Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 was a very good year

LAS CRUCES — Whatever the breaking news, the most vivid, standout moments of 2007 for me were spiritual and artistic, and often both.
There were talks with hundreds of artists, and, for our new collectors series, with discerning souls who collect everything from mice and military memorabilia to lutes, butterflies and dollhouses.
There was a spring trek through Tularosa, with former Las Cruces Jean McDonnell, who showed me a new cultural center, and how one of my favorite little communities is on track to become one of the world’s leading centers of Tibetan culture and healing traditions.
There was an afternoon at the new Temple Beth-El, seeing the just-installed Ark of the Covenant beautifully crafted by Melvin Kirschner and his son Bob and painted by Debbie Levy.
I discussed Geronimo’s life and legacy with his descendant, Harlyn Geronimo.
There was a bright fall day, wandering through what is reportedly North America’s oldest continuously inhabited community, Acoma Sky City, with my soulmate Dr. Roger and a friendly dog, and a friendly guide, Waya Gary Keene, who seemed familiar. It wasn’t until I got to the Acoma cultural center and saw his art that I remembered he’d been artist of the week years ago, after I met him at an NMSU powwow.
Doc Severinsen was another familiar face...we’d last met years ago in Palm Beach, when I was promoting his concert for a benefit for the Palm Beach County Arts Council. He was charming and fit as ever. He didn’t seem to miss a beat or a breath, bounding up and down the aisles at Pan Am, for high-energy numbers with Mariachi Cobre and the Las Cruces Symphony.
I keep telling amigos that if you stay in one special place long enough, much of the rest of the world will come by. Who would think Doc would choose Las Cruces for his farewell performance with a symphony, or that I would end the year hanging out on the Downtown Mall waiting for Charlese Theron, who, with fellow Oscar actress Kim Basinger, was in town to film a major motion picture?
Remarkable things seem almost routine in synchonicity city. When I peered into the pool blue, old soul eyes of “The Burning Plain” director-screenwriter Guillermo Arriago, and he told me he loves the Organ mountains and wants to buy a house here, I wasn’t surprised. He won’t, of course, be our first Oscar-nominated screenwriter: Mark Medoff settled in many decades ago and has gone on to make several films and take two plays born here to Broadway (his first won a Tony Award).
Another great moment in theater came with the premier of Bob Diven’s fun and moving dinosaur musical “Extinction.” It was nice to see what has happened in the decade I’ve been watching Isaac Quiroga and Jessie Medoff Bunchman. They’ve grown into amazing talents. So has Bob. I enjoyed a metaphysical morning with him, sitting on a bale of hay before RenFaire opened, discussing where we came from, why we’re here and where we’re going.
Later, we joined several other Las Crucens for NMSU’s Great Conversations dinner and benefit, which those who attended hope will be an annual event. I left feeling blessed, because I live in a city where people love great conversations, and my vocation allows me (in fact, requires me) to have hundreds and sometimes thousands of great conversations every year.
Still, sometimes, a dance or a meatball or a tamale is worth a thousand words. I love the Tortugas pilgrimage, and the day of dancing that follows and was happy to share it with dear amigos, newlywed Santa Fe childhood sweethearts reunited. Thanks to David Fierro, who snuck me “backstage,” I also finally managed to overcome deadlines and enjoy my first official Guadalupe fiesta albondigas, plucked from a pot of steaming the fiesta itself, a sagey, spicy, spiritual experience.
So was my first Tamalada. I planned to just dash in and cover the workshop at La Cocina Restaurant, but sponsors, members of Grijalva family and Denise Chavez of the Border Book Fest Foundation, insisted I get hands-on experience, and I built at least 60 veggie, chicken and green chile and desert tamales. I am now a licensed Tamalera and I have the certificate to prove it. Nice to know I have another career to fall back on, if journalism pales.
But events are popping there, too. Our Web site reached a monthly peak of 1,300,000 visits. I started a blog and embraced our future as mojos: mobile journalists transcending print media to download audio and video online.
And speaking of new generations, art and spirituality again combined for one of my most moving personal moment of ‘07, sitting on the back patio watching son Ry and grandson Alex composing and playing duets on their guitars as the sun rose over the mysterious Organs, mood ring of our querencia.
I thought of all the conversations I’ve had with newcomers who said they saw our Shangri-la mountains and knew this was the place, and remembered talks with spiritual, artistic souls before I decided to move here, who concluded that Las Cruces is the place where great souls of the planet have come to circle their wagons, pitch their tents and make their last American stand, to preserve and rekindle what is best and brightest of la raza cosmica in portentous times.
May you find creative adventures in our querencia in 2008.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sing-along today!

Handel’s Messiah Sing-a-long
St. Mark's United Methodist Church
5005 Love Road (off Country Club Road)
Saturday, December 22, 7:00pm

Handel’s Messiah in Performance
A last-minute Messiah Sing-along op

St. Mark's United Methodist Church
5005 Love Road (off Country Club Road)
Sunday, December 23, 10:00am

What is a Sing-a-long?
Audience members "sing-a-long" with the choir, while sitting in the audience
Audience members bring their own score of the Messiah or, use the music supplied at the door
Audience members are divided into sections - soprano, alto, tenor, bass
Director conducts audience and orchestra
Solo arias are performed by professional soloists
Audience members not wanting to sing, sit at the back of the sanctuary to listen
Everyone is invited to sing - come as you are
If you have never sung the Messiah, now is your chance
No entrance fee
***If you would like to rehearse with the choir and orchestra before the sing-a-long, the rehearsal with orchestra will be Saturday, December 22, at 2pm at St. Mark's UMC.

Grinchiness is impossible in Las Cruces

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — It was a spot of color at the edge of the desert. Some anonymous merry soul had put three bright red velvet bows on a mesquite bush.
Every now and again, I’m almost daunted by some Scrooge or Grinch…usually from another part of the world, who starts trash talking about holiday excesses.
Then, when I’m heading to the wilderness to try to walk off the latest overload of commercial overkill and psychic projectile holiday depression, I come across a spontaneous manifestation of pure artistic cheer and goodwill toward men…and presumably roadrunners, quail, jackrabbits and other desert critters.
I’m continually surprised by creative expressions of holiday spirit in Las Cruces.
By now, I’m used to seeing chile pepper santas and angels on car antennas, and vintage trucks sporting wreaths and ribbons on their front grills.
But it can take more than a jolly jalapeño St. Nick to offset the impact of braving the malls to talk to people about Black Friday, and the other potentially grim holiday assignments that can further jade already cynical and less-than-merry newsroom staffs.
But here, too, are surprises. I reluctantly accost beleaguered parents, making lists and checking them twice while juggling a baby and a toddler hyped on sugarplums and unrealistic Santa expectations.
The overextended parents do not cut me dead, as they have been known to do in less kind, gentle — and sometimes downright mean — metropolises. No. They take time to chat with me and even wish me a Merry Christmas.
It’s hard to maintain Grinchiness in Las Cruces.
In fact, even my hardened colleagues exhibit softer sides during this magical time of year.
There’s usually a group collection of some kind for a family in need, and boxes of toys show up in a corner of the newsroom.
Our publisher David McClain ambles through the building, distributing seasonal posies. He gracefully contains his military vet’s appraisal of our less-than-orderly newsroom and cheerfully plops the bright red poinsettias on top of the paper piles, if he can’t find a clear square-foot on our cluttered desks.
New SunLife editor Richard Coltharp shows up with red and green Converse All-Star high-tops laced with bells that jingle jangle jingle, as he goes, roaming merrily along....
Snack alerts are e-mailed. Cookies and traditional favorites are baked and proffered, generating familiar memories for those of us who can’t get to our childhood homes, or the homes of our children and grandchildren, for the holidays.
Reporters occasionally even admit to being touched by stories of compassionate souls or the tragedies and accidents, the sudden deaths and mindless violence that seems, alas, to also have become too-familiar American holiday traditions at this time of year.
The weather gets colder and skins get thinner.
But the yuletide seems to bring out the deeply weird and wacky side of journalists, too.
A tiny stocking shows up, hung with care a few inches off the floor in an editor’s cubicle. It’s for the newsroom mouse.
My contribution is the newsroom Christmas tree, traditionally, for the last decade, a live potted specimen that exhibits Charlie Brown rustic form and spirit, and decorations to match. My colleagues contribute something from their desks, on loan to ornament the tree.
This year’s version, installed just after Thanksgiving, is already shedding: needles, sunglasses and a Barack Obama sticker came drifting down today. Otherwise, it’s a little more polished and artistic than usual. It is crowned with a Star of David ornament, fashioned from Norm Dettlaff’s page one photo of an adorable Hanukkah baby. Jason Gibbs created a paper clip garland. There are some actual Christmas tree ornaments and candy canes, unusually orthodox for our newsroom tree, but several repurposed desk collectibles add to the eclectic spirit. There’s a golden Homer Simpson who shouts “Yahoo” when he falls with another shedding of needles, and assorted frogs, a lizard, a tiny Lucha Libre action figure, a Candy Cane Magic Lottery ticket (prescratched, not a winner, or course) and a tattered cartoon that informs us that the leading cause of fear in society today is 24-hour news.
But there’s nothing to fear here. We’ve got the spirit.
We hope you do, too. Merry Christmas.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Thursday, December 13, 2007

