Tag Archives: colleen smith

Grammy Museum is a High Note in LA

Grammy_ColorSketchI can’t read music, but I do write about it. Professionally.

Which is why the Grammy Awards send me spinning. As the rock blogger for The DenveR Post and a longtime regular contributor of concert reviews to heyreverb.com the newspaper’s groovy and award-winning online music blog, I attend lots of concerts and tune in to music on a more than casual level.

This Sunday, January 26, the 56th Annual Grammy Awards will be staged in Los Angeles, one of the world’s musical centers.

But did you know there’s a Grammy Museum in Los Angeles? And that at the Grammy Museum, you can get a drum lesson from Ringo Starr?

Last October, while on assignment in Los Angeles, I had a free afternoon before jumping into a ten day multi-media project for a client based in the City of Angels. My client graciously put me up in The Hilton Checkers located in an elegant 1920s building in the Arts District, right next to the Los Angeles Central Public Library. Heavenly!

At the top of my list of cultural wishes was a visit to the Grammy Museum, so I headed directly to L.A. Live, the complex housing the museum. An enterprise of AEG Live, the media empire owned by Denver titan Phil Anschutz, the Grammy Museum entertained me for an entire afternoon.

As if establishing right away that the music world turns things upside down, the 30,000 square foot Grammy Museum begins on the fourth floor and winds downward toward the ground floor.

The Grammy Museum is not exclusively about the Grammys, but about music, in general.

Interactive music exhibits make the Grammy Museum educational and also irresistible for any music-lover. Knowing nobody knew me at the museum, I felt free to try my amateur hand at banging away at the trap set. In a recording booth, I laid down two wobbly vocal tracks to “Yellow Submarine.” I got down on guitars and tickled ivories of keyboards and took a taped drum lesson from Ringo Starr.

Exhibits also include musical timelines, genre descriptions and examples, bits of paper with lyrics scrawled, and other ephemera tracing the creative process of songwriting. When I visited, a collection of Michael Jackson’s glittery costumes were on display.

The Grammy Museum offers a peek into the technology of music-making, too. Exhibits track music-making machinery from the earliest days to the most current science of recording songs. I learned a lot experimenting with the mixing board, where visitors can play around and listen to various sounds.

A beautiful theatre hosts lectures. The day I visited, the Grammy Museum was preparing for a talk by opera star Placido Domingo.

The Grammy Museum celebrates all sorts of music and educates fans such as myself. I can’t help but believe the museum must serve as a source of inspiration for musicians.

In Los Angeles and in the world of music, the Grammy Museum is a high note. And the Grammy Museum’s gift shop rocks, too.

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Six early-season skiing truths and tips


Laid-Back Skier & Dr. Downhill

By Colleen Smith and Dr. Joel Cooperman

1)   You will be psyched. Alpine skiing warms one up to winter. We skiers risk life, limb, and credit lines for many reasons: to experience the exhilarating rhythm of piloting ourselves on snow as if superhero snowmen, the challenge of choosing our line, the sense-stirring beauty of forests and purple mountains’ majesty.

Ski tip: Remember, everybody else is psyched, too, but a bit rusty on the snow. In the early season, you’ll face a mix of tentative skiers/riders and over-eager bombers, plus challenges particular to early-season skiing.

2)   Your feet will resent your ski boots.  No matter how comfortable your boots are, they’re ski boots: heavy, clunky implements designed to transfer force from your body to your ski. Your boots help you get your skis to hook up, and there’s joy in the sensation of ski equipment responding.  But technology does not equate with utter comfort.

Ski tip: Unless you have hardwood or marble floors, wear your ski boots around the house before hitting the slopes for the first time this season. Your feet won’t suffer so much shock when you buckle your boots at the base of the mountain for your personal opening day. And you can reacquaint yourself with a confident but awkward skier’s heel-toe stride.

