Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's a Present, Dave, from Me to Me

I've decided to give myself a little gift and buy a harmonica. Or maybe I'll just take this week off from blogging. I hope you're enjoying everything that makes this time of year special for you.

See you next year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Festivities

Winter has officially arrived, and I hope everyone is prepared for the holiday weekend. I'm not quite, but close. When you're out and about and in a festive mood, don't forget about skating in Old Town and the light displays at Woodward and The Gardens on Spring Creek. The Gardens also has poinsettias and other gifts for sale.

One of my favorite holiday treats this year is the adorable Cider Fixins mix I found at Santa Fe Craftsman.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fish of Fort Collins

I just had to go to fish school. Having prepared myself to attend on the wrong day, I couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t show up on the right day. Plus, the more I thought about it during the week, the more curious I became. Exactly what kinds of fish live around here, anyway? And maybe my presence would even be appreciated, in case there weren’t many people who could or would clear their Friday lunch hour to learn about the fish of Fort Collins. I could, and so I would.

I wasn’t the only one. To my surprise, there must have been forty people at the presentation by Sean Seal, research associate at CSU’s Larval Fish Lab. Some of them were with the city’s Natural Areas, there for a little Continuing Ed. Others were definite angler-types. And there were probably a few others like me—curious, and with an hour to kill.

So, let’s get right down to it. Of the 29 native species of fish in our area, most were discovered between 1889 and 1903. Six are now extinct. Another six are endangered or threatened. The majority of our native species are river dwelling, or lotic, fish. Most of the pond/lake (or lentic) fish were introduced for sport purposes, as the native fish tend not to be large or catchable.

But how about the rainbow trout, you ask? The iconic fish found on T-shirts, letter openers, and Christmas ornaments, the fish that symbolizes the lifestyle of the American West? Well, hold on to your waders, folks, because rainbow and brown trout are not native to Colorado. They were brought here in the 1800s from England and Germany. Later, when English trout succumbed to whirling disease, we sent some healthy ones back in a sort of international fish school exchange program. (I don't know that guy. Or that fish.)

The management of fish populations is much like the management of other wildlife. Concerns include pollution, decreasing habitat, and highly adaptive invasive species such as the Brook Stickleback. But there is also the additional problem of fish owners who will sneak their various unwanted aquarium fish into a nearby stream or lake. This explains how goldfish have been found at Riverbend Ponds and piranhas in Sheldon Lake. This, by the way, is not the City Park Piranha, but I still don't like his attitude.

Sean had many slides of various species with excellent names such as Gizzard Shad, Black Bullhead, Creek Chub, and Pumpkinseed. And I thought the Green Sunfish, Red Shiner (that's them, below), and White Sucker gave the program a bit of holiday flair. I did fail the fish quiz, though, proving that I still have much to learn.

If you were absent from fish school, you’re in luck because the City has made Sean’s presentation available here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Fun: Downtown Shopping Quest

Holiday alert! The Downtown Santas Shopping Quest ends this weekend. Find ten stars at downtown businesses to be entered in a drawing for a $500 downtown gift card and a $500 charitable donation. Follow the link above for rules and list of participating stores. But you only have until Sunday.

Today's historical photo is of a city crew decorating College Avenue for Christmas, 1966. (Photo from Fort Collins History Connection.)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fish School Fail

The activity I had planned to attend for this week was cancelled, so I found myself on Saturday looking for something new to do. And as my husband was busy all morning, I wanted it to be something my boys wouldn’t mind doing with me. But we’d already done many of the kid-friendly holiday activities that were happening. Skating in Old Town? Check. Winter Farmers Market? Check. Tuba Christmas? Check. Plus, I was in the mood for something different. So, here’s what I came up with:

Me: “You guys want to come learn about fish with me?”
Them: “What?”
Me: “It’s a short talk about the fish that live in this area.” (It may be worth noting that no one in my family fishes and therefore would probably encounter said local fish only by falling in a lake or river. Which I won’t rule out, especially in my case.)
Older son, giving me the ‘are you serious?’ look: “I’ve been in school all week, and now you want me to go to fish school?”
Me: “Well…yes.”

