Author Mike Perry on the Radio!

I’m a nervous Nelly today. That’s because this afternoon on the radio show (ROI – Relevant or Irrelevant on KALA, St. Ambrose University, 88.5 FM) I get to help interview one of my favorite authors, Mike Perry from Wisconsin. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written, I get his e-newsletter, I know about his band, The Longbeds, (though, I confess, I’ve never actually heard them), I know he adapted his book Population 485 for the stage, and I know he hosts Big Tent Radio up in northern Wisconsin. I’ve seen him multiple times at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City (and will do so again tomorrow night). This is the closest I’ve ever been to being a groupie.

My biggest fear: I will not know what to say when I get the chance to talk with him. And that I’ll sound like a moron.

Most of the time on the show, which I don’t get to take part is as much as I used to due to time and distance from school, I can toss out glib little comments and sound sort of clever and witty. But now I have a vested interest: I’m a fan of our guest. You’d think that would be a good thing. I know lots about his work and the projects he’s been a part of. I know I make a connection to him via his writing and he feels like a kindred spirit.

And yet.

As my day rolls on, I’ll try to jot down a few things to mention or ask about. References to his books that I’ve read, some more than once, and ask about the next time he’ll be in Mineral Point at the Opera House (so, hopefully, this time I can actually be there). Maybe I can pull up a YouTube video of the Longbeds and actually hear them. Maybe I can joke and say I thought we were interviewing the mixed martial arts fighter Mike Perry, whom I just found when Googling. Really? The sad thing is, there may be more people who know about him than about our Mike Perry, who is articulate and smart and can write like nobody’s business. Who can write like I’d like to write.

If you check out the link to his website, Sneezing Cow (as in “never stand behind a sneezing cow” – yes, this is the author for whom I own all his books), you’ll find the following: “Home of Michael Perry – New York Times Bestselling Author, Humorist, Singer/Songwriter, Intermittent Pig Farmer.” That’s the kind of smart-ass I tend to be in real life, and here, too, I guess. So that’s why there’s such a connection. Of course, I don’t have the New York Times thing behind my name. Yet.

Midwestern! I guess that’s it. We both grew up on farms, we are about the same age (maybe even the exact same, from what I can glean), we lived through the same eras, both have connections to volunteer fire departments, which is why I bought his first book, Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. (you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think; you can buy it on this link – I get no kickbacks for promotion, by the way — just love the guy’s books!). The observations and jokes are so down-to-earth and reach me so much that reading his books feel like having a conversation with a friend (I know – that sounds trite and dorky, but that’s really how it feels for me – like a comfortable pair of old shoes, with warm wool socks and a cup of hot cocoa on a snowy day as I snuggle under a quilt on the porch). Yikes! Sorry about that. I just get carried away sometimes.

“New York Times Bestselling Author.” That’s the one that brings me up short and makes me nervous. Because when I started reading his books, he was just Mike Perry from Wisconsin. Though I daresay that’s probably still how he would describe himself. Just a guy who writes (really well) all kinds of stuff and diversifies in order to make the mortgage and insurance payments, who has a lovely and sage wife and two daughters*, and an awesome ’51 International pickup truck that he and his brother-in-law restored** (making me dream of either restoring Old Yeller, my ’63 Chevy pickup,  or winning the lottery and finding a ’55 Chevy). Yup. Just a regular guy. Who also happens to be a NYTimes Bestselling Author, which makes me giddy.

So, wish me luck. I hope I won’t get too tongue-tied or say anything too idiotic. And, if all goes well, maybe I’ll get to have a real, off-air conversation with Mike tomorrow night after his reading at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City. I’m sure stranger things have happened. Getting the chance to sit down with a New York Times Bestselling Author and have a regular chat would feel pretty surreal but great. I’d buy him a beer, but he doesn’t drink. But maybe I’ll need one.


*read Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting

** read Truck: A Love Story




Welcome back!

Hello, there! After a long hiatus that began with a week (an entire week!) of Influenza B and two looooong weeks of recovery (I heard stories but never really believed it until it happened to me – doesn’t that sound like a subtitle to a tabloid story about seeing aliens?), I’m back to the blog. Even now it’s a struggle to sit here and try to write, so I am hoping that by making myself just sit down, I can break the logjam and get started again. I was doing so well, hitting once or twice a week, there, at the start of the year, and then …. thump. That stupid wall. So, here is the news that’s fit to print.

First of all, the flu makes you really tired! After my first day back (after an initial attempt the previous Friday – it was a two-hour late start, so I figured I could swing that — I was wrong), I went to bed at 6:30 and slept the next ten hours straight. Whew! Made the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at church, but couldn’t make the Ash Wednesday service. But sleep, sleep, sleep was all I wanted for two weeks. I was so tired for those two weeks that even the time change looked easy in comparison.

