Monday, April 30, 2012

Z: Zephyr Zinfandel

Z Day! We made it, bloggers. Kudos to everyone who stuck it out and is planning on catching some zzzzs now. In anticipation of this day, I celebrated on Saturday night with a glass of local Zephyr Zinfandel wine. 

A zephyr is defined as a breeze from the west, and we have a lot of those on the Colorado Front Range. (We also have a warm Chinook wind that comes down from the mountains, and I'm not exactly sure what the difference between the two is.) From 1955-1992, Denver had a minor league baseball team named the Zephyrs. In 1993, they moved to New Orleans. 

But back to the wine. The grapes are grown in California, and then they are brought here and made into wine by elves with tiny fedoras and purple-stained feet. Okay, not so much with the elves. I imagine the wine is made in the normal fashion, whatever that is. I confess that my wine palate leaves much to be desired--I could not taste the difference between blackberry and plum if my life depended on it. So I'll defer to the label, which describes the wine as follows: "Zephyr Zin has fruity aromas of raspberry and cranberry. Robust berry flavors mingle with licorice and pepper spice." That works for me. It was very tasty. 

So, A to Zers, stick a cork in it. We're done. But do plan to come back next year!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y: Yarn

I love a good yarn, defined as a 'long, often elaborate, narrative of real or fictional adventures,' as in this bit from Herman Melville's Typee: "Yet, notwithstanding the familiarity of sailors with all sorts of curious adventure, the incidents recorded in the following pages have often served, when 'spun as a yarn,' not only to relieve the weariness of many a night-watch at sea, but to excite the warmest sympathies of the author's shipmates." (Melville looks like a guy who could spin a good yarn...or spin some yarn outta that beard.)

And as an occasional knitter, I also love a good yarn in the literal sense of a 'continuous strand of twisted threads of natural or synthetic material, used in weaving or knitting.' The big craft stores of course have tons, but I'm lucky that there are many industrious folks in my area who raise alpacas, sheep, goats, and rabbits, and then, by some magical turn of events, spin yarn from their wool/hair to sell at local farmer's markets and craft shows. I don't think it's my imagination that these yarns are softer and feel nicer than any mass-produced yarn from a store.

(This photo comes from AlpacaKing of Fort Collins.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

X: X Marks the Spot

Today's letter is a tough one. The dictionary has a great selection of X words, but none that really fit very well with my local theme. (How smug I was when I used xeriscape last year.) X-mas seemed like a cop-out, and xeroderma (abnormal dryness of the skin, which we no doubt have due to our arid climate) is just kind of gross.

So I'm going with the old standby 'X marks the spot.'

The Poudre River I referred to yesterday is actually named the Cache la Poudre, which means 'hide the powder' in French. Legend has it that in 1836, a group of French trappers on their way from St. Louis to Green River, Wyoming, spent a few days snowed in near the present-day town of Bellevue, Colorado. Before they continued on, they buried their gunpowder to lighten their load. Later, members of the party returned and retrieved their cache. I don't know if they used a map with an X on it, but if so, it would have been about here:

For anyone wanting their own X-marks-the-spot experience, Rootles - Quests for the Curious creates personalized treasure hunts for groups large and small, casual and corporate. They're headquartered in Fort Collins, but they conduct hunts nationwide. I haven't done one yet, but it's on my list!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W: Walk, Don't Run

Whenever I see people out running, I have the fleeting urge to join them. In reality though, I find running to be painful, exhausting, and tedious. And I'm slow. Really slow. When the bears come down from the mountains and stage their uprising, I will most assuredly be chased down and eaten.

But I do love to get out and walk. Four of my favorite local walks are:

Strolling in Old Town. Yes, the fact that I'm usually eating ice cream while I do it cancels out any health benefits, but it makes for great people-watching.

The Poudre River Trail. Shady and green alongside the river, it's really lovely.

Cathy Fromme Prairie Trail. This one is close to my house, and my neighbor friend and I head there as often as possible for a power walk. Every summer, we see at least one rattlesnake on the trail, which really gets the heart rate up.

Walking to school. I've been walking at least one of my two boys to elementary since the older one started there eight years ago. He has since moved on to middle school, and my younger son, now a fifth grader, certainly doesn't need me along. It's only a half mile, with no busy streets to cross. But I'm secretly thrilled that he still allows me to accompany him. He's chatty in the morning, and we have great conversations. Next year, when both boys are in middle school, I will be demoted to chauffeur only. Although I'll appreciate not having to put on real pants before 9 a.m., I will sorely miss the morning walks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V: Veterinary Hospital

Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University's world-renowned James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The hospital was built in 1979, but CSU's animal programs go back to its beginnings as an agricultural school. In the fall of 1907, students at (then) Colorado A & M formed the Veterinary Medical Association. That year, Colorado residents could attend the Professional Veterinary Medicine Program for free. Out-of-staters paid $25 a year.

The program's many accomplishments include:
First use of x-rays to diagnose equine injuries;
First veterinary ethics courses in the world;
First birth of test-tube horse in the country (named Firecracker);
First successful open-heart surgery performed on dogs;
First veterinarian in space.