We then entered a lengthy period of negotiation and finally agreed on a plan: we would get take-out for lunch, learn about fish, and then have Walrus Ice Cream for dessert. My younger son also lobbied for toy shopping, but, as the mother fish say, I wasn’t biting. But when we got our sandwiches and arrived at the City building, it was as locked-up and empty as any sane person would expect a government building to be on the weekend. After trying every door twice, we all assumed that I had made a mistake and there would be no fish school for us.

We found a sunny picnic table north of the City building and had lunch. While we were eating, we noticed a stone labyrinth below us, the path covered in a layer of near-pristine snow. Having discovered something new, of course we had to walk it. True to his direct nature, my younger son cut straight across from the edge to the middle and back again. My older son and I took the long way, following each curve in and out. We weren’t exactly meditative as we walked, but I see nothing wrong with having a little fun in a labyrinth on a sunny December day.

If I would have checked the City’s calendar instead of the one I used, I’d have seen that the class is actually on the 16th. But without that small error, I would have missed some great quality time with my boys. And Walrus’s Egg Nog ice cream.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oral History: The Lincoln Center

I’m so glad the Lincoln Center is open again—and better than ever—for this holiday season. I learned some things I didn’t know about its history by reading this 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). (Transcripts of the oral histories are also available at Fort Collins History Connection.) The picture at left, also from FCHC, is an aerial view of the old Lincoln Jr. High School, circa 1974.

“There was a lot of conversation and agitation from the early sixties for the cultural improvement of Fort Collins. The city had no money and no plans for cultural centers, but they asked the citizens to get together and try to express their opinions, and organize, which they did. This resulted in the passage of a one-cent sales tax in 1973, and the establishment of a seven-year Capital Improvement Program, which included the development of Lincoln Center

“It was a coincidence that at that time the old Lincoln Junior High School on Meldrum and Magnolia was to be demolished and the new Lincoln Junior High was to be built. It is interesting that Poudre R-1 gave the city the old school building, the location, for one dollar, and the city designated that property for the new Lincoln Center, which was a great boost.

“They incorporated part of the Junior High building into the Lincoln Center. The Ludlow Room was the library of the school, and the gymnasium was used for conference rooms and banquet facilities. The old school auditorium was converted into the mini-theater, and part of the space in the mini-theater that is used for dressing rooms for the artists was the girls and boys shower rooms. The present auditorium was constructed new on the site of the original school. Incidentally, the Ludlow Room was named for Olive Ludlow, a wonderful citizen.

“The whole community backed what we were doing, people like Dr. Karl Carson, former mayor, Dr. Tom Bennett, also a former mayor, Lilla Morgan, the wife of William Morgan, president of the university, and others. Mrs. Morgan was a real sparkplug, and heavily involved.

“But a few people in town said it would be a white elephant, and it was called the impossible dream, which did come true. The sales tax went on in 1973, so they were able to start building the next year, and Lincoln Center was completed in 1978. From the night of the dedication, people were thrilled. You didn’t hear much about a white elephant any more. We had an anniversary, I think in 1988, in which a white elephant was hung from the ceiling and cracked open and shattered.”
--Frank Johnson, 1992

Mystery Photo:
Last week's photo was taken at the Lincoln Center's Gallery of Trees.

In lieu of a mystery photo today, here's a link to the Denver Post 2011 Year in Photos. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feast of Fools

I enjoy holiday warm fuzzies as much as the next person. On New Year’s Day, Christmas, or any time in between, there are lots of good feelings to be found in celebrations with family and friends. But give me too many Hallmark moments this time of year, and I start to need…a palate cleanser. Something to get the sweet taste out of my mouth. Clark Griswold’s Jelly-of-the-Month Club rant, for example. David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice. Or my favorite Santa-gone-bad image: Dan Ackroyd from the movie Trading Places, wearing a filthy Santa suit, drunk, chewing on smoked salmon through his matted beard.

