December 28, 2012

Santa Fe

One does not really move to NM without some thought of a visit to the capital, Santa Fe. Just in case you begin to wonder why we didn’t consider moving there, I offer several reasons. Santa Fe has plenty of sunshine, an average of 300 days each year but Las Cruces gets closer to 350. It can snow as early as October and as late as May. WTF is this, Massachusetts?  Santa Fe averages 14 inches of rainfall a year and 30–34 inches of snow. Heck, Worcester only averages about 60 inches of snow. Las Cruces, maybe 1-2 inches. That pretty much ends that conversation.

Santa Fe is often called “the City Different” and having now been there it is easy to see why. In 1912 the town had only five thousand people as civic leaders designed and enacted a sophisticated city plan that incorporated elements of the City Beautiful movement, the city planning movement, and the German historic preservation movement. It anticipated limited future growth, considered the scarcity of water, and recognized the future prospects of suburban development on the outskirts. The planners foresaw conflicts between preservationists and scientific planners. They set forth the principle that historic streets and structures be preserved and that new development must be harmonious with the city's character.

Santa Fe Plaza

In some ways, Santa Fe is mindful of the Northampton area in Massachusetts except that instead of one main street with shops lining it, Santa Fe is built around a square in its center and the roads move out from that, each street lined with shops and galleries and restaurants. We went to several places there to eat and made very good choices both for lunch and supper. We noticed that there were signs in every restaurant warning the people (gringos, what New Mexicans call the people who don’t want the hot foods) that the green chiles are hot. I had these three thoughts right in a row while in this offbeat, very cool cafe. As I sat I noticed at least 3 signs warning of the chiles and there was one on the menu too. I thought “gee why do they have to warn the tourists so much?” Then “why don’t they take  the wait staff’s advice?”  And finally “Why are tourists so stupid?” This is an actual conversation I overheard. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Stupid tourist: I’ll have the green chile burrito. Is it very hot?
Patient Waitress: Yes mame, the green chiles are very hot but you can get a burrito and not have the green chiles on it.
Stupid Tourist: No, that’s OK. I want to really experience the full flavor of Santa Fe. Bring me the green chile burrito.
The waitress brings her the green chile burrito. The Stupid Tourist takes two bites and starts to moan and fan her mouth with her hand.
Stupid Tourist: Oh, this is tooooo hot, I’m burning up. I can’t take it, what should I do?
Patient Waitress comes back to the table: Can I do something?
Stupid Tourist: This is way too hot, you should have told me how hot it was.
Patient Waitress: I told you it was spicy. Let me go and get you some milk, that should help.
Stupid Tourist: She didn’t tell me it was going to be THAT hot.

This is why they put warning labels on toasters say don’t operate in the bathtub, or fine print car commercials where the car runs off a cliff and the disclaimer says, “don’t try this at home, cars cannot fly.”

So overall, I give our trip to Santa Fe a very positive review. The Folk Art Museum was amazing. The terrace on top of the La Fonda offered spectacular views although it was way over priced. The free transportation system was a nice touch and Tomasita’s was so good, we went there twice. The Native American Crafts were great. Mrsfabp and I bought hand made silver rings there. Certainly this is a place we want to return to. Taking the high speed commuter rail was wonderful but having a car would have given us access to even more. Maybe in the spring!

Native American Vendor Market
Portico, Governor's Mansion

December 27, 2012

One Year Gone...

Almost lost in the holiday goings on, this time of year marked some significant anniversaries for Mrsfabp and I. To name just a few, November 12th marked the first anniversary of beginning our move to New Mexico. We did the old farewell tour as documented HERE and did some great sightseeing as mentioned HERE. November 22nd marked our arrival in Las Cruces, one day earlier than we had originally planned for. It also marked the start of a frantic search for living accommodations. Finally, December 7th marked the closing on our home and with the delivery of our U-Haul Boxes, the great unpacking. All in all, a whirlwind couple of weeks, to say the least.

