Rio Grande : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

An Oh Fair New Mexico Tradition

In what has now become an annual tradition in my almost six years of this little ol’ blog, it’s time to bring out something that was first published back in 2007.

It’s as true today as it was back then.

Without further ado:



Top ten things I miss about Christmas in New Mexico (in no particular order):

Originally published December 11, 2007


1) An annual shopping trip to Old Town in Albuquerque. This was a longtime mom and me tradition. Every year I’d get to pick out my own ornament that would eventually be mine when I became an adult. I have every one of those ornaments stored in a Thom McAnn shoebox and they go on my tree every year. They are a glitter and glass history of my life. I remember buying each of them and it gives me a beautiful sense of continuity to have them on my tree.


2) Luminarias. I always was the one to make them for the family. Someone would drive me to an empty lot and I’d dig out two buckets worth of good New Mexico dirt, then I’d go home and fold down the tops on brown lunch bags. Each would get a candle inside and then at night I’d light them. It was my holiday job and I loved every folded bag and every bulk buy candle (and every small emergency when a bag caught on fire in the wind). I miss real luminarias.


3) The Bugg House, which, sadly, is no more. My sister lived over on Prospect and we’d go for a walk in the dark on Christmas Eve to take a look at the outstanding display of holiday spirit. On the way to Christmas shop at Winrock Mall, I’d take a detour to the Bugg house to take a look. No one does lights like the Buggs did.


4) Neighbors bringing over a plate of freshly made tamales as a Christmas gift. When there are three generations of Hispanic women in a kitchen with some masa and shredded pork, magic happens. Yum! I also miss that people would bring tamales to work in a battered Igloo cooler and sell them to coworkers. I was always good for a dozen or more.


5) A ristra makes a good Christmas gift. I’ve given. I’ve received. I love ‘em. They’d become a moldy mess here, and that makes me sad, cuz I’d love to have one.


6) Biscochitos. My love for these is well documented.


7) Sixty-five degrees and warm on Christmas Day. Growin’ up, I think one year there was actually snow on the ground for the 25th, but it was melted by the end of the day. Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love your weather.


8) Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Spanish with the overpowering scent of frankincense filling up the overly warm church. Pure torture for a small child, but oh how I’d belt out the carols. And when we came home after, we could pick one present and open it. Gah! The torture of choosing just one!


9) A New Mexico piñon, gappy, scrawny Christmas tree that cost $15 at the Flea Market and was cut from the top of a larger tree just that morning. Look, to my mind, it ain’t a tree unless you are using a few low hanging ornaments to fill the obvious empty spots. These overly fluffy trees just ain’t my bag. If you aren’t turning the bad spot toward the wall, you paid too much for your tree.


10) Green chile stew for Christmas Eve dinner and posole for New Year’s, both served with homemade tortillas. My mouth waters. It’s weep worthy. I can taste the nice soft potatoes in the stew, the broth flavored just right. And posole to bring you luck with red chile flakes and soft hunks of pork. Yeah……


*sigh* Now I’m homesick.

Which is not to say I don’t have happy holidays where I live now…but sometimes I feel melancholy. And in a weird way, that’s what the holidays are for, right?



Finally, in order to just really drive a homesick knife into my heart, I give you this, the beauty of Old Town Albuquerque:








Image via New Mexico Magazine



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Misty Water Colored Memories. Of the Way We Were. Orale.

In the wake of my most recent (and fabulous) visit to my home state of New Mexico, I find I’m getting my old crone on.

New Mexico has both grown and grown up over the last twenty years. I suppose change is inevitable.

But sometimes I still lament the way it used to be.

So here’s a top of my mind list of how New Mexico used to be. This just happens to be what I’m thinking about on my first day back in California on a stormy Bay Area day.


Grumpy McGrumperson’s List of “That was my New Mexico”

