Author Archives: arpjen

You Know You Have a Great Husband When….

Where can I start? Well, why not with the most obvious — the cat box corner.

I mentioned a week or so ago that I needed to put mopping cat box corner on my “to do” list. This is a job I abhor. About four times a year, I break down and take all the cat boxes out of their spot under the stairs. I vacuum scattered cat litter out of every crevice. Then, I mop. Ugh. And I wash cat boxes. Double ugh! One night we were going to leave for somewhere or other, and Ed said something about if I had time for it.

I whined. I complained that it would probably take me about an hour, or at least 45 minutes, to complete this Herculean, Dante’s Inferno, 13th level of Hell task. And as we did not have that kind of time, I did not. The end.

A few days later, I said something about having the time so I would gird my loins and go take care of the cat box corner. Then my darling said, “It’s already done.” My eyes were probably the size of saucers, and my heart grew ten sizes that day. “You did?” “I did.” I then got the rundown of what a pain it was and how he had to wash the boxes and this and that. And I listened with rapt attention worthy of an acolyte. Because I knew of whence he spoke. And my gratitude was great and overwhelming. And I think he finally understood why I whine.

So, at least for this quarter of the year, I don’t have to whine. All I have to do is be thankful for having the greatest husband. Lucky, lucky! That’s me.

Cheers.

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Feels Like Home

I finally get that Bonnie Raitt song. Because this morning I woke up feeling changed.

Last night, I attended an evening of faith discussion (the topic was actually faith and wellness), and the keynote was Krista Tippett, host and producer/creator of the program On Being. I had listened to her from time to time, but was never a regular. I think that has now changed. She gave me a lot to think about.

In this world which feels so troubled, and which has made me feel so troubled, she provides an anchor to keep my boat from drifting. An island in a sea of troubles, as it were. It’s hard to explain how her words touched me, but I was scribbling things down like mad.

When she talks about faith, it’s not like some talk about faith. It’s not trying to force things down your throat for you own good (or someone else’s). It’s not in-your-face faith. It’s quiet and earnest and kind. It’s opening your hand and seeing a lovely flower blossom inside. It’s opening a box to find the swirling universe of stars. It’s beauty. It’s hospitality. It’s peace.

It’s home.

Over the years, I church shopped. I was never sure what I was looking for, exactly. I only know I hadn’t found it. I’d been to Trinity Cathedral a few times here and there, but it was never quite the place. Until now. When Ed got recruited for the choir, I became a Sunday regular. I’d always hesitated and held back from weekly church. I felt like I didn’t really need another commitment, another pull on my time. Yet despite church now filling in a spot of my weekend, it feels more like nestling into a place that’s been kept for me. It feels like home.

I am enjoying the people, the sermons, the rite and ritual, but most of all the sense of feeling like I belong. Even as I write this, I feel like weeping at how much I finally feel like I belong somewhere, because, for whatever reason, I don’t know that I have ever felt this so strongly, at least not that I can truly remember. I’ve been at my “job” (I enjoy what I do, so I never really think of it as a job, it’s just “school”) for over 24 years, yet I’ve never truly felt that I belonged there. Yes, I have friends from school, some very close friends, but having friends and feeling a sense of belonging are different things, at least to me.

After listening to Krista’s talk, which was a revelation on many levels, I feel lighter, somehow, even as I also want to plumb more deeply into what faith means for me. I feel like I’ve gotten over a speed bump that has been preventing me from moving forward. I’ve been given something to cut away the ropes that have bound me in a place I really don’t want to be. But it’s also that I have been given the awareness that I had that something to cut those ties for a long time, but never recognized that I had the power to make those cuts.

I know this all may sound a little odd to anyone reading this, but that’s okay. Because I confess this really isn’t for you so much as it is for me. My catharsis. My rebirth. My renaissance.

Even though others, like my dear husband, may not believe in this, I believe I was brought to this moment. Krista mentioned an Irish priest and philosopher John O’Donohue. I jotted his name down because I want to listen to one of her podcasts with him. And this morning, as I work my way through a book loaned to me by a church friend, whose name do I see? John O’Donohue. And now I have something I simply must listen to and someone I must read. He died in 2008, but the website is there and in reading just a little, I am pulled away from my writing to read his.

So, I must leave you now. I’m not sure I said all that I wanted or meant to, but I think this is  a start of more thoughts to come, on faith, on myself, on my life’s journey, on healing myself, which, again, makes me feel those pinpricks behind my eyes as I think about the whole idea of becoming whole, of finally being able to find who I am, which is what I’ve been trying to do all along.

Feels like home to me.

Cheers.

Getting Organized

Again.

So, what’s the deal with making great strides towards being organized, thinking I have it nailed, and then circling the drain, organizationally (as well as all other areas of my life, I might add)?

Had a chat with my therapist yesterday about my wondering why I can get on a good path toward self improvement, realize I’m doing well, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, I wake up one morning with no desire to do anything positive or no apparent will to stick to a plan that has been working for a month or more. Huh.