The Vet Hospital treats thousands of critters, from Amphibians to Zebras, every year. And of course, the staff takes excellent care of CSU's mascot, Cam the Ram.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U: Uneeda Lunch Cafe

Considering the ups and downs of the economy, a restaurant that stays in business for twenty-five years is doing pretty well. Four times that is almost unheard of anymore. Old Town breakfast and lunch favorite The Silver Grill, northern Colorado's oldest continually operated restaurant, recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary by returning to its roots as Uneeda Lunch Cafe. Just down the street from what was then the town's jail and firehouse, Uneeda Lunch evidently had a colorful clientele--so much so that coffee was free for police officers, in the hopes that their presence would keep some of the less law-abiding customers in check.

Of course, the area has changed a lot in a hundred years. The firehouse is now home to offices, a bookstore, and a tea shop. There's a Starbucks across the street. But The Silver Grill still has lots of old-time charm. And its cinnamon rolls are legendary. 

For this anniversary, the waitstaff wore what football teams would call throwback uniforms. The menu included German Toast (the original name for French Toast), Beef Croquettes, a hominy scrambler, and the Unsinkable Molly Brown Bread Panini. Boiled hominy was a first-class menu item served on the Titanic, which, as you probably know, sank 100 years ago. (Find the story of Titanic passenger Margaret aka Molly Brown, here.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

T: Tree City

Fort Collins is a Tree City, USA, and although I've seen the Tree City signs for years, I really had no idea what the designation signified--other than the fact that we have...well, a lot of trees. So I did some research and found out that Tree City is a program co-sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, the USDA Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters. To qualify as a Tree City, a community must have the following: a tree board or department; a tree care ordinance; a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita; and an Arbor Day observance or proclamation. (Arbor Day is this Friday, April 27.) Fort Collins has made the grade for 32 years.

The Fort Collins Forestry Department maintains the more than 40,000 trees on city property. This job includes, among other things, pruning, planting, removal, insect and disease identification and control, and a Memorial Tree program. They also put together maps for self-guided tours of the 233 tree varieties in City Park and the Notable Trees around town. The latter is compiled in conjunction with the Colorado Tree Coalition, which maintains a list of our state's champion trees. 

I also learned that Fort Collins is home to the state's largest Red, White, and (Thomsen) Blue Spruces, which makes me feel downright patriotic.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S: Streetmosphere

This summer will be the third year for Streetmosphere in Fort Collins. This signature program of Beet Street, our local organization promoting arts and culture, brings free live performances to street corners and plazas all summer long. Performers audition and are paid; local businesses help provide funding through sponsorships and advertising. It's a great way to give artists and performers of all ages a chance to get out and strut their stuff. Last year, an estimated 120,000 people stopped to watch. I was among them, and I'm looking forward to seeing as many of this year's 63 performing acts as possible. 

For today's bonus "s," I'm very glad that spring has arrived in Northern Colorado. (Apologies to anyone in the southern hemisphere.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

R: Raptors

Raptors look pretty intimidating. They've got big ol' talons,  wickedly hooked beaks, and those piercing, 'you-really-don't-want-to-mess-with-me' eyes. But even tough birds are no match for speeding vehicles, tangled fishing line, and lead poisoning.

Since 1979, the non-profit Rocky Mountain Raptor Program has rescued, rehabilitated, and, when possible, released more than 3,500 sick and injured birds of prey. The organization now has seven staff members and 200 active volunteers. Nearly 275 birds are admitted to the facility every year, and more than 70% of the treatable birds are released back into the wild.

RMRP also engages in educational outreach at schools and community events, and through Behind the Scenes Tours at their facility. Their very talented Great Horned Owl writes her own blog. Hey, we knew they were wise, right? 

A few of the raptors are available for viewing at Colorado State University's Environmental Learning Center, which is where my sons and I stopped to visit and take a few photos. It was lunch time for the birds, and we had the opportunity to watch a volunteer feed a dead mouse to a red-tailed hawk. (The hawks start with the head, end with the tail, and, when the birds are feeling particular, they won't eat the entrails. Who knew?) It was, as my younger son put it, "One of those 'cool' and 'I-never-want-to-see-it-again' moments."

(Check out that squirrel living dangerously in the background of the bottom picture.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q: Quartz

Fort Collins sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and there's plenty of quartz in them thar hills. After all, quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth's crust. (After that snooty feldspar.) Quartz can be clear, black, or almost any color in-between. Some of its prettiest and most popular forms are amethyst, rose quartz, smoky quartz, citrine, and tiger's eye. 

For you metaphysical types, clear quartz is known as the universal crystal. Amethyst is meditative and calming...and was used by the ancient Romans to prevent intoxication. (Yeah, good luck with that.) Rose quartz is the stone of love, kindness, and tolerance. If that's true, every one of us should be walking around with a piece in our pocket.

