. It was puckered and soft and… I thought it was simply a bad paint job – which the house has a lot of. Nope. It was termites.

As a kid, I don’t remember being afraid of bugs. My brother Jesse and I used to happily pluck and collect exoskeletons from tree trunks, like fruit. But a bug phobia has slowly and intensely crept into my adult life. I know, I know. Spiders are wonderful creatures who eat other bugs and maintain the fragile bug ecosystem. I still hate spiders. I don’t kill them if I see them, usually – I feel bad about killing anything. But I don’t want them near me. Same goes for any other insect. Blech – their disgusting little legs! Do they even have hearts or brains?  Mesa must feel the same way, because she is a total bug murderer. She hunts moths, flies and grasshoppers with an intensity usually reserved for chasing cats. The best part is she actually eats them, too – which is both repulsive and amusing.

Anyway, this termite thing has given me real justification to tell all the bug-lovers: “Look. Bugs suck. They ate my house and cost me money.”

Unfortunately, the termites weren’t even the worst of what we found when we continued to pull back paint and take out the damaged drywall. Behind the drywall, we found rotted, moldy wood from what was probably years of water damage.  This was structural damage that comprised an exterior stud, the ends of a couple roof beams, a portion of a bottom sill plate and the framing around a window.

We did locate the source of the leak almost immediately. While all the framing was exposed, we then had a thunderous rain storm and literally saw the water flowing from a crack in the roof’s edge, down the wood framing of the wall. Andrew cheekily remarked it was like we had a water feature in our kitchen.

About a month and $2000 dollars later – we have a nice, clean new wall and a guaranteed whole house termite treatment. It hasn’t been the best of times. But I am soooooo glad to have our house back to normal.

On a final note, Mesa and I completed a class at the community college called: “Fun and Games for Dogs and Their Owners” ! We learned crawl, wave, roll over and our favorite – jump through a hula hoop! She is so good at it and gets loads of air! I was very proud of her during the class. She was the only pit mix among purebreds and her personality shone (in a good way). She had hardly any issues with other dogs, other than barking a couple times at a pesky young shepherd mix.

My girl, Janet


Me and Jan in the Painted Desert.


Janet eating chocolates.

The story is that Janet grew up the poorest of the poor in rural Maine. Her mom’s an alcoholic, her dad was killed in a car accident. Her stepdad, also an alcoholic, beats her mom and walks around in cowboy boots, shirtless. She grew up in a trailer park a half mile from a convenience store and about 100 feet away from drug users and child molesters on either side. One summer, while her mother and stepdad were on the lam from the law (fleeing domestic abuse charges), Janet lived on dollar store ravioli her mother dropped at the trailer, surreptitiously.

That’s when she took refuge with her older sister, living in the city. The city was a resettlement area for Somali refugees. Janet and her sister, and her sister’s girlfriend – me –  lived in a rotting old building in an “up and coming area.” I remember Janet telling us how one of the Somali girls looked at her incredulously when she told them this was her street, as she walked home from school. This was “their” part of town. The cheap rent, the crumbling, but spacious buildings and proximity to public transport. Where the poorest of the poor lived and cop cars made regular rounds, yet didn’t make anyone feel safer. Eventually, these refugee kids became Janet’s community, her closest friends.

We lived on Americorps budgets, used food stamps and SSI to get by. The downstairs neighbors stored their puke buckets, presumably the outcome of drug binges, on the landing between floors. The maggots could be smelled at our doorstep. The apartment was large, but empty. The only furniture were mattresses, and an old couch hauled in from the sidewalk. A couple old, inherited dressers and side tables. And a cat, named Amos; also a refugee, in his way.

But the couple, me and Anne, we had educations. From a public university. We tried to raise Janet with awareness, empathy, and a hope for the future.

There is so much more to this story: a love story, an addiction story, a coming of age story, a generational poverty story. It’s a lot, but it’s true. These are the facts. Even a creative writing major, like me, can’t embellish it, won’t embellish it.

And Janet overcame so many odds. She won a full scholarship to a private college in California.

