Dixie Darr

Archive for October, 2017|Monthly archive page

Boo to You

In Arvada, neighborhood, women on October 31, 2017 at 4:08 pm

I’m not a fan of Halloween and I don’t know when (or understand why) it became a holiday for adults. By the way, it’s not a holiday, as I had to continually explain to my students who complained about having to go to class on Halloween. “Did you have to work today?” I’d ask. They’d mutter a “Yes,” and I’d repeat, “See? It’s not a holiday.” Boo hoo.

I liked working on Halloween because it got me out of the house and away from trick-or-treaters. It’s really a terrible night for anyone who lives alone. The young ones always came first, just when I was trying to make dinner. The little kids are cute, although having no contact with current tot culture, I rarely recognized the costumes even if they weren’t hidden under coats for our traditional freezing weather. Looks like tonight will be cold, but not freezing.

Anyway, I had to wonder about the parents who brought their tiny babies dressed as pumpkins to my door for candy. Was I really supposed to believe that Snickers was for the four-month-old?

Later came the older kids, usually boys in packs looking sinister no matter what their costumes and wanting handfuls of treats. A little frightening for a woman alone, so I was happy to be gone that night.

Now I live in a security building with no or almost no kids, so I don’t have to deal with any of those things. I bought one bag of Snickers for myself and put it in the freezer so I wouldn’t eat it fast. My favorite part of Halloween, however, is candy corn. Save your scorn; I LOVE candy corn and allow myself to indulge in a bag or two (who’s counting?) every year at this time.

Other than that, the closest I come to celebrating this day is having a cat named after Boo Radley.


The Happy Wanderer

In creativity, Learning, solitude on October 30, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Artists from Leonardo to Julia Cameron have extolled the virtues of walking to aid creativity. Thoreau said, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” and Friedrich Nietzsche believed that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Science now confirms a curious link between mind and feet. A recent study by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford directly measured the way walking changes creativity in the moment. Not surprisingly, they got the idea for the study while on a walk.

When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen to all the organs including the brain. Because the act of walking is relatively mindless, our attention is free to wander, and it matters where we walk. A walk through a city provides more stimulation for the mind to play with. But, if we are dealing with overstimulation, we can turn to nature instead.

The new book, Walking in the Rain by the Department Store for the Mind calls walking “medicine for the mind.” It helps us slow down and think things through as well as perk up and generate new ideas.

However, wandering isn’t limited to the physical act of putting one foot in front of the other. Mental wandering is also necessary for creative output. “Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth of our knowledge and experience.” according to Adam Grant, author of Originals.

Certain geniuses like Leonardo, Ben Franklin, and Maya Angelou astonish us with the sheer number of topics they explored and the fields they conquered. Again, science can help explain. “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” states Eric Schumacher, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Daydreaming, another one of my personal superpowers, may actually be a sign of a more efficient brain. Essentially, we finish mundane tasks early setting our minds off in other directions. So, the next time you need to find a creative solution to some problem, take a hike. Unplug your earbuds, turn off your phone, and let your feet and mind stray.

Be careful, though and heed these words of caution from Ellen DeGeneres: “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”

Lifelong Learning for Long Life

In Learning on October 27, 2017 at 4:11 pm

When I was ten a voice told me that my best years would be after 60. I believed it and lived my life accordingly although most people were astonished when they learned that I was looking forward to getting older.

It turns out that might have been the voice of reason speaking to me. Research shows that older adults generally are happier than their younger counterparts. Indeed, your 60s and70s may be the best decades of life. A series of articles in The Guardian examining the problems of retirement found this surprising result. One 69-year old woman interviewed explained that “The joy of getting older is much greater self-confidence. It’s the loss of angst about what people think of you.”
“That makes one more courageous,” she adds, “I do things now that I wouldn’t have dared to do when younger, for fear of being crap at them. Now I try my hand at whatever I fancy and if I’m not as good as others, I don’t care, I’m still learning.

Learning may be the key. People who pursue lifelong learning often are “superagers,” who remain vital and cognitively resilient through old age. When New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati faced retirement, he decided to do something completely different and learn to play tennis. More than simply learning the game, Mazorati wanted to become competitive despite his age. In his book, Late to the Ball he describes becoming more physically fit and also learning patience.

