Thursday, March 31, 2011

The A to Z Blog Challenge

There's going to be a whole lot of alphabetical fun happening in the blogosphere in April. Yep, it's time for the 2nd annual A to Z Blogging Challenge. The challenge is the brainchild of Arlee Bird, who writes the Tossing it Out blog. Here’s his explanation of how it works:

“The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays. In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet. Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet. You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge. There is an unlimited universe of possibilities. You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about. You don't have to be a writer to do this. You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork. Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z.”

I thought this sounded like a fun thing to try. (As of this writing, so did 817 other bloggers, up considerably from 100 last year.) I didn't participate last year, so I'm not exactly sure what I'll be posting, but I hope you’ll follow along for the month of April. Other local blogs participating in the challenge are Patricia Stoltey, Hearth Cricket, Beads and Books, and The Writing Bug. If you know of more, please leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Week 33: CSU Women's Tennis

I had a scheduling mix-up last week. I won’t go into the boring details, but suffice it to say that both February and March had a Saturday the 26th, and apparently that’s all it takes to confuse me. For my Plan B, I decided to watch the CSU women’s tennis team play their match against Weber State. Then I panicked. “I’m not a sportswriter,” I told my husband—which is rather a statement of the obvious, I admit. “I don’t know how to write about tennis.” And he, the ever-practical man that he is, replied, “It will be fine.”

On the morning of the match, I read in the Coloradoan that it was to be the first official competition to take place at the school’s new $2 million tennis facility on Research Boulevard just north of Drake Road. It was also a fund-raiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Feeling slightly more confident that I could at least write about those things, I donned my pink jacket and headed out.

My neighbor Michelle had kindly agreed to join me on my tennis adventure. After we arrived and helped ourselves to hot dogs and chips (yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch) we chatted with Julie, proud mom of Mountain West Player of the Week Melissa Holzinger. A tennis player herself, Julie organized the fundraiser and lunch. A Canadian who came to Colorado via Texas, she could not have been warmer or more welcoming. The same can be said for her daughter and the other Ram team members we met. They’re a gracious and friendly group of girls, and not a prima donna among them.

In a brief pre-match presentation, Pat Reed, a representative from the Denver branch of the Komen Foundation (which also serves Larimer County) and a two-time breast cancer survivor, reminded us that no woman is immune from breast cancer. The national average for breast cancer diagnosis is 1 woman in 8. In Colorado, it’s 1 in 7. It was sobering to look at the players from both schools—young women who are the picture of health and fitness—and think that two or three of them might face the disease in their future.

I like watching tennis, and the new facility is a great place to do it. It has twelve courts—eight of which are lighted—seating for 150 people, and handy-dandy restrooms. The tennis balls even have Ram logos on them. (Never read that in the sports section, have you?) The coach, Jon Messick, is in his 26th season at CSU, and the Rams rank ninth in the country in average attendance.

Michelle and I practiced our shout-outs (Go Ra-ams!) while we cheered the girls on. CSU played well and extended their win streak to 3 by defeating Weber State 6-1. (Read Amanda Bader’s Media Relations recap for the details.) I had a great time, and I was also reminded of how important teams of all kinds are in our lives. A team might be as small as a mother and daughter, as large as the Komen Foundation, or any size in between. What matters is having someone who will support us whether we’re serving aces or double-faults.

CSU hosts Air Force on April 23 and the MWC Championships on April 27-30.

On an unrelated note, The A to Z Blog Challenge begins Friday. Check in tomorrow for more information.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Five

My story of how I got to Fort Collins goes way back to when I was just a wee oocyte. Maybe yours does, too. Or maybe not. For today’s Friday Five, I present “Five Reasons You Really, Really Want to Send Me the Story of How You Came to Live in Fort Collins.”

1. You’re sooooo bored at work right now;
2. You’ve always wanted to write a guest post for a blog, and that Huffington woman won’t return your emails;
3. We are never going to believe how you got here. Seriously. We’re not;
4. It beats filling out your tax return; and
5. You feel sorry for me (hey, I'll take it).

So, how about it? Write a paragraph or two and send your story to me at No attachments, please (yeah, I’m one of those people). I’ll post the stories on Fridays. I believe I did promise a giveaway, as well.

