+ I first learned about Día de los Muertos from a student I had in class circa 1997. She had the most beautiful name, and I've often wondered what happened to her (she only lived in Montana for a year or two).
+ In the spectrum of how one might react to sugar skull imagery, I fall far on the side of "this is amazing" vs. "this is totally creepy."
+ Until last week, I totally missed that marigolds are associated with Día de los Muertos. Marigolds are one of my favorite flowers, and we all decided that when it comes to observing traditions not our own, it's a lot easier to decorate our home with marigolds than it is to eat a cake with a plastic baby tucked inside. (Even though Gracie is skating on three lifetimes of good luck based on the amount of plastic babies she almost bit into in Louisiana)
+ However, I totally missed that this was happening on Sunday and I'm a little heartbroken about it, because !! GAH. My camera is a little heartbroken, too.
+ What we did instead: watched The Book of Life, which was surprisingly really good—we liked it very much.
+ This essay came across my Facebook feed on Sunday night, and it presented a point of view that is well worth the time to read.
We are nearing the four month mark of living in New Mexico, and people are starting to ask me more frequently how we like it. That answer is complicated. So, as with most complicated things, I will tell a story with photos instead.
Ellie and I headed out for our morning jaunt today and I spotted a hot air balloon a little closer than usual (there are usually at least 10 in the distance every morning). It got me thinking of how extreme Albuquerque is: mountains, blue skies, crisp fall air and hot air balloons but also senseless tragedy and violence. The last few days have been especially difficult for this city—a four year old girl was shot and killed in the vehicle she was riding in on the interstate by an aggressive driver in a road rage incident on Tuesday afternoon. Right at the exit we use multiple times a week. It is just so horrifyingly random. And then yesterday, a police officer was shot and remains in critical condition. It isn't just this week, though; I could rattle off a laundry list of frightening violent/fatal incidents that have occurred just in the four months we've lived here.
I already took 1000 photos of hot air balloons this month, but it's impossible to resist when they're floating over your head. The pilot called down to the women walking across the street to ask if there was a good place to land, and they pointed toward the park. Of course I had to hotfoot it over there to watch.
The balloon (Check Ride) landed in the street—just like that!—and the chase crew pulled up to swap out propane, I think. People started coming out of their houses: at least four in bathrobes and jammies, lots of little kids, an old man who ran over to tell the pilot that his daughter was on a chase crew and did she know her? People were smiling and pointing and taking pictures and generally breathing in the excitement that is a hot air balloon landing in the middle of the street at random.
One of the crew members handed me a trading card before they took off again, which I will designate as Ellie's card because she was completely and totally chill in the face of the balloon party and accompanying giant burner noises (this is a dog of intrigue and mystery, you may remember).
I didn't mean to keep taking pictures of it, but it kept following us around the neighborhood. I saw a high school-aged kid pulled over in his truck to watch, and a lot of slow-driving gawkers pointing and smiling. A man in an SUV pulled up and jumped out of his car to take pictures with his phone. He waved and shouted across the street to me: "You gotta love living in Albuquerque!" This gave me pause, because my heavy and fighting-back-the-fears heart does mostly love living here. There is so much character and personality and breathtaking scenery to explore; we've begun to find some of our people in the midst of the 550,000+ that live here; opportunities have presented themselves to all of us that wouldn't have been an option somewhere else. I told Melissa this morning that the weight of the silver linings is so heavy every place we've been: for everything we give up to move to the next place, we find something we didn't expect to find. Albuquerque, despite its heart-rending powerlessness in the face of so much bad news, is no different. I rail against the common sense notion that there is little to do about it except take a deep breath and do the best you can in your own corner, but in the end you can only do just that.
So yes. You gotta love living in Albuquerque, alright.
Balloon Fiesta wrapped up on Sunday morning—here's the last roundup of highlights!
