Author Archives: arpjen

This Writing Life

Well, as of last Tuesday, I am a columnist for the Cornbelt Running Club monthly newsletter!

I sent in my sample column at about 8:13 last Tuesday morning. When I checked my email later in the day, I saw that by 8:48 Tuesday morning, I was in. I was a little surprised, but then I thought that perhaps there were one of two possibilities. 1) I was so amazing as a writer that I simply blew them away I was so awesome and they just had to have me, or 2) I was the only one who sent in anything and am willing to write a column for the glory of writing a column every month (a.k.a., I don’t get paid).

While I would love to believe it was because I am such a good writer, I may just let that remain the fantasy while, in reality, door number two is probably the one I entered. But that’s okay. I’m not too worried about it. No matter how it got decided, I am now a columnist, and, for me, that’s what counts. I will be published monthly. Being “published” weekly here doesn’t really count, either. I suspect only a couple people may really read me here anyhow. But that’s okay, too. Because part of this is my weekly work; my practice; writing because I love to write and I have to write. Which also means I should probably take a little more time than I do to polish and edit. Some weeks I do. But others, not so much. Sorry about that.

It also makes me feel a little more like my inspiration, Wisconsin writer Michael Perry. He wears all kinds of different hats to write. And now I’ve got three. Sort of. I write 1,000 words every day in my “journal.” And I’ve been writing once a week for the blog. And now I’ll have a once a month column that people may actually read. Or some people, anyhow. I didn’t want to put my picture on the post so I sent a picture of my cat instead. Then I got the wacky idea that maybe, each month, I’ll have a different picture, none of them me. Just a thought. Keep it a little mysterious. Stay tuned.


This is another picture of one of the cats, a little grainy, and not the one that will be standing in as me in the April issue of the Cornbelt Running Club newsletter, but you get the idea.

I am also more seriously considering getting a camera and learning how to use it. One of my instructors from auction college with whom I stay up to date on Facebook, was talking last week about her new camera. So I am doing some research and trying to decide how much money I am willing to part with (with which I am willing to part?) to learn to be a photographer so I can add to the blog. Again, stay tuned.

But no matter what kind of writing I do, I have to say it’s starting to feel different. It’s like I’m writing for a purpose now: for a real audience. And that feels different and a little scary. It’s not just for me anymore. Now when I sit down, I start to think about what I’m going to write, but I have to be careful to remember that while it’s for me and it’s for an audience at the same time, I don’t want to make things different. I don’t want to lose the voice I have in my writing. I have friends who have read this blog and have read other pieces I’ve written and they tell me it sounds just like I’m talking to them. It sounds like me. That is the highest complement I think I could ever get, at least writing what I’m writing now.

So, for the next month or so until school gets out, I’ll keep clacking away every day. And I’ll keep posting here on Tuesdays, letting you know what’s going on. As I do so, I hope to work myself closer to being the real writer that I want to be.



I’m Cheating

Well, sort of, but not really. I just submitted a sample column to be considered for my local running club newsletter. My podiatrist, who is also a runner, just retired from writing his column, so I submitted something for them to look at to consider me as a replacement columnist. I am cutting and pasting it here for you to check out because today is blog Tuesday. Besides, I need to get out on the bike path and get in my 3.5 mile run today as part of my half-marathon training. So, have a read and see what you think. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not I will be a newly minted columnist.

New Kid on the (Starting) Block

For 100 issues, Dr. Mark Lucas has kept Cornbelt readers informed and entertained. When he said he was freeing up space (in other words, retiring his column), I had the crazy thought that maybe I might be able to use my skills as a writer to step into his running shoes. So, I approached Barb to see if she might be amenable to someone who is an old writer, but a new-ish runner. I even wrote her a sample column to see if she thought I might have the chops to do this crazy thing. And, much to my delight, fear, and surprise, she agreed to let me give it a shot. So, here I am, fresh out of the starting blocks and now on probation to see if I can bring something new to the Cornbelt Running Club monthly newsletter.

