Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Week 7: Roller Derby

Here’s a quick quiz: “Whip It” makes you think of: a) the classic Devo song, or b) the Drew Barrymore movie. Last week, my answer would have been “a.” But not anymore. That’s right, friends – roller derby rocked my Saturday.

I didn’t know until about five minutes ago that roller derby has been around in one form or another since the original endurance races of the 1880s. My personal recollections date back to Raquel Welch skating her way through the early 1970s in the movie Kansas City Bomber. I never saw it, but I nonetheless grew up with the impression that roller derby = mean girls on skates.

So that’s what I was expecting when my husband and I joined some friends at O.D.’s Sports Crossing to watch the local Choice City Rebels (loving that name!) take on Greeley’s Slaughterhouse Derby Girls. Now, I’m pretty low-key in general. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t use the word “grrl.” Some days, the most adventurous thing I do is leave the house without sunscreen. In all honesty, I was afraid that roller derby would be too over-the-top for me. I don’t mind some campy showmanship, but let’s just say I’m no fan of WWE.

But roller derby has rules. (Thanks to derby girl Lynn, who explained them to us.) And referees. And penalties. When the bout started, it became apparent that these girls are not in it for show. My big surprise of the night was discovering that roller derby is not just about pushing and shoving—though there certainly is that. It requires teamwork, strategy, and speed. Watching the jammers thread their way through the jostling pack gave me a whole new appreciation for agility. And toughness. When the skaters fall, they often fall hard. Most of the time, they get right back up. Sometimes, they don’t, and EMTs are on hand to treat any injuries.

The bout consisted of two thirty-minute halves. The referees blew their whistles almost constantly, and I could only figure out why about twenty percent of the time. By the second half, though, I had a better understanding of what was going on—at least I knew who to cheer for and when. And it really was fun. A word of warning, however: the music is loud, and the skaters’ names can be a little racy. If your ears are sensitive to either, take along some earplugs.

Final score: Choice City Rebels 228, Slaughterhouse Derby Girls 91. Way to go, Rebs!

We sat in the Bootie Zone!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fort Collins Stories

This week’s story is an excerpt from “Talking About Fort Collins: Selections from Oral Histories,” a joint project of The Friends of the Library and the Local History Department of the Fort Collins Public Library (1992). It’s an amazing collection of recollections and photographs that truly capture the spirit of Fort Collins and its many changes over the years. Transcripts of oral histories can also be found online at the Fort Collins History Connection.

Ellen's story:
“When we first came to Fort Collins, in 1909, the population was less than 10,000. North College wasn’t paved, and right down in front of where Griffith’s used to have their cigar store on Linden, there was always a great big mud hole. We drove a horse and buggy, and sometimes you would hit that and the wheel would go down, and you’d think you were going to get stuck. They’d fill it in, and the next time it rained, why it’d be just as bad as ever. On the corner of LaPorte and College, where the Western Shop is, there used to be a livery barn. Then on down the street at Jefferson and College were what they called the City Corrals. They were barns and they rented out horses and buggies.

“The fire station was on Walnut Street—the only one they had. Those horses would run just as hard as they could; the minute the fire bell started ringing, they were ready to go. They had beautiful teams, and a fancy old fire engine, an old, old one. It was red. They nearly always had one of those coach dogs, or Dalmatians, a spotted dog that would ride up there with the driver. He was their mascot.

“When cars first came, a lot of people thought they were useless. For a long time there were horses and buggies and cars. You just drove wherever you wanted to—there were no stop signs or lanes of traffic. Streetcars rode down the middle, and you usually would drive on the right. You could turn around in the middle of the street—it didn’t make a bit of difference.”

--Ellen Michaud, 1974[Ellen Michaud (1893-1988) was born in Missouri. She was a practical nurse in Fort Collins for many years. (She was interviewed by Jill Boice.)]

Friday Mystery Photo:
Yes, that's me, taking a picture of myself. But where?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week 6: Visitors Centers

Travel is fun and full of adventure, but it can also be tiring, expensive, and rife with assorted inconveniences. After a day in the car—which more often than not includes bored and hungry boys, GPS-defying detours, the spilling of at least one sticky beverage, and fifty miles of one-lane cone zones—I appreciate seeing a friendly face. Having never been a tourist in Fort Collins, I wondered: in what way are travelers welcomed here?

