Dixie Darr

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Hungry Minds

In creativity, Learning, Learning Tools on October 23, 2017 at 6:34 am

Hungry Minds
“It is useful,” Leonardo da Vinci wrote, to “constantly observe, note, and consider.” To that end, historian Toby Lester says Leonardo used to travel with a small notebook hanging from his belt, and “whenever something caught his eye,” he would make a note, or begin “sketching furiously.”
While I never go anywhere without my journal, another discipline I follow is writing these posts every Monday through Friday. While millions of bloggers focus on trying to make money from their blogs, mine is really just a weblog, a way to force myself to follow Leonardo’s advice to observe and consider.
Popular blogger Seth Godin points out “If you know you have to write a blog post tomorrow, something in writing, something that will be around six months from now, about something in the world, you will start looking for something in the world to write about. You will seek to notice something interesting and to say something creative about it.”
Coming up with something to write every day isn’t always easy, but usually, if I just let go and pay attention to what’s on my mind, a topic presents itself. Today it’s keeping a notebook, tomorrow something about my church. Then the fun starts, trying to figure out what I think about the subject and what I can learn from it.
Writer Jonas Ellison agrees. “Blogging every day forces you to notice the details of your life. You need fodder for the day’s post. And you’ll scour your world to get it. You become hyper-aware. You find ways to turn little subtleties into big ideas. You start writing with questions only to be faced with answers by the time you reach the end of the post.”
To Ray Bradbury (and me) “It’s all mulch.”


Just Like Leonardo

In creativity, Learning on October 20, 2017 at 3:32 pm

I’m thinking about signing up for a course in drawing illustrated maps. The one-week online course is taught by Nate Padavick (see his work at http://www.theydrawandtravel.com/) and only costs $29. I want to draw a map of the fictional town of Mayhem Gulch where my mystery takes place.

You may remember that I was an art major my first year of college although I never thought I could draw—my interest was interior design. When this first came out several months ago I decided instead to buy some books and teach myself. Somehow I never got around to that. Maybe a little more structure in an online course will help.

My goal is not to draw like Leonardo—wouldn’t it be nice if you could learn that in a week for $29? Nope. I still don’t fancy myself an artist. What I really like is learning.

In his new biography of Leonardo (I’m 86th in line at the library), Walter Isaacson writes that when daVinci woke up in the morning, he made a list of things he wanted to learn. Isn’t that a great idea?

Michael J. Gelb, who wrote How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci listed seven principles of which the first is Curiosita, “An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.” Isaacson calls Leonardo’s notebooks where he kept notes on his learning, “the greatest record of curiosity ever created.” I’ve kept various Learning Logs over the years and may feel the pull to start another one recording both what I want to learn and what I do learn.

In my previous working life, I was an expert at experiential learning and compiling proof of learning artifacts into a portfolio to earn college credit. I still believe that following our interests results in the deepest, most meaningful learning. Leonardo’s one hell of an example to follow.

Maybe you read about 11-year old Ames Mayfield, the Broomfield fifth grader kicked out of his cub scout den for asking pointed questions of a state senator. I’d love to hear what he learned from that experience.

Then there was 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao from Lone Tree who won this year’s Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Her sensor, Tethys, detects lead levels in water better than traditional methods. Inspired by the Flint water crisis, she got the idea after watching her parents testing for lead in their water and thinking there had to be a better way.

Gelb said, “Great minds go on asking confounding questions with the same intensity throughout their lives.” These two inspire me to keep learning and give me hope for a better future.

Detritus of Daily Life

In Auntie Flat, Church, creativity, Home, Learning on October 19, 2017 at 9:55 am

