Tuesday, May 31, 2016

McNeese MFA Five Year Reunion

A lot can change in five years, but you have to hope that some of the best things won't. For us, going to graduate school at McNeese changed everything for the better. We forged lifelong friendships, met each other, began our teaching careers, and grew as writers and as people. In many ways, I feel like Lake Charles is where I became an adult.

It's strange going back, especially passing by old places where I used to live or places our group frequented. Each time I return, it feels more like a dream and less like a real place I was.

When I realized that 2016 would mark five years since we graduated, I sent a group text asking my class if people wanted to get together for a reunion of sorts. Everyone was enthusiastic, and we selected Memorial Day weekend. As the event got closer, we made some actual plans for a couple of events.

Brendan and I arrived in Lake Charles on Friday night. We drove from seeing my grandmother in La Marque, and it was pouring rain the entire drive, so we were delayed about 45 minutes. We met up with friends at Lunas, a restaurant we used to eat at a lot for dinner. It was amazing to catch up with everyone.

Saturday, we got breakfast with Erica at our favorite diner (KDs) and spent the day driving around and meeting up with more old friends.

Photo Credit: Erica McCreedy
That evening, our classmate Rather hosted everyone at his home in Orange, TX. He and his wife Katie (and our friend Jessica) spent all day smoking pork and preparing the house for the party. It was the perfect setting for a reunion, with a big backyard and open living room for everyone to hang out in. At the last minute, Charley could not make it, but we had five of the seven graduates there, which was pretty impressive!

Left to right: Rather, Will, J, Stacy & Brendan

The party was potluck style, with everyone bringing something to share. 

Jessica, Missy, Stacy, Sarie
 The backyard was the perfect place for bocci ball.

While the kitchen made the perfect place for playing Magic (just like the good ole' days).

The next afternoon, we held a crawfish boil at Sam Houston State Park. Brendan and I picked up three sacks of the crawfish, and our former professor, Dr. Blevins, put his crawfish boiling talents to work. 

We rented the park's pavilion, and it was the perfect setting. It was hot outside, but I was just extremely grateful that it wasn't raining. 

The crawfish were delicious, and everyone had a good time. There was even a jungle gym and badminton net to keep the kids (young and young at heart) occupied. Will even pulled out his instruments, so we could play some old tunes.

Our former professor Amy and friend Erica 

I don't actually know how to play harmonica, but Will graciously lets me pretend.
Photo Credit: Erica McCreedy 
Brendan passing on MTG to the next generation.

We are really proud of everyone in our class. Rather earned his PhD at University of Louisiana at Lafayette and is an English Instructor at Lamar State. He and his wife Katie have four year old twin boys.

J completed a PhD at University of Louisiana Lafayette and has been granted a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford. He is moving with his wife, Sarie, and kids (ten year old daughter and eight year old son) to California in the fall (we told them to crash with us on their way there). 

Will is a project manager in Greenville, MS. He and his wife, Missy, have a nine month old daughter and a darn good family band. 

I'm not exactly sure what Charley and Vanni are up to, but I hope we can see them at the ten year reunion and find out. 

It was a great long weekend, and we returned to La Marque on Monday just in time to have a nice long visit with my grandmother before getting dinner (pizza, yum) at Gio's Flying Pizza and Pasta in nearby Dickinson, TX. We spent the night at my grandmother's house and were up early for another visit to the care center before catching our flight home. 

Guess what we found in the backyard when we returned? 

Can you spot the two hummingbird babies? 
We hope everyone had a great weekend. Ours was filled with great friends, great food, and great memories. 


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!


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