And now my girl, Janet, is under prosecution from a District Attorney in a southern California desert town. Janet, who primally understands the plight of lost children, children of poverty and violence and dead ends – Janet put herself out there in a reactive protest to the anti-immigrant citizens who blocked the buses of kids seeking refuge in the US. And she was put down, handcuffed, and charged with a felony crime by this fearful, and hatefilled community…

I can hardly express the pervasive discouragement I feel, the hopelessness. I like to keep this blog fairly light, for my family. But this is a time I feel I need to describe what I’ve seen and what is happening in the larger American community. If this has at all moved you, I implore you to write or call the local leadership in Murietta, California and make your intelligent argument for the young people, including Janet, who were brave enough, and compassionate enough, to make their voices heard.

Read this and learn how you can help:


Little things

Are middle parts coming back? I feel like they could be.  I’ve been a side-parter for years now, but with my hair growing longer I’m feeling like a middle part could work. I think I’ll try it out for a week and see how it goes. [Update: This only lasted one day. I felt like an elementary school kid and my forehead’s much too big to be all out in the open like that. I’ll need to satisfy my hair change urge elsewhere.]

With so much going on these days, I’m surprised when I find myself idly musing on hair parts… For me, hair, make-up and shoes are a kind of escapism, I think. Whenever I find myself brooding over nail polish or buying shoes, I know I am more stressed than usual.  Last week, I bought two pairs of shoes, dyed my hair and repainted my nails 3 times in one day. Eeek.

Cute though, eh?

I do like shoes. But the thing is all this stuff feels like a kind of salve for more difficult thoughts and feelings. I don’t really think when I think about shoes.

There isn’t anything in particular that is worrying me. It’s just the news, the meaning of life, suffering – and asking myself if I am doing the best I can. Am I thinking critically, being generous enough, what is my balance of awareness vs. ignorance?

What about art! I am not thinking enough about art!

Issues at work seem to be the main culprit of my feelings of unease. I spend so much time there that when tasks and relationships aren’t fulfilling – in fact, when everything seems small and maddening – it’s a huge downer.

To end on an up note, let me tell you about how last weekend, I met one of my favorite musicians – Bonnie Prince Billy! (Noted further on as “BPB”.) As I was telling a friend, I am not a person who is really into any specific music scene. I am not a geek about music. I can name very few songwriters I love. And even then, I cannot name titles of songs or albums, or recite many lyrics, correctly or incorrectly. Seriously. I have an almost vacuous auditory memory. Usually, there is one particular song or two, or simply the tremor of the person’s voice that really gets me.

With Bonnie Prince Billy, I can remember the first time I heard him. I was living in Portland, Maine, with some of my best friends with whom I’d taken refuge after a terrible break-up. It was the kind of break-up where you keep a bottle of whiskey on the bedside table and break into tears upon simply waking up in the morning.  Despite the heartbreak, I think of this time as one of the best in my life, because of my friends – especially one, named Katie. Katie lent me her little bedroom in a giant rented house near Portland’s Eastern Promenade. There were about six of us living in the house altogether. My borrowed bedroom was wood-paneled, painted bright white and didn’t have a straight edge to it, being on the outer eaves of the attic. I had my cat, Amos with me and that was it.  I slept on a thin, lumpy mattress and consumed very little aside from sweet potatoes. And whiskey.

One night, Katie and her boyfriend (now husband!) Bernie were surfin’ the web, playing music, and probably eating cereal for dinner when I stopped by their room for the chit-chat and companionship I so needed during that time. Bernie brought up the music video, “Horses” on his tinny Toshiba laptop. I don’t know if Bernie specifically picked the video to show me because he thought I’d like it or if it was really just happenstance that I walked in at that particular time, but either way, I was immediately in love with Bonnie Prince Billy’s music. It was lonesome and uneven and poetic. The video features tractor trailer trucks and dogs and forests. That one song held so many important aspects of my soul!