Anyhow, it is now Spring Break (said with a fanfare of trumpets). And as Ed was at the Augie men’s basketball tournament on Friday, I started my break with one of my two ritutals: mopping and cleaning (the other ritual is a stop at the library to load up on books). Followed, of course, by early to bed. But that was fine because Day Two was….Canoecopia!

What is Canoecopia?, I hear you ask (yes, I do hear you, so be careful!). It is an amazing canoe and kayak expo in beautiful, wonderful Madison, Wisconsin. My best friend, Brent, went with me (which was fortuitous, as on the way home I got pretty sleepy and it helped to have someone to talk to so I would stay awake, even at 4 in the afternoon). On the way up, had to have a coffee stop in my adopted hometown of Mt. Horeb. I love Sjolind’s Chocolate House! And not just for chocolate. They have wonderful baked good and excellent coffee (and hot chocolate). Brent had a blueberry scone the size of a baby’s head, I swear! I had a melt-in-your-mouth snickerdoodle that was just the right size and oh so fluffy!  When they brought out the quiche, I figured it was good I had a co-pilot, or I would have just stayed there all day.

On to Madison! It really is helpful to have a good co-pilot! Brent is an excellent map reader and direction-giver, so no worries getting there. And once we got there, holy cow! Canoe and kayak sensory overload!

There was so much so look at and play with and people to talk to. We fit a lot into three hours of wandering. I had set a budget (yes, this is me talking) for a new pair of water shoes and a PFD (don’t say “life jacket” – that’s so yesterday). Even with the post-event stop at the liquor store and for cheese (Wisconsin = beer and cheese, duh), I still came in under budget. But that’s because Brent bought lunch. I highly recommend The Great Dane Pub & Brewing at any of it’s four Madison locations.

If you want to kayak Iowa, there were folks there to help you. Wisconsin? Of course. Illinois? Minnesota? Oregon? Yup. But Dubrovnik, Croatia? Well, yes, there, too. That was a bit of a surprise, but it did look like a lovely trip (guide, and I’ll assume interpreter, included in the package price).

I saw some beautiful paddles, colorful and lovely. However, quite out of my budget range. Honestly, I’m not sure I could justify spending over $200 on a kayak paddle, no matter how pretty it is. But I did finally settle on a pretty purple PFD. And it’s designed for women, and for the kayak, with a higher back so I don’t get pushed forward out of my seat. Safety first, girls!

My new water shoes look like real shoes and have support and laces and little suction-y cups on the bottom for grip. I could actually wear them when I leave home, that’s how good they look. And no one would know they are water shoes. Cool.

The most beautiful boats there were actually kits! In 80 hours of your spare time in your garage, you can glue together and poly your own beautiful wooden canoe or kayak. I’m including a link to the company’s website (Chesapeake Light Craft), and you can see some pictures, but it really is more beautiful in person. And hard to believe it’s a kit. If I get really super into kayaking, this is something I’d consider, just because, for how beautiful they are, it’s hard to believe I could afford it (the kit I would need is about $600, at least at the show). But I’m also afraid it would have to be the kind of thing I’d have to live on a lake to own. I’d be afraid of trying to transport it. Unless, of course, I had the new Yakima “Show Down” system!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Yakima makes the most amazing method of getting the kayak onto the car means not having to wrestle it over your head. Really. However, I will have to make sure I spend a lot more time on the water to justify spending the money for that baby, though it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be (of course, there are big discounts on things at the show – so I’d have to plan a much bigger budget for next year). But if I continue to kayak, as I get older (Golden Years? Who came up with that phrase?), it would really be a good idea because you load the boat by only having to lift it about chest high onto some cradles and then, once it’s strapped in, you lift up and push it onto a track and, voila! it’s on top of your car. Magic!

On the way home, the final Wisconsin stop: Mineral Point (my first adopted home town). We stopped at the grocery on the east side for cheese, but, alas, no Hook’s. Hook’s is my favorite cheese, and it’s made in Mineral Point. So imagine my surprise when I asked the stock boy at the grocery if they had any and he hadn’t heard of it. Really? What a bizarre turn of events. So we left and hit the “convenience store with character”- and about every kind of booze you might need, along with cheese – that sits right across the street from Hook’s. There we snagged the last two bags of cheese curds and I stocked up on several cheeses, knowing it would be a while before I got to come back.

And then, straight on to home. I think I was in  bed an hour after I got home I was so tired. Tired, but happy. And cheese rich. I drifted off to sleep, thinking of my new PFD and water shoes, and dreamed of beautiful wooden kayaks, paddling the islands off the coast of Croatia.


