Dixie Darr

Archive for January, 2018|Monthly archive page

My Favorite Holiday

In Arvada, Colorado, Denver, Home on January 31, 2018 at 1:59 pm

For a mostly ignored and disdained little bastard of a month, February has a lot going on. It’s Black History Month, plus features Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Chinese New Year, and my personal favorite, Groundhog Day. This year, the Olympics also run in February, so plenty to celebrate.
Why is Groundhog Day my favorite? I’m glad you asked. As you know, that’s the day Punxsutawney Phil ventures out into daylight and either sees his shadow or not. If he sees his shadow, he runs back into his hole for six more weeks of winter; if not, he predicts an early spring which will take about six weeks to get here. Either way, spring is on the way.
Even with six more weeks of cold and blustery weather, I always think of February as the beginning of spring because that’s when the flowers start to bloom in Colorado. It will probably be toward the end of the month when we will see the first crocus and daffodils begin to bloom, frequently poking up through snow. That will be an exciting day.
Next, come tulips followed my phlox and iris and snowdrops and then everything else. Everybody freaks out when we have snow after the flowers start blooming, but these are hardy Colorado flowers, I tell people. The only thing I worry about is a late hard freeze after the lilac buds are set because that could kill the lilacs, my favorite flower. A year without lilacs is a very bad thing.
Yes, we have plenty more cold weather on the way. February is, after all, the second coldest month her on the high plains. Yet, we will also begin to see evidence that spring is just around the corner.
I’m ready.


Counting Days

In Learning on January 30, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Once I had a boss who reduced everything to numbers. “numbers don’t lie,” he said although the truth is that he was terrible with numbers and had no clue how statistics work. He based my evaluations as Women’s Center Coordinator on the number of people enrolled in classes we offered even though that was a small part of my job. The rest of it involved counseling distraught housewives and finding resources for them. He couldn’t figure out how to turn that into numbers, so he just ignored it.
I escaped his clutches over 30 years ago, but I have never been able to escape the impulse to quantify my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I like math and have always been pretty good at numbers. I’m just not so sure that tallying our quantities relates to our quality of life. When I tell my great nephew I love him, he responds with “I love you more!” Really? I don’t know how to measure love or so many other crucial parts of life.
I do, however, know how to measure weight, which is why I joined WeightWatchers a couple of weeks ago, and now I spend my days obsessing over the number of points in the food I eat. I’m still getting used to the system, but I’m finding it easier than using MyFitnessPal.com a free program I used last year. That worked great for a while until gradually, I stopped keeping track of my daily calories, and I know from long experience that keeping track is the only thing that works for me.
Right now, I’m having fun calculating what I can eat. After a big lunch, I can go to Kokoro’s for salmon and steamed vegetables with teriyaki sauce for only one point. And it’s good. If I need a points-free snack, boiled eggs or fruit work well. I’m also eating bags of baby carrots, whose crunch is satisfying if not exactly in the realm of potato chips.
The hard part is wondering if I can do this for the rest of my life. Will it become second nature? Or will counting and tracking points become another daily habit like writing, walking (!), reading, and meditating?
For me, it will have to turn into something more meaningful than numbers.

Giving Up Lent

In Church, Learning, writing on January 29, 2018 at 5:46 pm

I just realized that Lent starts in a couple of weeks. Yikes! Time flies.
Last year, after writing Advent posts through the twelve days of Christmas, I laid off my blog for a while and discovered that I missed the discipline of writing it. So I decided to do the same thing for Lent.
Unfortunately, I discovered that there are not nearly as many secular writings about Easter as about Christmas. I went with the theme of change instead. As Easter approached, I heard from friends asking me to please not stop my daily posts. I continued writing about 300 words Monday through Friday for the past year missing only a few days.
“What’s your blog about?” people ask. Whatever pops into my mind is the only answer I have. No theme other than trying to learn what I think about some topic every day. Writers from Stephen King to Joan Didion and, yes, to me say “I write to find out what I think.”
According to the United Methodist Church, “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection.” It lasts for forty days (plus Sundays) to represent “the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.”
I haven’t yet heard what our theme for Lent will be this year, although I will probably visit it during the season, just not every day. My life has changed since last year. I have more on my mind and more on my agenda. That’s probably not a good excuse for choosing not to focus at least once every day for those forty days on the sacrifices of Jesus, but it’s all I’ve got.
If it isn’t good enough, well, maybe I’ll do better next year. I’ll have to give it some thought. You know what that means. I’ll have to write about it. You’ll see.

