Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Learning Tools’ Category

Paradise is a Kind of Library

In Books, Colorado, Denver, Learning, Learning Tools on February 28, 2018 at 3:47 pm

I’ve written many times about how much I love libraries and the constant supply of books, ebooks, and audiobooks they supply for me. However, these days, libraries are much more than repositories for books in all their formats. You already know they have computers, wifi, printing, meeting and study rooms. Maybe you’ve attended a class or concert or movie or lecture at your local library as I have.
Have you used a Culture Pass yet? It gives free admission to many museums in the area. Both Denver and Jeffco libraries (and probably others in the metro area) offer passes to the Museum of Nature and Science, History Colorado, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Molly Brown House and Jeffco includes several more sites including Dinosaur Ridge and the Butterfly Pavilion. This does not include admission to special exhibits. By the way, you don’t have to be a resident of these counties to qualify for a library card. If you’re new to the area or have out of town visitors, these passes are an excellent way to get to know the area.
Since Denver is essentially a city of neighborhoods, you can also get acquainted with them through DPL’s Neighborhood Guides. Read about the history and development of 17 Denver neighborhoods from Barnum to LoDo on the library website, complete with pictures, or check out a recommended book and plan your own walking tour.
With libraries around the country threatened with local budget cuts and closings plus the administration trying to eliminate all federal funds for libraries, making use of library services is one good way to demonstrate that these are dynamic and essential resources for all Americans.
One of my rules for living is to always find and frequent your local library. It’s probably open and waiting for you now.


Pencil Me In

In creativity, Learning Tools on February 15, 2018 at 8:16 pm

In a previous post, I quoted someone who implied that the case for teaching cursive in schools was driven by Big Pencil, that is, those who manufacture pencils and foresee their demise in the digital era. It’s hard to imagine those innocent #2 Ticonderoga pencils used by school children across the world as leading a conspiracy, but that’s the world we live in.
It might surprise you to learn that the pencil wasn’t invented until 100 years after the printing press.
A large deposit of graphite discovered in England in the early 1500s and it was found to be useful for pencils among other uses. The news of these early pencils spread far and wide, attracting the attention of artists all over the known world. Graphite sticks were first wrapped in string or sheepskin to protect the soft mineral. Around 1560, an Italian couple invented the modern, wood-encased pencil. It took 300 more years before the attached eraser appeared.
In The Promise of a Pencil, author Adam Braun asked “What can a pencil do for all of us? Amazing things. It can write transcendent poetry, uplifting music, or life-changing equations; it can sketch the future, give life to untold beauty, and communicate the full-force of our love and aspirations.”
Still, the major advantage of pencils over pens is that things written in pencil can be erased. They are temporary, tentative. Pencils are also portable and don’t leak.
Fanatics can buy a pencil for a dime or you can spend $10,000. Really. Graf von Faber-Castell makes the “perfect pencil” featuring diamonds in white gold with a built-in sharpener.
Less zealous pencil lovers can still indulge themselves by paying $12 a pop for professional pencil sharpening.
I plan to stick with the mechanical pencils sold by every discount and office supply store five for a dollar in their back-to-school sales. As long as they continue to appear on school supply lists, pencils aren’t going anywhere.
And even if newer innovations wipe them out, with a 500-year history, they’ve had a good long run. Not many technologies can say that.

They Make it Too Easy

In Arvada, Books, Denver, Learning Tools on February 1, 2018 at 9:52 am

On Saturday, I go to the library to pick up books I’ve ordered and return those I’ve finished or those they won’t let me keep any longer. Last week, I returned 15 books and picked up seven, reducing my stash to only 26 library books. How do I manage to accumulate so many, you ask? It’s easy.
First, let me explain that I started going only on Saturdays because I collected too many late fines when I was checking out books willy-nilly any day they happened to come in. Now I know they’re due on Saturday and just have to check the library’s website to see what’s due that day. The Denver Public Library sends me an email every Friday letting me know what I need to return. If a book can be renewed for another three weeks, they do that automatically. One of the reasons I stopped going to the Arvada/Jeffco library is because they didn’t do this. More on this later. Denver also provides a two-day grace period on due dates.
Most books allow three 3-week renewals, which added to the original three-week check out period means I can keep them for a total of 12 weeks.
I learn about books I want to read by reading book-related blogs, facebook posts, and newspaper reviews and listening to similar podcasts. Friends also recommend books they like. When I hear of a book that sounds interesting, I go to Amazon to read both the official blurb and readers’ comments. While there, a devilish little Chrome app called Library Extension tells me immediately if either of my local libraries has it available. One click takes me to the library website where I can order the book right then. Like I said, it’s easy. Maybe too easy. I end up with more books than I can ever read and some that I’m only mildly interested in.
Now I have a secret to tell you, and this has to stay just between us, no snitching to the authorities. DPL doesn’t charge me fines on overdue books. I’m not sure how I got on the no-fines list, but I think it’s because I used to write a column for a North Denver newspaper and I wrote several articles praising the Woodbury Library. Once I went in to pay a fine and the librarian said she’d take care of it. I’ve never had a fine since. I try hard not to abuse this privilege.
By the way, the 26 book figure does not include the ebooks and audiobooks I download directly from the library website. Those return automatically when the checkout period ends, so I don’t have to worry about them. And just in case you’re interested, I don’t have time to read or listen to all of those either.
Don’t think you can change my habits. I’m incorrigible.

