Tag Archives: colleen smith

Herbs: Super plants with superpowers

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Wise gardeners grow sage: it’s easy and can be put to many uses | Photo by: Colleen Smith

As a seasoned garden writer, people with self-proclaimed black-thumbs often ask me which plants are easiest to grow. I always answer, “Herbs!” Most herbs grow easy without mollycoddling. What’s more, you can harvest herbs and put them to use in your kitchen–and even your bathroom. Culinary herbs add flavor to food and can cut down on salt intake. Many herbs stand in as medicine or can be made into personal care products such as bath scrubs or balms.

You can grow herbs even if you don’t have a large garden. Many herbs fare well in containers on a patio or lanai.

My article published in The Denver Post features tips from the longtime tender of the herb garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. You may read the article here.

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Keyhole gardens: why and how to build a hybrid raised bed with compost

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Keyhole gardens originated in Africa, but work well anywhere.
Photo courtesy of Send A Cow. 

Keyhole gardens are the best idea I’ve unearthed in more than two decades of garden writing. The gardens originated more than 20 years ago in Africa, where AIDS and drought took a toll on people and gardens. Keyhole gardens combine the best of raised beds and composting, can be irrigated with gray water, and make the most of garden space.

I first learned of the gardens during a drought in Denver, and gathered materials to build one, but never got around to it because I feared the garden might appear junky in my small back yard. However, landscape architects embracing the keyhole garden concept are building these raised, typically round gardens from handsome stone that makes them an attractive highlight in any garden.

My article published by The Denver Post includes step-by-step tips for building a keyhole garden, properly siting the keyhole, and what to plant in these ingenious gardens. You may read my article at this link.

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Pergolas add form and function

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Photo from Denver Post: Pergola with fireplace and seating area designed by Wendy Booth of Ivy Street Design Landscape Architecture.

Pergolas date to ancient times as some of the first structures in gardens. Pergolas add both form and function. A pergola defines an outdoor space, provides a support for vines and decorative lights, and with modification can provide shade and shelter.

My article in The Denver Post provides plenty of professional landscape designer tips for pergolas. Read the article here.

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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

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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

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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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