Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Auntie Flat’ Category

How Does Your Garden Grow?

In Arvada, Auntie Flat, creativity, neighborhood on May 15, 2018 at 8:14 pm

Yesterday a friend asked if I wanted some of the Basket of Gold currently taking over her front yard with their sumptuous yellow flowers. I had to tell her no.
My only outdoor space is a balcony on the north side of the building that gets no direct sunlight.
In my old life, I’d have welcomed them and invited them to take over my own hillside or parking strip.
This time of year, I’d be cutting the last of the lilacs, purple, white, and lavender and propping the vase up so the cats couldn’t eat the flowers, tip over the vase, and drink the water. Those were the days.
I was gradually digging up all the grass and replacing it with flowers. People who asked about my garden always wanted to know what kind of vegetables I grew. I didn’t. I grew flowers.
I’d go out in the early morning to cut a bouquet for that day—roses maybe, and bachelor’s buttons with a sprig or two of bleeding heart.
Ultimately, the garden is what convinced me to move to a condo. As much as I loved the flowers, I didn’t love the buying, planting, watering, fertilizing, mulching, and weeding it took to get to the blooming. When my dad got sick the garden got away from me and I never had the energy to bring it back. My neighbors deserved better.
So I moved to a garden-free zone. Every year, I consider renting a plot in the community garden until I remember the unrelenting heat and weeds of July and August. No, these days I’m an observer only.
What brought all this to mind is reading Creative Quest by Questlove. He uses gardening as a metaphor for creativity in general. “To end up with beautiful flowers and healthy plants, you have to be in regular contact with them. You have to prune. You have to tend.”
I may need to make a trip to Paulino’s or O’Toole’s or Echter’s. Just to look.


Reality Bites

In Auntie Flat, Denver, Home, neighborhood on April 16, 2018 at 7:38 am

Once upon a time, my architect brother was trying to figure out how to make my property in North Denver work for both him and his wife and me. The idea was for him to redesign my house for them and add a small 5-600 square foot unit for me. They wanted out of Westminster, and I could no longer handle the upkeep of the house and yard by myself. He asked me to find houses in the area that I really liked for him to use as a model. I picked this house.
Located at the corner of 38th and Newton, this house had the historic character we all preferred. The yard was all garden instead of lawn. When I went to Carl’s after church yesterday, that house was gone, with nothing left but a hole in the ground.
I suppose they’ll build a modern, boxy, duplex and sell each unit for a million dollars. The same fate faces the recently closed and sold Dairy Queen one block west. In case you hadn’t noticed, the face of North Denver has changed. A lot.
I always loved Highland neighborhood and didn’t understand why others couldn’t see its potential. I longed for a little gentrification—a few shops with things I wanted to buy and a bit more variety in our restaurants. Be careful what you wish for.
I lived in the Potter-Highlands National Historic District, so my old neighborhood has remained largely unchanged by the mad development surrounding it. Unlike most people, I actually like the new modern buildings going up; I just wish there weren’t so many of them. I wish they hadn’t displaced so many of my neighbors. I wish they hadn’t taken over the whole area and changed the character of my beloved North Denver. I wish it were really true that the more things change the more they remain the same.
The street view of Google maps has some catching up to do.

Dream House

In Auntie Flat, creativity, Home on February 26, 2018 at 11:56 am

I have always longed to build my own house, but as a single woman with no money and no skills, that never happened. Instead, I read books about other women who built their own adobe casitas or cob cottages or log and stone cabins and envied them. Some, like Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, described building a studio space instead of a home.

As a child, I wanted a playhouse, a child-sized room of one’s own where I could play with my toys and read in solitude. Even after I grew up and a playhouse no longer made sense, I obsessed over literary characters who lived in minuscule houses—Kinsey Millhone and Laura Ingalls Wilder spring to mind. For a while, I thought about buying a park model RV, those just under 400 square foot mobile homes with their cunning floor plans and unexpected storage space.
In 1987, the same year I bought my not-very-large house in Highland, Les Walker published Tiny Tiny Houses or How To Get Away From It All. These little domiciles ranged from Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond to a fisherman’s shack and a Methodist campground cottage.
When the tiny house movement reared its little head, I was hooked and delighted to discover that most tiny house dwellers built their own mini domiciles, including some women of advanced years.
This movement encompasses a wide variety of structures including she sheds, writers’ retreats, granny flats, houseboats, and even commercial spaces.
In the book I’m currently reading, A Naturalist’s Cabin, author Cathy Johnson writes, “There was an enchantment in these tiny houses all out of proportion to their size.” Yes.
At age 70, I will not be building my own house, and I will probably never live in a tiny house, but I can dream, can’t I? Cathy Johnson’s dream came true because, “In the most serendipitous of lives, a lifelong dream becomes suddenly, inexplicably attainable. It appears like Brigadoon, where nothing was before and now, for reasons not yet quite understood, it is not only the chimera of dream but a distinct and tangible possibility. And more: it is fact.”
Sometimes dreams come true.