GOOD TO GO: Best Bets This Weekend

The Cultural Center de Mesilla, home of the Border Book Festival Foundation, will host a holiday open house with Abuelita hot chocolate, cake, homemade biscochos and a Nacimiento display, composed of traditional clay figures from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at 2231-A Calle de Parian, next to the Mesilla Post Office. Many items, including signed books and collectables, will be for sale. Regular center hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For info: (575) 523-3988.
Mariachi Concert at Court Youth Center
The 7th annual holiday Herencia de Mariachi Holiday Concert begins at 6 p.m. Saturday at Court Youth Center, 402 W. Court Ave. Sponsored by Mariachi Espuelas de Plata, musicians in the after school mariachi program at the Court Youth Center, the concert will feature area youth involved in mariachi music and ballet folklórico. Performers will include Mariachi Espuelas de Cobre, Mariachi Atzcalitlan from La Academia Dolores Huerta, Gadsden Middle School Danza group, 6-year-old vocalist Greg Rocha, Mariachi Real de Chihuahua and Mariachi Espuelas de Plata and Hispanic comedy skits. Tickets, at $12 or $150 for sponsor tables for 8, include refreshments of menudo, nachos, dessert and drinks. For information or reservations, call (575) 524-0458 or e-mail
Nick of Time Craft Workshops
Two mini-craft “Just in the Nick of Time” holiday workshops Saturday at the Branigan Cultural Center on the Downtown Mall will include Ojo de Dios or Eye of God ornaments from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. (minimum age 6) and Punched Tin Ornaments from noon to 2 p.m. (minimum age 10). Kids under age 8 must be accompanied by an adult. A $10 fee includes all materials and finished pieces to take home. Preregistration is encouraged but not required. Visit the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main St., r call (575) 541-2154 or visit online at
Plan a Holiday Field trip
If you’re in the mood for a holiday family road trip, gather family and friends for a holiday celebration from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the El Camino Real International Heritage Center, between Socorro and Truth or Consequences, exit 115 off I-25. There will be ornament-making, piñata-breaking, music, La Posada procession, and a visit with Santa. Kids under 16 free, $5 for adults.
Poetry reading and booksignings
Joe Somoza will introduce his newest book-length collection of poetry, “Shock of White Hair,” with a reading and booksigning from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Black Gold From the Sun, 1910 Calle de Parian in the old Tortilla Factory in Mesilla.
Music on the Mesilla Plaza
Nine days of consecutive music performances from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the Mesilla Plaza begin Saturday and run through Dec. 23. The El Paso Electric Music on the Plaza event features Salty Dogs: Saturday, Las Cruces High School Choir: Sunday, The Brass Quintet: Monday, Bells of the Valley: Tuesday, Doña Ana Youth Choir: Wednesday, Border Jazz Trio: Thursday, Bob Burns Folk Group: Dec. 21, Doo Wop Oldies but Goodies Group: Dec. 22 and Mariachi Manada de Lobos on Dec. 23.
Chamber Music and Dona Ana Youth Choir
Las Cruces Friends of Chamber Music will present a free concert of vocal selections “Canciones Navideñas/Songs of the Season,” featuring soloists from the community and the Doña Ana Youth Choir at 7 p.m. Saturday at Good Samaritan Auditorium, 3011 Buena Vida Circle. Doors open at 6:40 p.m.
Mesilla Valley Chorale Concert
The Mesilla Valley Chorale presents “Holiday Memories at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Rio Grande Theatre on the Downtown Mall. Tickets, at $10 are available at the door, at White's Music Box or call (575) 523-0807.
Plan ahead: Christmas Eve Luminarias and Music
On Christmas Eve, thousands of luminarias will be displayed around the Mesilla Plaza beginning at dusk, and the “Mesilla Singers” will lead Christmas carols on the plaza from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the Friends of the Mesilla Fire Department will hold a candlelight service for public safety and military personnel beginning at 6 p.m. The service is for on- and off-duty personnel, their families and friends, as well as for those serving in the armed forces. Info: (575) 524-3262 ext. 116.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Christmas adventures with Alex the Great