As much as I need to declutter my house, I also need to declutter my mind. Things pile up in there and multiply when I’m not paying attention.
If you’re familiar with David Allen’s OCD book, Getting Things Done, you know that his secret is to list everything you need to do. I mean EVERYTHING. Need to do a load of laundry? Put it on the list. That reminds me, I need to put a load of laundry in the washer.
Okay, that’s done. Now I need to remember to put it in the dryer in about half an hour and then take it out of the dryer, fold it and put it away. Sorry, but it just seems dumb to write all that down on a list.
Now Radley is letting me know that once again he got shut in the laundry closet. Coming back from letting him out, I see the dishwasher and remember that I have to unload it and put the dishes away so I can start filling it again with dirty dishes. And I still have a pot soaking in the sink that I should wash and put away.
Will I ever get past these chores and get to the (slightly) bigger things like taking my car in to have the tires rotated and balanced or making an appointment to renew my driver’s license or calling to have my 401K switched to an IRA?
Then I want to get back to writing the mystery I started two years (!) ago. Maybe I should participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November and punch through that.
I did manage to finish the church history I’ve been working on or (mostly) procrastinating for months and just in time for our 125th anniversary this Sunday. Come one come all. It’ll be fun. We’ll have special guests and singing and stories and food. What’s not to like?
Okay, I’m a little distracted.
That’s life.

Sparking Joy

In Auntie Flat, Home, Learning on October 18, 2017 at 7:23 am

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has taken the decluttering world by storm. If you haven’t read it (the audio version is available free on YouTube) I’ll give you the short version. Separate all your stuff into categories—long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, books, etc.–and pick up each item while asking if it sparks joy in your life. If it doesn’t, out it goes.

Nobody needs more help with tidying up than I do except hoarders and they need more help than one slim book can provide. But really, everything has to spark joy? I really need my underwear even if it doesn’t bring me joy (it doesn’t). I also need my pots and pans and towels and flash drives and medications. I like some of those things, I appreciate their various qualities, but not a single one of them brings me joy.

English designer William Morris makes more sense to me, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. While I also believe that useful things can be beautiful and vice versa, sometimes they still don’t bring me joy.

My toy cupboard made for me as a baby by my Grandpa Darr is crudely made and beat up after 69 years of wear and tear. Neither particularly useful nor beautiful, it’s my most prized possession and always brings me joy, so maybe I need to combine Morris and Kondo.

I’m embarking on a project to clear more stuff out of my home. If I don’t get it done, I pity the fool who will have to do it after I’m gone.

I never had to get rid of my parents’ things. My dad took care of it when Mom died, and his second wife handled it, sometimes to my displeasure, when he passed away. Friends tell me it’s a particularly ghastly chore.

Since I don’t have kids, my best guess is that some anonymous estate liquidation company will descend on my condo to haul away my treasures. They won’t care that my dad made the spice rack that fits on the end of a kitchen cabinet or that my dear friend made the quilted throw pillows or that the frequently read Dorothy Pillsbury books tell of a magical time in Santa Fe.

Meanwhile, I need to make sure the little cupboard stays in the family.

Let that be my legacy.

Me, Too

In Learning, women on October 17, 2017 at 6:47 am

Women and some men have been posting “Me, too” on Facebook and Twitter to indicate that they have experienced sexual abuse or harassment. Some men have expressed dismay or shock to see how many of their women friends share this status. Frankly, I’m surprised that any women exist who haven’t had to put up with some form of discrimination based on their gender.
As I posted “me, too,” I was thinking about two specific if relatively mild incidents.
When I was about 15 we visited my relatives in Des Moines. It must have been fall because my cousin and I went on a hayride and I remember wearing blue wool capris. A boy sitting behind me kept reaching around me to rub my crotch. No matter how many times I removed his hand and told him to Stop it! he kept it up. Nobody else said or did anything in my defense.
Maybe ten years later, I parked at the old North Valley shopping center and sat in my car with the window open for a few minutes listening to a piece on the radio and waiting for the store to open. A young man approached me from behind, reached in the window, squeezed my breast, and casually walked off. I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to do and so did nothing except roll up my window and fume. Who did he think he was that he could do that to me? Well, the answer is that he was anyone at all.
Unwanted touching or suggestive comments from male colleagues and acquaintances as well as catcalls on the street were common annoyances. They were so culturally acceptable that they didn’t make it into my long-term memory.
Luckily, I’ve never been raped or physically hurt by a man. Yet. Even as I approach my 70th birthday I know it could still happen anytime.
My gratitude goes to the men (MOST men) who don’t do these things to women and to the mothers and fathers who raise their sons to respect girls. You are changing the world.