Of course, we start digging around in my head, trying to figure out why things went well and then explore those cobwebby corners of my psyche to see what we can find in there. Naturally, we have to go back in the mental time machine of my life to figure out where this all started.  Still working on that one.  Came up with a few possibilities, and hope that maybe I can ruminate on some of those.

But now it’s Tuesday, the weather outside is still relatively cold and crappy for nearly the middle of April, and I can’t help but wonder how much of this is SAD. I do have a light for just such an occasion, but I haven’t been using it. Maybe that’s part of the problem. But another part is the fact that even though the sun may be out after school, and it stays light so much longer, it doesn’t get warmer than 30-some degrees, so it doesn’t seem to help much. I’d rather bundle up and crawl into bed, which seems like all I’ve been doing lately.

However, on a more positive note, tonight is body pump class, which I love. And it feels like my tendon is recovering pretty well, so I’d like to start ramping up my steps and maybe start a little (teeny bit) of, dare I even dream it, jogging. I’d rather say running, because jogging sounds so 1970s and wimpy, but that’s how I’d better approach it in the beginning, especially until about 10 pounds come off. I don’t want to screw up any recovery I’ve had, tendon-wise. It will be much better to try this outside, but today is not the day for that. Maybe tomorrow? But tomorrow is….(drumroll, please)….

…New Couch Day! Ed and our friend Randy are going to travel to beautiful downtown Clinton to pick up our new sofa and loveseat. And I will finally have some nice, matching furniture that I didn’t have to buy at Habitat Restore. Imagine! Furniture I like that didn’t previously belong to someone else.

Oh Happy Day! Plus, it’s supposed to get into the 50s tomorrow! And Thursday! And Friday! Maybe we’re turning a corner here? Oh, wait. It’s supposed to be in the 40s on Sunday with maybe a little rain/snow combo. Well, I guess you can’t have the whole world on a platter. But I’d at least like a little sample of spring, which I guess I’m getting tomorrow.

So, I’ll take what I can get. And I’ll reflect on my last therapy session and sit down and work, once again, on getting organized and creating a plan for self-improvement. Keep your fingers crossed. I know I will.

Cheers.

The Writing Life

When last I wrote you, it was the eve of the big interview with Michael Perry, Wisconsin writer. Usually when we do these things, we talk to our interviewee via phone. Much to my surprise and subsequent panic, Mike actually came to the studio. And there I was with my stack of five of his books, acting like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers and looking for all the world like a stalker. Jeesh!

But it was fun to get to actually talk with him live in the studio. Studio shows are always better because there aren’t any phone issues to muddle things up. And Mike is such a pro because he’s done this so often that once  you toss him a question, you just sit back and let him tell great stories.

Turns out his oldest daughter was looking at a college visit here in our fine state, so his wife and both daughters were outside while he spoke with us. I asked after if I could meet his wife and thank her for sharing him with us, but he explained there was a kind of boundary he didn’t like to cross between public and private life. I totally got it and kind of felt embarrassed and a little stalker-like for even asking. But I imagine he gets that a lot, which is why he was able to handle it so gracefully.

Oddly enough, I actually did meet them the next night, rather by accident.

He was doing a reading at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, and Ed and I went up. I even got my mom to go along. I thought she might enjoy it because Mike does such a wonderful job of mixing humor and writing. He is a good speaker and has an easy going manner, just like his writing, so it feels like you are just chatting with a neighbor (although, in this case, he is doing all the chatting and you are being a good listener).

When Ed dropped Mom and me at the door so he could park the car, we walked up the stairs behind a woman and her daughters. I thought, “Hmmmm. I wonder if…” And when we got upstairs, I saw the little girl walk over to Mike, who was standing off by himself, getting himself prepped mentally, I suppose. When she turned around, she looked so like him in miniature. I walked over and gave him our thank you gift from the radio show and then took my seat.

After he began, I looked for Ed and saw him in the back, leaning on a bookcase. Afterward, Mom and I walked back to him and he was sitting there talking with Mike’s wife and daughter (of course). Turns out his younger daughter asked Ed if he’d like her chair. What lovely manners. So they were talking about ducks and chickens. And when we walked up, she said she liked my black cat earrings.

I did not ask anyone’s name, because I didn’t want to cross that anonymity line, but I did learn they were staying with friends from Scattergood, the Quaker boarding school in West Branch, so they wouldn’t have to drive the five hours back that night. I told her that years ago we used to attend some of their Friday night dances which, sadly, are no more. I still miss those dances.

All in all, the two days were a wonderful memory for me. And another inspirational shot in the arm, though, I confess, I have had a hard time trying to find some time to write since then. But hearing an author I so admire brought me such joy that I hope to harness that inspiration and really do something with it. In fact, I’m starting to get an idea for some writing even now. So I guess I’ll sign off here and sign in on my laptop. I’ll keep you posted.

Cheers.

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.

Cheers.

*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.

Cheers!

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