Dixie Darr

Archive for December, 2017|Monthly archive page

Favorite Books of 2017

In Books on December 29, 2017 at 9:43 am

I’ve been saying for years that I read too much and need to find a way to read less. Success! My count this year will barely be 100 books, which sounds perfect to me.
You’ve seen me mention some of these here throughout the year, so this is a roundup with maybe a few new entries. Most of them started out in that stack of library books on my antique student desk.
Some favorites include I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around by Ann Garvin and The Opposite of Everything by Joshilyn Jackson, both of which I would have read for the titles alone, but which turned out to be good stories, too.
James Altucher’s Reinvent Yourself is one of those books I’ll want to reread every year or so.
The incredibly detailed News of the World by Paulette Jiles was another favorite as was Celine by Peter Heller and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Roo.
Some of my favorite authors, including J.A. Jance, C.J. Box, Sara Paretsky, Craig Johnson, and Sue Grafton offered excellent additions to their series.
Add Sourdough by Robin Sloan, and Artemis by Martin Weir to my list of favorites. Both feature strong and quirky female protagonists.
Lillian Boxfish is currently available on Kindle for only $2.99.
I enjoyed rereading several favorites including The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, plus the prequel novella, Ajax Penumbra 1969, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, and Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
All in all, it was a very good year for reading. I’ll finish at least one or two more before the end of the year, then bring on 2018.

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A Few More Days

In Christmas, Church, Resistance on December 27, 2017 at 10:03 am

I’m not quite done with Christmas yet. After all the preparations, I’d like it to last a few more days, please. Another day of relaxation and savoring the hope, peace, love, and joy of the season. This is a nice time of year. People are nicer to one another.
In many ways, 2017 was a disastrous year, and yet I’m not quite ready to turn to 2018. In the midst of a truly horrible year came some sweetness, affirmation that not all is lost. The first taste came on January 21 when hundreds of thousands of women and men all across the earth took to the streets to demonstrate against the monster in the White House and his regressive, idiotic ideas. When I saw a picture of two of my favorite men wearing pink pussy hats headed for the demonstration, it made my day.
It was a great year for my church with several projects started after a highly successful capital campaign. We also decided to fly our “freak flag” for all the world to see in the form of our big banner proclaiming that we believe science is real, love is love, women’s rights are human rights, black lives matter, and many more things that wouldn’t have seemed the least bit controversial a year ago. Even the massive hail storm that took out our roof and several stained glass windows couldn’t dampen our spirits. We observed Pride month with more banners and with the biggest Methodist contingent at the gay pride parade. In October we celebrated our 125th anniversary.
Personally, my world turned upside down when my first boyfriend from 51 years ago re-entered my life bringing unexpected joy and making me look at things from a whole new perspective.
I just want a few more days to relish all the wonderful things that happened even when all seemed lost. These lines from a poem by Dinos Christianopoulos sum it up nicely, “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” Like all the other seeds, I’m comfortably canoodling with the earth, preparing to burst forth again soon.

The Christmas Plate

In Christmas, Home on December 25, 2017 at 6:36 pm

I have a special plate that I use for my Christmas meal. I don’t know where or when I got it, but I’m sure it came from a thrift store or garage sale many years ago. There’s nothing specifically Christmasy about it, no holly or Santa or Christmas tree image. Instead, it has a bunch of ordinary flowers–roses, asters–circled by a wreath of forget-me-nots. The plate itself is square with rounded corners and I just have the one, no matching pieces.

Maybe that’s why it’s my special holiday plate because, for me at least, it’s one of a kind.

I bought both red and green Fiestaware dishes to use for Christmas, but since they’re my everyday dishes, too, it doesn’t seem right to use them for special occasions.

It always struck me as ridiculous to have a set of everyday dishes and another set of “company” dishes although I think that’s probably the norm in middle-class America. So what’s up with my special Christmas plate? I’m never even tempted to use it any other time of the year.

I like the shape and the colorful flowers, but I like best that isn’t fancy. I bought it for maybe a quarter. It was made by the Crooksville China Co. in Crooksville, Ohio, probably in the early part of the twentieth century. I like that it’s old and well-used.

I used it today for my ham and scalloped potatoes and baked beans. Next time I see it will be Easter. It makes me happy.

The Wait is Over

In Christmas, Church, music on December 24, 2017 at 9:54 pm

My Secular Advent, Day Twenty-Two

The wait has now dwindled down to hours. Later today, I will head to my brother’s for conversation and goodies before dinner and the candlelight service at church. It does seem odd not to go to church this morning although I’ve been confused for a couple of days about what day it is. Sunday. Christmas Eve.

The hardest part about Christmas for me is the day after when, after all the angst and preparation, it’s suddenly over. Finished. That day, I will probably go out for breakfast, but I never participate in the annual gift return ritual.

While it’s still Christmas Eve, I want to enjoy the waiting a little while longer. Savor the sweet anticipation. Maybe this year we will finally experience peace on earth. We sang Silent Night and Joy to the World. Time to snuggle down and sleep through the night. When we wake in the morning, let the celebrations begin.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Christmas Blizzard

In Christmas, Denver, Home on December 23, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Street lined with buried cars after the Blizzard Of ’82. Denver Post Library Archive

My Secular Advent, Day Twenty-one
Everybody has a story. If you were here in 1982, you remember the Blizzard of ’82. Snow started falling in Denver overnight, and by the time I woke up the morning of Christmas Eve, we already had several inches on the ground.
My parents and I were driving to Fort Collins to spend Christmas Eve with my brother’s family. I knew a little snow would never deter my dad, but because of the heavy snow, I left a little early for my parent’s house. I barely made it.
By the time I slid to the curb at the front of their house, we had well over a foot of snow on the ground and it was still coming down, harder than ever. My parents couldn’t believe I had risked the drive to their house and I was already regretting it because it was clear I’d be there until the storm ended.
If you lose respect for me because of what I’m going to say next, I’ll understand. I decided I couldn’t live without popcorn and Coke, so in whiteout conditions, I walked through snow up to my knees to the convenience store two blocks away. Much of the time I had no idea what direction I was going, so I only made it there by pure dumb luck. Emphasis on dumb.
I ended up with the mother of all colds, sick in bed at my parents’ house for the next three days. My mom and I didn’t get along well under the best of circumstances, and me being around other people for more than a couple hours at a time is not a pretty sight. Somebody could have died.
If you think this will turn into one of those stories where everything works out for the best and the people rediscover how much they love and cherish one another, sorry. The minute my dad and I could dig out my car and the news reports indicated that getting around town was possible, if barely, I hightailed it out of there.
I had to park two blocks away from my apartment, but I was thrilled and relieved to finally be home. My lesson that Christmas was, “There’s no place like home.” So, just in case you’re wondering, I’ll be home for Christmas.
That’s my story. What’s yours?

Hit Pause

In Christmas, creativity, Learning on December 22, 2017 at 8:46 am

My Secular Advent, Day Twenty
Are you ready for Christmas? That’s the question on everybody’s minds with only three days left until the big day. Waitresses and grocery store clerks ask it, as do people at the gym. Yes, I’m ready. Today I’m having lunch with a friend. Tomorrow I go to the library and pick up a few last-minute items at King Soopers. That’s it.
Time to hit the pause button and take a few days to just relax and wait, the advent admonition. As a society, we are not good at waiting and as an individual, I’m pretty terrible at it, which is why I always have my Kindle loaded with 600+ books with me. If I’m stuck waiting I can always read.
Speaking of reading, here are a couple of sites with excellent material.
The Smithsonian magazine offers wonderful articles on art, science, culture, and nature to feed your brain. Everyone can find something here to love. Try “Why Charles Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol.”
Maybe you like inspirational quotations and short essays or talks. Try Wordporn.com I recommend the quotation from Bob Marley that starts, “Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around.” Another gem is Carl Sagan’s “This Speech Will Change Your Life” on their YouTube channel.
Pause and breathe.

Bleak Midwinter

In Christmas, Church, creativity, Denver on December 21, 2017 at 9:43 am

My Secular Advent, Day Nineteen

Snow is falling. Snow on snow. In Denver today, the sun rose at 7:18 and will set at 4:38, and around the world, people will celebrate the longest night of the year.

Nobody really knows when Jesus was born. Some early traditions hold that the Annunciation, when Mary was told she would give birth to Jesus, was March 25 and nine months later is December 25.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.

Many believe that the midwinter date was chosen because people were already celebrating the pagan winter solstice festival of Saturnalia at that time, so the transition to Christianity came easily. Holly, mistletoe, and Christmas carols also stem from the winter solstice.

Christians call Jesus the light of the world, so situating his birth when darkness begins to fade also makes theological sense.

Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.

Thousands of Druids and Pagans gather at Stonehenge, England to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.

In Iran, families often kept fires burning all night to assist the battle between the light and dark forces.

Lighting candles or a fireplace are ways to honor these ancient traditions. If you don’t have a fireplace, find the Netflix video of a crackling fireplace and burn a little pinon incense.

Finally, since the winter solstice is an ultimate natural phenomenon, find a way to connect with nature. Fill your bird feeders and put out some peanuts for the local squirrels. Take a walk around a lake. Buy a flowering plant.

I’m planning to snuggle with my cat, eat some chicken tortilla soup, listen to Christmas carols, and read a book.

Here comes the sun/son.

Breaking Rules

In Christmas on December 20, 2017 at 3:52 pm

My Secular Advent, Day Eighteen

The waitress at breakfast this morning asked if I was ready for Christmas.

I am,” I said. “I just have to get my cards in the mail.”

Oh,” she said, “Yesterday was the last day to get them in the mail.”

I just looked at her.

She equivocated, “Maybe it’s today—yesterday or today.”

I don’t really care,” I said, and it was her turn to just look at me.

Some of my cards will arrive before Christmas and some of them won’t. Who cares? Will my friends think less of me if their card arrives on Tuesday? Will they throw them away? Not open them? Dismiss the message? I don’t think so.

This incident reminded me of the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon doesn’t want Penny to give him a Christmas present because that means he will not only have to give her one but one commensurate in value, which he can’t know beforehand. He solves the problem by buying a variety of gift baskets so he can choose the appropriate one after he opens her gift. It turns out she gives him a napkin from the Cheesecake Factory used by William Shatner (or was it Leonard Nimoy?), a gift that, to Sheldon, is unbelievably valuable.

Third story. An old woman I used to know thought Christmas cards without handwritten notes were worthless, so she removed from her card list anyone who sent them. Woe be to anyone who sent a card with a pre-printed signature.

These people are all following rules I don’t recognize. Who wrote these rules? The truth is that I’ve never been all that good at following rules, especially ones that make no sense to me.

It turns out there really are rules for Christmas, twelve of them in fact. You can read all about them here. My favorite is #11 Sing! Singing in public is another one of those taboos I like to break, especially at Christmas. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Checking off Tasks

In Christmas on December 19, 2017 at 7:37 am

My Secular Advent, Day Seventeen

When I went for my last haircut of 2017 last week, the woman who cuts my hair took one look at me and told me I looked exhausted. To her credit, she said “everybody looks exhausted,” and after a nasty two-day bug I had a good excuse. Still, I was happy to check another item off my list of Getting-Ready-For-Christmas tasks. Get sick, check. Have a haircut, check.

Finally went to the Post Office yesterday, and I want to commend the Arvada station for getting us through the long line with professionalism and good humor and as quickly as possible. Postage for my package cost almost as much as the gift inside, but at least it will arrive on time. They were sold out of all the Christmas stamps, so my cards this year will feature Disney villains instead.

I’ve decorated my trees, written my Christmas letter, bought my ham, had my annual lunch with Sheila at the Buckhorn Exchange. I no longer participate in gift exchanges (with maybe one exception), and I no longer bake cookies or make candy for fear of eating it all myself. No parties for this noted introvert. Once I finish addressing the Christmas cards and get them in the mail today with their villainous stamps, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy what’s left of Advent.

The theme this week is love in all its uncountable varieties. I think I’ll spend the next few days waiting for the big day contemplating all the different ways love enters my life.

I’ll leave you today with a beautiful quote from the movie The Shape of Water that works for all kinds of things:Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.”

Diversity on the Tree

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity on December 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

My Secular Advent, Day Sixteen

Anyone driving past our church will see the big neighborhood Christmas tree in the corner of our parking lot at 32nd and Osceola, filled with thousands of white lights and big white snowflakes. Inside we have an elegant tree in the lobby decorated with teal and purple balls and gold Bethlehem stars. The sanctuary features a tree with Chrismon ornaments, white and gold symbols of Christianity.

Our family Christmas tree in the fellowship hall is my favorite. Each family brought decoration that reflected their interests. My contributions were the Beatles in a yellow submarine and a gay cowboy.

My two four-foot white trees at home follow no theme. Not for me a perfectly coordinated tree with only red (or even purple) glass balls. Boring. Instead, I display a wide variety of ornaments collected over a lifetime, including:

A star of David from the little girls next door in my old neighborhood;

Delicate clay sculptures of a bear fetish, a howling coyote, and a chile pepper, plus a couple of turquoise glass hearts from a long-ago trip to Taos;

A tiny sleeping angel from a trip to Scottsdale, plus a plump angel with black braids and rattan wings ordered from Guatemala;

Many cowboy hats and boots and a couple more of those gay cowboys;

One tiny red suede moccasin and tipi I made from a kit;

A duplicate of that yellow submarine ornament plus a blown glass drum from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band;

Doll-sized ice skates and red sneakers;

A red and white doll dress crocheted by my Grandma Wood for my Tiny Terri Lee doll.

Some of my favorites came from my sister-in-law who has given me a unique ornament each year–from a purple sequined partridge to this year’s stack of tiny books (pictured). Has there ever been a more perfect ornament for me? Nope. I guess after almost 60 years of friendship dating from before her marriage to my brother 50 years ago, she knows me pretty well.