Although I have lived in the area all of my life, I have not been a steady runner. I have been more of an on-again, off-again runner. I love running, but over the years various injuries and other impediments have prevented me from being the consistent runner I long to be. So this year, I am once again in training to become a “real” runner. Presently, I am taking part in the half-marathon training runs so I can run the Distance Classic. I am really excited about this, especially because I am now in my 50s and the plan is to run the race with two co-workers who are a shade younger than me. As in about 20 years younger. But we are all hyped for this.

I have run a half before, so I’m really not so much a new runner as I am new at being an older runner. I hate to use that phrase, but if the running shoe fits…. Anyhow, my previous half was the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon. I chose it because I had read about it in Runner’s World, and it was in beautiful Vermont. Plus I had recently come into a little money* and decided I would like to spend some of that money to go run a destination race, that destination being Woodstock, Vermont.

Race day morning was cloudy and rainy, but I was still pumped. Then, as the race began, so did the rain, in earnest. I stopped counting downpours at four. The one element of the race I really remember, though, was that in the pre-race information, they warned about “the hill at mile eight.” As I approached said hill and saw it, I chuckled and thought, “This isn’t a hill. This is a speed bump. I’m from Davenport, Iowa. I’ve run the Bix. I know hills, Vermont, and this is no hill.” Indeed, as I ran the Bix later that summer, I recall thinking that my half-marathon in Vermont was not anywhere near as difficult as running the Bix.

It’s been nearly 10 years since that half-marathon, which I trained for by myself. This one will be different. Getting the chance to run with a group will help me stay more motivated and more accountable. I am also looking forward to making some new friends as I train for this new race, and looking forward to less rain. I only hope, with the way this year has gone so far, weather-wise, there isn’t any snow.

So that’s my first attempt at a column. I am hoping, in the future, to write about my running efforts as well as other runners who inspire me and any other tidbits or stories I find along the way. I guess as well as being a new old runner, I am a new old writer. Let’s hope I can make it out of the starting blocks without tripping over my laces.

*The reason I came into some money is because I am a two-time champion on a little game show called Jeopardy.




Now It’s My Turn

Nerves. I am all nerves right now. Why? Well, my first real auction is this Saturday. Real as in it’s going to be an all-day sale and my name is on the sale bill. I am not the one in charge, but I will be helping sell and ring and whatever else needs to be done.

I’ve worked auctions many, many times before. But this one is different.

My dad won’t be there.

For over 30 years, I clerked and caught bids for my dad, Butch. That’s how I learned how to work an auction. I watched and listened to him. I saw how he interacted with bidders, joshing and joking. Saw how they responded to him. He knew what items were worth and where to start the bidding. I wish I could say I listened more to how he did what he did, but I didn’t. Now I’d give about anything to hear him one more time and try to catch his filler words and listen to his cadence.

And now it will be my turn. I will be the new auctioneer up there selling and working with folks and doing my best to sell anything that comes my way with integrity and to get the most I can for my friends who have put their trust in me to do a good job.

I’ve had exactly four chances so far to auction. Twice I’ve sold pies. Once I’ve sold quilts. And once I got to help sell a little of this and a little of that to help benefit a friend with cancer. But those were short-term events. This one starts at 9:30 and, from the length of the sale bill and the fact that the main auctioneer says he prefers to run one ring, I suspect it’s gonna be a long day. I’m doing all I can to stay healthy between now and then. I am drinking lots of water and tea and babying my throat between practicing as much as I can so I don’t lose my voice.

Though I’m not exactly terrified, I am a little nervous.

I will be going out to the community center, where the sale will be held, on Friday after school because there’s a sale preview. While I couldn’t be there for the set up and everything else because I’ve been working, I will be there on Friday night. I asked Dave, the auctioneer, when he would be there the day of the sale and he said between 6:30 and 7:00. Which means I’ll be there a little before 6:30. Right now I’m trying to figure out what to wear so I can look professional and still be comfortable and not too hot or too cold. It’s in Durant, so Durant will be there. No pressure.

