Full circle

February 15, 2011

My butt is cold.

That’s probably not the classiest way to start a blog entry, but it’s what I’m thinking as I sit on this ancient metal lawn chair in front of the motel I bought exactly a year ago, watching the tumbleweeds struggle to free themselves from the barbed-wire fence across the highway and waiting in the brittle night air to see whether the coyotes will serenade me again like they did last night.

Like the tumbleweeds and their namesake motel, I am a latecomer to this ancient land.

Uprooted and directionless, I blew in from the east and found myself caught on the fence of a life unlike anything I’d ever known.

A year later, I remain unsure of why I thought this was a good idea, but I am certain it was the best idea I’ve ever had.

At 11:38 a.m., Feb. 15, 2010, I became the proud owner of the historic Tumbleweed Motel, which now consists of five lovingly restored rooms, an office, a functional wringer washer, a pair of clothesline poles that I still haven’t gotten around to sanding and spraying with Rust-Oleum, a developmentally disabled handyman who calls me “Sissy” and walks two miles to the truck stop next to the interstate off-ramp every morning to buy canned tuna for the feral cats that skulk around the edges of the property, an espresso machine, a collie mix rescued from a barbed-wire fence, four cats rescued from a culvert during a rainstorm, a dark-eyed man with a wry sense of humor who became my boyfriend in April and my husband in October, a feisty teenage desk clerk whose rightful title probably ought to be “assistant manager,” and a three-month-old fetus who waits silently for the right moment to make a grand entrance into a world full of everyday adventure and fiery sunsets that never fail to take my breath away.

I tumbled into town with a splitting headache and a heart full of grief, orphaned, jobless, uncertain of my future, with nothing to lean on but a small insurance settlement and the publishing rights to my father’s music.

A year later, sitting here on my own property next to Route 66, with my freezing butt and my freezing fingers and a faster Internet connection than I had a year ago, waiting for a visit from unseen coyotes, I feel my shallow chaparral roots beginning to deepen, having probed this dry land and found enough love and beauty to heal a broken heart and support a life whose quietude somehow manages to dazzle me more than the glitter and flash of the city I left behind.

My butt is cold. My life is beautiful. And with that note to open their song, the coyotes are just beginning a lullaby wild and familiar.

– Sierra

This was Valentine’s Day in Coldwater:

A love note written in dry-erase marker on the bathroom mirror and a delicate half-and-half heart with baseball stitches etched into the sides, floating atop a decaf macchiato, from Grant.
A lopsided construction-paper heart decorated with Necco sweets and a lot of glitter from Joey. Message: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m glad you’re my Sissy. Love, Joey.”
A sunrise hike up Sangre Mesa.
A spirited softball practice in which Lil Miss taught the rest of the team how to slide under a tag. I love that kid. She’s the scrappiest little thing I’ve ever seen — no bigger than a minute, but she puts on that catcher’s mask and scares the living crap out of everybody who even thinks about crossing the plate on her watch. Funny girl.
A couple from Tularosa celebrating the holiday by coming back to the room at the Tumbleweed where they spent their wedding night 50-odd years ago.
A pack of coyotes singing somewhere out on Hank Freed’s back 40.

Hope you had a good Valentine’s Day, wherever you are.

– Sierra

Nowhere I’d rather be

February 4, 2011

It is literally a degree outside. Fortunately, I am curled up under a warm blanket inside, with Grant’s arm around me, the stereo playing an old Neil Diamond album very quietly in the background, and the smell of freshly baked gingersnaps hanging sweetly in the air.

There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.

Well, nowhere except the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a summer afternoon, of course.

The bleachers at Wrigley would be awfully unpleasant this evening, so I’ll settle for what I’ve got. It’s a pretty close second, anyway.

– Sierra

State of emergency

February 1, 2011

Five. It is literally five degrees outside. The state came by and plowed 66 this morning, and Grant took the laundry up to the laundromat in the truck stop to wash and dry because it’s obviously too cold to line dry anything, and we’ve got a lobby full of people.

Joey cleared and salted the paths from the rooms to the lobby, and Lil Miss appointed herself activities coordinator for the children stuck here as a result of the weather. Just about every flight in the country has been grounded, and the roads are still too dicey for most people to attempt — especially with blowing snow and the threat of highway closures farther west — so we are obviously packed.

I could do without the cold and the hassles, but I’m enjoying the little kids’ artwork that now graces my lobby. Lil Miss has kept the kids busy all afternoon with fingerpainting, tissue-paper suncatchers, Shrinky Dinks, and I don’t know what all else. She assures me that the glitter and scraps of paper will be removed from the lobby before she leaves.