3)   You will fatigue. You can swim or run or cycle, lift weights, practice yoga, or do Pilates, but nothing precisely prepares your body for skiing. Yes, you can build strength and stamina with cross-training, but you can’t totally get ready for your first days of skiing each season. Sport-specific machines such as Skier’s Edge mimic the motions of skiing, but nothing duplicates the physics of what’s happening in an uncontrolled environment, i.e. unpredictable and ever-changing surfaces of alpine terrain.

Skiing requires working with the mountain and with your equipment. You can target general muscle groups, but you can’t train for the specifics of undulations, mountain faces, and snow conditions. The combination of taxing altitude and the first runs of your season add up to tired legs and lungs and potentials for physical system failures.

Ski tip: Pace yourself. Take breaks. Remember to stop before you are too tired. When you’re ready to get off the mountain, download! Especially during the early season, the lower runs tend to be more sparsely covered and icy. Tired legs often translate into less control. Catwalks can clog up with skiers and riders feeling cooked quads, yet in a hurry to get off. Plus, downloading allows you to experience the mountain and the resort from a different perspective as you descend from a dangling chairlift or gondola.

4)   You likely will find crowded runs. Early in the ski season, less open terrain means more skiers per cubic foot on the runs.

Ski tip: Early starts can help you avoid skier congestion. Get up and get out and get after it. The early bird gets the corduroy. Or the freshie turns, as the case may be.

5)   You’ll deal with variable coverage. Just because a resort is open does not mean the entire resort is open. And runs you carved up at the end of the season may not feel the same due to sparse coverage. Undulations you never knew were part of the terrain will present themselves.

Many resorts have limited snow-making capabilities and usually apply that to mid-mountain and lower runs. Artificial snow tends to be wetter and can get icier.  Man-made snow heightens variability on runs.

Ski tip: If you know the mountain does not yet have primo coverage, ride your rock skis—old skis that can take some scrapes without breaking your heart.

6)   You will be sore. Skiing demands that you step into the laws of gravity. The sport requires strength, balance, flexibility, endurance. Any time of the year, but perhaps more so in the early season, you can catch an edge or cross your tips or hit an icy mountain face and do a face-plant or have a yard sale.

Ski tip: Be sure to stretch before and after skiing. Stock up on Epsom salts, analgesic balm, and your favorite over-the-counter painkillers for your ski bag. Spend some après ski time in the hot tub. And trust that with some mileage on the mountain, you’ll soon find your sturdy ski legs again.

Next up on Laid-Back Skier & Dr. Downhill:

Healthful snacks for your ski jacket pocket

Colleen Smith is the author of “Laid-Back Skier: As In Skiing, So In Life.”

Dr. Joel Cooperman practices sports medicine at the Denver Osteopathic Center.

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Pope Benedict XVI, palms, and Ash Wednesday

Full Moon Over Los Angeles Palm

Photo by James Baca Photography

As a former communications officer for the Archdiocese of Denver, one of my duties included directing the production of an annual Catholic liturgical calendar. The calendar hinges on full moons, Spring Equinox, symbolic colors, and also plants—particularly palms.

Today, a collision of past occupations and current preoccupations occurs. My fresh post on my Examiner.com page, where I serve as Denver Flower and Garden Examiner, draws a circle encompassing a number of topics.

Why are palms so important in all of this?

This Mardis Gras, I recall the year I celebrated Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, which leads me to another article about a garden that a friend and I planted while doing Katrina relief work


The liturgical calendar serves as the framework for my first novel, “Glass Halo,” a Finalist for the Sante Fe Literary Prize.

Glass Halo by Friday Jones Publishing can  be found at these local retailers or  on Amazon.


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Seeing Owls and Angels

All my life, I’ve enjoyed birds and wished I could fly. Growing up in Iowa, I learned my basic birds: robins, sparrows, barn swallows, red-headed woodpeckers, and the state bird, the goldfinch.

