Thursday, June 23, 2016

Becoming a New Mexican changed my perspective on being an American July 3, 2016

LAS CRUCES - I’ve enjoyed lots of all-American, traditional red, white and true blue celebrations of the Fourth of July in Las Cruces.
I’ve loved it all: the fireworks competing with, and most years losing, the contest with Mother Nature in both sound and sight categories. The monsoon season almost always kicks off with a spectacular thunder and lightning storm on Independence Day weekend. Usually, the stormy weather doesn’t lead to the cancelation of fireworks, but there’s an impressive enough natural display to remind we mere humans who’s the real boss.
And who could resist our heartwarming, patriotic and sometimes slightly eccentric assortment of festivals, from boat parades at Elephant Butte and a country picnic at La Viña Winery to Cloudcroft’s decorated bikes and pets parade (followed by Cloudcroft Light Opera Company melodramas) , and Silver City Museum’s old-fashioned ice cream social.  
Then there are the only-in- New Mexico events, like the spacey Alamogordo fireworks shows, where you can enjoy the rocket’s red glare reflected on actual rockets at the
New Mexico Museum of Space History grounds. And the even spacier Roswell UFO Festival which features sci-fi stars, a UFO mart, lectures and other features you are unlikely to find anywhere else on the planet, like alien costume contests for humans and their pets.
When I first moved to New Mexico, I thought this might be a manifestation of our cosmic bienvenidos philosophy. We’re so inclusive, here in the Land of Enchantment, that we decided this is the perfect time to extend our spirit of independence and freedom to a fiesta for the whole universe.
Later, I learned that the festival timing had something to do with commemorating that now famous UFO incident the first week of July 1947, but I’m still sticking with my cosmic New Mexico Fourth of July spirit theory.

Becoming a New Mexican has changed the way I think about being an American. My artist/American history teacher mom, imbued our Midwestern childhood with lots of colorful historical facts, but it wasn’t until I moved here that I really began to grasp what it means to grow up in our diverse melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.

I’m proud to have friends in many tribes and pueblos and through art, music, ceremonies and stories have come to understand something of the spiritual depth and wisdom of the ecologically enlightened indigenous cultures that inspired the founding fathers of the United States. It’s been wonderful to learn about the civilizations that thrived here thousands of years before the Europeans (and even my prehistoric Viking forebears) settled on this continent.

While living in Santa Fe, famously billed as the oldest continuing state capital in the nation, I was often reminded that the Mayflower colonists and other early WASP immigrants our family historian lionizes, are really latecomers.

My amigos with Spanish, Mexican and South American heritage have relatives that were here more than a century before mine and many have carefully preserved and shared the portraits and artifacts to prove it.
I’m mindful that many of my loved ones, including my grandson Alexander the Great, who can claim Cherokee heritage through my daughter-in-law Shannon, have roots that run far deeper that mine, in this land that I love.

In this contentious election year, when dialogs can too easily devolve from hyperbole to hate speak, I’m going to devote some Fourth of July time to grateful remembrance of all the immigrants (including my ancestors) who helped create so much of what I love most about my diverse and vibrant native land.
And then I’m going to offer thanks to all those who gracefully and generously welcomed those immigrants, despite, at times, some vicious abuse and exploitation of the hospitality of those kind and loving souls who were here first.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

