Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why I love New Mexico (besides the fact that they have the coolest state flag)

To my oldest daughter,

First, it is easy to research a state and not be too impressed even when you should be: 

  When you research a state or country or culture or car or anything you need to find out not just facts, but the right facts, the most important facts, the things about a place that really matter to the average person.  Anyway, I think that is why I’ve taken such an interest in the New Mexico report.  I loved living in New Mexico and I want you to not only know about New Mexico, but to be proud of it as it is definitely a stand-out, unique state.  There is no other state that is like it.  I want you to be able to talk about it in a way that makes the younger kids want to pick New Mexico for their state when they are in fifth grade or wish they were born there.  So what is it about New Mexico that matters to almost everyone?  Well food is a big one.  New Mexican food is different than anywhere else in the world, it centers around chili, especially roasted green chili.  You can get green chili on anything there, it is an option on every menu in every restaurant, for breakfast lunch and dinner.  If you get invited to dinner or a potluck, half the dishes have green chili.  I didn’t think I liked green chili when I lived there, but I did absolutely love the smell of green chili roasting outside the grocery stores in the fall.  Everyone loves that smell in New Mexico.  When someone says New Mexico, I salivate, no kidding.  When we drive through New Mexico, visions of green chili food items dance through my head.  Yes, I thought I didn’t like green chili, but I was wrong, somewhere along the line I developed a taste for it and I would eat it in a house with a mouse or on a train in the rain, or here or there, or anywhere!  Actually in new mexico you always get a choice between green chili and red chili and if you can’t decide you just order “Christmas” (red and green) I usually order red if there is a choice, but I love both and that’s why you have to eat it three meals a day.  I asked the missionaries if they got green chili at the members houses and they said “yes, almost every night!”  I know at ward potlucks 50% of the fare usually had chili in it.

Okay the next thing I think of is that New Mexico is an artisan state.  There are states with artists in them, certainly New York and California, but its nothing like New Mexico.  There is this unique New Mexican art and it is everywhere.  If you’re looking for something to do, you are going to end up in an art gallery before too long because they are everywhere and that is what they do in New Mexico.  If you go to the state fair, there are not so many rabbits and chickens.  No, rather it is huge art displays from local artists on all different levels of skill that go on and on, painting, jewelry, weaving, metal work, ceramic…and the entertainment is all this amazing dance from the pueblos with beautiful ornate costumes.  The atmosphere is so different from the State fairs I’m used to for Utah, Oklahoma, and Idaho.  I think the state nickname “Land of Enchantment” fits perfectly because the art there has an enchanting type of quality.  It has its own genre for sure.  When I moved I thought the nickname referred to the landscape, but now I know that it is definitely the state culture that is enchanting.  It has that mystical native American quality.  I love it.  Another enchanting thing is the luminarios at Christmas.  It is a southwest thing, it is painstaking to lay out each little candle in its brown paper bag one after another until you’ve surrounded a whole building and light them, but the end effect is so beautiful and …enchanting.  In recent years electric luminarias have become popular and I’ve seen them around here, but electric luminarias aren’t enchanting, neither are milk jug luminarias.  They are cool, but the old fashion luminarias are way better.  Old Town Albuquerque does a huge luminaria festival every Christmas.  Google it sometime for pictures, it is fantastic.  I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just my own opinion that New Mexico was the most artistic state in the country so I googled “states with most artists” and the first hit was an article by an online journal, The Atlantic Cities, titled “the most artistic cities in America.  Guess what city ranked #1?  Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Yep, any true art lover ought to plan a trip to New Mexico some day.

Another thing people ought to always remember about New Mexico are the balloons.  Albuquerque is the hot air balloon capitol of the world because of a unique weather pattern that often allows balloonists to start a balloon trip flying one direction and then use air currents at a different altitude to go back the direction they came from.  Lot’s of places have balloon festivals, but every day was a balloon festival in Albuquerque and it just never got old.  I loved watching them dot the sky every single day of the year and it always seemed magical when one landed in your backyard (I usually don’t like strangers in my backyard, but if they are in a balloon all is forgiven.)  Mid October is the major balloon festival, it is crazy busy in Albuquerque that time of year.

Few outsiders realize Albuquerque, New Mexico is a high altitude city.  It has a beautiful mountain range running parallel to the city just like the Wasatch front in Utah, because it is farther south however, the weather is more mild than Utah.  People always assume New Mexico is hot because it is a desert state, but not completely so. Much of the state is mountainous and very high altitude including the two big cities Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Albuquerque is hot but not too hot in the summer and cold but not too cold in the winter and the snow doesn’t stick!

Don’t forget New Mexico is the home of the National Boy Scout Ranch, Philmont.  The ultimate destination for scouters in the U.S.  I personally spent one of the happiest weeks of my life there.  It was amazing!  The backcountry was beautiful and can I say it again, enchanting!

I always forget the UFO folklore for New Mexico, because I never made it to Roswell, but that is HUGE!!!  Who isn’t just a little bit interested in UFO stories?  What adult has never watched at least one episode of X-files?  Its like the Loch Ness monster.  If you want to hear great myths and legends…or is it truth?  New Mexico is the state.  Proud location of Area 51!  If UFO’s don’t excite you there is always the Trinity nuclear test site, the location of the world’s first nuclear detonation.  The explosion produced the power of about 20 kilotons of TNT!  I wouldn’t say New Mexico is proud of its nuclear weapon development history although they did name their Triple-A baseball “The Isotopes” after an episode of The Simpson’s poked fun at the infamy of being the home of nuclear weapons.  New Mexica doesn't have any profession sports teams, so the Isotopes is the big professional team there.  Let me say again nuclear weapons is not a pride thing, but Los Alamos Lab of National Security Science is a huge employer and has a big mysterious presence to contribute to the state just like the UFO’s.

One final thing that will never make headlines, but that I can’t be happy enough about was that New Mexico was one of the most progressive states for midwives.  They have a terrible health system and doctors don’t want to practice there, so to meet demands, there are many certified nurse midwives instead and they are given more freedom to practice as they see fit.  Some of the most pre-eminent Nurse Midwife educators in the country are from New Mexico.  When I was first pregnant, I wanted to have a gentle natural birth in a hospital and when I started researching I noticed that California and New Mexico were about the only states where certified nurse midwives had general acceptance.  Much has changed in the last 13 years, but I was so grateful back then to find out that I was living in the right place for a natural birth.  I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about people trying to have a natural birth in hospitals, but in Albuquerque they subsidized doula services so everyone could have one for almost nothing.  They WANT you to have a gentle natural birth if at all possible and they help you!  Also, they taught natural childbirth in the hospital birthing classes practically for free, which is UNHEARD of.  My prenatal care was exceptional, I’ve never heard of anything like it anywhere else.  When I moved back to Utah I remember the headline on the front page of the paper the day I got there was about how Utah had the highest C-section rate in the country, Ugh!  I found one office with midwives 30 minutes away, but they were under the direction of a doctor who knew nothing about midwifery and restricted their ability to promote safe natural birth with crazy rules and regulations.  Anyway, New Mexican midwives paved the way for certified nurse midwives nation-wide to gain acceptance.  I don’t know about other states, but the certified nurse midwives in Utah that no one had heard of seven years ago are soooooo busy now they simply can’t keep up with demand, their waiting rooms are over-flowing and they can't graduate new ones fast enough.  The public perception of midwives is rapidly changing.  Thanks to New Mexico (and small pockets of midwives in California).

Finally, for your report you had to choose a famous New Mexican and it was a bit hard to find one that had actually been born in the state.  You were afraid you'd have to dress up as an Alien or Smoky the Bear.  I kept trying to help by googling lists of famous persons born in New Mexico and it seemed like Demi Moore and John Denver were it, but you hadn't heard of either of them and neither of them seemed very New Mexican.  Then I started looking at lists of famous artists and came across Maria Martinez.  I knew since you love art and you've been spending a lot of time with modeling clay you would love learning about her.  She totally exemplified the entire spirit of the state because she changed the world with her art and she was a Native New Mexican born on a pueblo.  Maria's ceramic work changed the way ceramics were percieved world-wide.

"Learning to make pots as a child from her aunt, Tia Nicolasa, and beginning with clay dishes she made for her playhouse, Maria was known as a potter among her peers.  In 1908, Dr. Edgar Hewett,  New Mexico archaeologist and director of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, had excavated some 17th century black pottery shards  and, seeking to revive this type of pottery, Hewett was led to Maria. Through trial and error, Maria rediscovered the art of making black pottery. She found that smothering a cool fire with dried cow manure trapped the smoke, and that by using a special type of paint on top of a burnished surface, in combination with trapping the smoke and the low temperature of the fire resulted in turning a red-clay-pot black."  Brilliant discovery.

Maria and her husband created a significant demand for pottery as fine art where there hadn’t been one before.  She taught the technique to many of her grandchildren and people in her pueblo and gave them a skill that ultimately gave them more work, income, and prestige.  Yes people had bought ceramic dishes before, but her pottery was so eye-catching and glamorous that people wanted to put it on display and decorate with it.  She was invited to the White house four times, she received honorary doctorates from the University of Colorado and the University of New Mexico which are prestigious awards given by universities to persons who have made invaluable contributions to their area of expertise and society at large, she was also awarded a medal by the French Government for her contributions to the world of art, she was given her own display in a Smithsonian museum, and given the privelege of laying the cornerstone at the New York Rockefeller center. 

New Mexico is so unique and worth exploring.  Especially for anyone who loves chili, fine art, scouting, or is enchanted by hot air balloons, aliens, and nuclear weapons.  Thanks for giving me a chance to revisit my New Mexico Years!  Have fun at your State Fair on Friday.

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