Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

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. . .

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.

Fathers and Fantasy

In Books, Christmas, creativity, Learning on December 11, 2017 at 9:58 am








My Secular Advent, Day Nine
Although called the Father of Modern Fantasy, JRR Tolkein had influences dating from at least as long ago as the Victorian era. Predating his publication of The Hobbit in 1937, he wrote illustrated letters from Father Christmas to his young children starting in 1920. Each year more characters were added, such as the North Polar Bear (Father Christmas’s helper), the Snow Man (his gardener), Ilbereth the elf (his secretary), and various other, minor characters. The major characters would relate tales of Father Christmas’s battles against goblins who rode on bats and the various pranks committed by the North Polar Bear.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1925 letter to John and Michael, the oldest boys, in a shaky hand by the then one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five-year-old Father Christmas. He had to write to both boys at once because of troubles caused by his clumsy chief helper, the North Polar Bear.

“It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down—and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the North Polar Bear’s leg got broken.”

Tolkein lovers will appreciate the humorous and endearing stories and magical illustrations, which were gathered into a book, Letters from Father Christmas, in 1976, on the third anniversary of Tolkein’s death.

Friday Favorites

In Books, Learning on December 1, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Festina Lente, a Latin phrase meaning “make haste slowly” is my new motto, especially for December. I learned it by reading the marvelous Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan several years ago. If you haven’t read it, you should make haste to your local library or bookstore and get it right now. I also recommend the prequel short story, Ajax Penumbra 1969, and Sloan’s latest, Sourdough, one of my favorite books this year.

Need recommendations for booklover friends? Check out the holiday recommendations podcast from BookRiot. Here’s a taste to get you started. For a friend who loves trivia and useless information, try Schott’s Original Miscellany by Ben Schott or What If by Randall Munroe. The first is a truly wondrous collection that isn’t the least bit practical, and the second offers serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions. Either or both would be great for your favorite know-it-all.

Put down your books for a few minutes Saturday evening and wander outside to catch the rising of the Supermoon at 4:19 in Denver. A supermoon is a full moon coinciding with perigee– the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit. Its scientific name is perigee syzygy. University of Arizona professor Gurtina Besla says the phrase means two specific things in reference to the moon’s placement and phase. “Perigee refers to the moon being at its closest distance to the Earth, and syzygy refers to the alignment of multiple bodies — the moon, Earth, and sun need to be aligned for us to see a full moon,”

Our weather should be clear and mild, so no excuses.

Light Up Your Face

In Learning, music, spirituality on November 29, 2017 at 5:18 pm

I went out for breakfast this morning and sat in a booth next to two women and a baby. The baby looked at me and gave me that wide open smile that seems reserved for babies and other innocents. I couldn’t help but smile back.

It lifted my spirits all day.

While smiles are not as contagious as yawns, they are infectious. As the saying goes, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”Nobody really knows why we smile, apart from some nonsense speculation that it’s a perverted form of baring our teeth to scare off enemies. We do know it’s not learned behavior. Babies born blind who have never seen a smile, still respond the same as their sighted counterparts. Ain’t science grand? Furthermore, smiling is universal, occurring in all human groups and for the same reasons. We smile because we’re happy and also to make ourselves happy.

That’s right. If we put on a smile, whether we’re genuinely happy or not, our brains will interpret it as happiness and our mood will change accordingly.
And it turns out your mother knew what she was talking about when she told you it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I hate it when that happens. She was also right that babies smile sometimes smile as a result of gas until 6-8 weeks old. After that, their smiles mean the same thing ours do. Unborn babies even smile in the womb. That’s understandable. What’s not to like in a natural environment designed just to keep them happy?

Here’s a song from Nat King Cole to bring a smile to your face. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAjx0d-fda4)

Sing along, “Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it’s breaking” and tell me three things that make you smile.
Here’s my list: (1) Daffodils in the snow, (2) starting a new book by a favorite author, and (3) the full moon rising over a lagoon.

Friday Favorites

In Books, creativity, Denver, Learning on November 24, 2017 at 6:54 am

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Now that Thanksgiving is over, nobody can yell at you for playing Christmas music. If you like yours with a little humor, here are a few treats for you. Start with Christmas music in the style of the Beatles from Fab Four – Hark! 

Or step a little farther outside the box with Bob Rivers Christmas parodies.

Leon Redbone’s voice lends a froggy irony to traditional Christmas songs on his classic album, Christmas Island. You remember him from the end of the movie Elf when he sang Baby It’s Cold Outside with Zooey Deschanel

The PBS Great Performances documentary, Hamilton’s America, about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creative process in writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton isn’t about Christmas, but it’s a real treat. You have to be a PBS member to see now. However, you can watch In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams at the PBS website or the Roku PBS channel.

Maya Angelou said, “I always felt, in any town, if I can get to a library, I’ll be OK.” The libraries were closed yesterday, but they’re open again today. Hurray! I feel as if my regular life has returned.

Finally, as a self-professed nontraveler, I find myself in the rather odd position of considering a trip to Italy. First, though, I want to learn a little Italian. Two resources I have found especially helpful are Fluent in Three Months  with Benny the Irish Polyglot. I ordered his book, Language Hacking Italian, from the library.

Another resource available at DPL is Mango language learning. At the library home page, click on services/research resources/popular topics/learn a language. Mango has lessons for 72 languages, so the one you want is probably there. If you’re not in Denver, check your local library for a similar resource.

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

I Wasted Time, And Now Time Is Wasting Me – Gratitude Day 3

In Books, creativity, Learning, spirituality, work on November 22, 2017 at 6:15 am

Our most precious commodity these days isn’t money but time. When we’re young, time is on our side. Now we often wonder what we’d do if we could turn back time. I always valued time more than money, which explains my patchwork career of part-time, temporary “jobs” and also my lack of financial resources.

The most peculiar and familiar quality of time is its elasticity. We mark it off in equal minutes, hours, days and ignore the plain fact that one minute/hour/day is never equal to the next. Some days time drags its feet with the hours taking forever to pass. Other days flit by at a dizzying pace. The first happens when we are waiting interminable hours anticipating something good. The second when we engage in pleasant activities that we wish would last longer. I need less of the former and more of the latter.

I confess to sometimes taking a nap just to pass time. Yet even while I wish time would hurry up already, I’m aware that at age 69, I have a limited amount of time left, maybe less than I think. So the conundrum is always how to spend my hours wisely, enjoying and not wasting them, but not rushing them either.

Author Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” I don’t want to spend my last days and years letting time slip through my fingers, wishing I’d done something else.