This is an estate sale for a friend we always knew as Uncle Joey. He passed away last week at age 96, and when we walked into the funeral home, there was polka music playing. Durant was home for years to the Polka Fest. As Ed and I went through the line at the visitation, one of the women in the family smiled when she saw me and said, “We can’t wait to see you sell!” That made me feel really good to know that. I suppose I could let that make me nervous, but it doesn’t.

And I think getting up to sell in front of folks I know may just be a good thing. Besides, this is the town where my dad grew up. He went to school just across the street from the community center. And his ashes are buried on the east side of town. I think maybe, on my way to the sale on Saturday morning, I might just stop by and let Butch know what I’m doing. I think he’d probably like that.


Where is Spring?

Not really worth asking, says me. Unfortunately. Yesterday morning I was shocked to find it only 41 degrees on my porch. Granted, it’s not heated by the furnace, but usually my little space heater keeps it around 50 or so. Then I checked the weather on my phone to learn it was 5 degrees outside. Five! Yikes.

And then I made the mistake of looking at the forecast for the next seven days. I made the same mistake this morning. I guess we can say “Good bye” to the possibility of peaches this year, as the potential buds have probably been nipped in the. Sigh. I’ll just have to linger over the memory of how delicious they tasted last year.

Maybe I ought to start looking at garden catalogs and doing a little garden planning. While the weather continues its chokehold, I really need something hopeful. Garden planning is that thing.

But it’s also quilt season. With six baby quilts in the planning stages, I suppose this cold weather, keeping me inside as it is, will give me the time I need to finish all those quilts. I have one top done and a second ready to stitch. I really do need to use this week to finish those. Just as long as no one else gets pregnant. I understand they know what causes that now.

And then there are books. I’ve found a new British mystery series that I am diving into, although it’s not as enjoyable as Flavia DeLuce. I picked up the Agatha Raisin books from another blog I read, Posie Gets Cosy, and I must agree with Alicia, the tv series is a little better than the books. It’s not exactly a “traditional” British mystery series, at least not the kind I prefer to read. But it’s still something to keep my brain at least somewhat occupied during these cabin fever days.

I’m also practicing my auctioning. On Saturday I auctioned off 22 pies for the Masonic Center. My dad used to do this auction, so this year I stepped in. Not sure I’ll do it every year, but it was good experience and everyone seemed to have a good time, which is a big part of it. I enjoy joking with the crowd and encouraging bids. Ed did a great job, too, as the “Parader of Pies”. At one point during a big battle for a custard pie, which eventually went for $200, Ed swayed one bidder by saying, “The eggs came from virgin chickens.” Boy did that raise a cackle or two!

I also met with another auctioneer who I will be helping with a sale, my first big gig. I will be pretty much a “hired gun” as the gentleman I’ll be working with is the one who set up the sale and has done all the background work (advertising, toting and hauling, setting up). I feel fortunate to be able to work this sale because it will really give me some good experience. The sale is for the estate of the uncle of a good friend, and said good friend wanted me to be able to be part of the sale. I appreciate that trust so much. I am practicing as much as I can in the next two weeks as I drive to and from school so that I can be truly ready (and maybe not lose my voice in the process). I think I’ll also talk to my friend the voice teacher for a couple tips so I can have a stronger set of pipes.

And lastly, there is the working out. I have been getting up between 4:00 and 4:30 every morning the past couple weeks. I usually am on the treadmill to get a mile or two in before school, but this morning that just wasn’t possible. I was so tired I just couldn’t do it. So, instead, here I am providing entertainment and getting in my weekly post. That’s important, too, though. Part of the resolution goals for the year. I’ll probably get my run in later today, though I am also lifting weights. With no meetings or parent teacher conferences, I can start getting back to a more regular workout schedule. And with my half-marathon training starting in two weeks, I need that.

