Saturday, December 31, 2005

Lights Around Town

About a week prior to Christmas, we visited -finally- for the first time, Albuquerque's River of Lights, an annual extravaganza put on at the BioPark. Years past we either put off visiting until it was too late, or opted out of visiting due to finger-numbing cold (like last year). At long last we made the drive down Rio Grande Boulevard to the Botanical Garden, which sits on the banks of the Rio Grande (the river, not the street). There all the trellises and buildings were festooned with incandescent luminosity. Decorative sunflowers, bumble-bees, humingbirds, a jumping cat and so much more - all created and ablaze, illuminating the dark, dry night. It was an amazingly beautiful display of electrical ingenuity.

We spent our last Christmas in New Mexico as we have so many others before during our nineteen years here- dinner in Old Town and then strolling around to see the glowy luminarias. Reflecting on the humble decorations, I think I love them because they're not showy or flashy but are, rather, simple and charming and give off a soft, comforting glow.

Cara missed out due to a nasty flu-bug, for which she was at home drinking hot toddies in a desperate quest to rid herself of the chest-tightening congestion and cough. The hot toddies were my mother's orders for a quick recovery; she is a firm believer in their medicinal properties. Cold and flu? Hot toddy will fix you right up. Got a headache? Hot toddy! Arm has been severed? Hot toddy! Cara became a statistic in the national headlines, "Flu Epidemic in the Southwest," which was really her loss because not only was the meal delicious, the luminaria stroll was the warmest we can ever recall. Unseasonably warm temperatures allowed us to meander much further than we have in recent years, all through the Country Club neighborhood as well as Old Town. (Last year we made cursory run through two streets of Old Town before we all agreed to head home, so frigid was the temperature.)

As we wandered we saw a bright glow from the general direction of Old Town. As we approached it turned into a blaze - and then we happened upon this example of Christmas lights gone mad. It looked like the Abominable Snowman ate Christmas and then vomited it up on this house. "You can go look inside!" a girl beckoned. "It's all decorated inside, too." We were too afraid of what Las Vegas-style yuletide abominations we might find so we fled, heading quickly back to the soft, simple glow of the luminarias.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mr. Jingaling

Because of the Christmas season, I've been receiving many hits on my blog from search engine quests for information on Mr. Jingaling. If you've hit my site looking this Cleveland icon, scroll down to the entry A Christmas Classic, where I pay homage to him and my memories of Christmases past. I hope you enjoy the stroll down memory lane. And if you have your own reminiscences of Mr. Jingaling (the Keeper of the Keys), of Higbee's, or other downtown Christmas traditions, feel free to share them in the comments section on that post.

Thanks for visiting 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. I wish you a very happy New Year!

2005 Valerie Schneider

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Going Postal

I've made several trips to the post office recently, mostly because the majority of our family lives elsewhere, forcing us to mail our goodwill and thoughtful gift packages far and wide. Five or six separate packages (I am losing count) are flinging their way to doorsteps across the midwest (and two to Italy).

Fortunately for me, the counter staff at the local post office is a friendly lot. Most of them have worked there since I moved to Corrales and know me by face if not by name. They chitchat about the weather, movies, or the busyness of the postal business this time of year. Chuck cracks silly jokes and makes me laugh. I don't mind the trip to the post, but I'm spoiled because in little Corrales there are rarely more than three people in line at a time.

Whether the packages fare so well is another matter. Last year it was truly with great faith that I used the postal system. After one package went astray never to be heard from again, I took my boxes to my accomodating sister who shipped them all DHL from her office. Alas, she no longer works there and is of no use to me this year. Last Christmas season, the postal system had glitches that resulted in packages being left in storage containers somewhere, and many of them not arriving to their destinations in a timely manner (a month to get across the country? Pony Express was faster!). This year, they recommended sending everything Priority Mail "just to be sure". Yeah, just to be sure they skinned me for a lot of money!

Friendly people aside, I've had issues with the US postal service. For one, we had an incident where our mail was stolen. For three days. During the time my passport was being renewed and expected any day. I frantically called the State Department to determine if my pasport had been sent out. Fortunately they had not yet gotten around to my renewal. It arrived two weeks later by regular post without any kind of tracking or signature required. For a passport! It turns out the contract employee they'd just hired had been stealing all the mail from three or four subdivisions for her husband to rifle through and steal identities. Brilliant thieves that they were, much of the mail (or at least the remains of it) was found in their home.