Tiny Dancer

In Denver, Learning, women, work on October 16, 2017 at 10:11 am


Yesterday, I met a new waitress at Carl’s named Sam. A petite redheaded twenty-something, she wore an over-sized Bronco shirt with her long hair pulled back into a low ponytail.

Carl’s is a North Denver institution serving pizza and Italian meals for over 60 years. It’s a friendly, authentic neighborhood kind of place. Almost everybody knows John, the owner/cook and customers frequently know one another. Even if they don’t they chat across the booths like it’s a big family meal. The original space contains six red vinyl booths lined up three by three under pictures of Frank Sinatra and Rocky Marciano, plus three two-seater booths by the door. I sit by the window where I can see everything going on. As I watched Sam work, it occurred to me that some people are made for their jobs.

Waitressing is hard work.

You’re on your feet all day, dealing with sometimes crabby customers and men with roving hands all while continuing to smile. Sam juggled her multiple tasks with grace and good nature.

That day most of the six original red booths were full and a few tables in the back as well. Destiny acted as cashier and took orders over the phone. It was busier than usual with fewer takeout orders at noon, probably because the Bronco game didn’t start until that night.

A Denver police Sergeant came in, and Destiny said, “I swear it wasn’t me, Officer,” to which he replied smiling, “yeah, I seem to have that effect on people.”

Two elderly men at another table chatted with him about playing bocce ball while Sam went about her business, seating people, taking orders and delivering orders, delivering and refilling drinks, wiping down tables, supplying placemats, napkins and silverware, writing and figuring tickets, all while continuing to smile and make small talk with the customers, calling everyone Luv.

When they had a few free minutes, Sam and Destiny folded towers of pizza boxes for the rush sure to come later during the game.

Watching someone who’s good at her job and seems to enjoy it is like watching an accomplished dancer performing intricate choreography and making it look easy.

I’m giving Sam this week’s Tiny Dancer award.

And, of course, a good tip.

That’s Entertainment?

In Books, creativity, Home, Learning on October 13, 2017 at 7:44 am

What do you watch on TV?” has become a standard question I ask everybody I meet. Other than The Big Bang Theory and This Is Us (plus my guilty pleasure, The Young and the Restless—don’t tell) I can’t seem to get interested. We have far surpassed Springsteen’s lament of “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).” These days, we have literally hundreds of channels and there’s plenty on.

I cut the cable cord several years ago, so old favorites like HGTV are no longer an option. Still, I have Netflix and Amazon Prime and YouTube in addition to my local broadcast channels, and while I dip into them every once in a while, mostly I’d rather read a book or listen to a podcast or write in my journal.

Maybe it’s my age. I’m reminded of the quotation, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.” At almost 70, I just don’t have that much time left to waste. Plus, 98% or more of all TV shows aim at a MUCH younger demographic.

The thing is, I know there are good shows on. Just this week, I’ve heard good things about Blackish, The Good Place, and Schitt’s Creek, so they will join my growing list of shows I might watch someday–maybe if I get really bored or really sick. And I’m eagerly waiting for the final season of Longmire to start.

I can’t even watch the news anymore because, like Jake Tapper, I’m “overwhelmed by the relentless tidal wave of incompetence, idiocy, and bigotry pouring from the White House on a daily basis.”

I used to love TV, watched it constantly and thought people who claimed they “never watched” were either liars or snobs. As the screens got bigger and reminded me more of 1984, I grew warier. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, far from it, but I have to wonder if they’re watching us whenever we’re watching them.

Indian Summer (for Jerry)

In Learning, spirituality on October 12, 2017 at 10:04 am

Who doesn’t love Indian Summer, those warm days following a spell of cold weather or a good hard frost and an excellent reason to hope for an early snow like the one we had on Monday. No, fall isn’t over yet and winter hasn’t arrived. Now we just call it Indian Summer. Its fleeting nature makes us appreciate it more.

Officially, it should include hazy skies according to Wikipedia. If we get haze here, it will be drifting smoke from the dreadful California fires.

People have many theories about why we call it Indian Summer. The one thing they all agree on is that it refers to our Indians/Native Americans/First Nations, not the ones in Asia.

From The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

“The most probable origin of the term, in our view, goes back to the very early settlers in New England. Each year they would welcome the arrival of a cold wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it.”