So when I saw that the members of the Old Town Writing Group were going to read their original “short tales of bad behavior and social misrule” at Bas Bleu Theater, I didn’t want to miss it. Now that I know where Bas Bleu is, I made it there without incident and, after a quick nosh of holiday goodies, settled in for “Feast of Fools: Tales of Holiday Mishaps.”

I had my pen and paper ready to take notes. But, as I was applauding for the first story of sisters who, to their mother’s dismay, have a holiday tradition of staging crime scenes using Christmas cookies, my pen slipped out of my hand, skittered across the floor, and disappeared beneath the row of seats in front of me. At that point, I had a choice: get down on my hands and knees and disturb no less than fourteen people around me as I groped around under the chairs, or give up the pen and hope my semi-reliable memory was not out window-shopping or browsing my brain archives in search of a Seinfeld episode.

I was in luck, however, as the stories were all so unique and memorable that I didn’t need pen and paper. The murder cookies were followed by tales of: a father's well-intentioned gift of a carnivorous, public-menace unicorn; a redneck’s vengeance against a repeat-offender car alarm; coping with dead guinea pigs at a child's birthday party; a young woman experiencing a Dia de los Muertos celebration under the overly-watchful eye of her employer; and how roughing it frontier-style helps a woman cope with the stress brought on by a trespassing mailman. Adding to the fun was the Bad Santa emcee (that's him at left) who rewrote the writer’s bios as only Bad Santa could.

Thanks, Old Town Writing Group, for sharing your stories of holiday angst. They were funny, quirky, touching, and very well-done—the perfect antidote to a sugarplum overdose.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Feature: Two Local Artists

How's your Christmas shopping going? If you need gift ideas and want to keep it local, check out these two wonderfully talented Fort Collins artists:

Fused glass artist Kathi Dougherty is having her home show and sale this Friday and Saturday. Her work is amazing, and she also teaches classes in her studio. (This picture is from her booth at last summer's Creative Garden.)

Jewelry maker and writer Michelle Mach sells through etsy and also blogs about beads and books. I love her whimsical, book-inspired jewelry. She's offering free shipping on any purchase through December 3.

Mystery Photo:

No mystery photo last week, just my dog wishing for turkey. From the previous week, the man in the photo is Don Brown, the wall dog who painted the Old Town Coca Cola sign (and others).

Where in Fort Collins was this week's seasonal picture taken?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Plaid Friday

As a Christmas shopper, I have my limits. I don’t start before Halloween, I (usually) finish before Christmas Eve, and I won’t stand in line in the 3 a.m. dark and cold waiting for a store to open—especially not after spending approximately 9.7 hours the previous day preparing, eating, and cleaning up after a Thanksgiving dinner. I am occasionally tempted by the 14 pounds of sale fliers in my Thursday paper, but I try not to leave the house on Black Friday unless I’m in search of a peppermint mocha latte.

But I made an exception this year for Plaid Friday, BeLocalNC’s celebration of the “diversity and creativity of local independent businesses.” I packed my little plaid purse and set out for the Plaid Friday Marketplace at the Art Lab space on Linden Street. There, local vendors had their wares for sale, including Sweets Cosmetics, MouCo cheeses, Loco Bueno green chile, and the cool Akinz line of Buy Local tees and bags.

Thanks to my strategically located parking spot on Linden Street, I discovered The Bizarre Bazaar, a new store selling used music, movies, books, and “other printed items.” Having lived through the decline of record albums, I’d been somewhat skeptical about the supposed resurgence of vinyl. But after seeing the young hipsters flipping through the stacks of Bizarre’s LPs, I’m convinced. Records are back, they’re cool, and maybe, just maybe, my husband had a reason for holding onto his turntable all these years.