Walk of Life

In Home, Learning, neighborhood on January 26, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Now that I’ve started to establish my new walking habit, it has become blatantly obvious that I need new shoes. My old ones are several years old now and broken down so they provide no support for my poor feet. So today, I’m going to a running/walking shoe store to see if they can fit my weirdly shaped feet. I prefer something in purple (big surprise) but I’m not holding my breath.
Next, following the admonition to “make it so easy you can’t say no,” I need to find some places to walk, that I don’t have to drive to. That means staying here in Olde Town at least part of the time, which requires rethinking my pronouncement that it’s boring. I’ll enjoy it more as spring flowers start to bloom through the snow next month.
Even easier would be to use the treadmill in my condo’s gym. Yes, my condo has a fully equipped gym just steps from my door, but since I can think of nothing more boring than using a treadmill even while watching TV or listening to an audiobook, I’m keeping that as my backup plan for foul weather days.
I can do this.
I’ve found several places just a short drive away including
Lowell Ponds State Wildlife area
Prospect Park along Clear Creek
Ralston Creek Trail
Crown Hill Park and Wildlife Preserve
and I might go walk around my old neighborhood in North Denver.
Who knows? Someday I might venture to the mountains to (gulp) hike. People enjoy that I understand. Imagine.
Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” I want to spend at least part of my life walking around. In musical terms, I won’t be walking on the wild side, but Dire Straits might say I’m doing the walk of life.
Update: I went to Roadrunner Sports today and bought a pair of good walking shoes. They were so comfortable I didn’t want to take them off.

Walk On

In Arvada, Denver, Learning, solitude, spirituality on January 25, 2018 at 8:59 pm

When I lived in Highland I walked two miles around the neighborhood almost every day. Then I got sick with bilateral pulmonary embolisms and could barely walk across the room on my own. Not long after that I moved to Olde Town Arvada and have never really gotten back into the habit of walking. I’m trying to re-establish that habit.
It’s harder than I expected. One of the reasons I chose Olde Town as my new home was its walkability. My condo is roughly two blocks from the shops, restaurants and services in town and also roughly two blocks from several big box stores and more restaurants in what is officially called New Town. We also have a hotel and a 14-screen movie theater, currently under construction and set to reopen this spring. The only thing not in walking distance is a grocery store and I like to whine about that although there is a King Soopers and Walmart just a mile or so west on Ralston Road.
Still, I don’t walk much.
I have a lot of excuses. It’s one of my superpowers.
My old neighborhood had history and diversity of people and buildings with plenty going on all the time and, therefore, plenty to look at. Not here. It’s boring.
People tell me how much they love Olde Town, but I don’t shop or go out to eat much, and I use the library in Denver (long story), so the only thing I do in Olde Town is walk past places.
Although we have four (count ’em) coffee shops, most of the restaurants are really bars and I don’t drink alcohol or coffee.
Most of the sidewalks here are narrow with many driveway cuts, which make them hard to walk on.
I’m older now with arthritis in my feet and ankles and bad knees.

I know I’m being difficult, so I’m trying to think of ways to make walking something I want to do again.
Writer Leo Baubata says to establish a new habit, you need to start small, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”
James Clear describes three steps to build a habit:
1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)

A friend told me that he knew he had succeeded at quitting smoking when he stopped thinking of himself as a former smoker and started thinking of himself as a nonsmoker. I have to come to think of myself (as I used to) as the kind of person who takes a walk every day. It’s who I am.

