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.




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!



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!

FC ADVENTure CALENDAR Day 12, and 12x12in’12 Party!


A favorite book from my childhood is Go, Dog. Go!, by P.D. Eastman. It features dogs in all colors, utilizing all sorts of vehicles to get around. We didn’t have a car in Hannover, but we never needed to own one. In moving to Fort Collins from Germany we had to make a big adjustment. When we first arrived it was really important to me that we choose a place to live that allows for accessibility with a bicycle, or on foot. So we rented a house in Old Town, and finally bought one two years later. We only had one car for a few years, and with the trailer on the bike I was able to manage pretty well.

Bike paths in Fort Collins

We are fortunate that Fort Collins has a great bike culture, and many of the city’s streets are marked with bike paths. If you are looking to get somewhere via bike, the city has a Bike Coordinator to help you find the best route, bicycle safety resources and classes, route maps, a bike-and-ride program( buses that can carry up to two buses on the front at a time), status updates on bike trail conditions, bike cage access in one of the parking houses, bike-to-work-day and bike-to-school-day events, and more.

The bus system cannot be compared to any in Europe, but the city puts a lot of effort into promoting it’s use, including offering free bus fare for all students under 17, and all university students with a RamCard. They also work with neighboring communities to establish affordable regional transit services, for we may have train tracks, but no passenger trains. Unbelievable to us at first, but true. And at this point, with our barely stable economy, I only hope to see that happen. I’ll be sharing the story of our trolley in another ADVENTure post!

It’s Wednesday, and time for another idiom (WIX). I’ll keep ‘in motion’ with the thread of today’s post: on the home stretch: approaching something such as a task, race or journey. And I am! It’s the 12th day of the 12th month in 2012, a perfect day to celebrate! I have almost (19 days left!) successfully completed Julie Hedlund’s 12x12in’12 Challenge: 12 rough picture book drafts in 12 months in 2012! I am finding it too hard to express my gratitude to Julie and all my fellow participants – I am overflowing. So here is another Mr.Poppenfuss illustration, for IF: Explore, which expresses how I feel:


PS: Happy Birthday Beth!



I’m taking to the streets today! What we know now as ‘Old Town’ was mapped out and planned back in 1867, but as Fort Collins grew the streets needed names and a ‘New Town’ layout. Frank C. Avery was engaged to draw up a map and presented it in 1873.

Avery map of Fort Collins

Old Town had been laid out parallel to the river, but Avery held to the compass, creating a few pie-shaped blocks in Old Town. Most of the east-west streets were named for trees and shrubs. North-south streets were given the names of prominent residents, many of whom were trustees of the company that hired Avery!

House on Willow Street, Fort Collins

Because of the space available, Avery chose to use it, and created very wide streets: the main street running north-south through town is 140ft/43m wide, and most others 100ft/30m. That may not seem like too much today, but back then the streets were not paved, so to avoid soiling their dresses the ladies were forced to pull the skirts up and navigate the ruts, mud and dust. I’ve also heard he wanted to have enough room for a horse and carriage to make a u-turn in the street.

College Avenue, Opera House Block Bldg.

Our street was named after the Agricultural College’s first president, Elijah E. Edwards.

Click on any of the pictures for more info!



Another landmark in Fort Collins, is the gravesite of Annie the Railroad Dog, but I never even knew where it was until I looked into her story. Annie was an ill-treated mix-breed dog that a railroad crew adopted from a blacksmith’s shop near the tracks, and took back to the station in the caboose. That was in the mid 1930’s. They crewmen took her on their daily run of the inspection and repair of their section of tracks. At the station they kept a box near the basement furnace for her, where she even gave birth to a litter of 3 puppies. When one of the brakemen retired he still came and took Annie on walks about the town, where she would be greeted by locals, offered restaurant scraps and ice cream licks, even an occasional bone from the butcher along the way. She died in her sleep, in her box by the furnace, in 1948 when she was 14 yrs. old.

This bronze statue was made in her honor, with one paw raised to ‘shake hands’. It sits between the two large pines in front of the Old Town branch of the library, where Olivia and her brother would greet and visit with her, on our way in and out! When Olivia volunteered as a Library Pal during the summers between 5th and 7th grade, one Pal would often dress in an Annie costume and walk about the children’s section of library giving kids hugs, and ‘shaking hands’. For thirteen years the city featured a walk in her honor: a 1.5 mile walk with dogs, a pancake breakfast and Annie look-alike contest.

Read more: Fort Collins library ends “Annie Walk” – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_18447128#ixzz2EZWufjve

Click on the photos to link back for further topics (and more photos!) about Fort Collins history and community: http://www.lostfortcollins.net/


FCACbanner8If you’ve been wondering what the funny shape is in the ‘skyline’ in the ADVENTure CALENDAR image – it’s our landmark, a symbol of our city, a mountain – located in the foothills to the west of town. And because of the resemblance, it’s got a great name: Horsetooth Rock.

It’s one of the first things you notice when you come to Fort Collins. And if you’re lucky, you’ve found someone to join you on the hike up through Horsetooth Mountain Open Space (click for more pics) – a good 4km and 457m in elevation. Just beyond, which you can’t see from town, is Horsetooth Resevoir – created by diverting water from the west slope of the Rocky Mountains to the east slope, for drinking water, irrigation and hydropower generation.

It is also used for recreation: swimming, fishing, sailing, rowing, camping, picnicking and boating. To our great surprise when we moved here, that also includes motor boats and jet skis. Click on either of the above photos from landscapeimagery.com, for a detailed description of the hike and more terrific photos. Olivia can point out where we live in relation to it.


This photo was taken on a hike not far from Horsetooth, shortly after we moved here: