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Strange Brew, part two 

Updates on businessmen, bohemians and one bar regular help wrap up '08 and ring in '09

If you read last week's Indy, you already know the deal: What follows is our second and final set of follow-ups on some of our favorite stories from 2008.

As you'd probably infer from the word "favorite," we chose the stories to highlight here in a rather, er, unscientific way. (Although we're proud to say that neither dice nor blindfolds were involved.) That being the case, if you're curious about a story not mentioned either last week or this week, please let us know at newsroom@csindy.com.

Thanks for reading, and happy 2009!

Home, half a world away

"Finding their place," News, Oct. 2

The first of the United Nations' unaccompanied refugee minors from Myanmar arrived in Colorado Springs on Nov. 21, successfully launching Lutheran Family Services' program to resettle refugee children here.

According to her foster mom, Connie Janssen, the teenage girl is adjusting well after a tough couple of weeks, and has already started the ESL program at Rampart High School.

"She wants to be in school, so this is making her happy," Janssen says. "She understands that once she learns English, she will feel less lonely."

Something else that figures to help: Once the U.N. processes the paperwork, this girl should soon be joined by another refugee teen girl the Janssens have decided to foster-parent. (Colorado law stipulates it's illegal to print foster children's names due to the sensitive and sometimes political nature of their placements.) Already a family of six, the Janssens decided to forgo their original decision to foster a school-age boy from this country, and to take two teenage refugee girls, after reading about the troubles they've faced.

In total, local families have started foster-parenting proceedings including Lutheran Family Services' foster and adoption classes for seven teens. A Black Forest resident and single father welcomed his URM foster son in mid-December. Gwen White, local LFS director, says four other teens will settle here early this year if paperwork goes smoothly.

White says many locals have offered mentorship to the refugees, including some who will be valuable cultural diversity contributors. One woman called to say she had lived in Myanmar and was willing to share her firsthand experience of the culture with LFS and its foster parents.

Also, the agency has tapped into a possible partnership with Youth with a Mission, a national organization that "helps meet some of the practical and physical needs of about 400,000 people annually." YWAM bought the old Hilton hotel on Garden of the Gods Road and plans, pending organizational approval, to create a wing for the Myanmar refugees who have reached 18 and are ready to begin the process of emancipation.

"They could live independently, yet still have supervision and help as they transition into American society," White says.

Such a collaboration would mean that more kids could come to Colorado Springs, possibly living two to a room.

The federal government originally hoped to place 30 children in Colorado by next October. If the YWAM project becomes reality, and if more families step up to take children, the number of URMs in Colorado could far exceed 30.

"As long as there are children who need to be resettled in a safe environment," says White, "there is no end to the number we'll try to bring."

For more, write to gwendolyn.white@lfsco.org or lance.carroll@lfsco.org, or call Lutheran Family Services at 227-7571. DS

Windchimes: dreaming, doing

"American Dreamers," cover story, Sept. 18

We don't know about their egos, but the Haunted Windchimes' lineup has definitely expanded in the last three months. KRCC chose the group as opening act for its Oct. 29 DeVotchKa show at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall, for which Pueblo's finest were augmented by the Jack Trades' Mike Clark and Todd Bruington, as well as bassist Sean Fanning (a congregation Indy columnist Adam Leech dubbed the TradeWinds). Co-founder Inaiah Lujan has continued his perverse efforts to release a song a day via the Internet.

And as 2009 begins, look for a lot of action from the group's Blank-Tape label. Among the releases: a brand new Jack Trades album called Whiskey Well, for which both bands will be playing a Jan. 17 record-release party at the Rocket Room; a four-song EP called Simple Songs from the Windchimes' Desirae Garcia; and a new album from the Windchimes themselves, called Honey Moonshine. BF

Another wave threatens DHS

"Staple jam," cover story, Sept. 4

After a rocky period in August, Maggie Morones' food stamp payments started arriving like clockwork.

Morones doesn't feel like she's alone. As office manager at Willowbrook Apartments, south of downtown Colorado Springs, she had heard of many other families experiencing similar breaks in their assistance, and having to decide what bills could be left unpaid. Since the summertime, though, she says, "I haven't heard of anyone having any problems."

That's likely because workers at El Paso County's Department of Human Services have spent recent months cranking through a stack of 600 packets for families applying to get their benefits renewed. They've worked many hours of overtime, and the department has started training new employees before vacancies appear, to limit the impact one departure can have.

So it appears that DHS is nearly caught up with its paperwork.

And that's where the good news ends.

Since August, the monthly total that El Paso County families have received in federal food assistance money has increased from $3.6 million to $5 million. Since January, the number of families on food stamps has shot up nearly 21 percent, to 16,759.

