FC ADVENTure CALENDAR Day24…and The Missing Birthday Present


Merry Christmas! Froehliche Weihnachten! Please read all the way down – and join in on the search for Erik’s Missing Birthday Present – link back to Susanna’s blog to follow

Let there be peace on Earth and good will to all!


For the last post in this ADVENTure CALENDAR I thought I’d celebrate with a list of Fort Collins Festivals: (click on names/logos for more info)

First Night Fort Collins: New Year’s Eve – Enjoy the wonderful and diverse entertainment presented at this non-alcoholic New Year’s Eve celebration. First Night Fort Collins 2013: “Enchanted Voyage” promises new performing acts, storytelling, history, interactive craft projects, old favorites, street performers, international dancing and much more.

Martin Luther King Day Celebration: community march

Great Plates: Thirty (30) downtown restaurants will offer amazing evening dining specials for a full two weeks, to benefit the Food Bank for Larimer County.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade: keep a lookout for green bagels from Gib’s!

A Fort Collins Jazz Experience: A week long set of jazz related events and concerts build up to the weekend when Saturday’s Downtown Sessions brings jazz to the forefront.

New West Fest: Northern Colorado’s largest FREE community and music festival, Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest

Taste of Fort Collins: This two-day festival offers attendees food from local and national restaurants, entertainment from regionally and internationally acclaimed musicians, and an eclectic display of fine artisans work as well as the region’s best crafters.

Old Town Car Show

Fourth of July

FoCoMX: 2 nights, 30 venues, 300+bands

I realize I may well be missing a few here, and I welcome additions! Leave a comment below.

I hope Olivia has relayed the differences in how Christmas is celebrated; here are a few articles that might further interest you –

Celebrating Christmas in America: http://www.aclu.org/celebrating-christmas-america

The History of Christmas in America: http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/ch/in_america.htm

Now for the next installment of The Missing Birthday Present: 


(If you have arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE)

Erik Asks a Different Guard

    “Aw, come on!” Erik thought, “What could the cook possibly know?  She never leaves the kitchen!  Someone must have seen something!” He stretched up from his toes and spotted another guard, and ran, a smile across his face. This fellow looked alert, but maybe Erik was too confident.
“Excuse me,” Erik said politely, but the guard did not react. “Excuse me, sir,” he tried again. But Erik’s patience was about to run out with the wind. “Sir!” he finally shouted, startling the guard who stumbled in a clamor of tinny armor.
“I say, must you shout about?” he protested.
“Sir, it’s my gift. It’s missing,” Erik said. He presented the empty box hoping the sight would instantly reveal the gift’s whereabouts. “Can you help me? Have any idea where I might find it? Have you seen anything…suspicious?”
“I’ve no idea what you are about, boy? I was around…a corner doing, uh…guarding…some very important things, I’ll have you know!” First the guard looked surprised, then his wiry eyebrows quickly sloped to the bridge of his nose, like the chains on the bridge to the castle. “How dare you bother me with silly trifles! Can’t you see I’m guarding the castle?” Then the eyebrows pulled up again: “I did hear a humpf-a-le-humpf, and a cloppity-clop, and maybe a deep, dark groan or a snort. So it was probably, no it was definitely a horse. Wouldn’t you say? Yes, it was a horse. It must have galloped down the ramparts. Headed for the forest, I’d say. Certainly!” Down came the tangle of wires. “Now be off with you, before I drag you to the dungeon where you will have only cold bricks to exasperate! Off! Off with you, I say!”
Erik wasted no time and shrugged off bone-chilling images of the castle’s dark bowels. With the empty box under his arm, he dashed to the stable to fetch his pony and head for the forest.

Click HERE to go to the forest…



As Advent, ‘the arrival’, is almost upon us, and these Calendar posts are the last,  I wondered if I might be forgetting some important  or interesting facts about Fort Collins. I could cram in lists: recreation activities, university outreach programs, everything I love about my library, etc. But I thought I’d reach deeper, and add a personal observation.

