Russells sign

According to the web site, it’s in Glenrio, although when I tagged the photos my GPS clearly indicated Bard. It’s Exit 369, in any event, and if you’re driving east to west or west to east between New Mexico and Texas, it’s a good place to stop, because Exit 369 is where you’ll find Russell’s Truck & Travel Center, home of a 45,000 square foot car museum that is, among other things, free. Also the bathrooms are clean.

It is worth noting that Glenrio, New Mexico is approximately 800 miles directly due south of Wall, South Dakota, where Wall Drug is located, just a small jump off I-90, that long stretch of interstate flanked by endless corn fields leading, eventually, to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore and then to big sky country.

The I-40 stretch isn’t entirely different, flanked by endless fields of windmills leading, eventually, to Tucumcari, gateway to the Land of Enchantment. I suppose the similarities would also include souvenirs, aisles of snacks and what-nots, restaurant, chapel and museum, one featuring Western art and dinosaur statues, the other featuring cars.

Russells Car MuseumIf we’ve been together a while, then you may find it surprising that I would stop, willingly, at a car museum because cars are not really my thing. On the other hand, if we’ve been together either a little or a long while, then you may know that I am married to a walking car encyclopaedia who was born and raised in New Mexico and who loves, among other things, classic cars. Since we were all hungry and all needed restroom facilities and all intrigued by the FREE Car Museum! billboard, we gave it a go.

Cushman motorbikeFrom the Cushman motorbike outside the entrance, to the Shoney’s Big Boy statue overlooking the interior, the museum is a retro-Route 66 lover’s dream. (And no, I didn’t know what a Cushman was before my stop in Glenrio.) The day of our visit there were 22 cars and three motorbikes on display, approximately one fourth of Mr. Russell’s personal collection. All of the cars are driveable and are routinely started and moved to keep them from getting all sludgy (the museum guide’s word) – all except the 1955 Corvette Roadster, 1955 Corvettethe 15th of only 700 manufactured. Mr. Russell’s Roadster has only 327 miles on it, and, understandably, he’d like to keep it that way.

Everything else gets routine rotation, so there’s no predicting precisely which cars will be on display when you visit. I’d tell you which ones were there when we visited, but, alas, I feel lucky to remember the proper names for the Cushman and the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner hard-top convertible, the two items Bernard would like to add to his Santa list.

Skyliner hardtop convertibleBut I do remember this: the museum is beautiful, a lovingly assembled personal, private collection on public display for the sheer love of sharing a life’s passion. That’s the story you’ll get from the museum guide, a man better suited to his role than any Disney cast member could be.

Why would Mr. Russell build this museum, ensure the exceptional quality of display, staff it with a warm, friendly and deeply knowledgeable host, and then open it to the public free of charge? Because he can, I suppose, though certainly not to boast. There’s no prissy exclusivity here; it’s an Everyman museum, a celebration of design, ingenuity and culture without any remote pretension. It is, from what little I’ve been able to research about Mr. Russell, a public gesture that matches the logger-turned-grocer’s private beliefs.

It was 2:30 when we finished our tour and sat down to eat, the lunch crowd long gone. I should mention that, among the many thoughtful amenities at Russell’s Truck & Travel Center, there are outlets at every table, ready to charge the phones of travelers who forgot their car adapters and depleted their batteries searching for a signal on the long trek between Amarillo and Tucumcari. It’s a 50s diner with a millennial twist, an Everyman’s place, as I mentioned, for every generation.

We ate our sandwiches and green chile beef jerky and talked about our favorite things from the museum. I realized suddenly that I’d neglected to get a picture of our tour guide, the fountain of both information and puns who told the kind of jokes my uncle Mel would tell, complete with the crinkles and twinkles of a natural smile. I excused myself from the table and ducked back to the gallery.

“Would you mind if I took your picture?” I asked, “You were so kind to share your stories, and I’d like to write about our visit.”