Sometimes I find myself saying, I can’t believe it has been a year already. I look around and see things, not with a tourist’s eye or even new transplant eye, but rather like an old comfortable hat kind of eye, with everything fitting into place. We drive around town and see something that we researched before we arrived (like a condo in the Branson Street area) and it seems so strange to understand where it actually is now because then, we had no concept in where things were. We originally planned to look at homes in the Pines area but knew within a few weeks of arrival that that would not have worked out. It is too far out of town for us, mainly because we are really enjoying having things so close by.

I think back to certain areas I wanted to see, like the Alamedia neighborhood, Mesquite Street and even Mesilla Plaza and realize just how close to perfect each is in its own way. I remember going to the Bosque State Park here in town the first time, a warm, sunny February day, sitting in shirt sleeves near the plaza fountain and coming to realize just how great a place it was. To this day, whenever I arrive there, I am overtaken by the awe of beauty, solitude and grand views. Maybe the best view is of the whole Organ Mountain range, and I never tire of seeing it.

Two things that I was told about this mountain view have proven to be undeniably true. The first is that the mountains look different every single day. The light, the angle of the sun, the sky, the clouds, even dust in the air, all manage to make subtle changes that are very noticeable. The second word of wisdom was that Las Cruces gets 4 different sunsets every single day. First you face east and see the sky colors of the setting sun reflected on the mountains. If the light is right, it is a vibrant purple that you will never forget. Then you look west as the sun begins to dip below the horizon. If there are any clouds whatsoever, the colors are spectacular. Then you face east again and see the sunset sky colors on the mountains, shadows, textures, colors, all blended together. Then finally you face the west again and see the afterglow on the horizons edge, a time when you often times are left breathless.

Sometimes I am so comfortable here that it seems like it has been a lifetime already. The friends we have made, the places we have gone, joining the camera club, volunteering at the State Park, becoming involved with the Friends group at the park, all seem to be anchors that hold me in place. I remember when we moved from NYC to Massachusetts, how lonely I felt in the beginning, filled with self doubt and even some regrets. It was several years before I felt real comfortable there. Las Cruces and New Mexico in general have been different. I felt right at home from the first day, settled right in and began searching for the adventures I promised Mrsfabp that we would look for.

So, what have we found? Contentment for sure. The warmth of friendship, absolutely. I have found things that help me feel creative, that bring feelings of accomplishment and reward each and every day. I feel like I am appreciated for the things I do and talents I have and have been willing to share. I have learned about the culture and traditions of this area. But most of all, I just feel like I fit in and that may be the best feeling of all.

One year has gone very quickly. I’m sure someday we will say 5 years have gone by in a blur. We are getting to see the growth of the community and feel part of it. But most of all, I feel like I have found my place and what a great place it has been and continues to be.

December 26, 2012

The 2012 Holiday Celebration Part II

In my last post I talked about the different holiday celebrations leading up to the New Year. I left off at the Christmas Festival at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, so I will pick up here. 

We begin at The Zee’s Christmas get together where we shared in the traditional SW Holiday food, Tamales. Wiki says “ A tamal (Spanish: tamal [taˈmal], from Nahuatl: tamalli [taˈmalːi]) — also tamales — is a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa (a starchy dough, usually corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.
Tamales have been traced back to the Ancient Maya people, who prepared them for feasts as early as the Preclassic period (1200-250 BC). Maya people called their corn tortillas and tamales both utah.” Clair and her sister Jean slaved over the dish for much of the day, and this was my first experience with them. As a meal it was traditional, in other words, nothing to write home about. I know I appreciate their work, quite a great deal but it just seemed to be underwhelming. The night was made however when they brought out a tray of mostly homemade cookies including Clair’s pecan shortbread and Jean’s biscochitos (a crisp butter or lard based cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon. To say these were a hit is an understatement. I am sure there is a large tray of these available at the pearly gates. 