A sale of two sisters and other estate sale tales June 26, 2016

LAS CRUCES – When I decided to do some weekend exploring, who would think I’d end up at an estate sale with what amounted to valet parking perks?
I followed signage and helpful, neatly uniformed staffers who directed me to a convenient parking place and then drove me in a golf cart up a steep hill to a lovely home overlooking the Mesilla Valley. It was the second day of the sale, but there were still some works by artists I recognized and an impressive collection of American Indian pottery.
The next weekend, at an estate sale close to my own neighborhood, I found a beautiful baby grand piano very like my mother’s, a drum set, and a man who told me about an enticing Rolls-Royce for sale at a garage sale nearby.
I realized it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a such sales, and even longer since I’d held one myself. It was back in South Florida, more than two decades ago. When I merged households with my sister Sally for a while, she decided it was time to clear the decks. She put in a classified ad and made signs for what she billed as “A Sale of Two Sisters,” Sally’s Dickensian twist on “A Tale of Two Cities.”
The sale itself was not so much fun, at least for me. I’m a private person and found I didn’t enjoy a couple of days of strangers rampaging through our premises and our personal possessions.
I went through the process one more time when I left Florida to move back to New Mexico, but that time, I invited mostly friends and neighbors.
Since then, I found myself more inclined to make way for new décor and life changes by giving things away to friends and relatives, or donating stuff to the many good and deserving organizations I admire here.
During these periodic unfettering sessions, I’m reminded that garage sales, along with antique, thrift and consignment stores, have been crucial to my home ambiance. Except for brand new beds, major appliances, a matching leather couch and recliner, and most of my arts and crafts collection, everything that surrounds me is the booty from creative treasure hunts.
In my home office, a bamboo desk and chair from a Palm Beach yard sale is one of the rare survivors from my last cross-country move. Early Las Cruces garage and estate sale finds include tea carts, a big coffee table and end table and the mismatched chairs I’ve painted and ornamented that surround my new kitchen table. There’s a pretty armoire that fits perfectly in the corner of a guest bedroom (after the nice man from the garage sale where I bought it graciously offered to deliver it, and then had to dismantle and replace the room’s door frame to get it in). And there’s more, lots more.
I wish I could follow the example of James Kanel, the owner of Mesilla Valley Estate Sales. He has a discerning eye and clearly understands, admires and appreciates beautiful things, but told me he hasn’t collected much of anything himself for years.
“My favorite thing about stuff is watching it leave and having someone pay for it,” he said.
I like seeing my no-longer essential stuff leave for good homes and good causes.
Now if I could just convince myself that nature and home décor really do not abhor a vacuum, I might get closer to my minimalist Zen lifestyle goals.
My working credo is that I must be able to envision a perfect place to put anything new before I decide to bring it home. Then I see a painting, or a kachina or a piece of talavera that’s worth a weekend of cleaning and rearranging to showcase.
And I think of J. Paul Taylor. He has amassed and artfully displays a unique and wonderful collection of antique and contemporary New Mexican art and artists and international textiles and folk art that is among the finest in the state, or anywhere, for that matter.
He recently confessed to me that in his mid-90s, he’s still collecting. Maybe he’d like to join me next weekend at this great estate sale I just heard about…
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

Resuming a love affair with books June 19, 2016

LAS CRUCES – There’s nothing quite like a summer beach book, and that holds true even in high desert county. We may not have the lakes and rivers and oceans of my other coastal and peninsula summer haunts. But we have the beaches (or at, least, the vast, contemplative expanses of sand). And the books.
Usually, I stash away lots of books for my vacation. But in recent years, I never seemed to get around to reading them.
It’s part of an escalating syndrome. I, who once read eight to ten books a week, now seem to have trouble finding time and eye power to get through a dozen in six months. Sometimes, sigh, even fewer.
I attribute some of that to obligatory screen time. Laptop and tablet screens. PC screens and cellphone screens. Flat screen TVs. And blue light bevies of assorted other screens that stare at us at home and the office, in doctors’ offices, hospitals, shopping centers, airports and many other serendipitous sites. And we stare right back.
After a long hard day of close encounters of the screen kind, I often find myself too weary to contemplate anything that requires interaction, which leaves me with yet another screen to end my day, viewing prerecorded TV programs, passive-aggressively fast-forwarding through ads and boring parts. (There is, I confess, some satisfaction in this, a kind of sense of atonement for not being able to skip, switch off or fast-forward through the boring and irritating portions of the rest of our lives.)
But that satisfaction has its price, too. Back in the day, I was able to read a couple of books each week during the commercials of an evening of must-see TV. That leisurely rhythm seems lost forever as even mindless TV watching turns into a type A personal best competition. (Could I beat my all-time record and get through five hours of recorded programs in four, three or two hours?)
In a rare week without TV, the pleasures of books came back to me. I spent most of the week savoring, rather than speed-reading “The Last Ranch,” the final book in Michael McGarrity’s wonderful American West trilogy, set primarily in Las Cruces and the Tularosa Basin. It’s also an origin story and prequel for the dozen Kevin Kerney novels, which I also love. Plan a long vacay and read as many of ‘em as you can.
In a nice bit of synchronicity, I was reading about the last ranchers to hold out when the government took over land for secret atom bomb tests, when soulmate Roger proposed a visit to Los Alamos, and we got to see films and exhibits and the actual homes of the scientists who were making the bomb a reality.
After that, I read a little book about Georgia O’Keeffe in the very land she painted and where I was lucky enough to meet and interview her in her last decade of life. Next, I got into “Versions of Us,” by Laura Barnett, a thought-provoking tale of a couple who met and married young in one vignette and led star-crossed and complicated lives in other versions, including one in which they missed connections until their 70s. Another good read.
Then, tempted by a nice little library in our vacay house, I polished off “The Lake House,” my first-ever James Patterson blockbuster. It was a real beach book, about the adventures of beautiful teens with wings, thanks to modern miracles of genetic engineering. Without giving too much away, the book didn’t lay an egg, but the beautiful flying heroine did, and I suspect there’s a sequel out there. Maybe I’ll look for it or wait for the movie version. Or maybe not.
Driving to and from Santa Fe, I listened to most of “A Fine Romance,” read by the autobiography’s author, Candice Bergen. Back home, I dropped off the CDs at the Branigan Library and checked out the book, and read the last chapters the old fashioned way.
In fact, it was a couple of days before I turned on the TV, and I’ve found myself going back to old habits of reading through the commercials and boring parts, instead of fast-forwarding. And drifting off into peaceful, night-long slumber.
I think I may be on to something. Maybe I’ll increase the book time and cut down the screen time (and that includes ebooks and all online text forms) and return to basic paper pages again. I’d almost forgotten how much fun it can be to immerse yourself in a real book.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