Time on My Hands

In creativity, Learning, work, writing on January 24, 2018 at 2:12 pm

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project,” said Napoleon Hill. My life is project-based learning, and I need a new project. As many of you know I had a very hard time adjusting to retirement when it came along five years ago. I was bored out of my mind and spent way too much time feeling sorry for myself.
It took a couple of years before I felt entirely comfortable with my life and found things to do to fill my time. I tried art journaling until a friend asked me what the journal pages were for and I had to admit they weren’t for anything, just a way to use some of my creative energy to pass the time. Then I started writing a cozy mystery and researching how to write fiction kept me quite busy for a while. Writing my church’s history for the last 25 years captured my attention last year, but now that’s finished and I’m wondering what’s next.
One friend of mine knits hats for the homeless and another crochets scarves. In previous lives, I have both knitted and crocheted, but having a cat makes that exponentially more difficult. I thought about volunteering at the Cat Care Society because I’m already covered in cat hair, so why not? The thought of giving up some of my free-flowing time for a work-like commitment no longer appeals to me.
What to do?
My friend Sheila wants me to get back to writing the novel. I’m already writing these daily posts, and while that’s totally different from writing fiction, it does scratch the writing itch. As the author, Zadie Smith said, “To speak personally, the very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.”
Maybe I’m ready for something really different, even outside my comfort zone, but what would that be?
Note: it needs to be something that doesn’t accumulate more clutter in my house, so no crafts. I’m open for suggestions.

Cursive, Foiled Again

In Learning, Learning Tools, writing on January 23, 2018 at 6:42 am

I remember grade school classrooms decorated with pages of letters using the Palmer method of penmanship. We had to practice using our whole arm to make the endless swoops and loops of what we then called simply writing, as opposed to printing. Today we hear an endless debate about whether or not schools should teach cursive.
The basic argument in favor of it seems to be that we learned it so, by God, kids these days should learn it, too. Those opposed say it’s a skill that’s lost its relevance.
Someone pointed out that to those who don’t learn cursive, our writing and that of previous generations will be unreadable to them, an impenetrable, if old-fashioned, code. Faster than printing, it is nevertheless slower than typing, at least for those who know how to type (an argument for another day).
Some research suggests that the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension. It also develops motor skills and activates a different part of the brain than printing.
What about your signature? Maybe in these days of electronic signatures and iris recognition technologies, signing documents no longer involves putting pen to paper.
Educators argue that teaching cursive takes time away from teaching essential skills, such as keyboarding and programming. The use of our phones for everything may even eliminate the need to learn keyboarding.
Admittedly a throwback, I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t write something if only a journal entry or to do list. If nobody knows cursive, who’s going to curate those boxes of my journals going back several decades? Something to think about.
I come down on the side of those in favor of cursive if only because I don’t want to see us lose another basic human skill. We’ve already lost so much as we move into our increasingly technology-dependent future. How, for example, would we write love letters in the sand using only the phone?
It’s a thrill these days to receive an actual letter in the mail. Ask anybody. Seeing someone’s words in their personal handwriting means more than the words alone, especially when the penmanship is glorious and gorgeous and a bit difficult to read. That just means spending more time with trying to decipher it. Spending more time with a friend is always worthwhile.