Now, about 7 years later, Andrew, who is very into music and Albums and such, has given me a bunch of BPB’s records – all of which I cherish and only bring out when the mood is exactly right to listen to them. Miraculously, I heard that BPB was playing a free outdoor concert in Santa Fe. This truly is miraculous because no one comes to Santa Fe to play. We get local and regional bands. Albuquerque gets big names, like Miranda Lambert and Morrissey.

I don’t know the details of how he came, but BPB came to Santa Fe and I was excited, but not super excited until… Until we were outside at the Railyard, with only a small crowd brewing and dark clouds moving in from the mountains and – I saw Bonnie Prince Billy hop out of his van. In a zip-up onesie and flip-flops.  So. Excited! At first, I just made Andrew take this funny photo:

Me standing in front...far in front... of William Oldham.

Me standing in front…far in front… of William Oldham.

I did not want to bother him or chit-chat about nothing or embarrass myself, so this was the closest I got. But Andrew really likes to chit-chat with musicians – and this is why we are made for each other! Because while I am too shy to even browse merchandise at shows, Andrew went right up and bought a record and asked BPB to sign it for me!! Then, I did something crazy: I saw Andrew chatting with BPB and I thought, okay, this is my chance. So I ran over and said “Hi” and Andrew said, “Oh, this is her, this is Emma.” And I just smiled really big. And then Andrew said we should take a picture and though I am usually a grump about pictures, especially posed ones, I didn’t hesitate and BPB put his arm around me and we took the greatest picture!


It was really, really wonderful.


"Emma listen with an open heart. Will O"

“Emma listen with an open heart. Will O”

2 month home update

We have so many house projects going on at once and have completed quite a few, large and small.

Remember the sad mailbox in my last post? Well, Andrew and I knocked that sucker down with our bare hands (and feet – seriously, kicking was the most effective demolition strategy) and put up a pretty new blue one. I spray painted and attempted to distress the new mailbox, which was originally glossy black. We drilled it into the stucco using a masonry drill bit and plastic anchors.

photo 5

Even though I love the new mailbox, we ran into a little problem: the old one had the house numbers on it and now we have no numbers! I didn’t think it was a big problem until a couple strangers showed up in the driveway looking for the house a few doors down. Couldn’t blame them, since we had no address markers! It’s also been a little bit of an issue when ordering pizza delivery and giving anyone directions  to the house: “Just look for the tan stucco house that looks the same as all the others on the street….”

But I didn’t want to clutter up my blue mailbox with decals or glued on numbers. And I think it looks more classy to have the numbers on the house itself. However… stucco is a little scary to me. I don’t know if this is a justified fear or not, but I feel slightly troubled each time we drill a hole. The exterior stucco looks so nice as it is and I have anxiety about it crumbling and cracking. After browsing Pinterest and Etsy for options – it occurred to me – I don’t have to put the numbers on the stucco OR on the mailbox… I can make a little yard sign and stake it into the ground!

Just like Neil did!

Just like Neil did!

There were a few designs I liked on Pinterest, most of which you can buy on Etsy for $$$:


Though part of me sorta just wanted to order a sign and have someone else do the work, I (begrudgingly) realized it might be pretty easy to make something myself. We have a bunch of beautiful leftover Ponderosa planks from the fence-building, as well as other odds and ends Andrew dug up from the yard. The yard was pretty well “decorated” with garden structures when we moved in: bricks and stones of all sizes, railroad ties, grape vine trellises… lots of trellises. Of course nothing was growing anymore and it was all pretty cluttered and not our style. The nice thing though is now we have a lot of interesting material to work with, including a piece of re-bar which would be perfect for a couple sign posts.

So I came up with a simple design that uses recycled material. The only items I had to buy were the floating numbers. I chose a silver finish because silver is sort of Southwestern (think silver and turquoise) and it would complement the natural wood and rustic rebar. I’m still working on this project, so finished photos will have to wait.