  1. It rained in summer. It snowed in winter. The Rio Grande bulged with water in July. Farmers irrigated their land. Sure, it was still a desert, but water didn’t cost $300 a cubic meter. Cotton plants grew tall. Pecans grew large. It worked. Now New Mexico is in the midst of a terrifying descent into serious drought and a mismanaged water conservancy.
  2. If you went to the Balloon Fiesta, there was never, not for one moment, a thought that you’d just sit there and watch. You were expected to pitch in, even if you were a small child. “Safety” and “insurance” didn’t ever come into mind. We just helped, because getting those hot air balloons off the ground was what we did in Albuquerque.
  3. Breakfast burritos at the Balloon Fiesta were cheap, incredibly delicious, and you bought them out of a battered ice chest and didn’t think twice about it. Same with tamales at Christmas.
  4. Pinto beans were made with pork. No one ever wondered about or protested this fact. Ever.
  5. If you ate a Biscochito, you didn’t question if it was made from lard. OF COURSE it was made with lard. And no one thought that was weird, bad or worried that it would make them fat. Anything but lard was unfathomable.
  6. Luminarias used a real candle. None of this electric hogwash.
  7. If it said Hatch green chile, you knew it was actually from Hatch. It seemed strange to even question.
  8. When you looked into a bucket of ice at a bar, and pulled out a bottle, it was beer. Just beer. None of these foofy malt-based sugared up drinks. Just beer. And decent beer. What’s with the light, light, oh so lite you can breathe it like air. Just drink a damn beer! Or don’t. (this comes straight from the events of this weekend. I grabbed what I thought was a beer. It wasn’t. *sigh*)
  9. While on a two lane highway, when someone passed the other direction, you gave ‘em a wave. Be it whole hand, the pointer finger, two finger Boy Scout style or whatever acknowledgement you like, you did it. And the other driver waved and smiled back. (in some places this still happens, but I got an awful lot of unreturned waves this weekend.)
  10. We didn’t call a tortilla a wrap. It was a tortilla. They weren’t made of spinich or tomato, and if mom made ‘em from scratch they were thick and oh so very good.


There’s more, I think, but that’s enough of what’s bothering me today.

I suppose time marches on whether I march in step or not. New Mexico can’t stay the same forever and neither can I.

Must be the dark clouds I have, both mentally and meteorologically, that’s got me all stirred up.

Wish I could find a way to send you some of this wet weather, my Fair New Mexico.




Whoa!

Had a mindblower of a weekend.

In celebration of the birth of The Good Man, we had a (much necessary) weekend away.

Somewhere where cell phones don’t work and television, p-feh…who needs ‘em anyway?

We got a little wild. :)

We went to a place called Safari West. It’s located north of the Bay Area, just outside of Santa Rosa.

It’s an over 400-acre ranch that houses exotic animals of all kinds.

The owners have been working this place since the late 1980′s and it’s amazing.

I’m still processing it all…and the over 700 photos I took. (Yes, I said 700).

Highlights of the trip:

On the first night we were there, a baby Giraffe was born. It was a bit of a surprise to the Safari West folks. They knew mama Marla was pregnant, just didn’t know she was ready to go.

Here’s a photo of our as yet unnamed hero. This is about seven hours after his birth. Sssh, he’s sleepin’.

Is a hard thing getting born. Especially for a baby giraffe who plummets some six feet to the ground with a whump then is up on his wobbly pins about an hour later.

Here he is a bit knock kneed but doin’ it.

But that was not the only fascinating new thing…

That same night, Safari West took delivery of 38 flamingos and installed them in their new enclosure. I have always been a HUGE fan of flamingos. The Rio Grande Zoo used to have quite a few. Don’t know if they still do. But as a kid, they made a big impact on me.

These are “greater” Flamingos (their “lesser” and more colorful cousins will be arriving soon).

From there, it’s hard to pin down all the amazing things!

Lemurs.

Cape Buffalo (that’s some scary sh– right there….)

Cheetah

And on and on and on. That’s not even scratching the surface.

OH! And Zebra. I adore Zebra.

And Watusi cattle!

And! And! And!

It was amazing. A photographer’s dream (though tough too. Animals don’t, you know, pose).

We also slept in genuine tent cabins constructed by South African craftsmen and modeled on safari tents, including wood floors and open space. They were actually really nice and quite comfortable, though a bit cold at night.

In the dark we could hear all the animals of the safari calling and howling and, you know, doing what wild animals do.

I can’t even begin to write out how utterly geeked out I still am from the weekend…

We’ll be talking about this for weeks.

Old habits die hard.

Today as I meandered my way over to the shuttle bus to take me to the train, I picked my way through the parking lot at work. “Picked my way” because there is heavy construction going on at the building next door to mine.

Sitting there, by itself, in the lot, was an empty wooden wire spool. You know the type. Found at most construction areas.

Wanna know my first thought? “Man, should I take that?”

You know, it’s been some fifteen years since I graduated college. While I personally never had a wooden spool table, many friends did. I dated a few guys who did. I think the wooden spool furniture sensation is mainly a guy thing. Along with bookshelves made of cinder blocks and plywood.

It’s the same feeling I get when I see empty milk crates. I used many a purloined milk crate in my collegiate career. Good bookshelves, storage devices, and even a bedside table.

I think I still have some of those indestructible blue plastic things in my basement (all apologies to Price’s Dairy from, you know, fifteen years ago. What is the statute of limitations on absconding with a milk crate?).

Oh, is also happens when I see wooden pallets. Back then they were made from a pretty dense wood and if, say, a friend filled up the back of his pickup with a bunch of stolen pallets, piled them up by the river, poured diesel fuel on them and lit a match, you’d not only have a nice roaring fire, you’d have a long lasting warm, bright fire by which to socialize with friends.