One of my earliest memories involves a bird of prey, an owl. When I was a kid, my grandparents’ farm was one of my favorite places on earth. I loved my family, of course, my grandparents, great-grandmother, great-uncles and great-aunts, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins and all along the family tree.

I especially loved the farm animals: the horses, the Black Angus cattle, the dogs, even the tadpoles in the culvert.

I loved the big brick house and the enormous white barn with the smell of straw and tack.

One day when I was a pre-school child, I went to the farm with my dad. As he busied himself around the yard, I wandered into the barn. I liked to go to the look at the saddles and bridles and pretend I could ride a horse on my own.

What I remember is a blaze of white, feathered wings and a beautiful face with glowing eyes and a heart shape flying straight at me in a white whoosh. And then it was gone.

Breathless, I ran to tell my dad I’d seen an angel.

When he explained I’d seen the barn owl, I was not disappointed. Owls and angels, to my young mind, seemed equally wonderful. Heaven-sent, both.

Fast forward to my young adulthood when I wrote a bi-weekly page for The Denver Post Sunday paper. Back in the days of the big broadsheets, I had a whole page: a long feature plus a sidebar. Titled “The Nature of…” my features included plants, animals, minerals, weather—anything to do with nature.  One weekend, I reported on owls. As I researched the birds, I hoped to see one. I stalked my Denver neighborhood, but I did not see any owls. I asked my hunter friend, but he did not think I would see any owls. That did not stop me from looking. I did not find any owls before I filed my story.

But years later, my sweetheart and I were walking with my dogs in a field near his home in metro Denver. An owl sailed by silently. I froze. We watched the bird glide toward a fence, pull up its wings, and land on the wooden post. We were close enough to hear the owl’s talons dig into the dry wood. We watched the bird watch my dogs.  My leashed dogs watched the owl, too, which sat on the fence looking much like a cat.

The owl suddenly swept off the fence post and flew low to the ground, then attacked. We stood still. I imagined life draining out of a rabbit, a snake, a mouse or a meadow vole. But then the owl took off again, empty-taloned.

I chided my boyfriend to go see what the bird had killed, but he did not want to investigate. My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over to see. What I found was not a small mammal, not a reptile, but a plastic bag. The thick plastic must have moved in the wind. Now it lay tattered with deep talon marks slicing plastic.

We saw that great horned owl again and again in that field over a couple of years until my boyfriend relocated. We respected the owl.

Yesterday, with the help of one of my sweetheart’s long-time patients, we saw two adult great horned owls and five owlets on three different nests.  Seeing the adorable, fuzzy babies, not yet fledged, delighted me. We watched and watched, and I even collected half a dozen owlet feathers before we hiked out of the forest.

I still love birds, and I still long to fly.

I have seen owls, if not angels.

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Titanic: Saga of hubris floats the boat of many artists

Like many writers, the tragic history of Titanic’s sinking made waves on my imagination.

I first learned about Titanic as a child in elementary school. I remember the story sparking something in my young mind.

In later years, when I learned the meaning of the word “hubris,” Titanic resurfaced in my mind as a clear tale of deadly pride: The proclamation that Titanic was unsinkable seemed to me as deadly as the iceberg that brought the ship down in the cold North Atlantic.

Last weekend’s commemoration of the centennial of Titanic’s sinking inspired a host of creative endeavors ranging from performances of music played on Titanic to readings from “A Night To Remember” by Walter Lord to screenings of Titanic films.

The ship’s maiden voyage forever leaves in her wake a shared grieving.

In the mid-90s, I watched an IMAX film about discovering Titanic, and the documentary struck me again, inspiring a scene in my forthcoming novel. In this scene, Dugan Larkin and his girlfriend are on a date as they watch the film.

An excerpt from Only Wild Plums: Chapter Seven: “The Smell of Icebergs” follows:

“We retreated to the air-conditioned darkness of the IMAX Theater to watch a documentary about Titanic. As the opening frames rolled, I leaned over and whispered, “Titanic was a ship, by the way, not a boat.”