LAS CRUCES — This time of year, many of us realize that long distance just isn’t as good as being there in person. But hearing the voice of a loved one still beats text messaging and chat rooms, I believe, especially if you have a creative grandson.
I’m grateful that this year I got to spend some quality face time with so many of the far-flung people I love the most on this planet, but work schedules and budgets mean that we’ll have to find other ways to communicate on Christmas Day, 2007.
As I was unpacking my holiday decorations, I came upon the small carved stone nativity that grandson Alexander the Great and I have set up together every year since he moved here when he was three.
We established our own little nativity traditions. We’ve collected interesting critters and characters to place with the little Holy Family around what Alex dubbed “The Jesus Castle,” a white plaster church made in Mexico.
Over the years, he has entertained me with many amazing insights on the nativity story and he’s also contributed some intriguing and creative additions to the tableau, from stuffed sheep and dinosaurs to Lego inventions and assorted action figures, which he perched on the Jesus castle rooftop with the angels, or patiently positioned to abide with the shepherds in the surrounding fields, tending their flocks — and Lego sheep and Zuni bears and plastic roadrunners.
I looked forward to discussing the 2007 Christmas tableau with Alex, now 11 and living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“We have the country’s biggest Christmas tree here, and I can see it from my house,” Alex reported during a Saturday phone conference.
We had lots to discuss. I updated him on some of his Las Cruces friends, we talked about his performances with the orchestra in his new school and I called on him for some Gen W (for Wonderful) takes on current trends.
I had TiVoed both “High School Musical” shows and finally watched them. They were cornier — and surprisingly, tamer — than the Walt Disney serial epics like “Annette” and “Spin and Marty” that I remembered from my own wild youth. I wanted to see if Alex could tell me what the fuss was about, if he’d even seen them.
“Well, yeah, with six girl cousins, it’s pretty hard to avoid ‘High School Musical,’” he said. “I only made it through part of the second one, though. After school got out, they kept hanging around the school dancing and singing about how much they wanted to be out of school, so why didn’t they just leave?”
Musicals often don’t make sense and must be appreciated on nonlogical levels, I informed him, and decided to move on to other great mysteries of the universe, like the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
“Ghost? Did you watch the ‘Ghost Hunters’ marathon?” Alex asked.
During our last in-depth conversation, we had established that I’m a fan of ‘Ghost Whisperer’ and Alex enjoys the paranormal investigative teams on the Sci-Fi Channel ‘Ghost Hunters’ series, which he assigned me to watch and report back.
There doesn’t seem to be much that’s new since I reported on parapsychology research in the 1970s and 1980s, I decided. We discussed a episode that dealt with an allegedly haunted site where prisoners were once confined in cramped and terrible conditions.
That led to a discussion of good and evil and the role of the only ghost that really interests me in my sage years: the Holy Ghost.
There was a time in my late 20s when I was fighting some profoundly evil forces, when I called for help and felt a golden hand on my shoulder.
“A ghost?” Alex asked.
It was the spirit represented by the tiny baby figure in our little manger, I told him. And I did my best to explain to him how that moment changed my life forever, how a hope was replaced with a certainty that has never wavered, during a life that has been filled with some very challenging adventures.
Alex knows how to project an eloquent silence, even over the phone. I wished I could see his face, but for some reason I thought of Alex’s father, and the day I came home from the wars to find my then-teenage son Ry playing not his usual heavy metal guitar riffs, but his own version of “Symphony No. 6: Pastoral,” his mom’s soul-rejuvenating, all-time fave. His Beethoven genes had kicked in.
I think holiday traditions are like that. Sometimes, we worry that the true meaning of Christmas is lost in the holiday stress and madness. But spiritual stories have a power that transcends time and manic materialism. I believe Alex will remember and call on the Source that has sustained so many generations before him.
And I hope that you and your loved ones will find comfort and joy in traditions of your own this year.
Merry Christmas.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Great Conversations in Las Cruces