Mystery Photo:
I didn't think anyone would know this one, but Anonymous nailed it. Artist Terry McNerney's fun mural can be found at the new Mitchell Block building that houses the Bohemian Foundation. It’s across Walnut Street from The Armadillo restaurant.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Week 32: Rocky Mountain Archery

Looking back on high school, it’s easy for me to generalize students into two opposing categories. The haves and the have-nots. The rule-minders and the bathroom-smokers. The kids who played an instrument and the ones who wouldn’t be caught dead near the band lockers. The PE lovers and the bookworms. Can you guess which one I was? (As my son says, “Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.”)

But there was one semester of PE I really enjoyed, and that was the tennis, golf, and archery class. That was years ago, but our Christmas household addition of a PS3 Move reminded me that archery is a lot of fun. So I asked the family to accompany me to Rocky Mountain Archery for some real target shooting. Unlike some of the activities I’ve suggested, my sons didn’t need much convincing for this one. Hmm…bows and arrows…go figure.

When we arrived, owner Stewart King was happy to help get us started. He tested us for hand/eye dominance and selected the proper recurve bow for each of us. After a quick tutorial on safety and form (I didn’t know that ‘dry shooting’—shooting without an arrow—was bad for a bow) it was time to nock our arrows. After a few practice shots, we put up our paper targets and got down to business.

First thing in the morning, the range was not busy—which was good, as we were a little wild to begin with. But it didn’t take long for us to settle in. My aim has always been suspect, no matter what I’m doing (darts, bowling, mini golf—I’m more of an ‘in the ballpark’ kind of a gal) so I had my share of shots that missed the target. But I also had some good ones and even hit the yellow a few times.

The other shooters at the range were using compound bows, which look to me like a cross between a torture device and a small piece of Pilates equipment. I preferred the more traditional recurve. Feeling the tension of the pulled bowstring, holding steady and finding my aim (such as it was), the thrum of the vibrating string and the thwock of the arrow…I tell you, I had all kinds of fun channeling my inner Artemis. (I have no desire to actually skewer any living creatures, but I do love the word ‘huntress.’)

At $5 for equipment rental and $7 for a day of unlimited shooting, Rocky Mountain Archery is not pricey. They also offer a pro shop and lounge, competitive leagues, and birthday parties. And you don’t even need special shoes. Take that, bowling.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Field Trip

Happy Friday! I hope everyone who's on Spring Break this week is enjoying the time off from work and school.

The family and I took our first field trip to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. It is a non-profit, rescue-only facility. We've all heard stories about idiots who try to raise a tiger in their garage, right? Well, if those animals are lucky, they end up in rescue sanctuaries such as this one. I'm glad for the existence of TWAS, but sad because there is a need for it. Visit the TWAS website to find out more about what they do and how you can help.

Mystery Photo:
Last week's photo was of the CSU Field House on College Avenue.

Where in Fort Collins was this week's picture taken? (This is a hard one. I couldn't find it even when my husband told me where it was--he had to show me.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Week 31: Riverbend Ponds

The last, and most famous, line of English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ode to the West Wind reads, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” If you’ve lived in Colorado long enough, you know the opposite is also true here: If Spring comes, can Winter be far behind? Many of the most prodigious snowstorms I’ve experienced have happened in March, even after the official arrival of spring.

So I make a point to enjoy spring-like weather whenever it occurs, be it in December, March, or June. And I’m particularly grateful when warm days coincide with a spring break staycation. The weather was so nice on Monday that staying inside was tantamount to a crime. While my husband and one of our sons were at baseball practice, the other son joined me in an outing to the Riverbend Ponds Natural Area to look for signs of spring.

Riverbend Ponds is off of Prospect Road east of Timberline. I have driven by many times, but always on my way to or from somewhere else. When my son and I arrived, we happened to bump into Kimberly from the Natural Areas Program. (The Natural Areas folks are so great—always generous with their time and knowledge.) After learning that it was our first visit, Kimberly gave us lots of great information about the area and its inhabitants, starting with the harvester ant colony at our feet.

See the big circle of tiny rocks? That’s the work of the native harvester ants. Despite the sunny day, the ants were underground, which might be just as well since their toxin is more potent than a cobra’s. Thankfully, they dispense it in very tiny amounts, but it still makes for a painful bite.