The Colorado Welcome Center at Fort Collins is located just west of the Prospect Road/I-25 interchange. I had assumed that a Monday morning would be fairly slow, but when I got there around eleven, the guest book had already been signed by visitors from Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Germany, Kentucky, Washington, Iowa, South Dakota, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Pretty impressive.

Anyone unfamiliar with Colorado’s diversity would surely appreciate that the large state map on the wall is divided into regions, with the corresponding information easily accessible on a nearby rack. The rest of the visitor’s center is pretty standard: information desk, free coffee, a small retail area with books and touristy treasures. And brochures. Tons of brochures for dining, bicycling, hiking, fishing, history, shopping, maps, coupons, breweries. Outside, the welcome center also provides a fantastic view of the Front Range, a shady picnic area, and is adjacent to the Running Deer Natural Area—a great place for a stroll after a day of traveling.

The next day, I dropped in at the Downtown Visitors Information Center at 19 Old Town Square. It’s a much smaller space, shared with the Fort Collins Convention & Visitors Bureau. The vintage sporting equipment and Brewfest posters on the walls give it a great old town feel, as do the flowers and the fountain just a few steps away from the door. Unlike the Colorado Welcome Center, this is run by the city, not the state, and the brochures focus on the Fort Collins/Estes Park area. But there are plenty, and it’s also the place to purchase Downtown Fort Collins Gift Cards. (Because the next gift you give should be more fun than a bottle of wine, right?)

So, this week I discovered two hometown tourist centers—one on the edge of town, one at its heart. Both are staffed by friendly, knowledgeable folks (often volunteers) who happen to think we have a pretty amazing quality of life in Fort Collins. I concur. If I were a visitor, I would feel very welcomed in either place--especially after cleaning up a puddle of chocolate milk off the floor of my car. Stop by sometime when you’re looking for something to do, and tell your out-of-towners to do the same. Talk to the staffers, browse the brochures, and I guarantee you’ll be inspired.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Flowers

More from the CSU Annual Test Gardens. If you haven't visited yet, head over there before the weather...well, you know what's coming. Have a great weekend!

Finally, the Friday Mystery Photo
Where in Fort Collins was this picture taken?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Week 5: Retro Revival Home Tour

Good news, my fellow forty-somethings: we’re holding together pretty well. Yes, we’re starting to get those crazy eyebrow hairs, we discuss cholesterol in casual conversation, and there’s that whole unavoidable ‘reading glasses’ thing. But all in all, we’re wiser than we were in our twenties, and we still have a few years to go before AARP.

So, I was at first a little put-off that the Poudre Landmarks Foundation chose the Sheely Drive neighborhood for its 26th Annual Historic Homes Tour. For heaven’s sake, some of those houses are no older than I am. But I was won over by the idea of “Retro Revival.” Retro…it’s the cool without the kitsch, the timeless without the tacky. It’s Jackie Kennedy and a vodka gimlet. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of the show Mad Men (which I’ve never seen, but is now on my Netflix queue).

And, believe me, retro is alive and well on Sheely Drive.

The tour showcased six homes in the neighborhood, which received the “Sheely Drive Neighborhood Local Landmark District” designation in 2000. Photographs were not allowed, so close your eyes and imagine huge picture windows, open staircases, exposed-beam ceilings, abundant use of circular motifs, pastel bathtubs, and even an original General Electric wall-mount refrigerator. (But what about the shag carpeting? you ask. Not in these homes, bub.)

The surrounding area is no longer farmland, of course, but many of the homes still provide amazing views of Horsetooth and the foothills. The homeowners I talked to were incredibly gracious—you’d have to be to allow droves of strangers to tramp through your house in blue booties—and obviously value the character of their homes a great deal.

I wondered, as I drove away, why I felt so nostalgic over a trip down a memory lane I don’t even really remember. I decided it’s because nostalgia fixes us in time, which otherwise feels so fast and fluid. It lets us claim a little bit of ownership over something we consider worthy. It gives us a place to call home (unless, as in this case, it happens to be someone else’s home. Too bad for me.).

As a post-script to the Sheely Neighborhood, I toured the Block 700 Maple Street homes, which are By Design Homes’ fresh spin on Old Town living. These new constructions echo the modern sensibilities of the Sheely High-Ranch Style homes. While those homes reflected post-WWII prosperity, however, the Maple Street homes emphasize a new appreciation for minimalist efficiency. They’re open and stylish, without an inch of wasted space. I hope these homes are a sign of things to come. More “green,” less to clean. What’s not to love?