Further back in time, a few years after we moved to New Mexico, my grandmother wrote me a letter that was delivered more than a month after she sent it. It arrived battered and well-traveled in a plastic "we're sorry it's been ripped apart" envelope bearing markings from Mexico. Somehow it was routed to Old Mexico before arriving in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mom was indignant and complained about the "incompetent poops who don't know geography from..." well, you know.

So, a few years after that when she was sending a Christmas box of goodies that hadn't arrived after a few weeks, she was livid and stormed down to her post office in a rage, with a map in hand, telling them just how maladroit they were and then proceeded to give them a geography lesson on the difference between "NEW Mexico...which IS a state in the Union" and regular Mexico, "which is a country". They assured her they would do all they could to find the package. Days passed without any word on the whereabouts of the absent parcel. Not long after, my stepfather arrived home and asked my mom, "Uh, hon, what's that box in the trunk of the car? It's been there for weeks!" Yep, that's right. The box was never even mailed. I asked if she'd gone to the post office and apologized. "Are you kidding?" she replied. "I drove to Sandusky and mailed it from there!"

This year, without the DHL connection, I prayed fervantly that my packages would arrive safely and then deposited them into the hands of the Postal Service. They may just arrive at their destinations on time. If not, at least I had a congenial time at the post office mailing them off.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Christmas Classic

It's that time of year again. The feeling of Christmas is in the's the time of year when I want the comforting smell of pine wafting through the house; cookies baking in the oven; Christmas music - traditional and not-so-traditional as only my family can initiate into annual custom (what, every family doesn't play Wooly Bully as part of their yuletide chorus?); and, of course, A Christmas Story on TV.

Yes, that's right, that cult classic of a Christmas movie is my favorite. For those who may live in caves or who for some reason haven't yet seen this film, it's an off-beat tale of a midwestern family in the '40s told through the eyes of nine-year-old Ralphie, whose only wish is to receive a Red Ryder BB gun, and who is repeatedly told that with such a gift "you'll shoot your eye out". Witty and endearing, it portrays many aspects of childhood in the midwest that we, too, experienced.

On a more personal level, though, it shows some of my own childhood Christmas events, as the film, while purportedly taking place in Hammond, IN, was filmed in Cleveland. I grew up just an hour from there and no Christmas was complete without a trip downtown to see the glorious displays in the gigantic windows of Higbee's, Halle's and May Company. We bundled up, walked around and gazed upon the splendor of a bedecked city center as only children can- with stars filling our eyes as we took in the lights, the larger-than-life themed showiness on display, and then topped it off with a visit to Mr. Jingaling. Mr. Jingaling was, to me, better than Santa himself. He had gigantic keys which - you guessed it - jingled, he smiled, he was sweet and enthusiastic and knew how to connect with kids and make them feel at ease. He was like a favorite uncle you saw once a year, who couldn't wait to give you a hug, and loved to see your little, front-teeth-vacant smile. He was wonderful. And he was a Cleveland icon. (Appropriately, when he died a couple years ago, it was the day after Christmas.)

After, we indulged in a treat. Walking around the corner from Higbee's the heavenly aroma filled the air, wafting on a breeze across the street and beckoning our nostrils to follow it obediently, which we always did. Freshly roasted nuts...salty and warm and oh-so-delicious. I sometimes dream of that smell and mourn that I've not encountered it anywhere in the past 25 years.

If we were really lucky -or my mom had extra cash (a true Christmas miracle if ever I saw one!) we were treated to the ultimate indulgence - lunch at the Silver Grille at the top of Higbee's. This usually occurred if my grandma joined us and was paying for lunch; it was her favorite indulgence as well. This was a special place. It felt sophisticated, grown-up, but friendly and welcoming. You reached the restaurant by way of an elevator with a real, live operator inside who called out, "Tenth Floor, Silver Grille". It was an art deco room with glittery silver and cool greens and a square fountain in the center. Their treat to children: our meals were served on little plates tucked away inside metal stoves. It made dining out something fun and special. It was here that I first tasted such culinary delights as beef stroganoff and chicken a la king.

I don't remember actually doing any shopping on these excursions. It was all about the atmosphere, the twinkling lights, the parade, the tremendous tree in the lobby of the Terminal Tower. It was about community and interaction and tradition. How I miss those days. A chill in the air only contributed the sense of "something special", the spirit of the holidays. Is it any wonder I so dislike the modern shopping "experience" with it's sterile, climate-controlled, dull- flourescent, generic, homogenized, bland malls. It's no experience at all.

At least I can relive these memories annually through Ralphie's eyes and look at the scenes and think, "No, it wasn't a dream or a fairyland, it was real. It was just like that, and I was there." It was a wonderful time to be a kid, I think.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

About Mr. Jingaling