Riverbend Ponds provides at least a temporary home to snapping turtles, muskrats, beavers, deer, foxes, coyotes, weasels, rabbits, a multitude of birds, and dozens more creatures large and small. My son and I followed the trail around Big Pond, with a side trip down the boardwalk path cutting through a rustling expanse of dried cattails. Two redtail hawks circled above, water trickled below, and the sounds of honking and quacking waterfowl came from all sides.

As we proceeded around Big Pond, stopping at the Poudre River along the way, we saw doves, robins, and flickers, and heard other birds neither one of us could quite identify. (I really need to study up on birds.) We also kept a sharp eye out for weasels, but, as mid-afternoon is not prime weasel time, we were not surprised that we didn’t see one. But that didn’t keep us from saying, “Look! A weasel!” whenever we saw anything move, be it a goose, a jogger, a crow, a dog, a baby stroller, a fisherman, a bicycle, or each other.

Walking with my son, discussing the mysteries of nature and middle school…what a fine way to spend a gorgeous afternoon. Each time I visit a natural area in or around Fort Collins, I count myself lucky to live in a place where so many people value the worth of our beautiful and diverse environment. As for the signs of spring…buds are swelling, grass is greening, the ponds are free of ice. Even if the snow flies again, each day brings us closer to the end of winter.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fort Collins Stories

Enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend! It’s dry here, but too much water isn’t any better, as illustrated by 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 first year we were here, 1904, was the time of the flood. It was the last day of school, and we had a ball game. About four o’clock we were dismissed. In the meantime there had been as bad-looking a cloud as you could imagine in the west, and we knew of course it was raining there. But it never did rain much here on the valley. When we got down to the crossing, Eaton Ditch, which we would have to cross to go home, the river was running right across the ditch as though it wasn’t there, and the whole south of that was under water. And the water kept coming up.

"My father stayed with the cows, the pony, and the chickens. He stayed to take care of things, the water started going down and he thought he had everything safe. Then he looked up and here was a wall of water five or six feet high, which was the result of the Chambers Dam going out. It just came down and knocked out everything.

"Our house was on lower ground; so naturally we went up to our cousin’s house which was on higher ground. The water surrounded the house but never got into it. When this wall of water came it didn’t follow the river bed, it just swept right down the valley. There was only one bridge left on the river from the farther hills to Greeley, and that was the bridge on Lincoln by the old mill. Until the bridges were rebuilt, people just had to ford the river.”
--Glenn Brolliar, 1974

Mystery Photo:
Last week's photo was of a sculpture on Center Avenue, west of Shields, by New Mercer Commons. (I couldn't find the name of it. If you know, please leave a comment.)

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Week 30: Haunted Game Cafe

I don’t have the numbers to back this up, but I suspect we have as many coffee shops in Fort Collins as we have overcast days in an average year. That’s a fitting correlation, because a coffee shop is a perfect destination on a cloudy day. Warm drinks, a caffeine buzz… I credit the Pacific Northwesterners and their perpetually gray weather for spreading coffee culture far and wide, and we’ve certainly embraced it in our neck of the woods.

I’m willing to bet, however, that there is only one place in town to sip coffee in a year-round Halloween party atmosphere, and place that is The Haunted Game Cafe game store and coffee house. My son and I stopped in on Monday afternoon (Yes, gray. Yes, cold.) to discover what the café is all about.

So, here’s the thing—I’m prone to preconceived notions (which are often wrong), and I thought the place would be…strange. I don’t know why, but I envisioned dusty shelves, sticky floors, maybe an unidentifiable smell. Sort of a grandma’s-stuffy-attic-meets-dank-stockroom ambience. And, wow, was I pleasantly surprised. The café is clean and bright, the walls are remarkably purple—in a good way—and the spooky theme is fun and not at all disturbing. Yes, Addams Family. No, Bates Motel.

The menu is fun, too. I was nearing my coffee limit for the day, so I opted for the spicy ginger chai latte instead of the signature Vampire’s Kiss raspberry mocha. Zombie Virus is the custom coffee blend. As a frequent drinker of decaf, I’m going to return for the sole pleasure of ordering a cup of Embalming Juice. The café also serves a variety of intriguing teas and frozen drinks. My son gave his four-berry smoothie a solid thumbs-up.