We first came to Fort Collins in October, and it had not been particularly moist that year. As we drove away from the airport, situated on the plains east of Denver, we were surprised by the brown and seemingly barren landscape. We were in awe of the majestic Rockies to the west, but where were the pines, the foliage, the green? The scars of human progress stood out in great contrast, and I could not align what I saw with what I had imagined. And why were there fences everywhere? How would we take walks if the fields were closed off to us? In Germany I was accustomed to stopping on a country road to walk down tree lined paths for a picnic on an outcropping in the woods. Luckily it didn’t take long to get our bearings, to locate hiking trails – and picnic rocks!


And a number of years did go by, but I gradually developed a sensitivity for color and eventually an appreciation for lines, bold and subtle, shapes and light. I still pine for the moisture I can almost breathe when watching a movie filmed in a lush landscape, but now I can’t see the colors – just so much green!


Adjustment to change, and longing for what we knew can be quite difficult, but these are vehicles by which we can grow and mature, sometimes unexpectedly. And we don’t have to move from one spot on this earth to another to learn from these experiences. Upheaval can and will bring pain in degrees, but if we are willing to look a little longer and give our surroundings as well as our inner perceptions a little focused attention, we can and will find joy and wonder in what we first found different and strange, or dry, brown and lifeless.




The Fort Collins ADVENTure CALENDAR is a gift to my daughter and her host-family in Germany, free to be shared with anyone interested in her hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado.

Going to school in America is different in many ways.  Here is a glimpse of what it has been like for  Olivia:

There are 27,000 students that go to 50 schools in our district (covering our city, nearby towns and mountain communities) from Kindergarten through grade 12. The district’s School Choice program allows parents to choose the schools that meet their child’s educational needs, based on space availability. We chose the only elementary at the time that offered an IB (International Baccalaureate) program, and the kids have chosen to remain on the IB track through 12th grade. We wanted them to have the option of returning to Germany and not have difficulties defending the level of their education.

Pre-school, called Kindergarten in Germany, is generally a private matter here. As is Day Care, or Tageskrippe. I am not sure if there is much financial aid provided for families in need at all. And the government does not assure a place in a facility, as was the case for us in Germany once Olivia turned three years old.

Kindergarten is integrated in the elementary schools, and a child starts at age 5. The district has about 30 elementary schools, and Olivia first attended the one assigned to our neighborhood, and transferred by ‘choice’ the following year to Dunn, or ‘Dunn IB World School’.

Dunn fifth graders host the swearing in of new US-citizens annually.

When Olivia attended middle school it was called Lesher Junior High School, with grades 7-9, but has since changed district-wide to grades 6-8. In order to stay on the IB track Olivia ‘chose’ Poudre High School, which is actually closer than the assigned HS. The district could no longer afford to provide buses for School of Choice students, so we are responsible for transportation, though, weather permitting she rode the 6km on her bike each way.

Each high school has a different daily schedule, and I think Poudre HS changed theirs every year Olivia attended! But the day usually started around 7:35 and ended at 3:05. Students bring a lunch from home or purchase one in the school cafeteria. There are vending machines throughout all the high schools, and though the offerings have gotten better, they, as well as the quality of school lunches across the nation, are still a point of contention!

All students are required to take Physical Education classes, P.E., but the high schools also offer after school athletic programs including: cross-country, track, football, soccer, golf, tennis, gymnastics, softball, field hockey, volleyball, wrestling, swimming, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse.

As we left Germany before Olivia could attend Grundschule, I can’t be sure, but one thing I believe is very different is the amount of volunteering parents, as well as other community members, do within the schools here: to read a picture book, help in writing their first stories, mentor a group project, fundraising, or even teacher appreciation lunches, and MUCH more! The level is a matter personal to the school, and is dependent on the time and availability of volunteers.