The second hit of the evening was the release of the Zee’s pets from the Nargle (crate). They quickly found laps to lay on and quickly added to the holiday warmth and spirit.

Saturday, the 22nd was the State Park Volunteer Holiday get together. It was nice to feel appreciated for the work that we do and this luncheon reinforced that appreciation. The volunteers do a lot for the park and I for one, feel great giving back to the community in this way.

Christmas Eve was the annual celebration on the plaza in Mesilla. There were hundreds of candlebaggios, lights, music and wonderful Mexican Hot Chocolate, a delicious mix with cinnamon. After strolling the plaza we ended up at a local cafe where we sat outside, listening to the music and singing, warmed by the wine and several chimineas. Wiki says “Originally, all clay open fire garden heaters imported to the U.S. from Mexico were known as chimeneas. As the story goes, chimeneas originated hundreds if not thousands of years ago by Mexican tribesmen who developed the chimeneas as a means of providing heat for their family as well as a vessel for cooking and baking. The original chimenea was designed to keep the rain off the fire and the family warm using merely a couple of sticks.” We told stories, drank wine and just soaked in the spirit of the season.

Christmas Day brought a nice, quiet feeling as Mrsfabp and I opened some presents. I suprised her with a trip to the Spas of Truth or Consequences, NM along with a fancy dinner, a massage and some sightseeing. She got a Keurig coffee machine from our kids and some assorted traditional gifts from me. I am getting a new camera body, to be delivered tomorrow and a new tripod from Molliejupiter. BusinessBoy and MissNicole gave me canvas prints of the three pictures that won ribbons at the Dona Ana Camera Club competition. I just love them, a very well thought out gift from them. 

As for dinner, I tried something new with great results. We did a modified “Feast of the Seven Fishes” which Wiki defines as “ an Italian Christmas celebration. Today, it is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.” We did a lobster tail and a seafood newburg (scallops and shrimp) over risotto. Yes, that is the sound of contentment.

This only leaves two events before the season is officially over. The first is going to the Sunday Buffet at the Double Eagle Restaurant in Mesilla. We were there last year for a dinner but not the buffet which seems to be renowned in the area. It is becoming a Holiday tradition too, dinner with the Zees at a time that the holidays are winding down. It is Beez’s birthday this past week too so it is also a celebration of this.

Finally, on January 1st Mrsfabp and I will be hosting a New Years Day buffet. We used to attend one every year at some friend’s house overlooking Lake Lashaway in Massachusetts. This will be a way to continue this tradition.

Well, this is the holidays at Casa del Pinguino. Relaxing, filled with the spirit of the season and reflecting the relaxed nature of life in New Mexico. January will bring its own set of challenges, planning the year at the State Park, preparing the Basic Digital Photography Class that we will present there and working out the kinks of my new camera. Hopefully I will post some of the pictures taken during the class and show some continued progress in my photography.

December 25, 2012

The 2012 Holiday Celebration Continues!!

With Christmas now here, the holiday celebrations and traditions have continue at a nice leisurely pace at Casa del Pinguino. Mrsfabp and I long ago became less concerned about the shopping ratrace and more attentive to the moments of joy to the holiday season.

Thanksgiving was the preamble of the season filled with charm and grace this year. All of our friends gathered for a magnificent meal in Karen and Lou’s new kitchen. Everything was wonderful, the friendships warm and the pies delicious.

The unofficial Christmas season kick off is Black Friday with its crazed shoppers looking to save a few bucks, long lines of stressed out people fighting each other for the last cell phone and riots, armed guards and honest to goodness bloodshed. Not quite what we have in mind for our holiday kick off. Instead, we went up to the Bosque del Apache to spend an afternoon watching and shooting pictures of cranes, as was photographed here. A nice lunch at “The Owl” in San Antonio, New Mexico (unfortunately not as good anymore as their neighbor, “The Buckhorn.”) for green chile cheeseburgers. Good friends, good food, good views, all part of a wonderful day.

The second event of this Holiday Marathon was the Noche de Luminarias at the campus of NMSU, as documented here. Same friends, wonderful views, a restaurant stop for drinks afterward, and once again a warm holiday glow. That glow was actually palpable as we talked and laughed and told stories at a new bistro that opened that night in the downtown mall area.

Next up was the Mesilla Valley Chorale Group’s Holiday concert. I referred to it here but just touched on it briefly on the way to another point so I thought I would add a word or two about it. This is the second holiday performance we attended, the first being last year at this time. This group of local men and women are well rehearsed and practiced and their voices help give meaning to the season. The first half was more choral arrangements of songs while the second half was a bit more of the traditional standards one hears at this time of the year. Once again, our friend Karen accounted herself well and we all enjoyed the effort on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As is becoming our tradition, there was supper at the Bistro, now on day 8 of its existence and still experiencing growing pains. But the atmosphere was wonderful, the company grand, the beer cold and the wine delicious so I guess it meets our criteria for success.

Finally, Sunday the 16th was the Christmas festival at the State Park, that I planned and coordinated in cooperation with the Friends of the Bosque Group and Park Staff. Both groups are overworked and struggling to keep things going which is why I volunteer at the park each week and have become a member of the Friends Group. I have been successful in moving things along for the group including this Festival and the monthly newsletter and have been nominated to be vice-president of the group after elections in mid-January. As for the Holiday Festival, I arranged for a display of photographs by the Dona Ana Camera Club in an exhibit entitled “Winter in the Desert,” arranged for a Santa Clause to be there to have pictures taken of pets with him, for a donation to the friends group, and began the sale of souvenir postcards and notecards of the park. I also helped plan live music, refreshments and holiday lights. Unfortunately, one thing I could not control was the weather which was cool, 45 - 50 degrees, with 30-40 mph winds howling. Most of us huddled around a fire pit fed with Salt Cedar, a very aromatic wood. All in all, over 100 people attended and about a dozen had photographs taken with Santa. Santa, by the way, played by our good friend Jeff, who I described to people at the park as a white bearded old man with a hint of a bowl full of jelly. He was great and there were several kids who were completely enthralled with him.

So, you may be asking, what was next for this holiday season, and a few last things will be posted about real soon. Friday night was the Clair and Bill Zarges holiday party, a rather raucous affair with spectacular food. A little Christmas miracle occurred there last year as was documented here by Clair, in a heartwarming story of prodigal returning proportions. This will be followed by Christmas Eve in Mesilla for the traditional evening of music, dance, food and camaraderie. Finally, Mrsfabp and I will put a period on the season with a New Years Day Brunch for us and our friends. Many of them will have only now found out that it will be on New Years Day at 11am.

So, I hope all of you are have had an enjoyable holiday season. I am reminded of a great philosophers words here that are a good reminder about the holiday:

"It came without ribbons!
It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!"...
Then the Grinch thought of something
he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought,
"doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas... perhaps...
means a little bit more!"

-Dr. Seuss
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

Happy Holidays All!

December 12, 2012

Feeding the Homeless

These three words conjure up all sorts of images. Volunteers at a soup kitchen who seem to disappear after the holidays are over. Maybe a Food Pantry, where you have sent some cans of food to help someone feed their children. Maybe workers at a shelter, handing out blankets on a cold night. All things that are exemplary. But I wanted to do more.

On Sunday afternoon, we went to see our friend Karen sing with the Mesilla Valley Chorale group. We went last year and had a wonderful time, and this Sunday was no different. It would be hard to imagine sitting and listening and NOT getting into the Christmas spirit. There were songs of love and friendship and family and giving to others. All time honored themes and a real important part of this season.

After the concert, we went to a new bistro downtown, that is quickly becoming a favorite of us all. We spent close to three hours talking, laughing and telling stories and when it was over, there seemed to be a real glow in the room, the power of friends and friendship.