While thinking about house numbers and sign building for hours last (last last) Sunday morning, I also contacted someone on Craigslist about their sofa. We needed another sofa for the seating area in front of the fireplace and I’d been looking for a while. With so many other projects going on, I knew I didn’t want to spend more than $300 on a sofa.  That might seem like a low number to some people, but I really couldn’t justify spending any more since we already had a really nice (and moderately expensive) sectional in the “other living room.”  We bought the sectional brand new: it is super functional, pretty, and transitioned perfectly into our new house. But it still causes me a little pain when I think about the price tag. Eek. It’s the only piece of furniture I’ve ever bought new – from a store.

So – Craigslist. It’s awesome and it’s flaky. I’ve previously tried to buy a vintage dresser and a mountain bike off Craigslist here in Santa Fe.  Both times I’ve got to the point of the seller telling me to come get the item, me showing up and it’s already being sold. ?!? This is heartbreaking, people! But the sofa! The sofa – I got it! And it is more beautiful, seriously BEAUTIFUL, in person than I could have imagined. And it was only $150, in near perfect condition.

couchIn previous posts I’ve talked about how thrifting and resale shopping sometimes turns up that Very Special Thing – well, this sofa is definitely one of those things.  Though it has modern lines (and is in fact a newer piece, not vintage), it’s classy, slim, colorful. The colors are somehow bright, but muted.  They are colors very true to the New Mexico environment – high desert yellows, the pink of sunsets, purples and greens of plants like Russian sage and cacti.

And this sofa even taught me something.  I always thought I didn’t care for modern styles – yet I loved this piece. I thought Andrew would refuse it because of the colors – he didn’t and in fact likes it. And I realized it has one quality both of us love: whimsy.  Or maybe Andrew was just glad it didn’t smell! Haha, that may have been his main concern. ANYWAY. I think our style, as a couple, is sort of “rustic whimsical + functional.”  Realizing this even helped me finally decide on drawer pulls for the island:

photo 3

I’m behind in posting on every project we’ve completed, so let me just list some others, briefly:

  • Side yard cleared and gate installed for Andrew’s motorcycle and possibly Amos’s cat house
  • Living room is fully painted!
  • Sewed curtains for the picture window
  • Dishwasher fixed
  • Ordered mat and frame for property document of original land sale in 1946

And the trees are blooming!

Painting, cleaning, scraping, chasing the dogs

Andrew and I have been busy cleaning up the house and following through on our plans of home decor/ repair. While Andrew has successfully been plodding along on the fence installation (I did help!), I was stalled all week on picking a paint color…. I did NOT realize it would be this difficult! I’ve painted apartments before, but it was much easier knowing the color was temporary and somehow not really a part of me in the same way my own house is. In the apartments I lived in – paint color – ANY paint color – was an improvement. Our new house is currently all painted an off-white color – which I’m not entirely opposed to, but I do want some color. And so it began…

Turns out picking the perfect green is reallllly difficult. At first I purchased a gallon of color and painted one wall of the living room… only to realize it was way too dark and too green. The rooms aren’t THAT big and the true greeny-green was so in your face I felt it would be hard to live with, especially in a main living area. My super frugal gene kicked in and I had a little freak out about wasting my money on the gallon of paint and considered just going through with the room because of it – but then I thought about how long we might be here and how much work painting was and I knew I couldn’t live with a color that wasn’t right. I then proceeded to buy four different paint samples in varying shades of green-gray.

Paint colors, noon.

Paint colors, noon light.

I wanted a green that acted almost like a neutral – not too blue or too yellow… or too gray or too green. Our sectional is a very average gray color, so I didn’t want something too close to its hue, either. Rather, I wanted a green which would play off the softness of the gray and the lightness of the… light. Of the sun, I guess. Our whole house is very bright since it is south facing and it is one of our favorite aspects of the space. So after a week of staring at the paint samples in the morning, afternoon and early evening, I made a decision: Martha Stewart’s Garden Shed, which is the far left color above. It is quite light with a bit more yellow than I thought I wanted – but it really brightens the space gently and I HOPE I like it as much once the whole room is painted! I also purchased fabric for curtains, which I really and totally love. I think the soft yellow and ivory will be accent colors in the room, and of course the gray will tie in with the sectional.