Meanwhile, Grant won’t let me outside, lest I slip and fall on the ice, so I’ve spent most of the day in the kitchen, making the usual short-order breakfast, then a kid-friendly lunch of mac and cheese, PBJs, and carrot and celery sticks. A very sweet, very funny gay couple from Missouri took over cleanup duties when I started to run out of steam after lunch. Mike was raised by his Italian grandmother on The Hill in St. Louis and owns his own catering business, so he and Bill promptly commandeered the kitchen and announced that I would be taking the rest of the day off while they whipped up dinner for everybody. I’m not sure what we’re having, but it smells heavenly.

This place never ceases to amaze me. No matter who’s here or what the situation is, we always seem to end up with the perfect combination of talents, personalities, and ideas to keep things running smoothly. I am beginning to suspect that the Tumbleweed is some sort of odd wormhole through which blessings enter the universe. It’s certainly worked that way for me.

– Sierra

You know what would rock? Not having to drive all the way to freakin’ Tucumcari to see an obstetrician on Grant’s provider list.

You know what else would rock? Good decaf. Good decaf would rock like a Jimi Hendrix concert.

You know what would rock most of all? Not feeling gross. Not feeling gross would rock harder than Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, and Angus Young put together.

OK, OK, I’ll stop whining. I really don’t have any legitimate reason to whine. It sucks to drive 30 miles to go to the doctor, but I probably shouldn’t bitch about it, because I’m making the drive down Route 66 in New Mexico, in a late-model SUV manufactured by a company whose entire reputation is built around its stellar safety record.

My insurance coverage might be a little spotty and inconvenient because of Coldwater’s rural surroundings, but at least I have it.

And despite the fact that I feel totally gross about half the time,  the doctor says Rugrat and I are doing just fine. I definitely need to remember to be grateful for that. Healthy babies totally rock.

Here is something else that rocks: Joey and Lil Miss bought me a Space Invaders ice cube tray, a Tetris ice cube tray, and three big jugs of orange Gatorade for Christmas, so I now have an old rainbow sherbet tub full of Gatorade mini-popsicles in the freezer. Orange Gatorade mini-popsicles aren’t as nice as cappuccino, but they’re pretty good — especially when they’re shaped like Space Invaders.

It also rocks that the doctor told me I’m not supposed to change the litterbox while I’m pregnant, which means that job is officially Somebody Else’s Problem from now until August. That most definitely rocks.

– Sierra

Explanation

December 22, 2010

No, I’m not dead. Yes, I have an excuse for my lengthy silence.

“Let me ‘splain. No — there is too much. Let me sum up.”
Inigo Montoya

Here are all the things I’ve done in the past week:

1. Made approximately seventy million cookies in forty-two different flavors. (You have no idea how many cookie exchanges are held in Coldwater, N.M., during the month of December. It truly boggles the mind.)
2. Attended two school programs, a band concert, a chorus concert, a Chamber luncheon, a chili supper, and a church Christmas cantata.
3. Helped the Chamber director sort and wrap umpty-three gifts for kids on the Angel Tree we put up at Bill Swinney’s place.
4. Watched Sandy and Joey use poster board and tinted craft glue to make a suncatcher for Grant’s office window.
5. Discovered firsthand that morning sickness is a bitch.

Yeah, you read that last part right.

Thus far, we have not told Joey. He will, of course, be utterly thrilled, but I am not sure exactly what he does and does not know about how pregnancy works or where babies come from, and we are not telling him anything until Grant works up the nerve to explain it to him.

If anybody wants to start a betting pool on when this will happen, I’ll put five bucks on “baby’s 35th birthday.”

– Sierra

Nothing doing

December 12, 2010

I wish I had something exciting to share this evening, but Coldwater is quiet, except for the yipping of the coyotes somewhere out beyond Hank Freed’s property line and the creaking of a speed-limit sign that’s trying to work itself loose from its post in the New Mexico wind.

Lil Miss spent this evening wrapping presents in the lobby with Joey and three or four members of the Coldwater High School FFA chapter. The kids organized a gift drive for the residents of the Coldwater Nursing Center, and I told Lil Miss she could use the Tumbleweed as a staging area for their project. My lobby was completely covered in wrapping paper, ribbons, and giggly teenagers for several hours this evening. The kids stacked all the presents in Unit Four when they finished. They’re going to load them into Lil’s truck and deliver them to the nursing home on Christmas Eve.

I was busy thawing out frozen pipes in Unit Three when the kids showed up, so Grant took over the kitchen and made some peppermint bark, a batch of chocolate-chip cookies, and a huge bowl of popcorn for them to munch on while they worked.

Not to belabor the point, but I think Grant may be the most awesome principal in the history of high schools. Sandy raised her boy right, and Coldwater was lucky to get him.