I’d be glad to answer any further questions, but Olivia may be able to herself!



I’ve talked about elk and deer, and bothersome squirrels, but some of the other animals we see here on a regular basis are racoons – big fellas, that tend to take refuge in the hollowed out trees, but every time I’ve caught one in the headlights they scramble quickly down the storm drains. One friend had them in her house while out of town: came in through the dog door, got into the dog food – and everything else! Another friend chased out the nocturnal visitors with a broom! They like to wash their food, if they find water nearby and another friend has told of displaced objects from her garden pond and even shredded clothing on the clothes line!

I haven’t had any trouble with rabbits in the garden, but I have found house finches tearing on broccoli leaves (find that rather cute, actually). Once while Olivia was doing her homework on the front porch she spotted a skunk peering ’round the corner. The neighbor’s dog found it later, poor fellow! We have to deal with mice getting in when the temperatures drop in the fall, or wasps building nests in the eaves of the roof – and once in the outdoor grill! A few years ago we spotted a bee swarm in the neighbor’s tree, and were advised to make sure any openings on the house were tightly sealed so they wouldn’t chose our house for their new home. If you drive by any open field in town, you are also likely to spot prairie dogs, at least their heads poking out of their hills!

My favorite animal to spot is the fox, and lately I haven’t seen any, but I haven’t been out as much in the early hours, or at dusk, when I might see one, traveling amongst the gardens, sometimes walking right down the sidewalk. One evening my son and I stopped in Old Town, on a fairly busy street, to watch an entire fox family at play!

to check out more wildlife photos, click on this one

There have been rare reports of mountain lion, (puma, cougar) in town. Rangers post mountain lion sightings signs when there are recent sightings in natural areas, and if you spot one there is an official number to call to report it, including the method you may have had success with if you managed to scare it off! Watch the following news report of one found in Fort Collins:


Once on my bike, after dropping the kids at their elementary school, I saw a crowd gather to watch a black bear get taken out of a tree on the university campus, by some brave man in a cherry picker!

It’s Friday, so here is another American Christmas PPBF selection: Mr.Willowby’s Christmas Tree


Author/Illustrator: Robert Barry
Publisher: Doubleday/Random House (Text 1963), 2000
Age Level: 3-7
Themes: holidays, Christmas, sharing
Opening: Mr. Willowby’s Christmas tree
Came by special delivery.
Full and fresh and glistening green–
The biggest tree he’d ever seen.
Summary: That was the trouble. The tree was so tall, it couldn’t stand up straight in his parlor. Mr. Willowby asked his butler to chop off the top of the tree. What happens to the treetop? Where will it be for Christmas? Snuggle up with this story and follow along through a forest full of friendly creatures who get to share in a bit of Christmas joy.
Why I like this book: This sweet story of accidental sharing with plenty of rhyming, humor and lively illustrations, is familiar to me, although I know I had not seen this version recently. I never even knew a film was made of it! Check out the video below.
Resources/Activities: check out this book-specific packet of K-2 activities from realtrees4kids.org

For more PPBF selections go to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog



So many things in our daily lives are very similar to life in Germany, and yet they’re not. Here are just a few:

The windows on most houses here slide open – up/down or side to side. In Germany most open inward like doors.

Most people here dry their wash in a dryer, most people in Germany dry their clothes on a line – out of doors and in. (Some neighborhoods in America don’t allow residents to hang their wash out!)

We generally keep boxes of tissues (100-250 very thin sheets) around the house, in a classroom; Germans carry packets of 10 (?) thicker tissues that unfold.

We eat a lot of breakfast cereal, esp. on weekdays. Germans generally eat toasted bread with jam, honey or cheese.

It is more common to take off your shoes when entering the home in Germany, but the practice is becoming more common here.

I found it hard to believe when my daughter’s host-parents were told NOT to expect a teen from America to know how to ride a bike, but statistics say it’s true that about 80% don’t even ride one occasionaly. Though most Germans live in dense urban areas, most know how to ride a bike.