Then, to prove to myself that the Big Mart stores aren’t the only places where bargains can be found, I visited two locally-owned, occasional-shopping franchises: Real Deals and Lillians of Fort Collins. As the description implies, these stores are not open all-day-every-day. Real Deals has regular hours every Thursday and Sunday. Lillians is open the first Thursday-Sunday of every month, plus bonus days. The occasional-shopping model requires more planning, but the experience of browsing through quaint and funky stores that do not require a GPS to find the exit more than makes up for the minor inconvenience.

Last year, I didn’t kick off my local shopping until Small Business Saturday, but I’m glad I got out a day earlier this year. If you missed Plaid Friday, don’t worry. Plaid Week continues until December 4. After that, the stores will still be open, and many excellent local vendors can also be found at the Opera Galleria and Foothills Mall winter farmer’s markets.

Happy shopping!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five: It's Holiday Time

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Now that it's over, I will officially acknowledge the Christmas season, which means I no longer have to plug my ears and chant "la la la la la" when I hear holiday music.

Today's Friday Five includes easy strategies for surviving the most wonderful time of the year:

1. Be friendly - We all get stressed. Smile a little. Drive nicely.
2. Be festive - Go ahead, wear the elf hat with the jingle bell on top.
3. Be frugal (on occasion) - Sometimes it's best to just say no.
4. Be fit - Your pants will thank you come January.
5. Be fast - For example: if you're at the register, and you're writing a check, and you don't start filling out the check until the very end of your transaction, and you write it for extra cash, and you can't remember which pocket of your purse your driver's license is in, and you feel compelled to share the details of the last six days of your life with the checker while searching for said license, then I guarantee someone in line behind you will: a) forget #1, and/or b) have an aneurysm.

May all your holiday wishes come true!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stargazing at Fossil Creek Reservoir

The end of daylight savings time never sits well with me. To suddenly have the evening light wane an hour earlier makes me feel as though I need to be cooking dinner at 3:00 and going to bed at 7. But I discovered on Friday that there is an advantage to the premature dark—it opens up more time for stargazing.

Once a month, the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society sets up telescopes at Fossil Creek Reservoir for free and open-to-the-public night sky viewing. Friday was so windy during the day that I wondered if the event would take place as scheduled. But by 7:30 viewing time, things had calmed down. The trade-off was that the clouds began to creep in and cover up the clear sky (the precursor to that surprise snow we woke up to on Saturday morning). But not so much that we weren’t able to see some wonderful sights.

My family and I don’t consider ourselves even amateur stargazers, as we can reliably name only the most familiar of the celestial objects: Orion, the dippers, the…moon. Thankfully, the NCAS astronomers are much more knowledgeable. They were also quick to reorient their scopes as needed due to the shifting clouds, so in a mere half-hour of looking, we were able to see: bright Jupiter and three of its four closest moons (the fourth was traversing, and conditions were not favorable enough to see it); the seven sparkling sisters of the Pleiades; the ‘w’ of Cassiopeia, which my older son informed me represents the uncomfortable chair in which the vain queen must spend all eternity; the Northern Cross and its blue-and-yellow double star Albireo (to our ears, it sounded like “El Beer-io” which opened the door for a couple of Homer jokes); and the smoky little ring of what I hope I remember correctly is the Andromeda Nebula.

Despite what struck me as a disconcerting amount of light pollution to the east, Fossil Creek Res provides a nice spot for observing the night sky. The telescopes are easily accessible (right there in the parking lot), as are the restroom facilities. But if you want hot chocolate, you’ll have to bring your own. The next stargazing event is scheduled for Friday, December 30, weather permitting. Reservations are not required. If you’re an early riser, a Lunar Eclipse Viewing will take place from 5-7:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 10. And during the daylight hours, FCR is still a great place to watch bald eagles.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Feature: Oral History

Moving to Fort Collins is the theme for today’s excerpts 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). (Transcripts of the oral histories are also available at Fort Collins History Connection.)