Illness and Contemplation

Okay, so to start with I’m not really sick all the time. It may just seem that way because when I am sick, I have more time to sit down and write. Which brings up the dilemma of finding more time to write during those times when I’m not sick. Sigh.

I guess that means that while I am feeling, generally, pretty good about the resolutions I began a month ago, and I do feel like I am making progress in a lot of ways, writing is one area in which I need to do a little reboot, rethink, and reorganization.

Overall, I have been pretty excited with how I have been progressing on the no-sugar/no-alcohol front (and the being very careful with what I eat, measuring and weighing and pre-planning and all). I did make one exception yesterday for the Jilted Kilt keg tapping event at Great River Brewery, but only because: 1) I got to meet up with my friend Brent for a drink and a chat, 2) I got to hear a bagpipe and drum band with the ever-Scottish Derek Grant, and 3) I got to wear my kilt! So how can a girl say “No” to that!

But, I was very steadfast. I had one beer and one beer only. I did not eat the Scotch egg (I did have one bite, and it was good, but I wasn’t going to break all the rules, just one). So I was pretty proud of the fact that I stood my ground. And when I got home last night, I was tempted to finish off the one remaining can of pear cider, but told myself that one meant one. If I want the cider, I can have it at Spring Break. I am determined. I am a Badass! (See my earlier post if this part does not make sense.)

And I am also quite proud of the fact that when I left school on Friday, after a rough last class, I was tempted to have a beer or something sugary. But being mindful, I knew that I really didn’t want that, no matter what my stressed brain seemed to say. I knew I had to stay the course. And I did! Yea, me!

Welcome to my stream of consciousness! Sorry if this is too revealing for you, but I am trying to make myself public so that my friends who read this can hold me accountable, and I can hold myself accountable to them.

And now for something completely different!

If I had to pick a day to be sick, this would have been an excellent choice, aside from the fact that I had to miss coffee with a friend and miss church and miss a Superbowl party (which is not so much watching the Superbowl as it is having pizza, wings, and beer with friends). But I am not missing school, which is better. Plus it is snowing, off and on, so it’s nice to be snug inside with a mug of tea occasionally watching the fluffy white stuff outside, knowing that no matter how cold it is, I don’t have to go out.

I’d love to be able to watch it from my window as I write, but the window is covered in plastic and the shades are closed, so it’s just a white wall or plastic-covered shades. We are hoping to replace a couple windows, including the ones in here, next summer. So a year from now, I ought to be able to look out upon the backyard as I write. But maybe I need to put something on the wall to look at when I am trying to think up a synonym or fix a sentence (believe it or not, I do edit, despite how it might look – really).

My writing desk used to be in the basement, but I never used it there. Instead, it just collected detritus and dust. So I decided to put it in my bedroom and have my laptop set up so that whenever the urge to write hits, I can take advantage of it. And, with it being in a more accessible spot, maybe I can get in more writing time. Perhaps not always on the blog, but more frequent writing in general. Practice, practice, practice and all. I do some writing with a fountain pen in my leather journal, but those bits are usually more just for me and not the general public (believe it or not, there are things that I don’t put in here for you to read!).

My sun lamp is also on my desk, so I can get the much-needed rays to fend off SAD. I find I need it a little less this year, mostly because the classroom I moved to last spring has windows with some natural light. Granted, I cannot actually see outdoors, but the skylights from the hallway make it feel less like I’m buried in a shoe box beneath the ground. That and my classroom now is roughly twice the size of my old one. So even though I may have some kids who give me fits, I feel better equipped to deal with that. Of course, a new therapist and some books that are really striking a chord help as well.

Well, this is likely one of the most aimless posts I have ever written, but it just felt like I had to write something today. When I first sat down at the keyboard, I had all kinds of big ideas and a lot of meat to put on the sandwich. But I had not been on the laptop for so long that downloads ensued (and ensued and ensued). So all the more noble and meaningful ideas flew clean out of my head.

So sorry, but that’s all I’ve got for now. This is one of those days when just writing is something I felt the need to do. And you, poor reader, have been patient for this journey to nowhere. For that, I thank you. I promise that the next time you stop by, I’ll have something with a little more oomph and substance.

Cheers.jilted kilt

Sadness and Faith

We learned this weekend that one of the strongest, fiercest fighters I have every known of had died. And he was only 7.