Special Shapes Rodeo, Thursday Morning
Albuquerque Public Schools schedule fall break for Thursday and Friday of Balloon Fiesta, so Gracie, Bridget and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 3:45 am to head over for the Special Shapes Rodeo/mass ascension before they had gymnastics (Maddie slept in, Matt was traveling). Some 500 regularly shaped balloons were registered this year and a little over 100 special shapes balloons were registered. Some of them were flying last weekend, but there were a whole bunch we hadn't seen yet on Thursday morning.
We were wandering around after Dawn Patrol and headed toward El-Fonz, the first balloon to launch, when I happened to just casually look over my shoulder and realize Gracie, Bridget and I were accidentally heading up the Star Wars parade. We jumped about 17 feet in the air to get out of the way, which is why I think Princess Leia is giggling in this photo.
I spotted Buzzy Bee on the far south end of the field and we hot-footed it over there before it launched so we could get a match-match picture. We officially have an Angry Bee photo collection now, hee.
Saturday Night Glow: Camp Dillow-Karahalis, Fall 2015
The Karahalises joined us for the second weekend of Balloon Fiesta—I love when plans hatched seven months before work out! [Note: I feel we've lived seven years since March 2015, not just seven months... but I digress.] It was a beautiful afternoon and evening; because it was the last glow it seemed like there were 20x the people there, though.
Note to self for next year, if we're still here next year: bring a kite! That was a good idea. And possibly a football. I didn't notice the football untli I downloaded the pictures : )
I really need to make a list of all the places we've held Camp Dillow-Karahalis. These monkeys have done so much together in the last 12 years, from making paper-mâché sheep at the Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. to cheering on cowboys at Cheyenne Frontier Days to hot air balloons, with many adventures in between. I'm so happy to report they all six still get along marvelously.
The glow was way less haphazard and far more stunning than it was the first weekend, because the wind was much more cooperative. The owner of this balloon happened to catch the photo I posted of it on Instagram and commented, which was awfully fun! It's called "Lofty Idea."
Earlier in the evening I marched up to the Canon balloon and asked for my own trading card. #canonfangirl The laser show was fun and the fireworks immediately after even better. Canon stood up the whole show because it was their party and they didn't have to deflate if they didn't want to. We got home about 9:20 or so, and decided it was best to pretend we were all taking a nice nap vs. going to bed for real, because WHOO BOY 3:45 am for the third time in a week for some people was not getting any easier. Nor was it easier for those doing it for the first time.
Sunday Morning Farewell Mass Ascension
These penguins were LOST in transit sometime between when they were shipped in August and the last weekend of Balloon Fiesta, all the way from Great Britain (along with one of the largest hot air balloons in the world, a pirate ship). Can you even imagine? I would be less than pleased. Especially when the shipping company sent them a confirmation that they had arrived in Albuquerque (they had not).
Having seen the inner-workings of Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2010, 2011, and 2012, I know how much work goes into this kind of mostly-volunteer run event. Thank you to Balloon Fiesta for all the hard work. I will figure out something else to do with the other 1000 pictures I took besides posting them here : )
Let me start by saying that setting one's alarm for 3:45 am is no joke. It makes it hard to go to sleep, because part of your brain is screaming "THAT'S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!" before you even close your eyes. Which it is, of course. But word on the street indicated that leaving later than 4:15 am was leaving too late. The morning sessions events aren't scheduled to really get going until 6:00 am, but when you factor in the tens of thousands of sleepy people wrangling for parking spots, it's wise to show up as early as possible. So we did.
Corn dogs for breakfast at 5:34 am were never considered, but we did briefly discuss ordering another funnel cake to split like we did on Saturday night. It has flour, right? In the end, we decided to pass, though.
There was a laser light show to keep people occupied while the Dawn Patrol balloons started setting up. We got tickled by this laser show, because we misunderstood its orientation the night before (read: were looking the wrong direction) and thought it was the lamest laser light show ever. Heh. It was actually pretty good.