Speaking of Sandy, she’s supposed to be rolling into town next weekend. I can’t wait. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such an awesome mother-in-law, but I’m glad I’ve got her. She is one of the few people in the world who not only tolerates my quirks but understands and encourages them. I am blessed.

– Sierra

Back online

December 10, 2010

What is it with truckers and telephone poles? Last Saturday morning, a big rig hauling a wind turbine blade failed to swing wide enough while making a turn and took out the telephone pole on the corner — the same one Mouse hit last March. (Speaking of Mouse, he sent us a Christmas card this week. He said he’s planning to be back out this direction in a couple of weeks, and he’s looking forward to stopping and staying at the Tumbleweed on his way through.)

It only took a couple of days to fix the phone lines last spring. I don’t know what the holdup was this time around, but we haven’t had phone or Internet service all week. If it were tourist season, I’d probably be pretty hacked off about the delay, but I’m sure I haven’t lost too many December customers over it. I’ve just used the time to finish up the calendar for the Chamber, spend time with Joey, and digitally archive about 600 historic photos.

Joey and I started volunteering at the grade school this week. Joey is a library monitor, which basically means he hangs out with the librarian, helps sort books, and reads to little kids during story time. The kids love him because he’s a grownup who understands what it is to be a kid. I love watching him work with them, because he mimics everything I do when I read to him — including stopping every few minutes to ask the kids if they recognize a particular word. If they get it wrong, he says, “No, but that’s a good try. Look at it again,” just the way I do with him, and if they get it right, he puts down the book and gets everybody to clap and cheer.

The kids eat it up, and I think he’s really getting a lot out of being in the library so much. He’s learning how to use the resources to find information — if a kid comes in to ask for help finding books about a particular subject, Joey watches over the librarian’s shoulder and then tries to help the next kid himself — and he’s very curious about the kids’ class projects. He asks them a lot of questions about whatever they happen to be learning, which is great for him and probably even better for the kids, who are reinforcing their own lessons by teaching them.

Meanwhile, I have been grading a lot of papers, making a lot of photocopies, and filling out a lot of paperwork so I can get certification to cover classes when teachers are absent. The principal was pretty amped when I told him I’d be willing to serve as a volunteer sub. He said a lot of substitute teachers — even the ones who are paid to be there — have trouble following a lesson plan, so the kids don’t learn much when their regular teachers are gone. I guess Dr. Scherer and Grant have told him about my work with Joey, so he’s pretty confident that I’d make a good sub.

Every time I think my life can’t get any weirder, some new project presents itself. If you had told me 13 months ago that I would be married to a high-school principal, taking care of a developmentally disabled man nearly twice my age, running a motel, and substitute teaching in a tiny town in the middle of New Mexico, I’d have been convinced you were taking way too many hallucinogenic drugs … but here I am, and I love it.

– Sierra

Blogging from Grant’s iPhone this evening as we drive around Tucumcari, looking at Christmas lights, after dinner at Golden Dragon and a trip to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.

I don’t anticipate any guests at the Tumbleweed this evening, but we left Joey and Lil Miss in charge just in case. When we left, they were making kettle corn and hot chocolate and getting ready to spend their evening watching A Christmas Story and playing video games.

Hope you’re having a good Friday evening, wherever you are.

– Sierra

Cold Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Yikes. Winter has apparently arrived in Coldwater: It’s currently 16 degrees outside. Grant and I set the thermostats in all the empty rooms to 60 degrees this afternoon just to make sure the pipes wouldn’t freeze.

Cold weather notwithstanding, we’ve had a nice Thanksgiving. Grant and Sandy don’t like turkey any better than I do, so I made a big batch of chicken and dumplings instead, which was nice and warm and satisfying on a frigid afternoon.

We braved the cold to walk down to Casa de Jesus this evening. As usual, Jesus got out the karaoke machine. Just for Sandy, I worked up the nerve to try one of Dad’s old songs. When I finished, she cried a little bit and told me Dad would be proud of me … which, in turn, made me cry a little bit, but it was a good cry. Jesus was a little puzzled. We just told him the song reminded us of someone we used to know.

We capped the evening with big bowls of menudo — courtesy of Jesus’ wife — and then another short walk through the cold to get back to the Tumbleweed, where we found Joey checking in a pair of travelers all by himself. Add that to the list of blessings I can count this evening: Joey has come SO far in the past year. The first time I met him, he was completely dependent on Miss Shirley. He couldn’t read, his speech was barely coherent, and the most complicated financial transaction he could handle was the purchase of a couple of cans of tuna and an orange sherbet push-up from the convenience store. A year later, he’s waiting on guests and checking them into their rooms in my absence. I’d love to take credit for that, but Dr. Scherer, Grant, and the grade-school librarian have had at least as much to do with it as I have.

Hope you’re warm and happy and counting plenty of blessings this evening.

– Sierra

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.