If you did the Retro Revival tour, I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts.

My dad had a 1966 T-Bird like this one

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Friday Trivia

I know you’re all polishing up your bios, and next week I’ll be inundated with fascinating Fort Collins Stories. In the meantime, just in case you’ve been losing sleep pondering this question, here’s the explanation for the names of the streets in and around Old Town (read the entire article at Fort Collins History Connection):

Most of the east-west or angled streets are named after trees or shrubs, including Pine, Linden, Chestnut, Willow, Walnut, Elm, Sycamore, Cherry, Maple, Oak, Olive, Magnolia, Myrtle, Laurel, Plum and Locust. The north-south streets are named after prominent residents of the time, including Sherwood (first judge), Mason (first sheriff), Remington (postmaster), Matthews (businessman, county clerk), Peterson (donated land for college), Whedbee (first mayor), Smith (first doctor), and Stover (banker).

Lincoln Avenue was named for President Lincoln, who signed the order establishing Camp Collins in 1864. Elizabeth Street was named for Elizabeth “Auntie” Stone, who ran the army mess hall, the first hotel, and the first school. (It’s the only east-west street named for a pioneer settler.) LaPorte Avenue is named for the original site of Camp Collins.

Happy Friday!

Friday Mystery Photo:

Where in Fort Collins was this picture taken:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Week 4: First Friday Galleries

I’ve never officially done the First Friday Gallery Walk, but I have visited most of the galleries at one time or another. Over the past few years, however, as the downtown arts scene has steadily expanded, I've fallen a little behind. So I decided to put together a personalized First Friday Mini-Tour.

My family and I made our first stop at Our Global Village Museum and Learning Center to check out their display of “Mystical, Mythical, and Magical Animals.” The gallery is off the beaten path, occupying a couple of rooms in a shared building at the corner of Mulberry and Mathews Streets. But there is a lot packed into those small rooms, and we had fun exploring the shelves and cases. The pieces come from three extensive private collections. Two of the collectors were at the gallery during our visit and took the time to share some of their stories.

This little museum/gallery has big aspirations. In 2009, the Global Village Museum was formed by the merger of the Mundovile Muesum and the entity formerly known as The Peace Corps Museum. This resulted in the donation of 4-6 million dollars worth of artifacts, many from retired Peace Corps Volunteers. The GVM folks plan to move into a larger facility, which will allow for expanded displays and greater educational opportunities. Check their website for hours and information about the founders’ vision. The current exhibition runs through November 30. It’s free, and it’s great for kids.

We then headed north, to the Center for Fine Art Photography and the public reception for their current exhibition, Black and White. Black and white photography is like my favorite kind of poetry: spare, clean, evocative, poignant. And deceptively difficult. (If you’ve ever tried it, you know what I mean.) Dried flowers, ice, sunlight on water, an empty staircase…without color, the subjects are reduced to their most basic elements of light, shadow, and texture. I plan to drop by and see this exhibition again before it closes September 25.

In the same building (at the corner of Willow and North College), we visited “Artists in Dreamland” at the Poudre River Arts Center’s main gallery. This exhibit showcases dream-themed art in the form of a “visual dream diary.” Each piece includes an explanation of the dream that inspired it, which was especially interesting to me in light of the dream I’d had the night before about being a passenger on an ill-fated airliner/cruise ship (in that strange way of dreams, it was apparently both at once). Some of the pieces are whimsical, some are dark, some are a little bit of everything, all of them are fascinating. This exhibit also closes September 25.

With the exception of First Fridays, the galleries are not open in the evenings, but they do have Saturday hours. As an additional enticement, the locally-owned f/stop cafe at the Center for Fine Art Photography serves up yummy things to eat and drink.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fort Collins Stories

Reader Story #3

Since the 80’s, my husband and I and our two children vacationed at our in-laws' house in Fort Collins. From there, we enjoyed all the great things in and around this town. Our children had the pleasure of staying longer during the summer visiting Grandma Jean and Grandad Herb. Granddad took pictures of them everywhere. We have quite an album of them at the Sweatsville Zoo, to simply standing at the deli at Albertsons.

