Belen Balloon Festival 2018

We’ve lived in Belen long enough now that we can say we’ve been to two March Belen Balloon Festivals. It was a warm March morning – we ate a quick bacon breakfast burrito smothered in green chile at Rita’s then headed to Eagle Park where the festival is held each third weekend in March.

I’m sure there were more balloons this year than last. The festival draws a lot of early risers – the Park was full of people – balloon festivals are early morning affairs – the cool air enables the hot air balloons to have maximum lift and the morning calm air makes for perfect conditions out here in the high desert.

We live in an amazing and good world. I might not have that impression if I spent my life inside reading about the world on my computer news and Facebook feed. There is plenty of evil by all accounts – the violence, injustice, and the political wrangling sadden us all – there is much work for all of us to do to help those who suffer from it all. In spite of all that, when we get out in the world and experience the living that goes on all around us we are not engulfed with evil. Quite the contrary – we see a world with smiling faces – with people who go to work each day and raise families and care about good and who get up early and head to the town park with children in tow to share in community – we see a park full of brightly colored balloons owned by people mostly like the rest of us with a passion for floating above it all in an enchanted place we call the high desert.

There is a passage in Luke 10 that speaks to the way we measure the important things in life and how we react to understanding an approach to life that emphasizes them.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ ” Luke 10:38–42 (NIV)

It might be that as ordinary people we should not let the reports of evil and the wringing of hands that goes with it distract us from the living of a daily life showing respect and love to all. It might be that indeed there is only one thing needed. God has left the world a message that centers on living lives that love neighbors. Part of that loving might just be getting up early on a March morning and joining community, smiling and enjoying a bunch of brightly colored balloons rising above a town park on an enchanted high desert floor.

 

Matanza – 1/27/2018

Matanza is the name given to a Valencia County festival held in our town of Belen annually the last Saturday in January. It’s a big deal each year with thousands who attend. It’s a heritage type festival sponsored by the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County. Matanza translates into English as “slaughter”. The festival is so named because it remembers the rural tradition of an annual family gathering where a pig was slaughtered, and pit roasted for a day of feasting and celebration.

Jessica, Joe and Noah drove down from Pagosa Springs and we got up early Saturday morning hoping to beat the rush of the big crowds for the festivities. The morning temperature was brisk on this January morning, but this almost perpetual sun we enjoy on the high desert, and the red chile I began consuming immediately kept me comfortable in only a light jacket. The event features teams who are all provided whole hogs which they pit roast and prepare in various traditional ways for the festival goers to eat and enjoy. There’s an entrance fee and then it is all you can eat after that. The gates open at 7:00 AM and the event concludes at 3:00 PM.

The girl with the backpack is Darlene waiting to move down the serving line.

There were 18 teams entered this year spread across the row of tents you see in Eagle Park in Belen. The team members assemble the night before and tend to the roasting and preparation through the night. When we arrived at 8:30 AM they were just beginning to start serving the feast. I don’t know of a bigger word to use, but when I say feast I’m understating what we were fed Saturday morning. Each of the teams offer pretty much a full meal – I wanted to sample from a lot of the teams, so I had to tell each of the servers in the lines to hold back on portions and some of the items they offered. There was roasted pulled pork, carne adovada, sausage, pork chops, chicharones, stewed red chile pork and more I’m not remembering, served with fresh tortillas, red chile corn pancakes, red chile, papacitas, and beans. The volunteer servers standing behind their pans of offerings were all smiling and enjoying the steady lines of those wanting more and more to eat.

I would get a plate and then go sit down in a chair by the band that was playing and eat and then go back and repeat. I got stuffed, but enjoyed it all so much. There was a mariachi band playing when we first arrived and then a schedule of rock and roll bands the rest of the day.

It’s a day that is all about preparing and eating pork.

The two pictures above are taken of the team working areas behind where the festival goers access the food serving tents. You can see there are lots of volunteers working which make this event possible. They get a big thank-you from me.

New Mexico enjoys a significant population of several different cultures who all combine to make this the land of enchantment. Those cultures blend and merge in a way that at least in the circles I travel, become seamless and virtually invisible to our day by day life. I love living here in the mix of it all. It’s great that some of those cultural traditions are remembered and celebrated in events like this. We left about 11:00 AM – our bellies full – passing long lines of cars going the other directions waiting to enter. We wanted to get in a round of golf to finish off the day. I’m already marking my calendar for next year.