For some reason, this old scrounging habit dies hard. The “making it work” when you have no money, and what little you do have must be saved to buy beer phenomenon still lives deep within me on a cellular level.

Despite the fact that I have a real job now and can buy beer, you know, pretty much whenever, I still have that moment of “I could take that…” and think about how it could be made useful.

I seriously considered how to get that spool out of there.

Then remembered a) I don’t need a table. I have one. A nice one. And 2) even if I didn’t have one, I could go to Ikea and buy a nice one. I don’t have to settle for a splintery wood spool.

So I’m still a scrounger from way back. But I refuse to eat Ramen noodles anymore.

Some habits you just gotta leave behind.

Where I come from

July 3, 2007 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Bay Area, homesick, Lake Valley, Las Cruces, Love, New Mexico, Rio Grande, where I come from 

Last night I had a chance to attend a concert at a fave local venue. The show was Kenny Chesney and he played the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheater locally.

Kenny’s appearance, being a good country boy and all, meant I pulled on my fave pair of Fat Babies and hit the show to sing along with the crowd and Mr. Chesney. (you know him, he’s the guy that married Renee Zellweger for like, a minute….)

Being a good New Mexico girl, I’m a pretty good fan of country music. I’m always utterly surprised at how many fans there are out here in the Bay Area. Now, the friend I went with bummed a cigarette off a guy who had come over from Modesto. Ah, Modesto, good farm country, that makes sense. But there are a lot of “city folk” who love them some country music as much as anyone from the outskirts. And that always makes me a little happy. (and yes, I know today’s country acts are hardly country anymore…more like rock ‘n roll in a straw hat with a Bell Ranch crease)

I saw young kids that I *know* have been raised here in the Bay Area, raised among the people and the concrete and the hustle and bustle and they were singing along word for word to “Back Where I Come From”, Chesney’s ode to small town livin’.

I smiled. Because I knew these kids, though they loved the song, and sang with gusto, in a lot of ways, couldn’t possibly understand.

And it made me thankful, again, for the multi-millionth time about where *I* come from.

Oh, the simple pleasure of knowing a place where a grain elevator and a gas station/Snappy Mart are the only the only things in town (like here or here or here. Kids are homeschooled, folks live in wide open spaces where they run cattle or horses or corn or cotton or whatever comes from the land.

Or knowing how fun it is to dance a two-step on a hardwood floor with a boy you like. Or even a boy you don’t like but is a good dancer.

Or cramming the cab of a pickup with as many friends as will fit and riding to the river to have a little fun while the swirling water rushes by.

And knowing what it means to “live simple”.

Oh Fair New Mexico, how I miss you……

Cah-reee-pyyyyy

Baked into my childhood is a certain deep-seated fear. It’s a fear baked into every young kid in most parts of New Mexico, parts of Texas and Arizona, and plenty of Mexico. Any kid raised in the Hispanic culture.

The deep fear was brought to me by my APS teachers, of all people. Every fall, around Halloween time, actually, they would darken the classroom, crack open a book, and regale us with the tale of….

La Llorona.

Ack!

Scares the you know what out of me every time.

It seems that some folks have been trying to portray the weeping woman in a better light lately. There was that commercial seen only in California that had her weeping over an empty milk container. Every time it came on, I either turned my head away or turned the channel. : shudder :

And whatever creepy feelings I have, for some people, it’s even way worse. The mother of my ex was born and raised in Mexico. She was a traditionalist and you couldn’t say “La Llorona” around her or she would start praying and crossing herself and yelling at you for saying that out loud. She thought saying her name brought her near.

There is a restaurant in San Francisco’s East Bay that serves all manner of margaritas, one of them called, you guessed it, La Llorona. Now why would I take a nice activity like drinking a marg and use it to scare the crap out of myself? Huh? : shudder :

For a while in the early 90′s, in a bid to increase awareness about safety around arroyos, the City had a campaign featuring the “Ditch Witch”, ostensibly to scare us back.

And boy, did La Llorona scare me off of rivers and streams and such. Tho not enough that I didn’t ride my bike and skateboard through the dry concrete arroyos near my childhood home. I did always keep an eye on the sky, especially over the mountains, and if it got one bit ominous, I was OUTTA there.

By the way, in case you don’t know the legend of La Llorona, here it is, in a nutshell (or at least the way it was told to me….other versions vary widely):

“Many of the legends portray a woman who is abandoned by her husband or lover and who then drowns her young children in despair, because she cannot support them, or for revenge…she is stricken with deep remorse, doomed to eternally wander near the Rio Grande or other bodies of water, looking for her lost children.” The story I heard went further. Not only was she looking for her lost children, she would abduct and in some cases drown any OTHER little children she found wandering on the ditch banks. : shudder:

I cut and paste that story from an article in today’s Las Cruces Sun News titled La Llorona’s stories to be told at Saturday festival

In regards to attending such a festival, I just have this to say: Oh hell no.