That has the ring of truth.

John Greenleaf Whittier used the phrase, “The Indian Summer of the heart!” in his poem Memories. In this way, it refers to a metaphorical thawing or awakening of sentiment or sensuality after an emotional cold snap. This seems especially apropos for those of us in the so-called “autumn of our years.” For us, it’s a quiet time, rich still in possibility. A time to look back and appreciate the good times and also to look forward. We can’t yet see the finish line even though we know it’s there. We still have time to explore some unknown or long-hidden desires.

Let’s let Ol’ Blue Eyes have the last word:

“But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year”

Make it so.

Photo Play

In creativity, Friends, Learning on October 11, 2017 at 5:45 pm

I have a love-hate relationship with our picture-happy culture. On the one hand, my favorite things on Facebook are pictures my niece posts of her children. They live close to a thousand miles away, and I only get to see them once a year when they visit their grandparents. Facebook posts let me keep up with them.

Ditto for pictures posted by friends that show me what they’re doing. And I enjoy finding old pictures to post on throwback Thursday.

What I object to is people who have to document EVERYTHING. Blame the iPhone. It’s always right there in your purse or your pocket or, more likely, your hand and that makes it easy to snap a photo. Sometimes I think these ubiquitous amateur photographers don’t really experience anything; they just photograph it so we’ll think they did.

I admit it’s mostly generational. Those my age didn’t grow up with a camera attached to our hand, so we don’t have the habit of constantly taking pictures. Even when I intend to take pictures, like when my great nephew and niece visit, I typically forget. I’m wrapped up in interacting with them and it just doesn’t occur to me to stop and grab the camera. That’s right. I take pictures with a camera, not my phone. Old school, I know.

At least those digital images on your phone don’t take up physical space, so your progeny won’t have to find storage locations for them. My brother and I split the responsibility to store our parents collection. I got the prints, from ancient black and whites to faded Polaroids; he got the slides. I went through mine a couple of years ago to compile a family history book for my nieces, throwing out virtually all the Polaroids, mostly of people and places I didn’t recognize.

The slides still languish in my brother’s storage room. He claims he’ll sort through them—“We’ll put up a screen and have a slide show!” when he retires. I’m not holding my breath.

When it comes time to pass them along to the next generation, I’m pretty sure nothing but the digital files will survive in a cloud somewhere long ago and far away.

First Snow

In Arvada, Colorado, Learning, neighborhood, solitude on October 10, 2017 at 9:23 am

The woman in the grocery store gave me a big smile and said, “It’s a BEAUTIFUL day.” I agreed. The first snow of the season was falling in huge, fat flakes making everything seem peaceful and a little miraculous even in this aging suburban strip mall.

The national news, as usual, made a big deal out of our early taste of winter and people around the country congratulated themselves for not living in a place where winter came in early October. If they only knew. Here in Colorado, we celebrated the arrival of the peak tourist season with a foot or more of snow in the mountains and a few inches in Denver. A couple of ski areas plan to open this weekend.

Today, the snow has mostly disappeared in town with sunshine and warmer temperatures melting the rest before the day ends.

This is fall in Colorado, where a little blip of early snow doesn’t phase us. Some of us (me!) like it. The sun is shining and my maple tree has turned a bright and glorious red-orange. As I sit at my computer I watch the leaves drop slowly one by one. In a week they’ll all be gone for another year.

I’ll never understand those who think snow alone makes a terrible horrible no good very bad day. They live in warm climates and brag that they will never again have to shovel snow. My condo association takes care of that now, but at my house, I kind of liked shoveling snow unless we had a foot or more of heavy accumulation. If my back hurt, I didn’t have to do it all at once, and with my neighbors also outside shoveling and calling to one another, it was a social event. As I grew older, they sent their little boys to shovel my walk for me.

Remember that episode of Northern Exposure where the whole town celebrated the first snow by wishing one another “bon hiver” (good winter)? I wish we had that tradition here instead of having to listen to people lamenting its arrival.

Time to burrow in, light a fire or a candle or burn some pinon incense. Time to bake bread and make a pot of chili. Time to appreciate the quiet time and cultivate interior resources. Time to rest and rejuvenate.

Bon hiver.