I haven’t bothered the blog readers with a picture of a sunset in a while. This one from the fairway behind our back patio a couple nights ago. It is the land of sunsets here. Many, many nights they are photograph worthy. So many we start taking them for granted. The evenings will warm enough beginning sometime in February to just sit out as darkness falls. Creation with all its wonders blesses abundantly.

Christmas Time

I love the holidays. Thanksgiving is always my favorite day of the year and Christmas is a close second. This year Jessica, Joe and Noah were with us for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. We ate a great smoked turkey, shopped, golfed and even got a new garbage disposal installed.

We’re planning to travel to Pagosa Springs for Christmas and then up to Grand Junction for New Years. We’ll be able to spend time with all of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren except for Aaron, Christine and Aria who are back in Vermont. So, my thoughts are on crowded living rooms, the opening of presents, a prime rib roast, eggnog, smiles and laughter, visits to our old church congregations in Pagosa and Junction, a winter drive over Red Mountain Pass, Christmas carols on the radio, and houses lighted up with inflated Santa Clauses and reindeer on the lawn.

Darlene got the tree and decorations out and put up in the house a few days ago. They look great. We’ve gotten quite a bit of the shopping done – mostly on Amazon. I’m already enjoying my Christmas present – a new recliner we got on a Black Friday special on an early morning drive to Albuquerque while our Thanksgiving weekend guests slept in.

Darlene’s been collecting Santa Clauses for a few years now. She adds one or two to the collection most years. I’ve been thinking about Mom’s plum pudding she used to make every year for Christmas dinner dessert. Mom’s version was so rich – decadent – I used to pile twice as much whipped cream on it as everyone else – my mouth is watering thinking about it. Jessica found her recipe in some of her old things. I have to find suet somewhere that the recipe calls for – in our modern health conscious society it’s difficult to find in grocery stores.

Remember those old porcelain Christmas trees that everyone had that were a rage back in ancient history. We had one that Darlene’s Mom and Dad made for us years and years ago. They had a kiln and for a few years made porcelain things as a hobby long ago. It was a treasure to us, but it got broken in one of the later moves we’ve made around the country. We rescued this one from my Mom’s things when she passed. Our lives are blessed by memories of those who are no longer with us. Christmastime produces many of those memories for us.

Peace on earth and good will to men is a phrase we hear often at Christmastime. It’s associated with things said by prophets and angels and with promises and hope that is in Jesus Christ. I’m a believer in Jesus and active in a church congregation who follows Jesus. It is a good group of people. Many of my friends are either not believers or not active in religion. For them I hope the holidays are a joy just like they are for me – the Christians I know don’t desire it be an exclusive celebration – Christians only – of the holidays. I know for many of those who do not believe that the holidays are a joy. Everyone I know believes that peace on earth and good will to men would be a beautiful thing that we have experienced too little of. Regardless of situations present or the history of ways humans have treated each other – we must not let a pragmatic view of past failure in peace and good will take hold and diminish our ideals and dreams. The bustle of activity and smiles and decorations and carols and gift-giving and benevolence and anticipation of plum pudding demonstrated during the holidays are a taste of the good that can be. So, let me wish all of you peace on earth and good will – believers and non-believers – may we join in making good will and peace multiply and prosper. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Super Moon

The sight of the moon always brings a halt to whatever I’m doing. It doesn’t matter whether it is a tiny crescent or a super moon like last night. The sight of the moon always grabs my attention. As I drove home from church services last night the super moon was in full view just a little above the horizon of the mountains to the east – it shined brightly through the middle of my car windshield. I mostly wanted to watch it rather than the road as I drove. There were fluffy clouds in the eastern sky along with the moon – clouds that were 3 dimensional, even at night, in the brightness that the moon cast on the sky and the landscape below. The clouds would drift over the moon momentarily obscuring the brightness and then move away again – not to be dramatic – but I wish I was better at describing the beauty and awe I felt from that scene.