“Shh,” she said.

I leaned forward in my seat as I listened to the narrator. I learned that just before the invisible, mountainous remnant of a glacier on the starboard bow sliced Titanic in two, the night watchman in the crow’s nest that moonless night smelled icebergs.

I held Cam’s hand and my breath, watching the deep-sea footage of all that uncorked, vintage champagne leftover from that celebrated maiden voyage. Far below the daggered surface of the cold North Atlantic, the ship’s china remained unbroken, place settings strewn randomly on the sandy ocean floor. Partying passengers dropped ice chips from the blue berg into their cocktails served on the deck that night before she went down.

In the documentary, an elderly woman interviewed in an old stone church in England related the tale of boarding Titanic with her parents; her small, black dog, and her large, brown teddy bear. The film included vintage black and white photographs of the privileged girl and her prosperous parents, including several in which the family dog stared at the lens, eyes large with expectation.

In the end of the chapter, Dugan decides to sail beyond his fears about commitment to marriage and children. As he winds down his narration, he feels not entirely safe, yet willing to proceed into the unknown; and his last line is, “I smell no icebergs.”

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Glass Halo: Tornadoes in the news, in the novel

With all the terrible tornadoes in the news, I can’t help but remember my own frightening experiences in tornadoes. I’ve survived several tornadoes both in my home state of Iowa, and also in my current Denver home.

Growing up in Iowa, we learned at an early age the warning signs or tornadoes. We learned to keep an eye on the sky. We knew to take cover in a basement, away from windows. We heeded the alarming sounds of tornado sirens.

The first tornado I remember hit my uncle’s farm when I was a child of elementary school age. My siblings and my cousins and I played at the farm while the adult men and a veterinarian helped a cow with a breech birth.

I remember the winds coming up, tossing dust and straw around the farm. Curious, I watched the poor mama cow struggling, heard her bawling. My dad and my uncle nervously watched over the shoulder of the vet. The vet had his arm inside the cow, blood soaking his shirt all the way to his armpit.

The humid day turned cool. Winds whipped harder. I remember a piece of tin flying by, nearly hitting my father.

“That could have decapitated you!” my uncle said.

I wasn’t sure what “decapitated” meant, but I learned from context.

I don’t remember the storm. I do remember all of us gathered around the television—probably black-and-white in those days. We listened to a special report about tornado touch-downs.

“Could that be J.L.’s farm?” I asked my grandmother.

“No,” she said, but she balled up her apron in her fists.

The next thing I remember, my aunt burst through the door in tears, shouting, “It’s all gone! It’s all gone!”

The storm devastated their home and barn, we saw the next day. I remember seeing oddities: my cousins’ toys strewn everywhere in the rubble. I remember hearing of livestock flying, breaking legs. My uncle’s Budweiser cans wound up at a neighboring farm.

Subsequent tornadoes were not as damaging, but I learned in my first tornado to respect storms.

Tornadoes in Denver left such an impact upon me that I decided to open my first novel with a tornado. In Glass Halo, the tornado destroys priceless stained glass windows in a historic Denver cathedral.

The storm also forces a meeting of the novel’s two main characters, driving Nora Kelly—a stained glass artist—and Father Vincent DiMarco—the cathedral’s rector and pastor–into the church basement for shelter.

The tornado kicks up a stormy love story with many twists, but the destruction in the novel’s beginning results in creation and rebuilding both of the cathedral and the characters.

Glass Halo is available as a limited edition hardcover novel, beautifully designed in the Arts & Crafts tradition. The book also is available with full graphics as an e-book on Amazon.

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Laid-Back Skier book signing at Swoozie’s in Cherry Creek North

We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to meet some of you at Swoozie’s on Monday April 2, 2012 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Come out to Swoozies’ newest location in Cherry Creek North in Denver to check out the store and get your copy of Laid-Back Skier signed!

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