Most American homes have a air-conditioners, and screens on their windows to keep out bugs. I have never seen either in a German home.

The post is delivered by car here, though for each block/area the person delivering will carry a bag and walk to every house, and in Fort Collins you’ll see them wearing shorts most of the year! In Germany one is more likely to see a postman deliver on bicycle, or a wheeled cart. American drop-off boxes are dark blue; German post boxes are bright yellow.

There are plenty more I could add to this list, but these few should raise an eyebrow or two!



What is the difference between an elk and an Elch? Sounds the same, but what Germans call an Elch is what we call a moose. And what about an elk – what is that in German? Well, it isn’t what you might think, it’s not a deer. A deer is what Germans call a Hirsch. Still confused? Well, a deer and an elk belong to the same family: Cervidae.

YMCA of the Rockies: A huge herd of elk hanging out at Snow Mountain Ranch last weekend, clearly enjoying the fresh powder!

The Rocky Mountain Elk, the ones pictured above, are a subspecies of the North American Elk (Cervus elaphus). Now, the deer we see, often crossing our path on the way to school, are most likely Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), but you can see Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in our region too. Mule deer have large ears and a black-tipped tail. Whitetail deer have smaller ears and wide, flat, bushy tails.

Male White-tailed deer (buck or stag)

Male Mule deer, in Wyoming

Wikipedia explains the reason for the confusion as follows: ‘The British English word “elk” has cognates in other Indo-European languages, for example elg in Danish/Norwegian, älg in Swedish, Elch in German and łoś in Polish. Confusingly, the word elk is used in North America to refer to a different animal, the elk or less commonly wapiti (Cervus canadensis), which is similar though slightly smaller (the North American species is the second largest deer species) and behaviorally and genetically divergent from the smaller red deer of central and western Europe. Presumably early European explorers in North America called it elk because of its size and presumably because, as men coming from the British Isles they would have had no opportunity to see the difference between a member of the genus Cervus and an animal fitting the description of Alces at home, where the latter was nowhere present in the 17th and 18th century.

And what about the the North American moose (Alces alces)? The moose also belongs to the same family, and the Elch know in Europe is called Eurasian elk, but goes by the same binomial name.

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

Now for a treat, and one of the reasons we like to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in September, when the elk migrate to the lower regions for the breeding season, otherwise known as elk rut (rut is derived from the Latin rugire for ‘roar’) – ENJOY!



The Farm at Lee Martinez Park is a ‘working’ farm to visit and to learn. Both Olivia and her brother have taken classes here.

Horses, cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, ducks, hayrides and pony rides, a water pump that every kid has to try – every visit, and at least twice! We’ve gone to story-times and demonstrations from the library outreach program, and Olivia volunteered on Halloween for the little ones – a safe and quiet environment with pretend houses! I can’t tell you how often one of us has come a little too close to the goat fence!

Or how many times we’ve climbed into the silo!

It’s been a long time since we’ve been back, but I may need go again soon!



One of the things I have always found funny, is how German visitors react to the squirrels (or tree rats/Baumratten, as we sometimes call them) running rampant through our trees, along fences and on the rooftops. They are not just a part of daily life, but can be the bane of my existence at times! I have come up with all kinds of contraptions to keep them out of my strawberry bed. I don’t enjoy setting out carved pumpkins any more because they only last a day or two, and the aftermath is a mess, because all they want are the seeds! Once a squirrel dropped a plastic chocolate syrup bottle (from a recycle bin) from about 40 feet out of the tree out front – luckily no one was hurt! And when we first moved here no one warned us to pack up the picnic food in case you turned your back – because they would come that close! And they did (remember those Oreos they pried out of the Tupperware, Liv?)  See a video here taken in the same park:

Where I grew up on Long Island, the closest I ever got to one was while quietly hiding in a tree – scared the poor thing when I screamed! The squirrels there are silver gray, and as you can see in the video ours are rather brown.