I was up as usual before sunrise this morning. I opened the blinds in the sunroom with their view of the western sky and there in full view was that same super moon that had grabbed my attention last night. I took these pictures just before sunrise. I’ve tried for years to take pictures that reflect the beauty of the moon – have always failed – these fail also, but I’ll add them to the post just as a way to aid the sharing of my thoughts.

Both last night’s and this morning’s moon were noticeably brighter than usual. They call it a super moon – it is the only one occurring in 2017. Science tries to explain the extra brightness of the super moon, but for me moons are not special because of the physics involved. Something about them not only grabs the focus of my attention, but also creates in me a sense of wonder and mystery. Not mystery in a negative sense, but in a sense that in the wonder there is being disclosed something about the reality of this creation we live in. I’ve always believed we see and can understand some things about the creator from the creation. There is a measure of joy that attaches to watching the moon in the sky and there is even a feeling of hope that comes over me. You can call that romanticism if you want, but for me the wonder and mystery and joy and hope is not matter-of-fact, but overtly pervasive in its message. Even though in 70 years I’ve watched the moon in its stages and quite a few super moons over and over again in clear western skies. Those same inescapable feelings each time always arise.

Our individual existences are so very miniscule in comparison to the operation of the universe – it is laughable that we each get so full of ourselves, and act out a life within the universe giving the impression we believe the universe revolves around us. It is my inclination day by day to measure each thing that happens – both in my little life and in the world at large – in terms of my own interests – as if my interests are those that keep creation moving along. Staring out at the moon – witnessing the wonder and awe of it restores the sense of the reality of my smallness and insignificance in it all. In all of its glory the moon rules the darkness of the night, but only because it reflects the brightness and power of the sun of the day. The moon is so small and powerless compared to the sun, and yet it takes over and is the source of wonder as it shines in the night. A life is like that in many ways – it can only shine with the impact of a moon’s light when it reflects the goodness of the Creator of all good. This moon that is so successful at grabbing my attention – the moon in its wonder and awe and even mystery has power even though it is just a reflection of another’s light. And so, even as it reminds me of my smallness and insignificance within the creation; its shining in the night manifests that the Creator put it there with purpose, and at the same time put me here with purpose. This super moon in all its brightness and glory helps me realize, that even though tiny and weak, there is a reason for my being here. And though creation certainly does not revolve around me, it gives affirmation to a hope that a life can have impact that matters some in fulfilling the purpose of our Creator.

generations

It has been nearly two years since Mom passed and nearly 30 since Dad passed. I took some flowers by their gravesites in Palisade, CO when we visited the Grand Junction area last week.

Mom and Dad are more than memories to me. They were both a force in my life during all those years that formed much about the way I see life and the values I hold to this day which is some 50 years after moving away from home. We were in Grand Junction, CO to see our new great-granddaughter, Madison Alan who was born just two weeks earlier. Her birth was a joy to me – her mother, Ashley had told us she was pregnant in July. She and the father, Matt had just bought a home in June. Maddie’s birth made us a four-generation family again. Her birth has made me reflect some on what it means to think about generations in a family.

You can see in the photo our granddaughter, Ashley and son, Matthew – grandpa holding the baby – and, of course, Darlene and I. We live varied lives from our son and granddaughter, and living 420 miles apart means we see each other only several times each year. Still I feel a strong bond with each of them. We keep up with much of what is going on in each other’s worlds. I sense a joy for us in them whenever we visit, and seeing and spending a little time certainly brings joy to me. It feels like family being with them which is such a blessing to me.

Ashley was born nine years or so after her great-grandfather (my Dad) passed away. She only knows him from a gravestone and from what is reflected of him in me. I held Ashley in my arms twenty years ago on the day she was born. I remember it well – she was tiny – about the same size as little Maddie. She was our second grandchild – I loved her with all my heart – the feeling was just the same a few days ago holding Maddie for the first time.