A colleague’s son, who was born with a heart defect and spent more of his little life in hospitals than out, passed on Saturday. By the age of seven he had fought more battles for his life than any of us could ever dream. Every time he had a surgery, it seemed the universe dealt him another bad hand and he had to fight even harder. And he truly fought. He survived so many things that doctors were sure he wouldn’t, that, in the end, it almost came as a surprise to lose him. But what a fighter!

And through it all, his dad came to work. He taught, he coached, he lived his life. I didn’t know his Mom, but I’m sure she was just as strong as Dad. I know both of them are strong. Will had to get if from somewhere, and with such strong parents in your corner, you would, for certain, come out swinging.

We were getting updates often. I was always shocked to learn what the little man had gone through, what surgery, what transfusion, what other steps had been taken to keep him alive.

And I prayed. We all did. As my husband often says, “You can pray for the best, whatever that is.” Myself, I usually pray for God to hold everyone in the palm of his hand and keep them safe and let them know he is there for them. And for comfort. So since I learned of Will’s death on Saturday, I have been praying for the Kohn family. Please feel free to join me.

I have not been, at least not for the past decade or so, a particularly religious person. My faith, as it were, has been a little shaky. I feel like I believe, but I am not always sure what that means. I know I’d like to believe more than I do. Lately, due to Ed being recruited to sing in the church choir (a long story for another time), I have been a regular at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. I enjoy the Dean’s sermons. I always find something in them to think about. I even take notes.

Being at Trinity, and meeting the wonderful people there, really helped me after my dad died in July, although I actually didn’t make it to church until December. But even a few months into the grieving process, I found solace there. Sometimes it takes a while after someone dies to leave that initial shock phase and get to the grief and realization stage. Having a support network helps to catch you during those times when you need a little help to stand (or walk, or go to work, or breathe).

When my dad was in the hospital near the end of his life, he was suffering. He couldn’t breathe or talk very well. He would ask in a state of despair, “What did I do to deserve this?” None of us had an answer. I don’t think there was one. And then, less than two weeks later, he was gone.

At these times, people often ask, “Why did God take ________ (fill in the blank)?” Then they often answer in platitudes or some kind of answer that is meant to make others feel better. But, for me, there is no real answer to that question. Death happens. And sometimes it happens to the “wrong” people at the “wrong” time in a terrible way.

I’m not always sure that God has any direct intervention in this department, although I know there are many who would disagree with me.

I think God (or whoever – you can fill in your own spiritual blank here) is keeping an eye on things, but is not allowed to intervene. Maybe he has a jar of miracles on a shelf and rolls a pair of dice to determine if you get one or not. I don’t know. Maybe omnipotence means not acting sometimes.

In the end, we all just have to decide what, or even if, we have some kind of faith. Having faith (in whatever it is you choose to believe in) can help us through the dark times. It gives us something to hold onto and to hope for.

Hedging my bets, I am never sure, exactly, what I believe in. It might be nature, the Universe, God, a Higher Power, Something Bigger Than Me. I don’t really know. I just know that sometimes, as George Michael told us,  “You gotta have faith.” It may be the only thing you can have.


Get Happy!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to use the library more and spend less (I have a hard time saying “spend less on books” because that seems like blasphemy to me, but I do need to remember that while my husband built me a beautiful wall bookcase, it does have only so much room).  This resolution is always harder for me when my Bas Bleu catalog comes in the mail. It is full of wonderful new books, coffee mugs, cat items – in short, it’s as though someone had me in mind when they created it. It’s also like they truly understand my weaknesses and are ready to capitalize on them. Those curs!

Anyhow, I circled the books I would love to buy. Then, I wrote down the titles and looked for them at the library. While not all were there, many were, including my current favorite, The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People.

Image result for The LIttle Book of Lykke

After learning I’m about 1/5 Scandinavian, a book on happiness written by the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark should not be a big stretch. But that aside, it’s a really interesting and fun book to read.

My reading over breakfast this morning talked about a movement in Japan called shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest bathing.” The idea is not just to hike around and get in the exercise, but to pay closer attention to the world that is the forest. Check out the leaves, the trees, the birds, the critters; the sights and sounds of the world around you. This concept has been studied and Japanese researchers have concluded that it boosts immunity. Researchers in the UK finds it also helps boost one’s mental immunity,  raising mood and self esteem. I could have told them that! But hooray for woodsy hikes, right?

While my friend Deb and I were going to hike over Christmas break, the sub-zero temps put an end to that idea. But, I am still going to hold her to that hike. And maybe we can practice a little shinrin-yoku! I want to generate those positive feelings, or, as the author of the book, Meik Wiking, calls them “outdoorphins” (this is my new favorite term!), and a hike with a dear friend would be just the ticket.