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Dr. William Sheldon, the late M.D. and author-philosopher, once said that as long as there are at least two seeking consciousnesses somewhere in the universe, there is hope.
We live in a little city that is sizzling hotbed of hope, if the eagerness to share “great conversations” is any indication.
“I hope this is the beginning of a great tradition,” said New Mexico State University President Michael Martin, welcoming participants to “Great Conversations,” a Nov. 28 NMSU Honors College benefit that gave participants a chance to have dinner with an expert on their choice of several intriguing topics.
“Universities are about great conversation on important topics. It’s the place where we debate and discuss and wrestle with the issues of our time,” Martin said.
Not much wrestling went on, but we had a very good time at my table, where NMSU professor of music and recording artist Jim Shearer presided and the official topic was “Can the Music Industry be Saved?”
But we didn’t stop with music; my table seemed concerned with saving the entire world. We discussed everything from smart classrooms, sex, religion, and politics to modern musicals, the speed of high-tech evolution, music education and the impact of video games on toddlers. Dinner mates included teachers, philosophers, artists, musicians and a grad student.
We grandmothers can’t have a truly great conversation without mentioning our own greats and I had a good time comparing notes with Sharon Billington, whose 11-year-old triplet grandkids are the same age as my grand, Alexander the Great. We decided the upcoming generation is populated with some remarkable souls.
We all agreed we learned something new, from new perspectives to fun facts. I didn’t know, until Jim told us, for instance, that there are now devices that can almost instantly correct recordings of a singer’s pitch, which must be, to intonation-challenged pop stars, what spell-check is to beleaguered writers.
I saw lots of familiar faces.
“It was a fun evening. There were some bright students and the conversation went all over the place,” said Stephanie Medoff, whose husband, Tony-Award winning playwright and filmmaker Mark chaired “Are Movies, Musicals and Revivals Ruining Contemporary Theatre?”
Tables were dedicated to dozens of discussion topics that ranged from stem-cell research to “The New Testament as Literature” with moderators that included professors, community leaders, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Delano Lewis and Apollo 17 lunar module pilot and former U.S. Sen. Harrison Schmitt.
The evening, billed as a “chance to bring town and gown together,” according to Honors College assistant dean Jill Grammer, attracted 219 donors and raised over $50,000 for scholarships.
The event may be repeated every two years, or maybe even annually.
I say, the sooner the better.
In the meantime, it would be wonderful if some enterprising restaurant or coffee house could start up a mini-version of “Great Conversations” for lunch or brunch. I have fond memories of an Oregon Mensa group that hosted an informal drop-in luncheon at an interesting old Portland hotel. If I remember right, it was either monthly or weekly and there was a semi-official topic or two that served as a springboard for some amazing notions and great conversation.
There’s something inspiring, in an era of soundbites, text messaging, and interesting but impersonal blogging, about going somewhere with the express purpose of having a profound conversation with one’s fellow beings. Could it be a concept whose time has come — or returned?
¡Viva great conversations!
+ + +
Thanks to those of you who wrote in response to a recent column item with a suggestion from Jerry Harrell that we send cards to recovering soldiers. Unfortunately, the address sent by Jerry and others is not valid because mail will not be delivered to unnamed soldiers, due to security issues.
Several of you sent suggestions for remembering our servicemen and women during the holidays.
Frequently recommended is the USO. Their current mission is to bring cheer to those serving on the front lines, “To make sure all 170,000 of these courageous men and women, who won’t be ‘home for the holidays,’ know they have not been forgotten.”
To make a donation, or learn more, visit
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at


These ideas come from Barbara Kewley, wgo writes:
Today, I went to the official "Walter Reed Army
Medical Center" website, & under "Cards for Wounded
Warriors", this is what I found:

Support A Recovering American Soldier

Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials want to
remind those individuals who want to show their
appreciation through mail to include packages,
letters, and holiday cards addressed to "Any Wounded
Soldier" or "A Recovering American Soldier" that
Walter Reed cannot accept these packages in support of
the decision by then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense
for Transportation Policy in 2001. This decision was
made to ensure the safety and well being of patients
and staff at medical centers throughout the Department
of Defense.
In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is no longer
accepting "Any Service Member" or "A Recovering
American Soldier" letters or packages. Mail to "Any
Service Member" that is deposited into a collection
box will not be delivered.
Instead of sending an “Any Wounded Soldier” letter or
package to Walter Reed, please consider making a
donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit
organizations dedicated to helping our troops and
their families listed on the "America Supports You"
Other organizations that offer means of showing your
support for our troops or assist wounded
servicemembers and their families include: For individuals without
computer access, your local military installation, the
local National Guard or military reserve unit in your
area may offer the best alternative to show your
support to our returning troops and their families.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center will continue to
receive process and deliver all mail that is addressed
to a specific individual. As Walter Reed continues to
enhance the medical care and processes for our
returning service members, it must also must keep our
patients and staff members safe while following
Department of Defense policy. The outpouring of
encouragement from the general public, corporate
America and civic groups throughout the past year has
been incredible. Our Warriors in Transition are amazed
at the thanks and support they receive from their