I wish I could see Maddie often and interact with her on a regular basis – I wish I could exert an influence in an ongoing way for everything that would be good in her life. Those wishes are unlikely to come true to a great extent – I’m too far away – and it is only right that Ashley and her Dad and her grandfather Matthew, in a lesser sense, be the ones who shape her life in the ways they see best. Still, I hope and pray things for her: that she will always be treated with respect – that she will know a sense of joy and a zest for life – that she will know who she is, and in that feel a confidence in her own abilities, mellowed by a humility of spirit – that she will be encouraged to make and live by a decision about faith in her Creator and in her Savior – that she will be blessed with all the necessities of life, but neither be too rich to forget the value of her daily bread or too poor to enjoy earth’s bounty – that she will learn that her security is not found in stored wealth, but rather is found in a certainty of eternity – that she will learn the richness of being a blessing to others – that she will shun cynicism, rather believing that good will overcome evil – that she will always feel loved and learn that out of love sacrifice is never in vain – that she will learn to serve others with the same zeal she feels in serving herself – that she will learn the wisdom of patience – that she will learn to accept responsibility for herself and those dependent upon her – that she will come to understand that only in action borne out of idealism anchored in good does mankind make things better for itself – that she will learn the value of knowledge and education, and yet understand their worthlessness unless connected with experience – and that she will be blessed in her old age with generations of family who love and honor and appreciate and care for her.

I saw Maddie quite a lot over the course of three days last week. I watched closely as Ashley and Matt reacted to her and cared for her. The love between them for Maddie was obvious and beautiful. Ashley and Matt want the best for her just like I do. They are blessed to have a child that will thrive from love – and Maddie is blessed to have a mom and a dad committed to provide that love. It’s a wonderful thing to know that another generation is in good hands – in just as good hands as I was so long ago in the hands of the mom and dad that on this earth are represented now only by gravestones and precious memories.

Generations – the faces continually change – old age replaced by new life – yet if generations embrace those things which are good, so much stays the same. The things I want for Maddie – the list that I made – is much the same as the list that grandfather, Matthew would make – is much the same as the list that Ashley and Matt would make – is much the same as the list that Maddie will make for her first child – a child that will be a new generation – a child that likely will never know a great-great-grandfather. Yet she can be a child shaped by an understanding of good that in its timelessness creates a destiny that isn’t much different than the one created for me, or the one that long ago was created for my great-grandfather. As much as the face of the world evolves and changes the tenets that mankind holds on to which are in their essence good are as timeless as eternity itself. There is peace for me thinking about Maddie’s future that such an understanding brings. As crazy as the history of the world has been and as crazy as it might become, the good have and always will thrive and survive – it is a timeless principle established and maintained by a creator who has a purpose for all generations. It is a principle worthy of reverence which leaves both me and a great-granddaughter secure in hope.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

ALL ABOARD.

Saturday morning at 5:15 AM we boarded the Rail Runner transit train at its southernmost station in our town of Belen to ride to Albuquerque for the annual Balloon Fiesta celebration. The Rail Runner transit train was built about 10 years ago – it runs from Belen ninety-seven miles north through Albuquerque and ends in Santa Fe. It runs 7 days a week and makes 4 full length round trips each day except for Sunday with 3 round trips. A trip from Belen to Santa Fe takes from 2 ¼ to 2 ½ hours. It’s a really good service – the seating, appearance and cleanliness are nice. A senior full day pass to Albuquerque is only $2 and to Santa Fe $8. The gasoline for us to drive to Albuquerque and back is $7 – it’s a bargain. It was our first trip on the train – we’ll find uses for it again. A shuttle bus service picked us up at the stop in Albuquerque and delivered us inside the Fiesta Park for the Balloon Festival.

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has been held each year for over 40 years and is the largest balloon festival in the world. It’s held beginning the first full weekend in October, runs for 9 days and draws visitors from everywhere. Saturday morning’s weather was perfect with clear, sunny skies and only a little breeze.

The Fiesta Park is full of vendors and we picked up a breakfast burrito and cup of coffee on arrival – the burrito was yummy with bacon, eggs, potatoes and a side of green chile to add to each bite. The huge grass field where the balloons launch allows full access to all, and so it is jam packed with people in and around all the balloons. The field is 78 acres and over 500 balloons find a way to fit into it and launch on Saturday’s opening morning. It’s a fiesta in the grandest tradition, and the mood is festive and alive with excitement. Beginning first light the mass ascension begins with balloons launching in waves from the field over the next 2 hours.

Maybe you can see from the picture the mass of people down on the field with the balloons. We brought camp chairs and set up on a wide walkway that connected the field with the huge RV campsite on a mesa above the field giving us a vantage point to take pictures.