A change in paperwork processing locally is likely behind some of those increases, but a similar upward trend holds for the whole state. In November 2007, Colorado food stamp cases numbered fewer than 106,000. The same month this year, they spiked to around 120,000.

Federal spending on food assistance and other support programs such as Medicaid will likely keep going up as the recession continues. At the same time, local spending will likely keep shriveling. County commissioners decreased the department's 2008 budget by $500,000 for 2009.

Our Sept. 4 cover subjects, Laura Barry, her common-law husband Michael Talmage and their four children, have moved out of Willowbrook Apartments, and could not be reached via cell phone. AL

Anstett's poetic license

"The reason for rhyme," Page Break, Feb. 14; Noted, April 5

As the first Pikes Peak poet laureate, Aaron Anstett must, in his words, "serve as a poetry ambassador and cheerleader." Since earning the spot in April, he's worked on two major goals: making public appearances and enacting a large-scale project promoting poetry in the area.

So far, he's read to City Council and Palmer High School classes, and has hosted poetry workshops for teachers. As for his big project, Anstett has chosen some of the most uninspiring places to enact it.

"Poetry While You Wait" is a community-wide movement, set to launch this April, in which placards and pamphlets of poetry will be distributed in office waiting rooms. Patients killing time before doctors' or dentists' appointments will be able to read works from local, national and international poets.

"Kind of an alternative to outdated issues of Newsweek," Anstett says.

He explains that the pamphlets won't be like regular poetry volumes; anyone is invited to submit works to the project, from "preschool children to tenured professors." Anstett will review all submissions himself and then choose the works for the project. Submissions can be sent to poet@pikespeakpoetlaureate.org. EA

Jukebox goes off-key

"Interview with a jukebox," Best Of, Oct. 16

Like the apocryphal lottery winners whose lives are shot to hell in the aftermath of striking it rich, the jukebox at the Rocket Room suffered a gradual downhill slide following its win. Heavy drinking, paranoid tendencies and an unhealthy interest in burlesque have all been noted by regular customers.

"It's kind of ironic that a machine can suddenly be on top of the world and then wind up in the gutter," said one patron, who asked not to be identified.

The jukebox's condition was initially overlooked by Rocket Room staff and denizens, who were too busy mourning the death of Betty Page to do much else. But now that the problem has become more apparent, an intervention is reportedly in the works. BF

Developers waiting it out

"Have a (new) heart," cover story, Feb. 21;
"Sympathy for the developer," cover story, May 29

Given the sudden, violent turn of the economy, it's not remarkable that most local developers are sitting on their hands these days. Until people and businesses start looking for new homes, developers say they'll hold off on building many large-scale projects.

That includes Nor'wood Development Group's Pikes Peak Place, a skyscraper planned for downtown, and Dan Robertson's The Bijou, a mix of lofts and commercial space nearby. Griffis/Blessing is planning its huge CityGate development downtown, but it won't get built until businesses want the space. Similarly, Chuck Murphy says he'll continue to try and acquire the last property needed to build his planned downtown arts district, but he'll need to see a little sun on the horizon first.

"We're committed to the project, there's no question about that," he says. "It's just a question of when."

Waiting, however, is a luxury not everyone can afford. Ray O'Sullivan's Cooper Tower would have been downtown's tallest building. But the plan was scrapped when O'Sullivan found himself buried in debt in a down economy.

Surprisingly, there are few true success stories in the local development world. The most obvious is LandCo, which will finish the new United States Olympic Committee headquarters in September. The new home of the member sports' national governing bodies is scheduled to be done in February. LandCo is also committed to expanding the Olympic Training Center and, in a separate project, is building new apartments and office space downtown.

Meanwhile, the new Lowell neighborhood in southern downtown is expanding. Spokesman Michael DeGrant says construction will start on 120 new condos in the spring. Six new townhomes will also begin sprouting up early next year. The second phase of Wyndam apartments was finished in fall, offering 48 new apartments to low-income seniors; it filled up quickly.

On the west side, the Gold Hill Mesa development has seen a rush of homebuyers. Nine houses sold in September alone. With the first phase of development nearly complete, developer Bob Willard just signed a contract with Challenger Homes to build a second phase of single-family homes.

"We can't keep up with demand," says spokeswoman Stephanie Edwards.

Progress is also being made at the long-anticipated Palmer Village, located around America the Beautiful Park. Chris Jenkins, of Nor'wood, says John Q. Hammons is still pursuing a plan to put an Embassy Suites in the area. The plan has been set back by environmental issues caused by old utilities activity in the area, which left it contaminated with coal tar. But a plan has been worked out with Urban Renewal Authority to clean up the area, and is awaiting approval by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Jenkins is hopeful construction could begin within the next 12 months. And with the hotel in place, Nor'wood would consider phasing in residential developments if the market is ready. JAS

Pion standoff continues

"Pushing the envelope," News, March 20

The stories and headlines have become less prevalent, but that doesn't mean the Army has backed away from its hoped-for expansion of Fort Carson's 238,000-acre Pion Canyon Maneuver Site east of Walsenburg. Nor does it mean expansion opponents have lost any zeal.