We collected our styrofoam boxes and went outside in a very chilling wind that was cutting through the sweaters and jackets and capes. The group dispersed and we were standing there with Karen, and offered to stay with her while she waited for her husband to bring the car around.

Standing about 15 feet away, was a homeless man. I have been seeing him all the time in the center of town at all manners of time and weather. When hot, he sits in the shade. When cold, he sits in the sun, but he is always there. In his hand was an small, empty styrofoam box. At this moment Lou pulled up, we said our goodbyes and started to leave. It was then that I heard Karen say to the man in a quiet voice, “would you like something to eat?. I don’t know if he responded but she handed him her large box and quickly got into her car. My eyes welled up and I choked back a sob. Suddenly I realized that this was it.

Mrsfabp has been saying that she wants to give something back to the community because of how accepting and wonderful they have been to us since our move here. We have been blessed with many wonderful friends, who enjoy each others company and like doing things together. At this point it all became much more clear to me. We go out regularly to restaurants and there are often boxes of leftovers. We go to fast food places when on the way to somewhere else all the time. We drive through the center of town all the time too.

I am going to make it a goal to feed this poor man occasionally. What is a box of leftovers? Why not an extra hamburger or hot coffee. I think I can make a difference in his life and yearn to give something back.

One final note is that I am going to ask my friends both here in Las Cruces and all over the country to do something similar. It doesn’t have to be my guy. I’m sure you see lots of homeless, hungry people in your travels. Just a little something. Make a difference. And let me know what you did and how you felt.

Happy Holidays

December 6, 2012

Noche de Luminarias

The month of December is a fantastic culture explosion surrounding the holidays. There are special foods, festivals, displays, all wrapped around the holidays to create a very special feeling. We arrived in Las Cruces just before Thanksgiving last year and were so involved with finding a home, moving in, settling in, and adjusting to the retired life, that some of these cultural experiences just passed us by. We got to some things but they really are just a blur right now. I thought I would get back into the blogging spirit by talking about the holiday spirit and culture here.

I begin with Noche de Luminarias or “The Night of Lights”.  Holiday decorating here in New Mexico is somewhat traditional with a southwest flair but the culture, specifically Hispanic/Mexican, is a very prominent influence.

From Wikipedia: “A luminaria or farolito is a small paper lantern (commonly a candle set in some sand inside a paper bag) which is of significance in New Mexico and some neighboring states at Christmas time, especially on Christmas Eve. Farolitos have to some extent replaced the older tradition of the vigil fire luminaria with which they became confused. The name of the decoration is the subject of a long-running dispute in New Mexico. In general, farolito is the preferred term in Santa Fe and other parts of northern New Mexico, while the decorations are often referred to as luminarias elsewhere. In Spanish, the word farolito translates as "little lantern", while luminaria means "festival light". Historically luminaria referred not to a paper lantern but to a small festival or vigil bonfire; however, this distinction is not commonly made outside of northern New Mexico.

Our friends Lou and Karen, dove right into this controversy and simply refer to them as “candlebaggios” and now we all call them the same thing. It is interesting when we refer to them that way in front of a non-believer who looks at us quizzically.

On the campus of NMSU on Sunday night, the holiday season officially (Wal-Mart would disagree, saying the holiday season starts in late September) began with Noche de Luminarias. There were almost 6500 paper lanterns set up on the campus while horse drawn carriage rides and traditional dancing went on in various places. Our group of friends went out for pizza, then head over to the campus just as dusk arrived. What followed was a couple of hours of walking the rolling hills, looking at the lanterns and their reflections in the duck pond and just drawing in the feelings of the season.

Afterwards we went to the opening of a local bistro and sat outside having drinks and trying some of the food. I’m not sure what was more amazing, the lanterns on campus or sitting outside at a local cafe on December 1. Both I guess, but I only took photos of the lights. Here are a few:

Here is the link to the album with a bunch more on Facebook or Flickr. Hope you enjoy them!