He agreed, as I suspected he would, and then called to his brother to take another one with me in it. Stepping behind the counter, I remembered my manners.Jennifer and Art

“I’m Jennifer, by the way. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Jennifer. I’m Art.”

Happy week.




en vacances

Santa Fe 2015

At heart I am an all or nothing woman, immoderate in every endeavor, no matter how much I pretend to be otherwise. Also, I often lack the ability to carry things through to completion, a characteristic that does not complement the other one well.

Several years ago (Bernard and I disagree about the particulars), I packed the children with him in the car and sent them west to Santa Fe for spring break, without me. There were many reasons, both simple and complicated, that we spent the week in two different camps, the simplest of which is that I wanted to get something done, and I was fundamentally unable to complete any of the myriad projects mounting around me, and what I most wanted in the world was to accomplish one thing, start to finish. Anything.

And so we decided (and this was actually how it came to pass) that I would stay home, alone, and my people would travel.

I elected to tackle our bedroom, which is really the guest room and supposedly only temporary quarters while we finish the renovation that I do not believe we will ever finish, but that is another story for another day. Anyway, with the help of a friend who is a semi-professional organizer, I planned to spend the week moving everything out of our room, cleaning, sorting, and moving in only the things we wanted to keep. Everything, down to socks and underwear, would be shifted out of the room, carefully reviewed, and placed back – if it passed muster. There was to be no other cleaning, no other activity until this one room was complete. Start in the morning; work until night. Venture outside the work area only for food, water and maybe a bit of fresh air.

Excruciatingly boring, yes? Also not remotely my style of cleaning. Also, clearly not the best use of my native talents. But it gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and a bit of personal insight. And all these years later, irrespective of the precise number of sun turns, our room is still not entirely untidy.

At the time of the big clean I saw my weeklong time-out as a sort of intervention, or maybe a quasi-kombucha tea cleanse. If I spent one dedicated, focused week cleaning and organizing the right way, I thought, then maybe I could end my days as a serial cleaner, could stop being the sort who starts in the kitchen with the dishes, for instance, and then gets to the table where the kids have tossed their belongings, and instead of parking those belongings to the side and continuing to clean the kitchen until it’s finished instead takes the things up to the rooms and starts making the beds.

Alas, a tiger cannot shed its stripes, and I remain dedicatedly ineffective on a daily basis – in cleaning, in cooking, in writing, in everything. I jump in with both feet, unabashed, then want to jump, equally unabashed, into something different. Perhaps it’s the creative spirit, or perhaps (and this more likely) a touch of manic depression. In any event, over time the stack of deeply immoderate beginnings begins to weigh heavy, each big idea begging to get to the altar.

Which is why I was craving another time-out, a week alone to push through a big project – this time one of the three books I started working on last summer, all three of which are suffering from the delight of great beginnings followed by extreme and dedicated lack of attention. I had decided, as all-or-nothing deciding sorts of people tend to do, that the only possible way to make progress was in the vacuum of solitary confinement.

In the years since my last week alone, things both simple and complicated have changed for our family, particularly as they relate to our annual (mostly), week-long treks to Santa Fe. For all those reasons, and mostly because I both wanted and needed a week to work on my own work, the plan for this year’s spring break was for me to send my people packing and give myself a full week to write.

I would stay home, and my people would travel.

Then my daughter had a complete come-apart, replete with shaking shoulders and gasping breaths and buckets of tears. One of my little voices reminded me that the days of her wanting my company are not infinite, that I will not always be her traveling companion of choice (at least I hope this is true, entirely for her sake). Life cannot be all or nothing, it is not naturally that way.