A very good vacation June 12, 2016

LAS CRUCES - After growing up in a family that would jump at every possible chance to pitch a tent and make the wilderness their home, I had more than ample opportunities to decide if I like camping.
I don’t, thank you very much, and ever since I’ve had the means to select the lodgings of my choice, my idea of camping is staying any place that rates less than three stars.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love communing with nature, particularly on my own, sunny, day-tripper terms.
I was reminded of that on my recent vacation.
Soul mate Dr. Roger, knowing that I’d expressed a certain weariness of vacationing in Northern New Mexico, particularly Santa Fe, attempted to lure me northward with the promise that we’d get away from it all, avoiding the Sturm und Drang of the City Different during its first big Memorial Day tourist season opener.
When he led me from our favorite rendezvous on Canyon Road to winding routes near Bishop’s Lodge and the Santa Fe Ski Basin, through the picturesque village of Tesuque and ever onward into the mountain wilderness, I wondered if he’d also forgotten about my aversion to camping.
But no. Before long, we’d entered a gated community and turned into the long driveway of an isolated, art-filled home that seemed miles away from the nearest residence, or any humans, for that matter. Inside and out, there were lovely surprises, including rustic verandas, a secluded heated swimming pool down the hill and some exotic stacked rock sculptures scattered around the environs.
It reminded me of my long-ago home on a hilltop in Picacho Hills, which always put me in mind of flying in a little Cessna aircraft: that feeling of motionless silence, suspended in time and space, alone but never lonely.
Thus fortified, I didn’t really mind when we couldn’t suppress our Type A compulsions to explore the territory. We hit old and new attractions from Los Alamos to Santa Fe: museums, art galleries, the downtown Santa Fe Plaza, the Railroad District, hot restaurants and even the nutty darling of international on-trend arts aficionados, Meow Wolf, a spectacular collection of art installations in a converted Cerrillos Road bowling alley. But through it all, we both found ourselves longing to get back to our mountaintop aerie.
I emerged from my favorite Santa Fe art galleries, looked up, and realized I appreciated the neon lapis sky more than anything I’d seen inside. Eons of history, eclectic cultural achievements and folk art seemed to pale in compare to the wildflowers and mosaics of greenery in the vistas surrounding  museum hill.
Neither one of us could figure out how to turn on the TV, though we devoted at least 15 seconds to the task. We never tried again. We ignored the news aps on our iPhones and averted our eyes when we passed newsstands on our infrequent trips into town. We didn’t know about violence at a Trump appearance an hour’s drive away until we were told by friends, both erstwhile Las Crucens, who drove up from Albuquerque for lunch. Roger, who so recently had devoted many hours to do his civic duty in Iowa caucus sessions, changed the subject.
Even the tequila siren songs of the 2016 Margarita Trail and restaurants we’ve loved for years could not distract us for long. We stocked up on fresh and colorful provisions at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market and Trader Joe’s and hurried back to compose big dinner salads and what became our favorite entertainment: listening to chirping birds, and watching clouds, and ravens and eagles and sunsets.
We watched some spectacular sunrises, too, and hiked, read and enjoyed siestas. Each day, we settled in for some serious power lounging and leisurely conversations. We relaxed and spent a lot of quality time remembering what we love about New Mexico, Mother Nature, the world and one another.
It was a very nice vacation.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

