Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘neighborhood’ 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.


Name Game

In Arvada, Denver, neighborhood on May 7, 2018 at 2:32 pm

When lower downtown Denver became LoDo several decades ago, I was both baffled by the nickname and a little embarrassed. It seemed to me that Denver was trying too hard to seem hip, like SoHo in NYC where the fad of giving neighborhoods two-syllable name contractions started.
RiNo, a shortened version of River North, may have come next, and that didn’t bother me much. What was then a shabby, nondescript, artsy community seemed to perk up a little with the new name. Of course, eventually, it perked up too much and became just one more sea of luxury apartments, restaurants, and galleries, pricing out the artists that made it a desirable location.
LoHi, or lower Highland, came next and that was the one that really irritated me, probably because I lived in Highland neighborhood and resented having realtors and other carpetbaggers stage a wholesale takeover of part of my neighborhood. Since I lived west of Zuni, was I in HiHi? When does it end?
Apparently not soon because now the area around Sloan’s Lake is SloHi to the real estate industry. Shudder. Is that necessary?
Oddly, the areas outside of the northwest quadrant of the city don’t seem to have suffered from this name mania. Sure, Uptown is officially part of North Capitol Hill (NoCaHi anyone?), but at least Uptown is a real word. Why doesn’t Colfax have a WeCo and EaCo? Is Virginia Village ViVi? Or Hilltop HiTo?
I suppose the rebranding comes to areas that want to develop a new image to reflect the gentrification of previously depressed communities. Don’t get me started.
I routinely refer to my current neighborhood as Olde Town Arvada, its official name for the last twenty years or so, while my friend Jeanie, who grew up here in the 50s and 60s knows it as Uptown, not to be confused with the previously mentioned Uptown in Denver.
By the way, I hate that extra e on Olde. My friend Chris insists on pronouncing it Old-ey Town. Are we hip yet?

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.

Zoning Out or In

In Learning, neighborhood on March 27, 2018 at 7:36 am

Once I wrote and delivered a speech to the city council in favor of a zoning change. I was heavily involved in neighborhood politics at the time and a woman in the neighborhood, Maria, wanted to convert her garden shed into a small commercial bakery. “All I want to do,” she said, “is work in my garden and bake bread.” Many long-time activists opposed her petition because they had seen “many houses in Highland converted into businesses and “non-conforming” uses. Their knee-jerk reaction was to stop what they saw as an erosion in their quality of life and property values.
I supported her because what I loved about Highland was the diversity of buildings and their uses. As I wrote my speech, the words came easily to me, almost as if from another source. I was in the zone.
It happens all too infrequently.
This mental state, called flow, happens when we are fully immersed in an activity, focused, energized, and unaware of time and space. We are at our most productive and creative in this state. As a bonus, psychologists suggest that achieving flow on a regular basis is a key component of happiness.
It can happen in any activity, from video games to teaching to sports.
Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term, flow, in 1975 and expanded on his ideas in his 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. “Flow also happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges,” Csíkszentmihályi explains.
If you want to get lost in your work, find something that challenges you, using many of your skills and pushing you to move outside your normal routine. It requires you to focus and become completely involved.
The state of flow typically produces peak performance. My speech was picked up and repeated word for word by the late Gene Amole in his Rocky Mountain New column, and city council approved Maria’s Bakery. Set in her lush garden, the bakery provided incredible bread and sandwiches to the neighborhood for many years. Doing what she loved, Maria was also in the zone.

A Spice Odyssey

In Arvada, creativity, Learning, neighborhood on February 2, 2018 at 11:56 am

When Mike and Janet Johnston founded the Savory Spice Shop on Platte Street in 2004, I became interested in spices. Other than the standard salt, cinnamon, basil, paprika and the occasional bay leaf, I eschewed the idea of livening up my plain cooking. Somehow, I discovered their Cajun seasonings and since then I rarely cook a chicken breast without it.
The rustic atmosphere in a vintage brick building fit in with the quirky shops just beginning to pop up on this neglected street in lower downtown Denver. Equally charming was the fact that it was within walking distance from my house in Highland neighborhood.
Then I moved to Olde Town Arvada where I found Penzey’s Spices. I didn’t want to shop there because it was a chain and a little too slick for me. I preferred the rustic ambiance of the Platte Street shop and continued to go there, even though I could no longer walk and parking was always an issue.
Gradually, Penzey’s won me over. Of course, being two blocks from my condo made it irresistibly convenient. But what really convinced me were the Facebook posts showing a business owner willing to speak out against the injustices, bigotry, and hate which has been a part of our daily life during this last year.
About the same time, I became involved with a man who’s learning to cook and who reignited my interest in tasty cooking. I gave him a box of Penzey’s spices for Christmas and got some for myself, too. It’s probably time to replace some of those spices in my cupboard that are almost as old as I am.
It turns out Savory Spice Shop is also a chain albeit a locally based one. They have now expanded to a collection of 30 locally owned and/or operated community spice shops in 16 states. I’ll continue to frequent both stores, which means I’m spicing up my life a teaspoon at a time using more spices in my cooking so I’ll have an excuse to buy more.

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.

Bertie’s Christmas

In Books, Christmas, creativity, neighborhood on December 12, 2017 at 8:59 am








My Secular Advent, Day Ten

Bertie doesn’t ask for much. The beleaguered and frequently bewildered six-year-old from Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series really only wants two things for Christmas, a Swiss Army knife and Irn Bru, a carbonated soft drink called “Scotland’s other national drink” (after whiskey).

He’s quite sure his mother, who considers him “The Bertie Project” will never allow him to have either. Instead, she insists that he attend psychotherapy and yoga classes, two things that annoy him the most.