Actually, it sounds like a fun festival and I love the folklore of passing down stories from one generation to the next. But I think the “Honk if you’ve seen La Llorona” bumper stickers are going a *bit* too far.

: shudder :

Maybe They Oughta Listen to My Mom

March 24, 2007 by · Comments Off
Filed under: New Mexico, Rio Grande 

During the some 27 years I lived in New Mexico, I had many occasions to encounter the Rio Grande. How might I best describe my impressions? Muddy, dangerous, cold, forceful undertow. Oh yeah, and flotsam and jetsam of the highest order. Things that make you go ewww as they drift by in the swirling eddies of the mud colored water.

My mom always insisted that my siblings and I not swim in “that dirty water”. Her main worry, of course, was that in the dry seasons, trees and weeds grow in abundance in the empty riverbed. During runoff, water covers that tangled underbrush and it’s real easy to get a foot caught and that’s that in a wicked undertow. The river flows fast when it’s flowing.

I’d heard stories through the years too about if you swim don’t gulp any of the water. Hepatitis. E coli. Other exotic things with exotic names I can’t remember.

I can honestly say, I’ve never swum in the water of the Rio Grande. Now I took on the muddy waters of Ute Lake with a pink air mattress and a smile during summers in my childhood, but I never had occasion to swim in the river. Occasions presented themselves, but I never went in. I’ve sat on the muddy banks a lot, pondering life, raising hell, drinking beer. Once after losing my college love, I sat by the banks of the river in Las Cruces for days on end and raised the water level with the volume of tears I cried. But swim? No.

In each person’s life, they have a collection of images in their head that are indelible. They stick for a variety of reasons. The first time you saw the love of your life. A terrible car crash you once witnessed. What it was like to see the ocean for the first time. One of those images from the mélange in my own brain is from my college days. There were lots of spots in the greater Las Cruces area with good access to the Rio Grande. As such, we college kids made it a point to have many a celebration by the banks of the Rio Grande. Many of these “river parties” took place at night, after a dance or the bar closed. But sometimes it would start as a barbeque down by the water and last into the night.

One afternoon on a warm day, a gang of girls piled in to the car and headed to the river for a barbeque day. It was a crowded party and there were some boys swimming in the river. I always give the river a beady eye of skepticism mainly because my mom drummed it into me. So I watched these nineteen-year-old guys swimming around in that gross water with fascination. I remember one guy, I can’t honestly remember his name, but he was in the water and he was swimming with all his might against the current and he was losing ground. This was a strong guy, in good shape and a strong swimmer and he was putting everything into it, and the river was pushing him back.

Ok, I know for any “mighty” river this probably isn’t all that amazing. But to me, it crystallized everything my mom had said about the dangers of swimming in that water.

Along with the wonder of seeing him swim for all he’s worth and not get any forward progress was seeing bits of yuck floating past him in the water. Not only was I horrified at the danger he put himself in swimming into the current, but my god, what danger did all that crap pose to his health?!?!

By the time that water makes it to the southern end of the state, it’s been subjected to some pretty heinous stuff. Insecticides, manure, runoff, and the occasional dear departed dog. Yes, horrible to say but true, many a person has tossed their deceased animal into that water. Hell, a few human bodies too, but that’s almost too much to consider.

In October this year I took my partner to see the span of river near my folks place in Los Chaves on the Bosque. It’s beautiful there. As we stood on the banks I recall him saying to me, “What’s that foamy stuff floating by?” God knows. I sure didn’t.

So this is a long way of saying there is no way in hell I’d drink that water. So imagine the ewww face I made when I read the article in the Albuquerque Tribune with the story title: “Taste testers find Rio Grande water earthy, approachable”.

Say it with me now….EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

The story says that in Albuquerque they are building a treatment plant to make the water, and I quote “drinkable and deliverable to area sinks, toilets and showers.”

They’d do best not to tell folks where the water came from. Cuz I know I’m not the only one who’d be real opposed to having that in my water glass.

I know beggars can’t be choosers when water is tight. But gad…that’s just…gross.

I do love the quote, though, from a local winemaker John Calvin. “He detected some ‘overtones of granite,’ he said, a hint of ‘Russian olive in the nose,’ and something else that might have been ‘evergreen trees after a rain.’”

Wow. Bet that’s not all he tasted……

(actual photo of the actual river in Los Chavez)


Photo by Karen Fayeth