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.

Losing. It’s a Good Thing.

In Colorado, Learning, Learning Tools on January 16, 2018 at 9:11 am

Someone once said that a world without men would be full of fat, happy women, implying that the only reason for us to get or stay thin is to attract men. Maybe. I started to gain weight when I was about 40, which is typically when our metabolism starts to slow, but in my case also accompanied a bitter breakup. On some level, I think I didn’t do anything about it then because I wanted to keep men away, at least in a romantic sense. I’ve always had great male friends.

Anyway, I joined WeightWatchers. Reading about the different habits of thin people informs me that thin people eat when they’re hungry. Fat people eat when it’s time. Being diabetic exacerbates this because we have to eat regularly, no skipping meals.

Thin people don’t sit still. They stand and move around and fidget.

Thin people weigh themselves. Oh, boy. If there’s anything I hate more than exercise, it’s weighing myself. These are habits I need to develop, though, and I can do that.

Apparently, Colorado has the highest percentage of people with a normal weight, neither overweight nor obese, in the nation. I guess I’m what you call an outlier.

The state has the country’s largest system of city parks, more than 3 million acres of national parks and forests, 10 major ski resorts, and 400 mountain-biking trails. In addition, 20 percent of Coloradans belong to health clubs―the second-highest percentage in the United States. (Delaware has the highest.) Colorado’s weather also helps with 300-plus days each year when it’s nice to be outside. Staying indoors is something else I need to change.

My reasons for losing weight are many:
To decrease my diabetes medication.
To relieve the pain in my knees.
To make exercise easier.
To buy new clothes in a size that doesn’t embarrass me.
To move through the world more comfortably.

And no one is more surprised at this than I am, but there’s this man. . .

Friday Favorites

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools on November 3, 2017 at 9:15 am

I’m trying something new on Fridays. Starting today I will share some of my favorite things during the past week, including books (of course), articles, events, TV shows, movies, and whatever else strikes my fancy. My hope is that some of it will strike yours, too. Enjoy.
I finished the latest Longmire book, A Western Star by Craig Johnson. A glorious read, one of his best, this one moves back and forth between today and the time when Walt had first returned from Vietnam in 1972. He’d been on the job as the deputy sheriff in Absaroka County, Wyoming for only two weeks. He’s on a train full of sheriffs, and the plot pays tribute to Agatha Christie’s grand Murder on the Orient Express. You can read the book, watch the 1974 movie on YouTube or wait for the remake to open November 10. Meanwhile, the final season of the TV series Longmire starts on Netflix on November 17.
While we’re on the subject of Agatha Christie, my other favorite of hers is And Then There Were None, her masterpiece and one of the best selling books (100 million copies!) of all time. Don’t bother with the 1945 movie, also available on YouTube. For some inexplicable reason, they decided to change the ending and add a love story. Ick.
Tonight’s full moon will continue over the weekend. It’s called the Hunter’s moon, Beaver moon or Frost moon. Yesterday it was still a waxing gibbous moon. I’ve been familiar with the terms waxing and waning for many years, although I’m surprised at how many people are not, but I just learned the meaning of gibbous. It refers to the phase of the moon between half full and full and can be either waxing or waning. Monday we’ll see a waning gibbous moon. From the Latin gibbus, meaning “hump.” I love learning new words.
I wrote this week about walking as an aid to creativity (The Happy Wanderer), and included several famous quotes, but couldn’t find a way to work in my favorite quote about walking from Noel Coward, “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.” I don’t walk as much as I used to although I’m working on it. This week I listened to Urban Curiosity podcast interview with Katie Steel, co-owner and creative director of the Department Store for the Mind. She, too, extolled the benefits of walking, so I ordered their book, Walking in the Rain, to help inspire me to get out more.
I’ve advanced to #74 on the DPL waiting list for Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci. Since it will be a while, I’ve been revving up my anticipation by listening to Barnes & Noble’s superb podcast with the author and his interview with Charlie Rose.
If you’re in the US, open enrollment at Healthcare.gov is here. The current administration is actively trying to sabotage it, so spread the word.

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.”


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.