Maybe your favorite learning activity, like mine, is reading. It turns out that those who read a mere 30 minutes a day are 23% less likely to die within twelve years than those who don’t read. Since I read at least two hours a day, I figure I’m either 92% less likely to die or 23% less likely to die within 48 years, right? That would make me 117, so it’s probably a good thing I like getting older.

Things That Annoy Me

In Learning, Prejudice on October 26, 2017 at 7:19 am



Books that don’t end as well as they start.

Fundamentalist Christians who won’t be happy until everyone has the same stupid, cruel, repressive beliefs they do.

Anyone who talks about their bucket list.

Cheerful, perky people when I’m not in the mood.

The fact that I never learned how to rollerskate backwards, throw a ball, or fly without a plane.

My procrastination.

The door handle that fell off my coat closet.


People who abuse children or animals.



People who prefer having over being.


Coffee and the culture that surrounds it.

Sweaty people who don’t wipe down the gym equipment after they use it.

People who think everybody has to travel just because they do.

Board games.


People who think aging is something they have to hide, deny, or fix.

Some days almost everything annoys me.

Book of Days

In creativity, Learning, writing on October 25, 2017 at 10:26 am

I don’t know when I started keeping a journal. One of the earliest was in high school wherein I noted the “Qualities I Like in Boys,” chief among them being “a good complexion.” So, one reason to keep a journal is to look back and see how ridiculous you used to be and how far you’ve come. Other reasons include optimizing creativity, clearing emotions, and ingraining learning.

From Leonardo to Edison, artists, scientists, writers, business people and others from all walks of life keep journals, also called diaries, daybooks, common books, or logs. The why is as personal as the how and the where. Scrapbooks are a popular type of visual journaling and art journaling a fun creative hobby. Although books and the internet are the most popular forms to use, Ryan Holiday keeps his on index cards organized in a photo box.

Currently, I keep a morning pages journal as recommended by Julia Cameron in her classic book, The Artist’s Way—three handwritten pages every morning. When I occasionally skip a day I don’t worry about it or try to catch up but just write again the next day. These Monday-Friday blog/Facebook posts are another kind of slightly more structured journal. In addition to these, I keep

A book diary listing all the books I read and a few notes about how much I liked them

A diary of things that make me happy

A journal of ideas

An online food diary at myfitnesspal.com

A collection of quotations

Various project notebooks

And probably a few others I’ve forgotten.

The photo shows a selection of my current journals. As you can see, I like to keep changing them so I don’t get bored.

Journals fascinate me. If you’d like to explore the various kinds of journals kept by famous people, check out this video of Austin Kleon on his research for creating his Steal Like An Artist Journal.

Someday I’d like to write a book about journals although I doubt many people would be interested. Meanwhile, the boxes and boxes full of my handwritten journals (sadly, not an exaggeration) are in my storage locker, easy to access for my future biographer.

Looking Back

In Church, Learning, spirituality, writing on October 24, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Many of you know that I spent part of the past year working to update our church history for our 125th anniversary celebration last Sunday. Ruth Wiberg, the well-known author of Rediscovering Northwest Denver and a member of Highlands United Methodist Church, wrote the story of our first 100 years, soon to be available as a PDF on our website.

Although I had eagerly volunteered for the assignment, I kept putting it off. Procrastination is one of my superpowers. I’m good at meeting deadlines, just not self-imposed ones. When Pastor Brad announced the date for the official celebration, I finally got down to business. I started by interviewing previous pastors, current staff, and longtime members about their memories of HUMC.

That was the fun part.

As they spoke of the warm and open congregation and how people pulled together through the hard times, I began to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of a church family. In many ways, it’s like any other family with quirks and drama and frustration with an overlay of love for God and one another and the knowledge that we all pull together.

I think that’s why one new member was astonished that a church council meeting went so smoothly. Nobody has an agenda other than trying to do what’s right for the church. It’s never a tug of war because we’re all on the same side. Apparently, that’s not common.

When I started coming to Highlands, I thought going to church consisted of one hour on Sunday morning only to learn that it takes all of us working together to make things run smoothly (or at all). So, I finished the history of our last 25 years in time (barely) for the anniversary because I couldn’t bear to let anybody down and because it deserved to be written.

I could have done better. Some stories didn’t get told, but that’s okay. In the end, I did my job if I managed to convey in a small way how the people of Highlands UMC fulfill the promise of Galatians 5:22 that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”

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.