So, pull on your hiking boots and wrap yourself in your favorite scarf and get out into the woods, even in January. It can only do you good! Outdoorphins, people!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a full moon and owl spotting hike to sign up for with the Quad Cities Women’s Outdoor Club!


Happy Birthday, Butch

Today would have been my dad’s 77th birthday. I wanted to do something for him today, but I wasn’t quite sure what. My initial thought was to have friends over to toast him with the bottle of Maker’s Mark that my good friend Kelly gave me at his passing. But now the day is here and I am not sure what I am feeling.

Empty, I guess. Sad. A little lost and aimless.

So I decided to do something with some purpose and to take some action.

This morning I signed up for Auction College. In June, I will travel to beautiful Mason City, Iowa, and attend the World Wide College of Auctioneering, just like my dad did 35 years ago.

Image result for auctioneer

I’m a little nervous about all this. I’m afraid I won’t be able to talk fast enough or that I’ll think too much, thus preventing me from talking fast enough. But, as I am learning in my study of myself (and my reading of You Are a Badass), I have to just do it.

Most of the time, I am hesitant. I overthink and worry and stand at the edge of the diving board, having made it all the way up the ladder, and I look down and get dizzy. “What ifs” ping around in my head like popcorn in a skillet. At some point, I have to make the decision to take that step and have faith that the water will be there when I jump. Maybe I’ll make a great splash, maybe I’ll bellyflop, but until I step off that board, I’ll just fret and get myself worked into a knot and I’ll never know.

This will be a big step, but I have to embrace this and run with it. I know that when I leave teaching, whenever that is, I want to, will have to, do something else. And last year, when Ed and I went to a huge five-day auction in Morning Sun, Iowa, (it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there), I was excited and invigorated. They ran three rings all day every day. I had never been to a sale that big, ever. I talked to the women at the sign in table. I talked about my dad who had been an auctioneer for over 30 years and how I had been his clerk for much of that time.

“Maybe I ought to become an auctioneer myself,” I said. To which one of the gals responded, “Women auctioneers are big right now.” Hmmmm. Interesting.

I think know I’ve got the Moxie and the chutzpah to do this. Now I just need to harness that energy and make it happen. So step up and get your bidding numbers. When I start calling (or “crying” as the lingo goes), you want to be ready.

Happy Birthday, Pa. I hope I make you proud.


Who Am I?

For Christmas, I got something special for Ed and myself. For quite a while, I’d been considering getting a DNA test to see where I really came from. Ed, too, of course. But since my dad passed away in July, it is something that became more important to me.

So, I ordered two test kits from 23 and Me.

They arrived the first part of December. That very evening they got registered online and we both spit into tubes. A lot. They never tell you how much spit it’s going to take. Quite a bit, it turns out. Anyhow, they got shipped off the next morning. And this past Wednesday, as I was waiting in line to give blood, I checked e-mail on my phone and….the results were in!

Image result for Britain

Despite that our family generally thought we were mostly German, I always joked that I was switched at birth by gypsies and I’m actually mostly British. Turns out I was right all along — I am mostly British and Irish –28.8% in fact! Holy cow! Next thing you’ll be telling me I’m not 100% Muggle.

Actually this correlates with some family history my cousin found. Part of my mom’s family came from Northern Ireland and from England, which tells me that they were likely part of the groups that “colonized” Northern Ireland to keep it from being Irish, which makes me sad. But I am one of those people who believe Ireland should belong to the Irish, so I am counting myself a rebel.

As far as the German part, that’s not quite as strong as I thought, either. I’m about as much French & German (21.5%) as I am Scandinavian (20.3%). Apparently I’m also about 29% “Broadly European,” whatever that means.

From what I understand, though, I cannot know the whole history of my background because I am not a man. There are some genes that would be passed down from my dad’s side of the family only to a son. I cried when I learned that, because I’d love to know more about Dad’s side.

To make things even more dismal, I don’t think there are any males on his side that I could even check with, because I think both my Grandpa Arp’s brothers died with no heirs, or at least no sons. Not to speak of, anyway. I guess one could always hope that someone fooled around somewhere and begot a son that they didn’t know about, or leastways that I don’t know about. Who knows? Maybe if I enter my DNA results into the 23 and Me pool, I can find out if there are others out there.

As for Ed, the results are still pending. I told him it’s probably because he’s more complicated. He’s worried he’s not a German purebred, to which I responded that he’s probably a mutt like the rest of us.

Image result for german shepherd

But, for now, I guess I’ll be content to know that the desire to wear plaid and do a Highland Fling and listen to Celtic music has some grounding in my genetics. And I suppose that explains why I can do pretty passable accents for England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Image result for highland flingNote: this is not actually me. Just so you know.