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?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Aries Composers Festival

Living in a college town has its pros and cons. I’ll start with some cons, since I’m a ‘bad news first’ kind of person. There’s the traffic. The occasional rager parties that make the national news. The fact that about 78% of the population is younger than I am. But as for the pros: Athletics. Interesting people. Innovation. And let’s not forget culture.

Take, for example, last weekend’s Aries Composer’s Festival. This festival, which is the new incarnation of the former Rocky Mountain Contemporary Music Festival, brought national composers and performers of new music to CSU’s UCA for three days of concerts, lectures, and classes. Six concerts, both ticketed and not, were open to the public.

What exactly is new music? Well, I’m sure this is an oversimplification, but I gather that it means relatively recent pieces from contemporary composers, most of whom are not yet de-composing. (Sorry, I had to throw in that old joke.) For the festival, I was able to attend concerts I, III, and V—no I have nothing against even numbers; that’s just how it worked out—so I missed the bigger evening performances. But what I heard was an amazing representation of the festival’s eclectic nature. I know ‘eclectic’ is often overused, but in this case, I can’t think of a better word to describe musical selections that included: an 18-minute mallet quartet for marimba; Frank Zappa’s drummer audition piece, The Black Page; music inspired by the blog of a woman with MS and the depiction on a refrigerator magnet of a desert thunderstorm; a modern chamber music selection for flute and strings; and electroacoustic compositions incorporating the recorded sounds of jet engines and street gang dialogue.

I know, right? Totally eclectic. And such a superb showcase of creativity and virtuosity. But, you ask, was all the music to my tastes? Mostly yes, but a little no. Did I appreciate the opportunity to discover this for myself? You betcha.

Though I’m sure this kind of festival requires the help of many, CSU assistant professor of composition and music theory James M. David is credited with organizing it. Find out more about his work at his website. For more information about the festival's world-class composers and performers, the festival program is available online.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Find: CSU Surplus

My recent search for football gear for Halloween costumes led me to the CSU Surplus Property store, which I never knew existed. From their website: “Surplus Property is responsible for the handling and disposition of all property that the University no longer has a use for.” In other words, if CSU had a garage sale, this would be it. Located at 201 W. Lake Street, the Surplus is open to the public from 7:30-4:00 Monday through Friday. The easiest way to get there is to take College Avenue to Lake Street and go west. There’s even parking right in front of the building, which is almost unheard of on campus.

Mystery Photo:
Last week’s spooky building was the Centennial Galleries on Linden Street.

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quilters at Bas Bleu Theater

(Adapted from a recent telephone conversation with my mother.)
Mom: “There’s a show at Bas Bleu I’d really like to see.”
Me: “Which one?”
Mom: “Quilters. It’s about a woman and her six daughters who tell the story of their lives using quilts. But the last show is this afternoon at 2:30.” (Because that’s how she rolls.)
Me: (checking website) “The online tickets are sold out.” (Not super-disappointed, as I had other things to get done on my Sunday afternoon).
Mom: “Well, I’ll just go down to the box office when it opens and see if they have any extra tickets.” (Because, again, that’s how she rolls.)

Fast-forward a few hours to 2:04. My phone rings.
Mom: “They’re holding two tickets for us.”
Man’s stern-sounding voice: “mumble mumble mumble
Mom: “But you have to be here by 2:30.”
Me: (groaning inwardly) “Okay, I can make it.”

Fast-forward once more to 2:28, and me, having wandered through north Old Town in mild panic for six minutes, running down Willow Street, with my husband giving me directions via telephone. (I was sure I knew where I was going. I was wrong.) Thanks to cell phones and flat shoes, I made it. Just barely. And I managed to step on the feet of almost everyone in my row as I fumbled to my seat. Because that’s how I roll.

This year marks the excellent Bas Bleu Theater Company’s 20th season. Their current home, which I now know is at the corner of Pine and Willow Streets, is larger than the other Pine Street space I remember but still small enough to preserve the company’s “intimate salon theater experience.”

Like the domestic art from which it gets its name, Quilters pieces together the light and dark times of the lives of pioneer women through songs of laughter and joy, of grief and desperation. Accompanied by the live music of the Quilters Band, the talented women of the Bas Bleu cast hit every note—both musical and emotional—and made me really happy that my mom had compelled me to leave the house that afternoon for some quality mother-daughter time. And the amazing quilts hanging in the theater lobby served to enhance the experience.

Quilters was first staged in Fort Collins by Porter Woods in 1987, as part of CSU’s summer outdoor theater series. Mr. Woods died in July, and this run at Bas Bleu was dedicated to him. I think he would have been quite pleased.