(Cartoon from A Perfect World)

When we came to Fort Collins in 1887, the Stout quarries were running. A railroad track was running up the middle of that lake where Spring Canyon is, and a railroad trestle went over the highway. My mother had a cousin working there, and the wages were two dollars a day, ten hours a day, and they cut a lot of paving blocks. That was awful good wages in those times.
--Adam Michie, 1974

We came to Fort Collins by train in 1904. We got off at the little station at the college. There wasn’t much there. It was March and everything was beautiful; we thought we’d hit heaven because it was so much different from Nebraska. The fountain at the college when we got off the train and came through there was the first thing that I remember. It was in front of the old college chapel, and it had mineral water coming out the spigots.
--Grace Graves, 1974

Our family moved from Denver to Fort Collins just after the big flood in the spring of 1904. We moved in a hayrack drawn by a team of horses, all our worldly possessions piled on the wagon. My brother and I rode our bicycles. It took us three days to make the trip. We camped along the way each night.
--Lora Shipp, 1978

Mystery Photo:
Believe it or not, this elevated doorway was once the second-floor entrance to a two-story outhouse.

For today's mystery photo, can you identify this person from Fort Collins history? (Photo from Fort Collins History Connection)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fort Collins Reads

Not so very long ago, book lovers across the country were struck by inspiration: what if an entire city read the same book and discussed it? The idea gained national momentum, and, in 2002, Fort Collins hosted its inaugural Fort Collins Reads, one of the first programs of its kind in Colorado. Each spring, our local volunteer group selects a book and invites the author to come to Fort Collins in the fall to speak about it. Those famous folks have included Lois Lowry, Louis Sachar, TC Boyle, and Garth Stein.

This is such a great idea for people who appreciate a good book and the chance to hear the author discuss it. Plus, it gives the community something to talk about besides the weather, reality TV, and/or the contentious political climate (it doesn’t matter what year it is, the political climate is always contentious). And for the past eight books, Fort Collins Reads has been on my Best Intentions list. I have always meant to participate, but I never have. But this year, thanks to the Books and Bites book club of which I am a member, I finally made good on my “someday I will” promise. (A note on Books and Bites: we’re not vampires, we just like our desserts, okay?)

The book for 2011—March, by Geraldine Brooks—is the story of the gone-to-war father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It’s such a compelling idea for a novel, and so well done that it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. So if you noticed a little something special in the air on Saturday, it very well may have been because we had a Pulitzer winner in the Fort. (Kudos, Fort Collins Reads.)

On Saturday, I met my fellow book-clubbers (eww, that makes me think of baby seal clubbers, which we also are not) at the Hilton for a bite before the talk by the esteemed Ms. Brooks. We discussed the book over lunch, and by the time we moseyed in to the banquet room, it was almost full. That’s right—nearly 900 of my closest friends showed up to share in this group experience.

Ms. Brooks was very warm and engaging, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to hear her discuss March, her writing process, and how her marriage to a Civil War buff helped inspire the book. Thanks, Fort Collins Reads, for bringing her to our town. Though she’ll be a tough act to follow, I can’t wait to see who’s coming next year.

Visit the Fort Collins Reads website for more information about March and Geraldine Brooks, to read this year's winning essays, and to see a picture of the amazing reproduction Civil War-era quilt that was raffled off on Saturday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Field Trip: Rocky Mountain Center Ice Showdown

The family and I headed to the Pepsi Center on Saturday to join other CSU fans in rooting for the Rams in the Rocky Mountain Center Ice Showdown. This was my first time attending this annual contest between CSU the CU, and I will definitely do it again. It was a lot of fun, and our $20 ticket price included admission to both the Showdown and a future Av's game, which is an amazing deal.

The matchups began at 3:00, but we arrived later, just in time to watch the last period of the women's hockey game. Despite some good play and support from the fans, the Rams weren't able to pull off a win. The men had better luck, though what looked like it might be a blowout when the Rams were up 4-0 ended up being much closer, with CSU prevailing 5-4. Hey, it was more exciting that way.

Mystery Photo:
Last week's photo was taken at EPIC.

There's an interesting explanation for this elevated doorway in Old Town. Do you know what it is?