So, even though I cannot yet see spring on the horizon, I must trust that it will be here soon. And I am eager to get outside and get to work, be it running or working in the yard. Just keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t take too much longer.


The Early Bird

I’d love to say the early bird is a robin, but that would belie the snow outside my front door (and back door, too, when it comes to that).

No. The early bird is…Me!

As I sit here now, it is 5:03 in the a of m. I was up nearly an hour ago. I have already gotten 1 1/2 miles in on my treadmill. And now here I sit, typing my Tuesday blog (didn’t realize today was Tuesday? me either).

Why all the early rising? Several reasons.

Reason one: I got a publication from my health insurer. You know, the kind you normally just toss in the recycle bin? Well, the cover had one story that piqued my interest: Curb your sugar addiction. Well, you had me at “curb.” So I kept it and had a read. I learned some good and helpful things. Another article was about using the morning to accomplish more. It talked about how even a short amount of exercise first thing in the morning can kick metabolism in the backside and get it rolling more efficiently. I’m in for that. So, every morning last week I was up at 4:30.

Reason two: The time change, it is a comin’ (sing it like you were Bob Dylan and it sounds better). March 10, to be exact. And I hate this version, the one where you lose an hour of sleep and feel groggy for about six months till the next time change comes along and rolls back the clock. This year I wanted to get my body acclimated a little more gradually. So this week, I am up at 4:15 (except yesterday when I completely lost my mind and just woke up at 4:00). I want to be super ready for the time change and start logging more miles with my runs because of:

Reason three: My half marathon training group starts on Sunday, March 10. Yes, I am prepping for my second ever half marathon. The first one was nearly 10 years ago. The reason I did that one was because I happened to be on a tv show called Jeopardy and I won a couple of games and a bunch of money and when you are a champion on a national quiz show, you think you can do all kinds of things, like run a half marathon. In Vermont. Which I did. It was cool to be in Vermont and all, but it rained the entire race (I stopped counting downpours at four) and, due to a lousy B&B experience, I left for home the next day. Not a smart thing to do the day after you’ve run 13 miles for the first time. Hello leg cramps.

So, I am now the early bird. And it’s working out pretty well. I am not really any more tired in the afternoon than usual, and I’m more productive than I used to be in the mornings and throughout the day in general. A win win. For example, yesterday morning, when I forgot it was Tuesday because it felt like Monday, I wrote a long overdue letter to a friend. Go me. And I am hoping to continue my early rising and running and using this to get me on a better track for all kinds of things. Stay tuned.


Choosing Kindness; or “Snail Mail”

A couple weeks ago, I got a Facebook message from a former student with whom I’ve kept in touch. He asked if he could have my address so he could send me a real, old-fashioned letter. How could I say no? I love old-fashioned letters. I even love writing them, though I confess I don’t do it as often as I probably should.


And not a week letter, it arrived. It was so kind and thoughtful, thanking me for being an inspiration to him at a pivotal time in his young life. It included two packets of tea, which made me smile.

I also learned what he is up to.  He just graduated from college and is at his first job.  He seems to be going through some frustrations about the working world, which I think almost all thinking people do.

As he said he has been doing a lot of reading, I want to send him a book and am considering several possibilities. Not knowing what he has read to date, it’s harder to choose. And as he may read this, I probably won’t tip my hand, but there are several that I think might fit the bill.

The other thing about this young man is that he is very well spoken. On his Facebook page, he has presented some very sound, well-reasoned and heartfelt thoughts on various topics. In each writing, he comes across as intelligent, kind, and a person who looks at all sides before weighing in. A kid after my own heart.

As a teacher, it’s hard to know if you ever make a difference. This year I am really struggling with a larger number of students who seem indifferent and apathetic towards education, with, sadly, parents to match. I have never had so many students flunking my class. And I, generally, do not give Fs. But they simply don’t do the work, despite proddings, chats of encouragement, emails home, and second and sometimes third chances. If the answers don’t magically appear on their page, or if I don’t spoon feed them, they simply don’t do the work. It’s not like they are stubborn and refuse. That would take some effort. They simply do nothing. Generally, they are pleasant, and when I talk to them, they look like puppies: big sad eyes, slight frowns, eyebrows drawn together, as if to say, “Sorry. I simply can’t do this.”

Yet I have to remember the good students. I still have many. Ones who look on in frustration when the class disruptor, once again, makes the third unnecessary trip to the pencil sharpener or yells out comments. The ones who go above and beyond in their work, though, as the years pass, I also see less of those.

Thankfully, there are still the kind ones who ask if they can help do something, be it wipe the board or pass out papers. And those are the kids I have to keep in my mind. The ones who are kind. If it weren’t for the kind ones, I would not be able to continue doing what I do.

And what I try to do more of now is encourage kindness. Our world has become one of increasing violence and disruption. Of hate and anger, leading to stress, anxiety, and more hate. Anne LaMotte talks about this. In her book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope she has a chapter entitled “Don’t Let Them Get You to Hate Them” in which she says, “Even my Buddhist friends have been feeling despair, and when they go bad, you know the end is nigh.”

I don’t necessarily think the end is nigh, nor do I think, does LaMott. But I do think this is a good time to step up our efforts to be kind to each other. And that’s why I teach mindfulness to my students and tell them to slow down and think before they say or do anything. When you have even a few second to think about what route to choose, always choose kindness. You may not always be rewarded for it, but you will know, in your heart of hearts, that you have chosen what is right.

I would dearly love it if the world always rewarded us for choosing kindness. But that’s not the world we live in. Bullies see it as weakness. I see it as strong character, refusing to bend to those who jeer and mock. Despite the belief of bullies, I want to be the person who chooses kindness. Because I think it’s important, and it’s what I want people to see in me. Do I always choose it? No, I confess I don’t. But I do keep trying. And trying to reach for kindness may be the most important thing. That and snail mail.



And the Hits Just Keep on Coming

Well, in a week or two of bizarre weather, we had another one today. This time an ice storm. I joked yesterday that it would be so great to have two days in a row of regular school days. Clearly I spoke too soon. With today’s ice storm warning, at around 10:00 a.m., we got the call for an early out.

Now that is fine and dandy but for one thing: I was on a committee to interview candidates for a new position created by the District. The final interview was scheduled for this afternoon. At 3:30. The ice was predicted for 3:00. Hmmm. What to do? The District decided to continue on, but modify the schedule. We were to start at 2:15 and end at 3:!5 with a debrief after.

Even though I try not to subscribe to all the panic spread around by the tv weather people, I had my eye on the radar and I was a little itchy about it. I talked to the boss and said I was having second thoughts. I have to drive further than most folks. Always have. So I told him that I would see how things looked when I drove over. Oh, did I mention I had over an hour to kill beforehand? Anyhow, he was amenable and said we’d see.

Five minutes before I reached my destination, the sleet started. Ugh. Well, that did it for me. I popped in and said I was just too uncomfortable to stay. He was fine with it. At least he seemed to understand.  But, just to hedge my bets, I reminded him that I actually drove through a blizzard last week to get there only to find out the interviews had been cancelled. We all laughed.

I stopped at the store to pick up a couple things on the way home and was wondering if I made the right decision. When I went in, it had stopped raining/sleeting. Ten minutes later when I came out, the ice was crusting up on the car. When I turned onto our street, I could see tire tracks cutting through a thick crust of sleet. I got out to get the mail at the end of the driveway and had to tread carefully because of the ice. I had to pry open the mailbox from its icy coat.

So, yeah, I felt pretty okay about my decision.

I just hope we don’t end up with a screwy schedule tomorrow. I’ve lost my taste for late starts or days off. I don’t want to be shooting off Fourth of July fireworks for the last day of school. And I certainly hope we don’t end up with what they were predicting as of around noon today: 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice. I’d prefer to keep my power on. So keep your fingers crossed.