Thursday, March 27, 2008

OT: In New Mexico

(Post begun March 13) Just returned to California from a whirlwind four day round trip to our place in New Mexico. Hadn't been there since November, and I don't like being away that long.

The house is old adobe, the original two rooms put up in around 1900 or so, the rest added on over the next 50 or 60 years. There are nominally 4 bedrooms, but we only use two of them as such. The other two -- which were divided from what I am pretty sure was once the kitchen -- we use as a library and a work room. The south facing portal was enclosed in the mid fifties or so to become a foyer, a dining area, a new kitchen and a laundry room/pantry. When we bought it in 2005, the house was a wreck, hadn't been lived in for two or three years, uninhabitable really, but to my eye it was salvageable, and the realtor, who'd had it on inventory for over a year, was convinced it could be fixed up real nice (he was from Louisiana) for a mere $15-20,000 or so -- and sold again for a handsome profit.

We didn't want it to sell, though. We were looking for a place in New Mexico to settle in, eventually retire. I was suprised at how many criteria I wanted met: paved roads, city utilities, out of the way (ie: not in Albuquerque or Santa Fe or even any city to speak of) but close enough to the highway for emergency purposes, not in a forest (fire, you know), and with "character" -- but without the overweening (and sometimes overpowering) Santa Fe Style. I must have looked through hundreds of listings, and made personal treks to at least a dozen before settling on this one.

It just "spoke" to me. Sometimes places do.

The realtor said that Toney Anaya had grown up there, and I suppose it's true, though the place seemed a bit fancy for that, given Anaya's description of his childhood in a two room dirt floor adobe casita. He isn't quite as old as some of the additions to the house, and it looks like there have always been pine board floors. But I could be wrong.

And renovations were going to cost a lot more than $15,000. But I was surprised at how much would be done for slightly more than $30,000. In fact, the final cost came in under budget, and how often does that happen in renovations?

The contractor, from Albuquerque, turned out to be quite a character. He grew up in the next town west, when it wasn't even a town, and had gone to high school right down the street. He sort of knew this house from when he was a kid, but he said he didn't remember it all that well. At first, he wanted to re-do the house by "modernizing" everything. When I insisted on maintaining as much of the early day character as possible, he thought I was pretty wack, but went along with it. The subs he hired had a tougher time with some of it, because the house is old and quirky and required some care to keep it together. Yet in the end, I think they did an amazing job, though not perfect.

I was wrassling with the stainless steel kitchen sink they put in -- not very well -- while I was there, and they never did get around to putting in a door with a window in the laundry room, so I wound up buying an old one in California and trucking it out to New Mexico and installing it myself. But they did wonders with the bathroom, and after complaining that they couldn't possibly put a french door in the living room, I went out there one time and there it was, just as I imagined. Of course I found the rain gutter installation was, shall we say, "faulty" when it turned out that most of the guttering on the front of the house was attached to... nothing. Looked nice, though! But it's New Mexico, and you make do without too much whining. Got out the ladder and fixed it. It's what you do.

There are still many -- many -- things to do including decking, pergolas, portals, fixing (or replacing) the garage, adding some electrical circuits and light fixtures, doing some work on the roof, fixing a closet the birds seem to have moved into while no one was living there (ew), and doing something about the skunks (and the cats) that took up residence under the house. Still need a washer and dryer and better heat in parts of the house the main heater doesn't reach (the old one in the living room was replaced with an updated version of the same thing.)

But it's all stuff that can be done at a relatively leisurely pace. As I've said in other venues, we don't don't have teevee or landline phone there. We do get radio stations from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. There is intermittant wireless internet (go figure), and the cell phone works as long as you're near a window or outside (all the neighbors have to stand outside to use their cellphones, too.) The electricity seems to be kind of iffy, goes out pretty regularly. The pipes have a tendency to freeze when they shouldn't (but the previous owner had them replaced with some kind of "freeze proof" plastic, which I'm told means they don't break when the water freezes in them.)

But the sky is amazing, day or night, with the night-sky being literally take-your- breath away gorgeous. Just open the front (or back) door and step outside: "My God! It's full of stars!" That makes up for the lack of any "view" to speak of. Well, we can go down to the end of the street (a couple of hundred feet) and look out over open range to the mountains in the west and to the north. But we do have trees. They suffered in the decade long drought, but they seem to have survived, and there is lots of dappled shade in the summer; lots of wild flowers, too.

On I-40 you enter New Mexico from Arizona through a cleft in a pretty fancy, nay almost baroque, mesa. It's very dramatic. The entrance to the state lets you know, in no uncertain terms, you have arrived Somewhere Else Again.

We first took that route (which parallels Hwy 66) almost 30 years ago and went back again and again and again as if drawn by some magnetic force. Even though it was the height of the real estate boom when we bought, it was, for whatever reason, the time to do it.

Some pics of the renovations in progress:


  1. Frankly, it looks like a good place to go sane. What a wonderful project!


  2. It's quite a project, no doubt about it. You can see why I was getting a little... tense when the water heater and associated disasters came up in California.

    As for "good place to go sane," I had to laugh. That's exactly the way we look at it. Right now we can only spend a few days there at a time, but those few days are absolutely sanity restoring, and we're grateful for the respites.