All I Really Want

In Auntie Flat, Home, work on November 28, 2017 at 11:27 am

Life is pretty good. I have the requisite someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.

Yet, when most people think of what they want, they think of things to have, not things to do or, even better, to be. I tried giving gifts of experiences with limited success. The biggest problem was giving something I thought was great, but the recipient thought was less so. That’s the way it goes. For years, I gave books as gifts to almost everybody until realizing, much to my surprise, that not everybody loves books as much as I do.

The recipients might have preferred a gift card for Amazon, where you can truly get anything you want, including Alice’s Restaurant. Come to think of it, so would I. That won’t get me what I really want, however.


Don’t judge me.

I know I now have plenty of time on my hands, but I don’t want to spend that time cleaning my house. Okay, it’s only a one-bedroom condo. Still I want someone else to clean it, please. Is that wrong? People who offer these services need to make a living, too, right?

And while I’m dreaming, I’d also like someone to cook and deliver healthy, delicious, low-calorie and low-carb meals. Even one meal a day would help. I can handle an egg and turkey bacon for breakfast and a turkey sandwich for lunch, no problem. Dinner gets boring, however, and I usually overcook the meat and forget to include vegetables (unless you count a potato).

While I’m on a roll, let’s include a driver at my beck and call on this list of helpers. Is that asking too much? Yes, I just renewed my driver’s license and got my car fixed, but I never really liked driving.

I’m pretty sure if I had these people in my life, I would be perfectly happy and never complain again.

Santa, are you listening? I promise I’ve been a very good girl.

P.S. Almost forgot the handyman/woman. Please add to above list.

Friday Favorites

In Auntie Flat, creativity, Learning, small houses, writing on November 17, 2017 at 8:49 am








“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” The nineteenth-century French novelist and author of Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert said that, and John Nieto, who painted the above, exemplifies it in the twenty-first century. One of my top three favorite artists with Georgia O’Keeffe and Vincent Van Gogh, I have two of his posters framed in my common room. You can watch him in his Santa Fe studio in the 80s here or a listen to a longer Facebook interview from just a couple of months ago as he approached his 81st birthday here. I love his use of color and also his Native American subjects. “The colors I work with are a reflection of what I feel.”

Another favorite is writer Joan Didion, whose 1968 book of essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, boasts some of the best writing of that decade and the best title bar none. I’d been wanting to watch the new documentary about her life, The Center Will Not Hold, on Netflix, when I found an interview with the director, her nephew Griffin Dunne. After hearing him talk about his respect for her as a “real writer” and his love for her as a member of his family, I finally settled down to watch it. A clear and frequently painful view of her life and work, the film is a reminder to all of us that relationships and work are what’s really important in life. I bought Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, another collection of essays, when they went on sale for $1.99 each on Kindle earlier this year and I’m looking forward to revisiting them now half a century later.

And finally today, I bring you tiny houses and shipping container houses that you can now order on Amazon. Free shipping! You know that I’m a little obsessed with tiny houses, but you may not know that I once plotted to have my garage converted into a granny flat (or, in my case, an auntie flat) for myself with my brother and sister-in-law remodeling and living in the main house. That didn’t work out, but I retain a strong interest in the idea of living small. The now out of print book, Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon, provided great inspiration and examples of how smaller is better. In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats by Michael Litchfield is another good, though more conventional, introduction to the topic.

Hope you have a great weekend planned. As always, if you miss my posts, you can always find them on my blog, The Constant Learner.

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.

Bread Alone

In Auntie Flat, Learning, spirituality on October 3, 2017 at 9:40 am

I love bread. The best bread I know is the boule from The Denver Bread Company. I don’t buy it anymore because it’s just too big for one person. Even if I cut it in fourths and freeze three of the pieces, it goes stale before I can eat the one fourth I keep out. When it’s no longer fresh, it still tastes great toasted or heated in the oven.

Baking bread makes me happy. I briefly flirted with the idea of getting a bread machine, but kneading the dough with my hands is part of the fun. Mix, knead, and let rise. Waiting feeds anticipation. Punch down, knead, form loaves, and let rise again. Now it goes in the oven, misted with water to make the crust crunchy.