In August 1999, we decided the time seemed right to try and sell our house and move to the place we’ve always wanted to live. We didn’t have jobs waiting for us; we simply figured if the house sells, it’s time to go. It sold in 6 hours. We packed and were gone in 3 weeks. I lived with my in-laws while our children (then 13 and 17) started school. My husband kept his job in Illinois, traveling back and forth for 6 months. It was challenging, but exciting. We made it! I jokingly said, “It took us 20 years, but we finally got here!”

At first, it was a little challenging. We knew our favorite restaurants, movie theaters, parks and places to play, but it was an adjustment to daily living. Going to school, work, and grocery stores was not part of our activities while here on vacation. But, we’d look up at the Horsetooth rock and pinch ourselves that we were really here! We now called this place home. Life was great.

Within six weeks, I found a job, and settled in. I often heard my co-workers use the phrase “quality of life”. It was important that our work place be close to home. Bike riding, outdoor activities, even our pets are very important for our overall health and happiness. I liked that. I appreciate these values.

Another thing that is important to people of FC is education. Just this week, Fort Collins was recognized with another achievement. We are ranked #14 among the “Brainiest Cities”. This is a town of smart people, I see it every day. I work with engineers and they amaze me.

With all this knowledge, culture, love of family, diversity, and growth of the city, we must remember change is inevitable. If we embrace and respect this fact, I think Fort Collins will continue to be better than ever. Not “the way things used to be”, but different, and hopefully, always improving.

People vacation or pass through Fort Collins longing to someday live here. We have the pleasure of going off on vacation, experiencing new and different places and at the end of our vacation have the benefit of coming home to Northern Colorado. This seems to be a great definition of “Quality of Life” don’t you think?


Friday Fun Mystery Photo

Where in Fort Collins was this photo taken?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Week 3: Rockin' with Rockwell

I had a hard time deciding what to do last weekend, but not because I didn’t have options. Music, food, dogs--you name it, I hadn't done it. I was looking for something a little less mainstream, however…and maybe even air-conditioned. Lucky for me, I saw an ad for Rockin’ with Rockwell, a Huntington’s Disease benefit featuring Elvis impersonator George Gray and living representations of Norman Rockwell’s art. The King and Norman Rockwell? That's a big ol' slice of Americana right there.

First of all, let me confess my ignorance about Huntington’s Disease. I knew it was in some way neurological, but I wasn't clear on the details. According to the HD Society of America, Rocky Mountain Chapter, the disease is a “devastating, hereditary degenerative brain disorder” for which there is “currently no treatment or cure.” A quarter of a million people in the US either have HD or are at risk of inheriting it. It often manifests in adulthood, sometimes years after it has already been passed down to the next generation. If you are fortunate enough not to have this affliction lurking in your gene pool, be very grateful. I know I am.

I attended the matinee performance at CSU’s Lory Theater, a dark and cool respite from the Saturday afternoon heat. The stage was almost bare, with two rocking chairs off to the right. Hmmm…I wasn’t quite expecting that kind of “rockin.’” But then the show kicked off with Elvis, clad in black leather. He sang his way through the audience, kissing some of the ladies’ hands and handing out scarves in true Elvis fashion. Alas, I didn’t get one. (For the record, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but he was a strange and fascinating man.)

Throughout the show, an ongoing interview of Norman Rockwell by Edward R. Murrow (Mike Lummie and Jim Paselk, seated in the rocking chairs) provided the context for the amazing living replications of Mr. Rockwell’s paintings--and the songs, dances, and TV jingles of the era. (And more Elvis!) I don’t know if the actors were reprising their roles as Rockwell and Murrow, but they did a great job. The script, written by Terri Mead, was nostalgic without being sappy, and I learned a lot about Norman Rockwell, his art, and the cultural framework of the time.

As a child of the second-half of the 1960s, my memory lane dead-ends at about 1972, but it’s hard to grow up in this culture without at least a small fondness for the 1950s. Those were the Happy Days, right? And even grade-schoolers know about sock hops and poodle skirts. Rockin’ with Rockwell was charming and fun, and the talented cast and crew—numbering about sixty, many of them kids—were obviously very dedicated to their cause. I left the show hoping their evening performance would be a sell-out.

This was the fifth annual event. Keep an eye out for it next year.

Yours truly and George "Elvis" Gray