The other reason to visit The Haunted Game Café is, of course, for the games. The store’s variety of games and gaming accessories goes well above and beyond the standard Toys-R-Us offerings. Ditto the selection of open board games which are available to play in the café. No four-dice Yahtzee or dog-eared decks of Old Maid here, my friends. (Check the website for a list of available games.)We started with Wyatt Earp, realized we wouldn’t have time to finish, and, after a quick tutorial from proprietor Gary, tried our luck at Gloom—a must for anyone who appreciates a little dark humor.

Fridays are board game nights—bring your own game or play one of theirs. The café also hosts leagues for Dungeons and Dragons (which I will forever associate with the Tom Hanks made-for-TV movie from the early ‘80s) and Magic.

Find The Haunted Game Cafe in the strip mall west of Red Lobster, near All Sweets Confections, where I took my around-the-world candy tour for Week 22. And happy gaming!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Five

Goodbye to February! I’m never sorry to see it go because its departure means spring is that much closer.

Here are five things in Fort Collins that made me smile this week:

Reading the Coloradoan article about New Belgium turning 20;

Seeing the geese waddling around in pairs;

Having to wait for a man on horseback to cross before I could turn off of W. Horsetooth;

A little girl in pink hoodie doing somersaults outside Harmony Library; and

The beautiful weather. As my son said, “What happened to ‘in like a lion?’”

I hope you found at least five things to smile about this week.

Mystery Photo:
Last week’s photo was of the new Sunlight Peak Observatory on the Front Range Community College campus.

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Week 29: Fossil Ridge Playoff Game

I have to say, my husband has been so great about this blogging business. When I tell him I must participate in Activity X, he does what he can to make it happen. When I tell him I’d like for the family to join me in Activity Y, he never questions. So when he mentioned that he wanted to watch the Fossil Ridge High School boys basketball team's state playoff game, I had an ‘aha’ moment—as in “Aha! I can accompany my husband to an activity of his choosing. Maybe this is not all about me, after all!” (Okay, it wasn’t nearly as heartwarming as the epiphany the Grinch has on the top of Mount Crumpet with a sleighful of stolen Christmas booty, but I like to think I wasn’t as disagreeable as the Grinch to begin with. I can promise I’ve never, ever tied antlers to my dog.)

My husband's love of basketball began when he was about three minutes old, and I’ve been watching it with him since the days when Dennis Rodman singlehandedly accounted for 81% of the sport’s tattoos. (I made that stat up, but it might be true.) But I’d never been to a game at Fossil Ridge High School. In fact, I’d never been inside Fossil for any reason. As a child of northwest Fort Collins and a current resident of…maybe it’s considered west midtown?…I don’t frequent the far southeast too often. Unless I’m headed to I-25, I get itchy as soon as I cross Timberline. But the promise of an exciting state basketball playoff game gave me the perfect reason to accompany my family to the Choice City’s newest public high school, the home of the SaberCats.

From what I saw of the school—the exterior, the gym, the concessions stand—it is an attractive, clean, and modern building. Poudre High School is my alma mater, but Fossil's is the only local varsity team still in contention, so I didn’t feel too much like a traitor while cheering them on against the ThunderRidge Grizzlies of Highlands Ranch.

The attendance did not appear to be a sell-out, but the crowd was big and enthusiastic. The ‘Cats jumped out to an early lead, the Grizzlies came back strong, and at halftime, the score was a nail-biting 27-29 in favor of ThunderRidge. The second half, things got hotter. The game was physical, and tempers flared on the court and in the stands. It was very exciting to watch the ‘Cats crank it up a notch and send the Grizzlies home with a loss. Final score: SaberCats 65, Grizzlies 57. (Great photo gallery of the game at the Coloradoan.)

As a mother of two pre-teen boys, I sometimes (often) get sentimental about how fast they’re growing and how soon they’ll be making their way through high school and on toward the threshold of their adulthood. But as I left the gym on Saturday, my prevailing thought was, “Holy cow, how much must a six-and-a-half foot tall teenage basketball player eat?”

The SaberCats play Montbello tonight at FRHS. I won’t be there to cheer them on this time, but I wish them luck.