She declared, “Christmas is a distraction.”

From what?” Bertie wondered.

From the real issues. From the matters that should be concerning us. Commercial manipulation, Bertie. That’s what that is.”

Bertie had remained silent.

No,” Irene continued. “There’s no doubt about it. We are being encouraged to spend on things we don’t need.”

But presents are nice,” said Bertie mildly.

He looked forward to the impending nativity play at school until the school asked parents for a volunteer to produce the play, and Bertie’s mother accepted the challenge.

Unfortunately, she thought “Nativity plays are very tired.”

I’m going to change the setting entirely,” Irene said. “We shall be in the contemporary West Bank.

They heard the news in Big Lou’s coffee bar on Dundas Street.

I feel sorry for that wee boy,” said Big Lou, from behind her counter.

Angus Lordie, the portrait painter from Drummond Place, decided to make the day special for Bertie despite his mother’s lack of Christmas spirit. He dressed as Santa and surprised Bertie on Christmas Eve with a can of Irn Bru and shared a whiskey or two with Bertie’s father.

When our families disappoint us, it’s always a blessing to have good friends and neighbors.

The Mitford Snowmen

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity, Home, neighborhood on December 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

My Secular Advent, Day Four

It’s Christmas time in the small North Carolina mountain town of Mitford. Father Tim and his cronies hang around the Main Street Grill to hash out the pressing issue of downtown parking. Snow is falling and they see some of the other merchants building snowmen outside their shops.

It’s a contest,” someone says, with a prize of a dozen doughnuts from Winnie Ivey’s Sweet Stuff Bakery. They do their best work to win that. They add hats and coats and gloves and glasses to make the snowmen look like well-known neighbors.

As the merriment ends, they realize there was never a contest at all, just people having fun in the snow. The mayor declares them all winners and leads everybody to the bakery for doughnuts and hot chocolate.

This is a story about community and a town that prides itself on taking care of its own. This year’s Advent theme at my church is harmony. Pastor Brad told us the story of how the improbable pair of Bing Crosby and David Bowie came to sing the duet, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy on Bing’s Christmas special. Bowie refused to sing Little Drummer Boy (not one of my favorites, either, David), so the writers dreamed up a brand new song, Peace On Earth, to act as counter-melody to Bing’s singing Little Drummer Boy. It’s a story about being true to yourself and finding harmony with others.

The Mitford stories illustrate this principle all year long. Every book is a Christmas story.

Out to Lunch

In Arvada, Friends, neighborhood on November 8, 2017 at 9:24 am

I’d like to invite you to Newk’s, my new favorite Arvada restaurant at 52nd and Wadsworth. Lone Tree has one, too. It’s a chain out of Mississippi, so normally I wouldn’t like it just on principle, my principles being I don’t like chains and I don’t like the South. The latter stems from the movie, Easy Rider, which scared the bejesus out of me in 1969 and I never got over it.

Apparently, this is part of the fast casual restaurant craze favored by millennials and offering casual-dining quality food at fast food speeds. When they discover that some of us old farts like it, too, they may move on as they did when baby boomers and gen Xers took over Facebook.

I prefer service at my table, and here you have to order at the counter, but then they bring it to your table. I also have to schlep my own drinks, but at least I can get a refill on my diet Coke whenever I want it. And I favor booths because they are both comfortable and private. Newk’s has booths and tables as well as those high tables with stools which I hate, but which the younger crowd seems to like for some unknown reason—feeling above the rest of us, perchance?

It’s light, clean and open with plenty of space between tables.

They offer soup, salad, sandwiches, and pizza, plus bread-and-butter pickles to die for at the condiments table. I’m always on the lookout for a good turkey sandwich, and they have one. I’ve also had the pepperoni and sausage pizza, which is very good.

The only thing that would make it better is if it were in Olde Town so I could walk there. At least here there’s plenty of parking, which can’t be said for Olde Town unless you want to use the mostly unused RTD parking garage next to the still not operating commuter rail line. Don’t get me started.

Let me know if you want to have lunch. I’m available.

Boo to You

In Arvada, neighborhood, women on October 31, 2017 at 4:08 pm

I’m not a fan of Halloween and I don’t know when (or understand why) it became a holiday for adults. By the way, it’s not a holiday, as I had to continually explain to my students who complained about having to go to class on Halloween. “Did you have to work today?” I’d ask. They’d mutter a “Yes,” and I’d repeat, “See? It’s not a holiday.” Boo hoo.

I liked working on Halloween because it got me out of the house and away from trick-or-treaters. It’s really a terrible night for anyone who lives alone. The young ones always came first, just when I was trying to make dinner. The little kids are cute, although having no contact with current tot culture, I rarely recognized the costumes even if they weren’t hidden under coats for our traditional freezing weather. Looks like tonight will be cold, but not freezing.

Anyway, I had to wonder about the parents who brought their tiny babies dressed as pumpkins to my door for candy. Was I really supposed to believe that Snickers was for the four-month-old?

Later came the older kids, usually boys in packs looking sinister no matter what their costumes and wanting handfuls of treats. A little frightening for a woman alone, so I was happy to be gone that night.

Now I live in a security building with no or almost no kids, so I don’t have to deal with any of those things. I bought one bag of Snickers for myself and put it in the freezer so I wouldn’t eat it fast. My favorite part of Halloween, however, is candy corn. Save your scorn; I LOVE candy corn and allow myself to indulge in a bag or two (who’s counting?) every year at this time.

Other than that, the closest I come to celebrating this day is having a cat named after Boo Radley.