Friday, May 27, 2016

An Overdue Update

Howdy, faithful blog readers. I didn't meant to let over a week go by without updating, but life has been quite busy.

Last weekend was a good one. On Friday, I had a microdermabrasion appointment at a friend's suggestion. I went to Medical Spa of Midland, and I have been beyond pleased with the results. Before, I was getting bumps on my cheeks that appeared to be some kind of irritation rather than acne. I am happy to report that the microdermabrasion completely cleared the issue without irritating my skin (I asked them to use the gentlest setting, and I skipped a peel since I have such sensitive skin). Since the appointment, I've been careful to use sunscreen and take extra good care of my skin. Does anyone have recommendations for gentle skin cleansers they love? Lately, I use Cetaphil.

On Saturday, Brendan and I hosted a cook out for our English honor society. It was nice to see the students off to their summers (and for some, they will be transferring to four year schools). However, we had 27 RSVPs and only 10 attendees, which left us with tons of leftovers. As a result, we had to make up things to use hamburger buns for. Cue Brendan's delicious Eggplant Parmesan sandwiches, which I will share the recipe for at a later time.

On Sunday, we were able to eat dinner and watch Game of Thrones with our friends Dagan and Steph, which was a nice way to end the weekend.

We're still teaching our online classes, and that has been keeping us both very busy. I started with eighteen students and still have at least sixteen participating; last year's course only had nine students, so this is more time consuming, but my students are engaged, and I'm enjoying working with them even if it's a lot to keep up with.

This current week passed in a blur. I went to barre class and yoga all week, and we picked up sushi on Tuesday from Market Street to share. We enjoyed Market Street, and we think it's a little better in quality than HEB. For $37, we were able to both enjoy three types of rolls, nigiri, sake, and edamame. We'd call that a cheap date!

We both had dentist appointments on Wednesday, and then we were packing late Wednesday night. We didn't get to sleep until midnight, and we had our alarm set for 4AM Thursday morning to catch a 6:20AM flight to Houston.

We spent yesterday and today working on our classes at Mimi's house and driving to her care center to visit her. The center is really nice, and Mimi has her own room there and still has help from a couple of her favorite aids during the week. She is trying to keep her spirits up, though she is in some pain. It has been wonderful to see her. We are on our way for another visit, and then we will drive to Lake Charles, LA for a five year reunion with some of our best friends from graduate school. More to come on that; you can bet we're excited:

We hope your long weekend is a wonderful one.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Transition or "What Do You Do All Day?!"

Howdy, faithful readers!

We hope your week is sailing right along. Over here, we're in transition mode: Between spring and summer, we each teach one spring interim course online. Answering student questions and discussion posts, grading, and sending daily instructional emails is enough to keep us busy for several hours per day, but when people find out that we're both home all day, they either react with "that's awesome!" or are horrified and ask how we keep from getting annoyed with one another or being bored.

The truth is, we find the situation pretty great. For one, we're used to being around each other all the time. We had twelve hour days together in graduate school, and even during the normal work week, we see each other a lot more than most working full time couples because our offices are right next to each other (what a dream!); we truly don't get annoyed by one another and can both be in the same room working without distracting each other (except when Brendan started playing this and now it's stuck in both our heads. Warning: it's just as bad, if not worse than "Too Many Cooks").

We make an effort to stick to a semi normal routine and we still have enough going on so that boredom is never an issue. Sure, we do sleep in and have been enjoying catching up on the sleep we missed when the semester was at its busiest, but we still get up, make coffee, and start our day by catching up on email, making the bed, and all that normal stuff. We typically work into the afternoon and then take an outing to accomplish whatever is on our to-do list: grocery store, post office, shopping. Note to Midlanders: We found an amazing deal yesterday at the Banana Republic Factory Store and stocked up on basics for summer (save an extra 15% with Retail Me Not code RMN15). We also take care of all the things that we don't take care of during the semester (pest control for the house, doctors and dentist appointments, renewing a driver's license, etc.) In fact, I feel like there are still a lot of things I want to do that I don't have time for yet! We still end our days in much the same way: I'll go to barre or yoga class, and Brendan has been making dinners that are fancier than the norm with his newfound time:
homemade ramen 

Peanut Butter Tofu
After dinner, he usually waters the grass and plants while I clean up. We also like to go walking together when the weather is nice (today was the first nice evening that we've had in several days). I love the longer days of summer! Once we're finished with our classes for the day (usually around 9:00PM), we'll watch a movie or Netflix together. All in all, I'd say the days feel longer now that we're out of the routine, but not in a bad way. I love our start of summer lives. With only 18 students, I especially feel like super teacher. It's a nice note to end the school year on.

So that's our typical schedule for now (though we had some meetings today for a special event), and we're looking forward to an end of year party for our honor society students on Saturday. Things are winding down, but we're still staying busy. And no one's really losing it yet (well, I do have that video I posted memorized, including the dance, so if that counts as "losing it," perhaps I am there!)

We hope you're making the transition between spring and summer as well. The days are getting longer (and soon hotter), but the fun is just beginning.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

From the Other Side

Greetings from the other side of the Spring 2016 semester. Our grades were due at 1:00PM on Friday, but we both finished before then.

It was a good thing too because my parents arrived from Austin at about 4:15PM, and we had just enough time to tidy the house and go grocery shopping beforehand.

We only had a couple of hours to visit with them before it was time to don our graduation apparel and head to the graduation ceremony.

A few English faculty members 
We had the most ever graduating honor society members this year, and we are so proud of them. Many of them won additional big transfer scholarships. It was a happy night watching our students and our members reap the benefits of all of their hard work. I know students that went to school part time for several years to achieve their degrees. Watching them finish is a big deal. It always makes me emotional (and probably doesn't help that I'm always extremely exhausted).

Returning home, I felt like I had finished a marathon: the marathon of the 2015-2016 school year. I'm proud of this one. In the classroom, my retention rate for students has increased, with 93.5% of my students this semester sticking with the class (of those, 88% earning a C or higher in the course). I figured out how to improve my tutoring coordination in many aspects: we documented over 1,500 tutoring sessions and reached over 650 students with programming. I trained over 20 honor society students to help increase our tutor coverage during crucial times. Of course, there are ALWAYS things I want to change, but I truly feel like I gave this school year my all.

When we returned home, we stayed up talking to my parents for a little while before retiring to bed. I had dreams about survival. I think it was my brain processing that I had "survived" the semester.

Upon waking, we called in an order at Neme's, and Brendan and I went to go pick up everyone's breakfast tacos. My parents were impressed with our newfound food truck find. That afternoon, I did some planning for our upcoming 5 year graduate school reunion while hanging out with my mom, and my dad and Brendan went to Home Depot to get soaker hoses and replace the blades on our outdoor ceiling fan (the wooden blades were drooping, and I forgot to include that in our warranty repair).

Then, we played a couple of rounds of Ticket to Ride (Mom and I both won once--I beat Brendan and Dad both by ONE point) while enjoying homemade margaritas.

Last night, Brendan and I took my parents to Venezia for a belated Mother's Day celebration. Everyone ate too much, but it was an enjoyable meal, and the service was great. Sometimes I think the best gift is a nice meal together, and we look forward to doing the same with Brendan's parents in CT next month.

After the meal, we were so full and opted to watch a movie together instead of playing more games. We watched Grey Gardens on HBO Now. It was a fascinating, sad, and strange movie with excellent acting (by Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore).

We woke up this morning and went to the new Lori's cafe. My parents missed the atmosphere of the old Lori's, but we still had a good meal. After breakfast, we visited for a couple of hours before my parents had to get on the road. The weather this weekend was unseasonably cool (and windy), so we didn't get to do much outside, but overall, it was a great visit, and I'm so glad that my parents squeezed us in.

As soon as they left, we both got to work on our online interim courses which begin tomorrow. These courses run through June 2nd, so they are fast and furious for both us and the students. We both have full classes (18 students for me and 20 for Brendan). This will keep us busy, but we will definitely be able to do our own projects as well. We're looking forward to a week and a half at home before the reunion weekend in Lake Charles. For now, we're just enjoying how good it feels to be on the other side of the semester, and we're looking forward to watching Game of Thrones tonight, eating pizza for dinner, and not waking up at 6:15AM tomorrow. It's finally summer, and that word is music to our ears.

Here's to hitting the reset button.

Monday, May 9, 2016

May, So Far

Greetings faithful readers. After over a week, I owe you a blog update, and here it is. We've been wrapped up in end of semester grading lately. You know you're an English teacher when your weekend consists of grading 36 essays, and you feel relieved that you "only" have 94 to go (true story). At this time every year, I have many wishes; one of which is that I taught art. (I'm kidding) (Sort of).

Here's what we've been up to other than grading in the first week of May.

After working out every day in April, I had several night events at the beginning of May that lead to taking a break for three days. It was really nice to have a few days to recover, especially when work life is so hectic right now. Last Monday night, we enjoyed free tickets to the Rockhounds baseball game.

We enjoyed dinner in the park and watching the team win. It was a nice way to relax for a few hours. Thanks for the tickets, Chelsea!

Last Tuesday, I got my hair cut a little shorter for the hot summer ahead. That night, we were honored to join my friend Kristen at the friends and family museum opening for the Museum of the Southwest's new exhibit. If you live in Midland, I highly recommend checking out the new gallery space and exhibits at the public grand opening on Saturday, May 14th from 10AM-5PM. I won't give anything away, but I will say that I was incredibly proud of all my friends that work at the museum. They put so much hard work and care into designing the exhibit and new spaces, and it looks like a completely new museum.

My yoga class returned on Wednesday, and it was so good to be back (both to working out and to yoga). The class really helped me deal with turning off my thoughts about all that I have to get done and just relax. Afterwards, Kristen and I enjoyed pizza, salad, and wine night (always the best way to wind down Wednesday). 

On Thursday, I had someone else to be proud of when Brendan was presented with his five year service award. Brendan works so incredibly hard in his teaching career, and he sets very high standards for himself and is always focused (sometimes at the expense of his sanity) on what he could do better. Watching him interact with composition, literature, and creative writing students, seeing him tutor in the lab, attending the creative writing contests he organizes each year, and knowing how much he does for each committee he is on, to organize assessment, and to evaluate members of the philosophy and technical writing departments, makes me extremely proud. He has worked his tail off this year in the new promotion, and though he never stops to think of how much he has accomplished, I know that everyone at work, especially the students, appreciate him.

The photo is a little blurry because I had to zoom in so much.

This past weekend was a good one. On Friday, I called Mimi and received a good report: she has a private room at a rehab facility, and she has her caretakers continuing to visit her each day. Rehab is expected to take several weeks, but Mimi is in good spirits. That evening, we ate out at Thai House, and I got to watch Shark Tank and 20/20 (so obviously, the ideal Friday night!)

On Saturday, I spent the morning at barre, and we spent the afternoon grading; then, we went to Dagan and Steph's house to celebrate Steph's b-day. Hilarity ensued when we played Jenga (aka: Anxiety attack in a box). I literally screamed with relief after every turn that I did not destroy the tower. We played ladies against gentlemen, but sadly the ladies lost.

Sunday, we called our moms to wish them happy Mother's Day. We would have loved to be eating brunch with them, but a phone call had to suffice. Our moms are two of the most inspirational people in our lives. They are both so hard working in their careers, passionate about what they do, beautiful, funny, and smart to boot! We can't wait to see them and celebrate at a later date.

After our phone calls, we spent most of the day grading. Then, I made us this for dinner (hello eating leftovers and not having to cook this week!), we ate, took a walk around the neighborhood (it's fun to watch the progress of the construction), and watched Game of Thrones (of course).

All in all, it was a great weekend, but I slept terribly last night. My night was spent tossing and turning consumed by teacher nightmares (you know, the kind where you pass out the wrong final, the copier isn't working, etc). For some reason, these nightmares leave me more shaken than actually scary dreams! Maybe other teachers can relate? I woke up this morning and headed to school to give my first final. It went great (no technology problems, no students forgetting source packets, everyone on time, etc.), and I even managed to grade a few essays (only 87 more to go...yay).

For now, it's back to grading. This is a busy week, but on the other side lies...

In the meantime, I have these two to keep me company while grading:

Happy Monday :)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Workout Challenge: Every Day in April

At the end of March, I read an email from a yoga studio I don't attend about their taking class every day in April challenge. The studio's logic for picking April was that there were no holidays in April this year, and the month was only 30 days. I thought about my own April: my calendar was a nightmare (due to extra meetings, tons of grading, and late night events), and I was honestly dreading it. But, I also realized April was the first month of 2016 where we had no plans to travel. This could work I thought in a moment of what I can only describe as sheer optimism.

The challenge also mentioned that participants would have the option of doing video workouts at home four times during the challenge, which added some extra flexibility. Participants would get a sticker chart in the studio. Since I didn't attend the studio, I'd have to make my own sticker chart (obviously that was easy, I have tons of stickers and a planner). With my delusional plan made, I set my alarm for 5AM on April 1st.

I actually worked out everyday the last four days of March, so going into the challenge, I was already sore. Things were fairly easy the first week though. I stuck to my normal barre routine and added an outdoor yoga class on Sunday (my studio isn't open on Sunday).

The 8th of April was the one Friday I didn't get up at 5AM for barre (the other four Fridays of the month, I was there). That day, we had a work event that kept us at school until around 9PM. I came home and did a yoga video in the living room before bed. On that day, I was regretting the challenge since working out was the last thing I wanted to do.

That Sunday, my studio offered a 1.5 hour workshop. I probably wouldn't have attended if it weren't for my challenge, but I was really glad I did because I discovered that I liked spinning much more than I thought I would. I was one third of the way through.

There were times when finding the motivation to workout was hard: days when the weather was bad, and I was the only one in class, days when I just felt really sore and tired, and days when I had had a bad day and just plain didn't feel like going, but I found working out always put me in a better mood. Though sometimes getting to the workout was a source of stress, working out actually relieved stress.

Saturday the 16th was another tough day: we went to a plant sale that morning and worked in the sunny backyard all afternoon. I was exhausted and did another night yoga video. I used the website Tone it Up, which I usually love, but their yoga video was pretty terrible (they didn't talk you through the poses). My preference for yoga videos online is definitely this site because the videos are free and offer easy to follow instruction, plus you can do a search based on your level and how long you want the class to be. Now I know! That Sunday, I went back to the outdoor yoga class.

Tuesday the 19th, I worked 8-2, worked out 5:45-6:45, then went back to work to tutor from 8-10:30PM. It was a crazy day, but I was nearly two thirds through. Whenever I found myself not wanting to continue, I would think of how far I had already come.

On Sunday the 24th, I found myself trying a hot yoga class with a group of friends. It was crowded and sweaty and reminded me of my Bikram Yoga days. Overall, this challenge made me try new classes I normally wouldn't, so I was glad for that.

I finished the challenge yesterday. In total, I worked out 34 days in a row (5 videos/29 classes) and spent a little more than 32 hours in barre and yoga. I think the biggest result is just that I feel empowered from the experience. I learned that no matter how busy my life is, I can make time for working out. I learned that my body is capable of handling a lot. And I never felt bad about indulging, since I knew I was working off the indulgences. Plus, I felt really proud of myself for sticking with it even when it wasn't convenient.

So, would I do it again?

Ask me next April.

Have you ever completed a workout challenge? What was your take away?

Here's to more moments on the mat. I think I'm taking a few days off!


Friday, April 29, 2016

The Good (The Bad, The Ugly)

Happy Friday, faithful readers.

We're in the most hectic part of the semester: we have one week left of classes before finals. So, from this point, I write to you about what's going on with my life: The Good (The Bad, The Ugly). I prefer to mostly focus on the good, but what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't tell it like it is? We'll start with the ugly and work our way up to the good stuff.

The Ugly

Mimi fell at the beginning of the week and broke her ankle. The news is a tough pill to swallow because her injury means that she won't be able to live at home where she is comfortable and will have to be in rehab, maybe for as long as three months. The fortunate thing is that she was able to contact help right away and her children are taking good care of her. My aunt Annette was able to be with her immediately and is now returning home, while my dad is on his way to stay with Mimi and oversee the remodeling of her bathroom to make it wheelchair accessible. Mimi is so important to everyone in the family. I have a group text with my cousins where we keep each other updated on what we hear about her status. Mimi is beloved by all that meet her, so please keep her in your thoughts and prayers as she works hard in rehab to make a recovery. At 98, Mimi often reminds me that she won't live forever, but we want her to be here with us as long as she is enjoying it. And Mimi, I really think you're going to enjoy this remodeled bathroom, so just hang in there ;)

The Bad

We've entered "survival mode" and are both experiencing all the physical symptoms of stress that go with it. Read: we're working too much and sleeping too little. We've had a lot of night events at work lately, a lot of additions to our already overloaded schedules, and not very much quality time together. When students become stressed, we are sometimes on the receiving end of "that's not fair!" comments and less than pleasant emails, etc. I know we'll get through it like we do every semester, so it hasn't put a big damper on my spirits; even though I'm tired, I'm trying to stay both upbeat and patient. All teachers and students can relate to the fact that, at this point in the semester, we're all just doing the best we can.

The Good

  • I'll start out by saying that my students have done some awesome work this week. Towards the end of the semester, I sometimes feel like I've given them too much work, and I worry they won't succeed. But, then, they rise to expectations and prove my doubts were wrong, and it's an amazing thing to see that reminds me (again and again) why I do this crazy/awesome/tough/exhilarating thing called teaching. 

  • Brendan worked so hard to organize the final creative writing awards ceremony of the year. This one honored student poets and was judged by Loretta Diane Walker. It was an amazing evening, and I was so proud of all involved. 

  • April is almost over, and with it will end my working out everyday this month challenge. This is good news because as I woke up to rain at 4:45AM, already sore from past workouts, and on a few hours of sleep, it was tough to get up and go workout again. I'm really proud of myself, but boy am I glad that only one more day remains in this challenge! 
  • A co-worker gifted me with a brand new beautiful copy of this book today. I can't wait to read more about the KonMarie way...summer is coming, and I feel a summer project coming on! 
  • This lady still lives in my backyard. I feel so lucky because the only thing cuter than hummingbirds is baby hummingbirds! 
  • The weekend is here. I already celebrated by eating macaroni, and soon, we'll celebrate with movie night with our honor society students (and the arrival of this year's club t-shirts!). I'm SO ready to put aside my stress tonight. 
  • Now that Game of Thrones is back, my weekends are even more exciting. 

Happy weekend friends. We're off to get ready for movie night!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

No Guilt Relaxation

Greetings faithful, readers.

This week passed by in a flash, and I realized I haven't updated the blog. Today, I want to write about a topic that people with 24/7 jobs may relate to: the guilt that comes with relaxation. For many of us with careers that never allow us to feel "off the clock," the weekends can be difficult as you try to balance your own life with your work life. I've finally found a solution that has done wonders for my health and wellbeing, and I wanted to share a little about my strategy.

These days, I rarely work on the weekends, and when I do, I schedule it ahead of time and make a very conscious decision, before starting a work project, on when I will finish it. This actually allows me to be more productive since I don't waste time procrastinating. I now use my weekends (with the exception of the weekend before finals week) to fully relax and recharge, which makes me a happy teacher come Monday morning.

The first step is to manage other people's expectations. For me, this included being honest with my students about two things: when I will check emails and how long I will take to grade their work. My email policy is now a part of my syllabus and lets my students know that I will check email Monday-Friday from 8AM-5PM, excluding college observed holidays. I am very careful to always do a 5PM email check and keep my word about responding to anything sent before 5PM. If a student writes me at 5:40PM with questions about an assignment due that night, I write back the next morning: "I missed your question, please remember to write to me before 5PM if you need a same day answer." It's important to keep your boundaries. For feedback, I return major assignments within two calendar weeks for a 16 week class and one calendar week for an 8 week class. All of my assignments are due at 11:59PM, so this gives me some wiggle room to work at night, but usually, I exceed my own grading deadlines.

The second step is to manage your own expectations. In my planner, I make a note of when I need to have each assignment returned, so I can work towards that goal. I make the most of my weekdays, but if grading or something else work related must happen on the weekend, I set deadlines for myself such as "I am going to grade lit essays from 12-2 on Sunday" or "I am taking one hour Sunday evening to make handouts and update assignment sheets." I plan out when I will work ahead of time, just like I think ahead of time about when grocery shopping, making dinner, or doing laundry will happen. By doing this, it allows me to fully enjoy the time I'm not working instead of spending large chucks of time in a state where I "should be" working but am instead procrastinating.

I think the most important step in all of the process is to nix the guilt you associate with relaxation. I truly believe that I am an engaging teacher that goes above and beyond for my students. In order to do this, I need to rest, so I can feel healthy and have energy to bring to the classroom. This same concept can be applied to many work situations. When people (patients, clients, students, etc) need the best of you, you have to take care of yourself first to be able to give that. Stop feeling guilty about taking time to relax and make sure your life is in order before the week starts. Instead, think of relaxation as a necessary part of performing well (because it absolutely is!)

Here's what my weekend looked like (so far):

A long nap on Friday afternoon. I was exhausted from 6AM barre class and a full day at work. When I woke up, we decided to eat dinner out rather than hassling with making something. I called my mom, watched TV, and was in bed for good by 10:15PM. We bought this TemperPedic mattress topper a few weeks ago, and it is making all the difference in quality of sleep.

Saturday morning, we went out for breakfast and then did our grocery shopping. We spent some time appreciating our backyard, and we are both more than excited about the hummingbird that has decided to build a nest in our maple:

Photo by Brendan Egan 
I spent the afternoon getting a manicure and pedicure, and we enjoyed a stuffed peppers crockpot dinner that we had prepped together earlier in the day.

Saturday night, we joined the world in watching Beyonce's Lemonade. While the plot seemed more like afterthought, the project was visually beautiful and the music was undeniably powerful. I haven't seen anything like this, and it was exciting to witness. Afterwards, I did yoga in my living room and caught up on the new season of Girls before heading to bed.

And today? Plans with friends galore! Catching up with friends and their baby, doing yoga with a friend, and Game of Thrones with more friends.

It's been a relaxing and wonderful weekend. And you know what? I don't feel an ounce of guilt.

Here's to guilt free relaxation!

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