Pop Culture

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, music on January 22, 2018 at 4:18 pm

For years, I watched Entertainment Tonight religiously. If I had to miss an episode, I recorded it to watch later. At some point, however, I realized that I had no clue who the people were they were talking about. I think I aged out of their target demographic.
It may have coincided with the TV writers’ strike in 1988 when the networks started filling time slots with unscripted shows, reality shows in other words. I had absolutely zero interest in the various Survivor-like shows, although I did like the talent shows like American Idol and Nashville Star and So You Think You Can Dance.
Then came the Kardashianization of America when kids started stating their ambition was to “be famous” with no thought of what they might have to do to become famous. I blame Ryan Seacrest who created and produces the show. I mean, ick. Why anyone wants to know anything at all about any member of that family is beyond me, but I can’t look at a news website without seeing something about one or another of them.
Nevertheless, I do like learning about exceptional entertainment options, and I keep up with them by listening to the NPR podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. Host Linda Holmes and three thoughtful, intelligent guests choose one movie, TV show, musician, or play to discuss and recommend. This is my major venue for discovering worthwhile culture.
Recently, I learned from them about the Amazon Prime series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and also the captivating song, Havana, by Camila Cabella. Unlike ET, I don’t have to wade through a dumpster full of detritus to get to the good stuff. At my age, there’s no time for that nonsense.

Missing Out

In Colorado, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools on January 19, 2018 at 8:46 pm







Once upon a time, the good people at Colorado Free University offered me a job as their assistant director of courses or some such title. It would have been perfect except I couldn’t live on the salary they were offering. A single woman on my own with no fall-back position, I had to be practical, and the job that eventually came along was one I thought I really wanted. I wanted to work with adult students who were creating portfolios of prior learning for college credit, and that’s the job I got, but as frequently happens, these things don’t turn out the way you expect.
While I became a master of portfolio learning, developing courses and teaching and helping hundreds of students, I also learned that colleges and faculty really don’t want people to learn outside the classroom. It’s more lucrative to keep students penned in by the way the teacher wants them to learn. Ultimately, the colleges want to maintain control.
CFU and similar programs across the country are different. They grew out of the upheaval of the 1960s and many remain today as both resources for and reflections of the communities they serve. CFU has grown a lot since then and become somewhat more corporate, but they still offer an astonishingly wide variety of classes open to anybody who wants to sign up. That’s what the “free” is all about. The cost of taking a class is definitely NOT free.
A recent Facebook post from CFU read, “Lots of classes in our building tonight. I love walking by and seeing the lively interaction and hearing the learning going on! Here are a few:
Carol Core explains a thrifty way to finance building your own custom home.
Lee Claymore talks about preparing for Medicare.
Lisa Sveland shows folks how to be Money Smart.
Caitlin Berve leads students in Origami.
What wonderful variety!”

In my “road not taken” moments, I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different it I had said yes to that job. It must be wonderful to be surrounded by people learning things they really want to learn. I like the idea so much that I set the cozy mystery I may or may not be writing at an adult education arts colony in the Colorado mountains. I’m learning that one of the reasons to write fiction is to create a world you’d like to spend time in. I can only live one life at a time, but I can imagine so many alternate universes. I may end up writing this book after all.

Deny, Defy, Resist

In Resistance on January 18, 2018 at 6:17 pm

You may have noticed that I have lately stepped away from political rants. Don’t think it’s because I no longer feel strongly about the way #45 and the Republicans are destroying our country or that I no longer consider myself part of the resistance. Sometimes I just need a break from the intensity. I don’t watch the news much, and when I do, I mute it as soon as the orange shithole appears. Pardon my language. I do still listen to Rachel Maddow every night. (I don’t have cable, so I can’t watch the show, but the audio portion is available as a podcast.)
I like to think I’m keeping up at the same time I’m keeping my distance. I just can’t live a life of constant fury, so I focus on more pleasant things.
I’m ashamed that my generation of baby boomers is largely blamed for putting this nightmare regime in office. Most of my friends are boomers and virtually all of them agree that this is one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history, so we’re not all doddering fools. I’m happy to hear that the number of millennials of voting age now outnumbers baby boomers. Now if they will get out and vote, maybe we can begin to turn things around and return to sanity and reason and, yes, hope.
That’s as much of a rant that you’re going to get from me, at least until the daily accumulation of awfulness overwhelms me again and I just can’t help myself.