Making sense of the quest for tiny homes June 5, 2016

LAS CRUCES - Will we ever agree on a Goldilocks standard for that iconic manifestation of the America dream: the single-family home?
After perusing the eclectic offerings on the 2016 Las Cruces Home Tour, I postponed the tour itself to binge-watch the “Tiny House Hunters” series on HGTV.
I found a lot of it baffling, as I do many preferences of the mostly Millennials who covet the teensy abodes.
I can understand the lure of escaping crippling mortgages, especially for children of the Great Recession, and for a generation with so many members saddled with crippling college loan debt. In many cases, the debt is larger than the amount many Baby Boomers paid for our first homes. What’s equally shocking is that some of the tiny houses are in the price range of considerably larger homes.
I watched with claustrophobic fascination as a young single pondered how she might fit herself, her large dog and, occasionally, her six-foot-two-inch boyfriend, in a tiny rectangle with a cramped “sleeping loft,” miniscule bathroom with a toilet in the shower stall, and microscopic kitchen with the only sink in the house. Luckily, it was just a few feet from the bathroom. Closet space seemed considerably more limited than the storage area in the file cabinets in my little office cubicle (which seemed pretty spacious after my “Tiny House” marathon).
I remained perplexed. I understand and applaud so much of what Millennials have in common with the best of the tree-hugging, flower children segment of my generation. I applaud the desire to recycle, reuse, downsize, minimize one’s carbon footprint and value quality over quantity and substance over status.
On the other hand, the obsession with size can be pretty dumb on any scale.
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on custom builds, distinctive style (from yurts to miniature versions of San Francisco’s Victorian Painted Ladies) and portability. Whatever the final choice, it seems, the house has to be mounted on wheels and easily transportable to a special site, or for a year-long U.S. tour, in the case of one young married couple. (Their impossible mission included a quest for individual office space for each partner within their Lilliputian mansion.)
In the end, some of the tiny home owners ended up paying enough for their little dwelling to buy a two- or three-bedroom home in many U.S. communities, including Las Cruces. And many faced additional land rental fees that are as much as mortgage payments for a considerably larger starter house.
Given their desire for small size and mobility, I was amazed that none of the house hunters considered the obvious: pre-fab or modular homes, mobile homes or even vintage Airstream trailers, RVs or campers. I’ve even seen some high-end, stylish sheds at local home improvement emporiums that could be transformed into nice living spaces for a fraction of what the aspiring home owners seemed willing to pay.
I admit I’m happily fixed in a right-sized home in a neighborhood I like. But I understand desires that transcend age, income levels and cultural heritage.
I remember when my sister, then in her early 20s, lived on a tiny old yacht with her husband, small daughter and very large dog. She grumbled about having to give something up for every new thing she brought aboard. They were moored at the same harbor for most of time, but they loved the rare voyage on Florida’s Intracoastal ( CQ ) Waterway, and the boat people and the lifestyle. Sally continued to miss the sea and slept on a waterbed for decades after she became a landlubber again.
I get lots of texts, e-mails and visits from friends and relatives off on endless adventures in their RVs, some of them far from tiny and just as opulent as the suburban homes they’ve sold or rarely inhabit these days.
And I finally got it: the tiny, custom home on wheels thing. It’s not really about the size or the money.
It’s about the real American dream: the freedom to go wherever and whenever and however you desire. Whether it’s practical or even possible is another matter. It’s the potential that’s important.
That’s the thing about dreams: they’re yours and you want what you want.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

A legacy of wise words May 29, 2016

LAS CRUCES – This month, I asked several people about the wisest advice their moms had given them. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the best advice I’ve gotten and the legacy and bon mots I want to leave with my own son and grandson.
I’ve thought about conferring with my older sister and younger brother but I suspect there might be a consensus about the most memorable (if not the best) advice from our parents.
“Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” was Dad’s fave. He meant it to be funny, but I think the lasting affect was that all three of us strived to be better role models for our kids and to aim for honesty rather than hypocrisy.
“Smile sweetly, say ‘Yes, dear,’ and then do as you damn please,” was one of mom’s pre-feminist maxims, and I wish she’d followed it a bit more herself.
On the other hand, I’ve come to greatly appreciate her suggestion to “Bat your eyelashes and say, ‘You big, strong, handsome, wonderful man,’” on occasions that require lots more upper body strength, mechanical skills or tolerance for major messes than I possess.
I use the line a lot, and it always works, and I honestly don’t feel that it’s exploitive or offensive, now that I am a vieja, and flirting is no longer a blood sport.
I suppose I should check with Human Resources, just to be sure, but for now, I’m sticking with another favorite, generally attributed to U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper: “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
My spiritual mentor had so much great advice to give us all that I wrote a book about her (“Tenny Hale” American Prophet.”)
A conversation that I think about a lot (and nearly every day, when I lived in Palm Beach, and during Presidential election campaigns) involved the social and spiritual plagues that each generation must confront.
“The diseases of my age were innocence and ignorance,” Hale told me, adding that the cures involved enlightened experience and education.
“The diseases of your age are arrogance and greed. Good luck with that,” she told me, shortly before her death on the eve of the 1980s “ME” decade.
I wish I could have just one more long consult with her about my theories regarding the only possible cures for arrogance and greed: humility and charity. How can we disseminate the cure in a world so dominated by arrogant, greedy sociopaths and narcissists who think things are just peachy as they are? (And break their spell over the multitudes who admire and follow them?)
The struggle between good and evil rages on, but as Dr. William Sheldon once opined, “Wherever there are two seeking consciousnesses, there is hope.”
And I have been heartened by the wit and wisdom of new generations, Gen X to Millennials, who continue to impress me with their resilience, adaptability and creative fusions of the best of the past, present and future sagacity.
I think we all have some important and original advice we should be collecting to pass on to the future. Here are a few truisms from my personal collection:
• The more some people feel they are out of control, the more they try to control others.
• The price of awareness is awareness.
• The absence of vice does not necessarily indicate the presence of virtue.
• Society should be more like a fugue than a football game.
• Everything (including life in general) is better with green chile.
Let me know if you’ve come up with some original advice you’d like to share with the next generation. We need all the help we can get.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