So I packed my things, found a house/dog-sitter (miracle, that – no two ways about it), and headed west with my people, bursting the magic bubble of isolation. My five full days of uninterrupted writing in my kitchen turned into two long windshield days, three quiet half days with a window view of the occasionally turquoise sky, and three half days enjoying the enchantment Santa Fe, hand in hand with my traveling companions.

en vacances 2015

I did manage to finish a big chunk of one book, albeit the easiest of the three since it’s really more of a workbook than a book-book (it’s called What’s for Dinner, Dammit?, and I cannot wait to share it with you). And I did make just the tiniest bit of progress on the others, and I did have (relatively) long stretches of completely uninterrupted time alone while my people skied and saw Bernard’s family. And the cherry trees were blossoming. And I finally got to see the oldest church and the Loretto Chapel staircase and La Conquistadora. Plus there was free breakfast. And it actually rained, real rain, which never happens in Santa Fe.

And I did get to be in a messy heap with the people I love most in the world, people who remind me daily that all or nothing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, people who nudge that immoderate Jennifer forward, one step at a time, across the thousand miles.

Happy week.


Wait! Before you go:

Remember that time, once upon a time, when there was a dinner menu postscript each week? Remember how we used to plan our meals? And then I had this idea about turning those into a (work)book. Or maybe another blog. Or maybe both, immoderate project starter that I am. Anyway, remember all that from way back when?

Ok, so here’s a bit of an update:

The food-only blog, you may already know, is called dinner prompt, and it’s a daily deal, which means it’s likely to overwhelm both you and me before we know it, although I’m trying to tweak things to be less overwhelming and more helpful. Also fun. And the weekly recap on Sundays isn’t entirely unlike the old weekly menu plan. So there’s that. (And one of the salt cod recipes I included today looks really, really good, if you’ve got the inclination to find salt cod and then deal with it.)

But in the meantime, there’s this (work)book, What’s for Dinner, Dammit? that is taking shape thanks to a designer friend who said “hey let’s team up and get this thing done!” which is awesome, because she’s a project finisher while I’m mainly a project starter, and if I don’t drive her completely and totally insane, then we’ll be bringing you a book sometime soon.

What’s it going to be?

The format is simple:

  • 52 sheets, each with five dinner suggestions on one side and a shopping list on the other, plus blank sheets for making your own plans – and making the book your own, plus a few other tools and tidbits.
  • With each set of dinner ideas there are hint for shortcuts or improvements, as well as ideas for substitutions.
  • Most dinner ideas include a salad suggestion.
  • One meal in each set includes a dessert.
  • There are three sections: All Season, Spring/Summer, and Fall/Winter; but most of the weeks could be adapted to work any time of year.

Sound interesting? Well, give a loud “heck yeah!” and stay tuned for more. And if you have suggestions, please share. You know I love it when you share, really I do.


seed planting

Water, light and food.

If wall charts could talk, they’d tell you these are the things plants need to survive, to advance from seeds into leaf bearers.

how to grow cattywampusWall charts work better, of course, with human interpreters: gardeners, farmers, teachers. It’s one thing to diagram photosynthesis but another to act out how plants grow cattywampus if they don’t get even amounts of light. It’s one thing to talk about calculating dehydration but another to stick your finger in the dirt.

Water, light, food.

And love, a gardener might add, noting that gardens need careful nurturing in order to bloom, that their beauty never comes from following a soulless diagram. Plants crave companionship and care as much as people do.

Water, light, food, love.

hoop house tour, august 2013farm tour, august 2013sample harvest, august 2013

And time, the farmer would say, for nothing comes to full harvest overnight. You must have patience when helping things grow, an unhurried understanding of how different things mature differently.

Water, light, food, love, time.

Grahamwood Gardens 2012

And change, nudges the teacher. Cultivating the exact same thing in exactly the same place eventually depletes every richness. Sometimes, oftentimes, reaching the next stage of growth requires a different environment. Seedlings outgrow their cups; fields and crops must rotate. All of us must move on.

Water, light, food, love, time and change.

teachers and farmers

Mr. Emerson, my children’s fifth grade teacher, with Lauren Bangassar (Farmer Lauren), who is leaving Grahamwood to build 100 local gardens for The Kitchen Community.

Happy week.