I wish I could convey the wonder of the colors in the bright, morning, Albuquerque sunshine. I guess if you asked me what the neatest thing about balloons is I would answer the colors. As the balloons multiply into the sky the colors create an awe in the head that can’t be explained. You can see the moon is still showing in the morning light. I guess it is the harvest moon. It’s been huge – it was full a couple of nights ago – white and bright as it has risen early in the evening and then a yellow/gold tint before dawn in the morning as it is ready to sink below the western horizon.

The variety of caricatures made into balloons kept me chuckling to myself – from a mariachi player in a big sombrero to Darth Vader and Yoda. I suspect the cost of having a character balloon created is staggering. Some companies use it for advertising – you can see the Wells Fargo stagecoach – there was a big Dairyland cow and a huge Kawasaki motorcycle. None of those three left the ground – probably touchy to fly and maneuver a landing unless the air was completely calm.

The Balloon Fiesta is a great event. For those of you who live far away it is worth a trip to see. We had driven down from Pagosa Springs, CO in 2005 to see the Saturday morning mass ascension. Last year we drove up and ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel and sat chairs out in their parking lot to watch for awhile. This is the first year we attended at the Fiesta Park. It’s a big crowd with the inconveniences and waiting that go with that – but worth it for us in a fun way – right now I’m thinking we’ll ride up again next year on the train and do it all over again – God willing.

Despite the tragedies that occur in this world brought by a few evil hearts our fellowmen create wonders for us all over this planet – things that are amazing and that make us smile and which add a sense of adventure and joy to the living of life. God gave men and women that gift for our wholesome pleasure, and it is good we take advantage of opportunities for something like a fiesta. It helps us appreciate each other and smile at each other and escape the work-a-day routine. Saturday was a day of not only smiles from watching balloons, but also a sense of kinship with the world of people at large as I watched families with children small and nearly grown sharing a day of joy with each other. On balance we live in a world created with the potential for common good and joy – a fiesta day shows that in the best of ways.

green chiles

New Mexico is the center of the world for green chile production. Hatch, New Mexico in the southern part of the state along the I-25 corridor is synonymous wth the crop, but they are grown throughout the state. One of the respected growers is Sichler Farms which operates in San Antonio, NM which is about 60 miles south of our home in Belen. The harvest is in full mode on Labor Day weekend. Jessica, Joe and Noah drove down to spend the holiday weekend with us. We headed south to the Sichler Farm public farm store Saturday after breakfast to get our year’s supply of green chiles. They freeze really well. Noah just got his drivers license – he drove us down and back in the van – he’s a good driver – at least when his grandfather is in the van – lol.

Darlene and I got a gunny sack full of mild chiles – Jessica and Joe got one of mild and one medium. All of the sales outlets for chiles have propane roasters and they take your gunny sack full and roast them for you which allows them to be easily skinned leaving the meat of the pepper. The skins are tough and do not cook tender. The roaster in the picture has our gunny sack of chiles in it. This is a banner year for chile farmers – the peppers are big and thick meated. We bring them home and bag them in quart freezer bags – six or so chiles to a bag. We eat them cooked in and on everything in New Mexico – burgers, eggs, casseroles, stew, salsa, pasta, burritos – they are good on everything and are a culinary icon in New Mexico.

The little settlement of San Antonio has a bonus going for it – two of the most famous places in the world to get a burger – and specifically a green chile, cheese burger – the Buckhorn Tavern on one side of the highway and the Owl Café on the other. We chose the Buckhorn Tavern this trip. Bobby Flay traveled there a few years back for a green chile, cheese burger throwdown with the owner – the Buckhorn Tavern won. This was the first visit there for Darlene and I.

We waited 45 minutes to get a table this Saturday at 2:00 PM. The owner was sitting out front jaw-boning with customers as we walked up. The wait was worth it – the burgers are big and juicy – the green chiles and cheese and a tomato slice are the perfect addition – the hand cut, crisp French fries are the perfect side. We drove the 60 miles back home full and satisfied with that special, sweet, roasted green chile aroma filling the van.

It’s a great start to this holiday weekend. Tomorrow we’ll go to worship together – grab some lunch and then maybe play a round of golf. We trust in God rather days bring joy or sorrow – this day is one of many with lots of joy.