I’ve left the back door open a few too many times and have had to chase them away from where I have dried grains stored. A friend who lives closer to the park has had them come into the house through the chimney and once they pried back the window screens to get to some fruit on the kitchen counter. The same family claims that they have known squirrels to throw apples down at them too!

And then there is their gardening abilities – every spring I am pulling out tree saplings that I certainly didn’t plant, but for one I am glad – an oak that is about 3 feet/1m high now!



Every year our family has gone up to the foothills to cut down our Christmas tree at Davis Ranch. The charge for cutting a tree has been about $20 for the first 8’/2.4m, and we’ve never even come close! We usually are able to fit the tree inside the car! Once, the attendant was so disappointed in our wimpy choice he only charged us $7! I usually pull together a wreath from the leftover twigs and fresh-cut left-behinds.


We are not sure we will be able to get one from the ranch this year because of the massive fire in the foothills this summer. But it has been a wonderful place to visit, especially if there was enough snow to do some sledding after we pick out a tree. Keep your fingers crossed – we’ll be looking for one this weekend!

This photo was taken near the ranch by Raul Alvarez (denverchannel.com)

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday again, and I’d like to introduce another American Christmas tale:

The Christmas Tree Ship

Author/Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Publisher: Philomel Books, 1994
Age Level: 4-8
Themes: Christmas, Christmas trees, ships
Opening: Chop, chop, chop went the axes, cutting down spruce trees in the wintry northern woods.
Summary: One day, when the Christmas Tree Ship disappears, the girls and their mama wait for their father to come home. But when the snows of another November blow in, Elsie, Pearl Hazel and their mama know what they must do…
Why I like this book: First off, I am enamored with Winter’s illustration style! She incorporates mood and just enough emotion, with few lines, shapes, and lots of dots – and is a master of color. The true story draws me in, and Winter has found a way to share the hard truths with a gentle hand.

Resources/Activities: check out another telling of this true story; follow today’s reenactment by the US Coast Guard; read more true history

The Arrival: Here Comes the Christmas Tree Ship, by Charles Vickery
(click on the photo to buy a print)

Click here to check out other PPBF picks on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog – today and every day!



The Denver Post once described Fort Collins as the ‘Colorado college town with the most vital music scene’. In an article on npr.org I found out that ‘Fort Collins is home to the revered recording studio The Blasting Room, and members of punk rock legends The Descendants, All, and Black Flag have ties to this town’. We do have plenty to offer, and something for everyone.

Music Venues that Rock the Fort (I took descriptive cues from websites and online reviews)

Aggie Theatre: smaller but more intense acts still carve our little town into their schedule/they give you wristbands so you can come and go as you please
Avogadro’s Number: Cozy unique atmosphere serves up Bluegrass, Jazz, Arias, Tempeh, and a treehouse on the patio
Budweiser Event Center (Loveland): 7,200 seats – everything from monster truck shows and ice hockey games to Cirque de Soleil and Kenny Rogers
Everyday Joe’s Coffee House: amazing space – non-profit coffee house run by Christians
Hodi’s Half Note: an easy place to go when you’re looking for a cheap concert.
Lincoln Center: newly renovated primary performing arts facility
Lucky Joe’s Sidewalk Saloon: described as having a Texan/Irish pub feel
Swing Station (LaPorte): during the summer months they actually encourage bringing in your own grub to throw on the grill
Mishawaka Amphitheater: Up the canyon, on the banks of the Poudre, fondly called “The Mish”
University Center for the Arts: dynamic faculty, committed students offer art, music, theater, dance (Singer of the Year competition is a fav)


Bohemian Nights: New West Fest with int’l. headliners and 90+ CO bands for FREE
FoCoMX: 2 nights, 30 venues, 300+bands

And an entertainment paper that keeps track of it all: Scene Magazine