Curtain fabric

Curtain fabric

Okay, now – the fence: I’ve been trying to help, but it is a lot of big, heavy wood and circular saws and cement. Andrew is more than double my size, which I think he sometimes forgets. And he expects me to help with the circular saw and 50 lbs. cement packages and Hello! – I honestly do not have the muscle to work with these things. Yet – I tried. I helped Andrew measure out the wood for the backside of the fence – and also practiced my balance beam skillzzzz.

photo 1(2) photo 2(3)

There he is – circular sawing the wood with his muscles. We both can’t wait for the fence to be built because the dogs keep running up and down the easement out back.

I guess that’s all I have for today!

Love Emily







Sitting here, looking out my new windows…

These past two weeks have been really nuts. We moved into the new house (let’s call it, The Lujan House) during Memorial Day weekend. That Tuesday, I picked up my wedding dress (!) and Wednesday, I left Santa Fe to present at a conference in New Orleans.  This past weekend was my first full weekend at Lujan and I had to work Saturday, so still – it wasn’t very productive or relaxing.

I can’t say it feels like our home yet, though we have already done a lot:

  • New sewer line
  • New refrigerator and oven
  • New door locks
  • New windows!
  • Purchased wood for a fence out back
  • Cut down dead trees

And a bunch of other miscellaneous things that are too mundane to list (like purchase sink drain catchers, install curtain rods, reroute the dryer vent, etc.)

The new windows just went in today and they are gorgeous! I am sitting here, staring out the front picture window. I decided to have perimeter grids put in this one window, and they really add a little something pretty. We have two trees in the front yard (precious resources in Santa Fe!) and it is so, so nice to watch and listen to their leaves ruffle in the wind.



Now that the windows are in, we can begin to paint and hang photos and art – and the spaces will start looking more like us. I’ve already been thinking of colors and schemes for the rooms and Andrew and I have both agreed on a style I’m calling “Subtle Southwest.” The main living areas will probably be greens and blues, with some red-orange and yellow accents. The second bedroom, which I have taken to calling “my room” because it’s where I hang my clothes and get ready in the morning, will be the spiciest room – I’m thinking of painting the walls a red-orange to compliment the area rug.

Possible living area paint colors

Possible living area paint colors


Second bedroom colors. (I have a henna design on my hand from the Gypsy Festival this past weekend!)

The kitchen is one of the rooms that needs the most help. The new fridge and oven certainly help a bunch, and I am in love with the “kitchen island” I found at Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. It’s original purpose was as a vanity/ dresser, but it is countertop height and perfectly sized for an island. With a few new stylish knobs, it might just become my favorite piece of furniture. The island really helps make the space workable, since the kitchen is basically one wall of a room which is wide open and includes another living area. The countertop is simple white Formica and most of the cabinets have plain, plank wood doors (also white). I discovered that the cabinet doors under the sink are actually MDF, not wood – ick. I plan to replace those door fronts with wood soon, so that I can paint them all a deep blue.

Kitchen with a few updates including an amazing oven and my beloved island.

Kitchen with a few updates including an amazing oven and my beloved island. (Note: This is real life – I didn’t clean the kitchen for you!)

Aside from redoing our mailbox, completing the fence install and painting almost every room – the kitchen is my top priority. Eeee. So much to do!

Rough cut wood from local lumber company, Hansen's Lumber

Rough cut wood from local lumber company, Hansen’s Lumber



Most of the yard is fenced with high adobe walls, except the back, which is where the wood will go. It really needs to go up because the dogs keep escaping through the easement.


Whatever that climbing vine-y thing is looking good!


The mailbox needs help!

Oh, and I still love my dress. Though it needs to be altered a bit, which I was hoping to avoid with the petite sizing – but apparently, I am extra petite. Even with the tallest cowboy boots I can find, I think it’ll need some hemming.

And now for something useful and delicious: Lemon Cucumber Orzo Salad. I made this quick pasta salad last night and it is definitely worth sharing. It is lemony, herbal and fresh – wonderful for a side at a summer barbecue or picnic. Or for (a less fun) lunch at the office.