Pondering vacay possibilities May 22, 2016

LAS CRUCES – The options I’ve been offered this year include a trip to the Scottish highlands and Norwegian fiords (some of our family’s ancestral homelands) with my sister.
Then there are possible trips to visit relatives in the Pacific Northwest and assorted sites in Florida and Michigan.
I have friends who’ve graciously said they’d love to have me visit them in Utah, New York City, Jamaica and Germany.
Other dear buddies would like to plan trips to San Miguel de Allende and/or Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. A high school amigo has invited all his classmates to an exotic coastal resort he’s built in Mexico.
And some of us have been talking about bucket list expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji and Greece. We’ve been discussing those journeys for so long, in fact, that most of them have long since gone, brought me the T-shirts and even made return trips to our dream destinations.
But the truth is, since I arrived here in the mid-1990s, I’ve only made it out of the state a handful of times, and usually in the line of duty (a work-related trip with a Las Cruces Sister Cities delegation to Germany) or on fond grandparent migrations to meet up with Alexander the Great in southern California and Idaho.
In fact, my grandson, at 19, is considerably more well-traveled than I was at that age and is often willing to spare me a trip to his current residence by flying in from wherever he is to visit me in his former Las Cruces stamping grounds.
When I think about it, ever since I left Michigan, friends and relatives have been more than willing to spare me the trip and make the effort to visit me in the considerably more exotic (at least to native Michiganders) places I’ve settled since. New York, Connecticut, Oregon, Santa Fe, Jamaica and Florida can all be potent lures, I’ve learned. During long Midwestern winters, the company of those of us in tropical and warm southern climes seems to be particularly attractive to long-lost friends and kinfolk.
I’ve made plans several times, as recently as last year, when a long-planned trip to see friends in another state was preempted at the last minute for their trip to visit a new grandchild on the other coast.
That happens a lot as you get older, when many of your friends are retired and you’re not, and they get tired of waiting for you to come out and play with them. But there’s a bright side, too. Without the bother of having to plan an itinerary, book a flight or buy new tires, I’ve enjoyed a lot of fun visits and reunions in recent years. A surprising number of loved ones eventually find their way to my door, on side trips, or RV marathon treks, or quests for interesting places to relocate or spend a more comfortable season or two.
The truth is, I’ve already been blessed with opportunities to see, visit and best of all, spend extended periods living in, some of Earth’s most interesting and beautiful places. And my life is filled with well-traveled, articulate adventurers, from my long-touring musician son to globe-trotting physician soulmate Roger and photographer BFF Cecilia. They’ve all shared anecdotes and souvenirs and sometimes, their far-flung friends and colleagues, who have come to visit me, too. I feel as though I have been many of the places they’ve been.
Maybe this will be the year that I’ll abandon my recent preference for staycations and again be tempted to heed Kurt Vonnegut’s poetic admonition: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”  
I may grumble now and then about missing great bodies of water, and there are times I long to walk on the shores of Lake Michigan, or explore tide pools on the Oregon Coast, or spend another morning ambling for miles with my sister and her enthusiastic big dog in the warm Atlantic waters of Bathtub Beach in South Florida.
But then I remember the beach tar and oil spills and heart-breaking dead and dying marine mammals. And what a hassle it is, as my son once put it, “to put your body in a big metal tube and get hurled through space.”
And I give thanks that I get to spend my days land-locked in my favorite state, in my favorite place on the planet, where a surprisingly large number of the most interesting people on Earth already live, or manage to find their way here, more frequently that you might expect.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.