We entered the field in exactly the right spot to have a good look at what was going on in the dark. Each morning a select number of hot air balloons participate in the Dawn Patrol, which is a coordinated launch that helps determine the wind conditions (and looks really cool in the dark). We didn't get to see them fly, because there wasn't enough wind at all so the eight balloons participating on Sunday morning were grounded. This was bad news, as we assumed that probably meant the whole mass ascension wouldn't be happening, either. But here's something we learned: ballooning is an ever-changing proposition.
Here's a few of the Dawn Patrol balloons glowing; it was great to be so close as they were setting up, but I might try to back up for a wider perspective before they light their burners for the glow next time.
The mass ascension was delayed for quite a while and we were beginning to think it wasn't going to happen, which was a huge bummer considering how far Wendy and Jake came to attend. It was exceptionally cloudy but clouds aren't the problem—rather, a lack of wind aloft (it has to be at least 20 mph to fly safely). But suddenly the yellow flag changed to green, and the entire field literally started buzzing to life!
Balloons were inflating everywhere and I have never seen so many people with cameras. Canon says this is one of the most photographed events in the world—I'm not sure how they measure that but I don't think anyone would argue after looking around. It was amazing to be so close to the action, and everyone (remember, we're talking in the tens of thousands) was friendly. I only saw a few people get chased away by Zebras for being in the way.
The piranha hails from Brazil and was the funniest balloon we saw. Yes, that's a finger in its mouth. All the "special shapes" balloons have special flying events later in the week, but a few were out on Sunday, too.
The Zebras don't wear the same thing, but they are very clearly zebras. I'm curious how people work their way up to being launch officials in this capacity—are they like the CFD Heels of the Balloon Fiesta? (Luckily, I know a full-time Balloon Fiesta employee who I will ask all my burning questions... AFTER it's all over.)
Not all the pilot trading cards were restocked in time, but the girls still collected a big stack of them. This was definitely a highlight, and I so enjoyed chatting with some of the pilots while the launch was on hold. Gracie spotted one on the top of her stack after it launched—match match!
This is Mr. Bup! Mr. Bup is from Belgium, and it was so much fun to chat with the couple that owns him. They had their little baby with them, who looked less than impressed with the early hour and second balloon festival since arriving in the United States three weeks ago for a big visit. I learned that Belgium has about 300 hot air balloonists (not bad for a country of 11 million people) and boasts the oldest balloon festival in the world.
You can imagine these are huge crowd pleasers : ) More shapes on Thursday, when we set our alarms for 3:45 am again!
My Unfinished interview guest for October went missing, sigh... so change of plans: I will distract from this unfortunate turn of events with copious amounts of hot air balloon photos this week!
The biggest event of the year in Albuquerque kicked off this past weekend: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! I've been eagerly counting down the days, as I LOVE HOT AIR BALLOONS and it's been around 30 years since I've been to a hot air balloon event. This particular festival has been around since 1972, and has grown to be the largest balloon festival in the world; this means we have officially started a collection of "largest events in the world," seeing as how Cheyenne Frontier Days holds that honor for outdoor rodeos. It was fun to note the comparisons between the two even though the subject matter is so drastically different. I am working on selling the idea of saving up for a family hot air balloon ride while we're here—so far I've got 3/5 of the household on board : )
First up: Albuquerque Aloft and the Saturday night Glow!
While the dates are officially October 3-11, the unofficial kickoff happens on the Friday morning before with Albuquerque Aloft, where ballloonists launch from elementary schools all over Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. It is a really cool way to build excitement; a few hundred people attended at Gracie's and Bridget's school where two balloons launched. This is the tenth year of the program, and whoever thought of it was very clever.