Lemon Cucumber Orzo Salad

Lemon Cucumber Orzo Salad

Lemon Cucumber Orzo Salad (slightly adapted from: Fork Knife Swoon)


1 ½ cups dry orzo pasta (high fiber or whole wheat)

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 medium English cucumber, chopped

1 lemon, zest and juice

¼ cup crumbled feta

3 tbs olive oil

Handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

¼ tsp dried mint (optional) * Andrew doesn’t like his dinner to “taste like toothpaste,” so I went very light on the mint. It adds another level of flavor, but isn’t necessary, in my opinion.

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste


  1. Cook the orzo al dente according to package instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, chop and slice vegetables and herbs. Place cucumber, green onion, lemon zest, parsley and mint (if using) into a medium-large bowl.
  3. Drain orzo, but do not rinse. Let cool for a few minutes.
  4. Add orzo to the bowl with the vegetables. Juice the lemon over the bowl, looking out for seeds. Add olive oil and stir to distribute.
  5. Add feta, salt and pepper. Stir gently.

All done! You can eat it warm or refrigerate it for later.


A new home

Yes, I’ve changed the site layout here to reflect an upcoming change in our life – we’re moving from this rented double adobe casita to our own house. It’s a little newer (built circa 1948), a little bigger, and in a different neighborhood. We close on the new house this coming Tuesday and will officially leave our rental on May 31 – almost two years to the day we moved in.

Andrew and I started thinking about buying a home a year or so ago, and took a first-time home buyer education class through a local nonprofit called Homewise last January. Homewise is an organization which assists low and middle-income residents of Santa Fe County with buying a home – from basic education classes through to working with a realtor and then to mortgage lending.

Santa Fe has an especially tough market for middle income people – there are plenty of houses on the market for upwards of 500k, and very few for under 200k.  Like many cities in the western US (or is this everywhere now?), most new homes are built in subdivisions, with tiny treeless yards and moderate to strict neighborhood covenants. The more affordable subdivisions contain a lot of cookie-cutter houses and are primarily clustered on what is called Santa Fe’s  “Southside.”

When Andrew and I first met with our realtor, she had us each write down our top priorities without sharing with the other. We were happy to find our priorities were very similar: nice lot/ yard for the dogs, garage or outbuilding for a workshop, no carpet, 2+ bedrooms, safe neighborhood – and a price tag under $200,000. We didn’t want covenants. We didn’t want cookie-cutter. We weren’t afraid of older appliances or some cosmetic ugliness, but the structure had to be sound.

I think the only real compromise we had to make was distance from town. I love the country and don’t mind a longer commute. But Andrew is unsure of living rurally and with only two motorcycles and no car – there was no way he could live outside of town without some major rideshare finagling. And I had to admit, it would be a lot more convenient to live within city limits. Gasoline costs would be low, we could get home for lunch. We wouldn’t have to worry about a well drying up, impassable dirt roads, or coyotes eating the cats.

So, we found this house in a neighborhood called Casa Alegre. It’s an older subdivision, with houses built between 1940-1960. Many homes were built by a well-known local named Allen Stamm and are known for being constructed with high-quality materials and workmanship. Stamm’s vision was to build fine, affordable houses for returning veterans and working class people in Santa Fe. Even in 2014, it’s a mark of pride to own a “Stamm home.”

We’re about 90% sure our new home is a Stamm home and a little archival research should provide answers. I’ve already found a few historical documents related to the original neighborhood plat – the land was bought by a Jewish merchant named N.B. Stern in 1946 and charted into 49 residential lots. The title research even revealed the original covenants Stern specified, including “No person of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot.”  Those covenants expired in 1966.

The home is a foreclosure, so its got a few issues, such as lapsed yard work and a few huge ant hills. But overall its in good shape and ready for our long list of touch-ups!


Front of the house


Back of the house, with pergola, trumpet vine and a couple garden beds.


One of two bathrooms.


Small casita/ studio out back!


The white building is a chicken coop – not staying!


Masonry fireplace and skylight.


1950s kitchen.