In October, President George W. Bush signed a 2009 budget bill that extended, for at least another year, a previous order by Congress prohibiting the Army from spending funds on Pion Canyon expansion. However, as the Pueblo Chieftain has reported, Army officials have said they will "solicit interested landowners who might be willing to sell up to 100,000 acres along Pion Canyon's southern border," making the argument that "unspent land-acquisition funds from earlier years would pay for that solicitation without violating the ban."

The next headline might come in February, when the Government Accountability Office is due to release a review of the Army's reasoning for PCMS expansion.

"We know the Army isn't going to give up," says rancher Lon Robertson, leader of the expansion opponents. "They had said at one point that if they didn't have 100,000 acres they could buy, they would go somewhere else. But then when we had enough people not willing to sell that the Army couldn't possibly have 100,000 acres, they simply ignored it."

Both sides of the expansion issue are assessing the post-election impact, while also waiting to see who will replace Sen. Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate. Salazar had been one of the staunchest lawmakers fighting the military over Pion Canyon.

Another ally was U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave from Congressional District 4, which includes portions of southeastern Colorado. Musgrave was unseated by Democrat Betsy Markey in the November election, but Markey's campaign Web site (markeyforcongress.com) suggests a clear-cut position:

"We simply cannot destroy the economy of southeastern Colorado when alternatives to the Pion Canyon site have not been pursued. ... I cannot accept that the federal government can dismiss the rights of property owners who are unwilling to sell their land. ... I will oppose any efforts to expand the Pion Canyon Maneuver Site."

Not 1 More Acre!, an organization battling the Army's plans, filed court documents in mid-December alleging that the Army "failed to disclose to citizens the potential socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of expansion extensively planned by the military since at least 2004." RR

Stars still shooting high

"The chosen two," Fall Arts Guide, Aug. 28

If you caught the Colorado Festival of World Theatre's My Favorite Things: A Tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Pikes Peak Center in September, you might recall the preceding "Singing with the Stars" contest that landed two local talents on stage.

JAKES Theatre Company founder Jessica Gisin sang a duet with Broadway star Patrick Cassidy, while Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center regular Halee Towne did the same with living legend Shirley Jones.

As we said at the time: not a shabby bullet point on the rsum. Being hand-picked by Maestro Paul Gemignani and performing under the direction of Lonnie Price certainly bears breakout potential.

Towne, still teaching voice and music lessons locally, will return to the FAC from Jan. 23 through Feb. 15 in The Full Monty. She says she hasn't auditioned elsewhere yet, but has an eye toward Chicago in 2010, when Price and Gemignani will be working there. They gave both Towne and Gisin contact info, with invites to look them up.

"Paul said, 'Don't go to New York. Go to Chicago. You've got the talent, you just need experience,'" says Towne.

Gisin, who was already planning to move to Chicago after work in L.A., just finished a three-week run playing Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof with Los Angeles' Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. She's currently walking dogs, and working at a theater and at Starbucks on top of performing. She says September's show "just pushed me a bit further in terms of getting my goals in order."

As for a World Theatre payoff, Gisin says, "It's not opened any doors yet, but people see it in my bio and ask, 'What was it like?'" MS

McCall enjoys northern daze

"Northern resister," News, Dec. 27, 2007

(Note: By the time we realized this story was actually more than a year old, we had already contacted McCall and really looked forward to sharing his update.)

Pvt. Brad McCall was outspoken in his anti-war views when he first told the Independent in late 2007 that he was leaving his post at Fort Carson to begin a new life in Canada as a war resister.

After more than a year living in Vancouver, McCall is still into peace. But he says he's found a less vocal way to help bring it about.

"I don't fuck with politics," he says. "Politics aren't the answer."

McCall, 21, now works at a "bookstore" for the British Columbia Marijuana Party, where he sells pipes, bongs and other accoutrements for one style of peaceful living.

Another Fort Carson soldier living in Canada, Robin Long, was deported and sentenced last summer to 15 months in prison. But McCall says he's not worried about his future in a country he calls his "new home."

"Freedom is in the mind," he says.

He says he had an "awakening experience" through psychedelic drugs, and plans to continue on a "path of peace."

"It's been a long, strange trip so far," he says. "I'm thinking it's just going to keep getting stranger and stranger, but in a good way." AL

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