I thought I would be very clever and decorate my camera bag with the special balloon pin I've had since the early 1980s when I went to the National Hot Air Balloon Races in Indianola, Iowa. At some point during the event it fell off, which I only discovered after all the hundreds of people were heading into the school and to the parking lots. I went back to look for it, but it was gone, gone, gone. There are so many more pressing problems in the world, I know... but to keep from bursting into tears about this I thought really hard about that ridiculously sad third Knufflebunny book and hoped some nice little girl would find it, pick it up, and make it hers for the next 35 years. SIGH.
Our plan was to attend the Saturday evening Glow first; we headed over shortly after the gates opened at 3:30 which gave us plenty of time to check things out. We hit the booths first—Canon is the big corporate sponsor, so their tent was especially impressive. I may have stomped my foot and thrown a little fit that I couldn't buy one of these lenses they had set up for checking out. Ha. Wendy could practically see Utah from one of these things!
Maddie and Gracie stood in line to participate in the Air National Guard physical fitness challenge and both walked away with their names on the leaderboard. The girl Gracie beat had her name on the leaderboard for about three minutes, because Gracie doesn't like to lose. Haha.
The officials on the field that help run the event are called Zebras! They're easy to spot, clearly. Here's my tip if you're new to attending: stop one of them and ask for all their best advice on where to go, what to look for, etc. We learned a lot from Shawn the Zebra, and would have missed out on a lot of the wandering around in the middle of the field had we not asked him about the best spots to be.
The crews start to unpack (from what looks like duffel bags!) the balloons at dusk, and roll them out to begin inflating them for the Glow. We decided it looked like hard work to be the person who wrangles the ropes and lifts up the balloon for the giant fans to fill. The idea is that they all inflate, and then count down to light them up all at once with their burners.
We were caught off guard that the countdown had happened—after talking to one of the pilots on Sunday morning, I guess the crews had a hard time getting their balloons to stand up because of wind conditions so it was a little more haphazard of a Glow than normal. But no matter, we still enjoyed it!
Part II tomorrow: a 3:45 am alarm for the Sunday mass ascension!
I am sitting on hundreds—possibly thousands—of photos I want to share, print, do something with... so instead of starting at the beginning I decided to tackle the most recent ones, because, logic. Or lack thereof. But we went to one of the most unique places we've ever been on Labor Day, so it seems like a good start! Kasha-Katuwe National Monument (also known as Tent Rocks) is less than 60 miles from our house; because I am a good pseudo-New Mexican, I follow a bunch of great tourism bureau-type Instagram accounts and the minute a photo from this place popped up I knew we had to go. Unfortunately, everyone in the entire state who wasn't already at the Mountain West Brewers Fest had the same idea, but we managed among all the people without any major meltdowns, which is something of a victory for anyone who knows the Dillows.
This place is truly surreal. President Clinton established it as a national monument in 2001. The name "Kasha-Katuwe" means white cliffs in the Keresan langage of the Pueblo de Cochiti, the native American people whose pueblo is adjacent to the monument. The rocks were formed some 6-7 million years ago via volcanic eruption from the Jemez volcanic field. According to the BLM:
[The eruptions] left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Over time, wind and water eroded these deposits, creating canyons and arroyos, scooping holes in the rock, and contouring the ends of small, inward-leading ravines into smooth semi-circular features. While fairly uniform in shape, the tent rocks vary in height from a few feet to 90 feet. Bands of gray are interspersed with beige and pink rock along the cliff faces.
Another way to put it: amazing.
We headed straight for the Slot Canyon trailhead, which is a winding trail through some very narrow, tall rocks—but later opens up into some fairly difficult rocky climbing before reaching the ridge. Bridget couldn't get enough of the climbing parts.
We learned the legend of Apache tears, which are tiny pieces of obsidian found everywhere along the trail. According to the legend, a group of Apache warriors ended up getting cornered without weapons on a ridge; instead of risking capture, they joined hands and jumped to their deaths. After learning what had happened, the Apache women's tears turned into these rocks. You can't take them out of the monument, so we took pictures instead.
It does us so much good to go exploring outside.