I'm not a geologist, so it was a lot easier for me to find quartz in one of my local rock shops. (These pictures were taken at a fun shop called Nature's Own.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P: Painted Pianos

As part of the Art in Public Places program in Fort Collins, painted pianos are placed around the downtown area. Playing by any passionate performers, pensive passers-by, or pedestrian plunkers is permitted. The lack of pecuniary payment to do so probably pleases even the most persistent pessimist or parsimonius penny-pincher.

Ok, I'll stop now.

The pianos are repainted by different muralists every couple of weeks between May and October. I'm one of those people who gave up piano lessons at an early age. Now, of course, I wish I would have stuck with it. Then I could entertain perfect strangers the way this guy in the orange hat entertained me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O: Oak Street Plaza

When early Fort Collins was laid out, the north-south streets were named after prominent citizens, and the east-west ones were named for trees. So, we have an Oak Street, even though we don't have the majestic live oak trees that are so common in the southern United States.

Our Oak Street dead-ends in a small plaza that is a wonderful spot for all seasons. Spring brings flowering trees and lunches under colorful umbrellas. In summer, dancing fountains keep kids cool and entertained while their parents listen to live music. Fall offers an Oktoberfest celebration. In winter, Tuba Christmas and Trumpet Christmas serenade shoppers.

On the south side of the plaza sits what is affectionately known as "the old Post Office." Currently home to the Fort Collins Museum of Art, the former post office was built in 1912 on the site of the town's first burial ground, the Post Cemetery. With a story like that, it's no wonder the building is allegedly haunted.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N: Northern Colorado Writers

In my dreams, I'm an author of great renown, so my alphabetical list of great things about Fort Collins wouldn't be complete without Northern Colorado Writers. Since 2007, this group--led by determined and energetic director Kerrie Flanagan--has encouraged and supported writers of all levels and genres, from multi-published authors to the greenest beginner. The classes, coffees, critique groups, and amazing conferences (maybe this should have been my "c" post) give even the most reclusive writer reason to venture out of his/her dusty garret and exchange ideas with like-minded people. I've met many great people through this organization--writers tend to be awesome folks, wouldn't you say?--and a few of them are Blogging A to Z, too:

Emerald City
Patricia Stoltey
Skating Buffalo

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M: Mini Margaritas

Fort Collins is becoming known as the Napa Valley of microbrews, but for my money, it's hard to beat a good margarita. However, as I am increasingly becoming a lightweight/cheap date, I can't drink a whole one anymore. That's why I appreciate that one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, known locally as The Rio, offers extremely tasty mini margs. The restaurant also has one of the best patios around for summer chillaxin.

I frequently agree with the famous quote attributed to Oscar Wilde--"Everything in moderation, including moderation."--but where tequila is concerned, believe me, I know who's boss.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L: Labyrinths

I first learned of labryinths as a child reading the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. (But I admit I admired the clever and mysterious Ariadne more than brave Theseus.) In the past few years, I've noticed labryinths cropping up all over. They're not the Daedalus-maze types with a bloodthirsty man-bull at the center, though that would certainly be an exciting twist in a modern setting.

The contemporary labryinths are usually the open, unicursal (single-path) kind, where a ball of thread is not necessary to find one's way out. Many reproduce the intricate twists and turns of the labryinth at Chartres Cathedral, but the smaller ones tend to be of a simpler classical design.

To my knowledge, Fort Collins has five labryinths. Two are associated with churches, two with healing centers, and this one, that my sons and I discovered in December covered with a fresh layer of snow, is behind a city government building.

I'm not a particular devotee of labryinths, but I will stop and walk one whenever I get the chance. Doing so slows me down and encourages me to proceed purposefully--if only temporarily--instead of pelting through the world at my normal spastic pace.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K: Kansas City and Other Kitties

Kansas City Kitty is the name of a fun independent boutique in downtown Fort Collins. It's quirky and cool and carries locally made and/or hard to find items, such as these record albums reincarnated as bracelets:

But I found the retro-Easter-bunny-child-mannequin to be strangely creepy....

As far as domesticated animals go, I'm a dog person. But my neighbors have a pair of black-and-white brother-and-sister cats that have stolen the feline portion of my pet-loving heart. Their names are Sadie (top) and Mux.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J: Joseph Antoine Janis

Joseph Antoine Janis was born in Missouri in 1824. He went west in 1844 and worked as a scout and translator out of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, which is where he met and married First Elk Woman of the Oglala Sioux. In the summer of 1859, Janis moved his family from Wyoming to Colorado. There, he helped establish Colona, which later became Laporte, the first townsite in Larimer County. Janis is recognized as the first Euro-American settler in the Fort Collins area. (Photo of Janis and friends from Fort Collins History Connection.)

Janis worked as a farmer, translator, for-hire guide, gold prospector, fur-trapper, and trader. In 1878, the U.S. government forced the relocation of all Oglala Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Janis accompanied his wife and family to the reservation, where he died in 1890.

In 1939, the original Janis cabin was moved to the grounds of the Fort Collins Museum, where it still stands. It is open to the public and is frequented by school groups studying local history.

This large, and rather large-headed, statue of Janis watches over a busy intersection in town.