The glorious and sensuous smell of bread baking in the oven is second only to the taste of the first slice, warm from the oven and slathered with butter. Heaven.

I’m thinking about this because I’m reading Robin Sloan’s delicious new book, Sourdough, about a young techie in San Francisco who turns to baking bread after receiving a sourdough starter from her favorite restaurant when it closes. Her discovery of the pleasures of baking and, especially, eating bread fresh from the brick oven she built from instructions found on the internet make me want to find a way to eat nothing but bread and maybe the occasional pot of chili and some fruit. I wonder if the HOA would frown on having a brick oven on the balcony.

Omar Khayyam wrote in The Rubaiyat in 1120, “A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness–Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” Nine hundred years later, it still sounds perfect.

Why I love Facebook

In Auntie Flat on May 31, 2017 at 9:55 am









Two words: connection and information.

The very best thing about Facebook is seeing pictures of my great niece and nephew who live in Arizona (I don’t know why) and of which I don’t see nearly enough (pictures, that is), Keryn.

I check Facebook when I first get up and many times throughout the day, too. I even check it when I wake up in the middle of the night because the beauty of Facebook is that it’s always there, and you never know who else might be awake, too. At my age, a lot of us are up in the wee hours.

Here’s a sampling of what I saw there this morning.

A test about how to tell personality from hand size.

Several posts making fun of the person in the White House.

A cartoon about right wing Christians and their inexplicable and repulsive focus on same sex marriage.

An article about the Russians and the White House.

A list of 26 things under $10. I love these lists and always find something silly (a service that’ll send anyone in the world a potato with a message of your choice on it) and something I might actually buy (a magnifying glass with its own built-in stand).

An exchange before 6 a.m. with my pastor about a comment I made on FB yesterday.

A short article about parenting using the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 tales of extraordinary women. I’d heard of this before from a friend who got it for her almost-five-year old. I went immediately to Amazon and found that it’s now available in Kindle, but still expensive at $19.99. The hardcover is $35! I’m waiting for it to come to library. At Amazon, I also discovered several other books about strong/capable/smart/legendary women for girls.

An ad about converting $3571 Amish woodsheds complete with shutters and porches into tiny homes.

Post about the man in the White House being a national embarrassment. This came from a man I knew slightly in high school and have become friends with on FB because of our similar political views. See? It lets us connect with old friends as well as make new ones.

More about the Russian scandal from Rachel Maddow.

A photo of a new painting from a favorite artist.

An interview with a couple who just moved into a Tiny House On Wheels, which I saved to Evernote because it could have information useful for the book I am allegedly writing.

Several inspirational quotes.

Posts about what several friends are up to today or maybe last night as I’m an early to bed and early to rise kind of person.

I appreciate that Facebook brings me all this in the comfort of my own home and on my own schedule. I control (to some extent) what things appear on my page. For instance, I no longer see hate-filled conspiracy theories since I unfriended a few people or they unfriended me.

Best of all are the new friends it brings me, people I see briefly in real life and now know what we have in common. Instead of being “Facebook friends” we’ve become real friends.


In Auntie Flat, Home, Learning Tools, writing on May 24, 2017 at 10:39 am

Some things are just so essential that you have to have them with you at all times. No, I don’t mean my phone.

Reading glasses are a necessity for me. I have them in every room of my house plus a pair in my car and in my purse. I keep three pairs in the common room – one at my computer, one at my work table and one where I read and use my iPad or Fire tablet. I need readers because I may break out a book at any time.

Of course books live everywhere, too. The Kindle containing 600 books goes in my purse when I leave the house so I never have to face the predicament of being somewhere without reading material. Every flat surface in the house and some not-so-flat places hold stacks of books. As that wag Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” My car is home to several audio books as well as library books on their way to or from the library, plus I have the Kindle in my purse.

Writing materials also proliferate. I never know when I’m going to have a brilliant thought that I have to record. I keep several journals in different places including a small notebook at my bedside for things that pop into my head as I drift off to sleep.

My phone (you thought I’d forgotten about the phone, didn’t you?) goes with me when I drive, walk, or go to the gym. I use it to listen to audio books from the library. I could also use it to take or record notes, but I don’t. Instead, I keep an index card and a pencil in the case. I’m not a Luddite; nor am I addicted to my phone. Typically, on the rare occasion that it rings, I can’t locate it before the ringing stops. Oh, well.

As far as food goes, on heavy snow days when everyone runs to the store for milk, bread, and eggs, I stock up on popcorn, butter, and diet Coke.

With these necessities, I can make it through just about anything.