Friday, February 16, 2018

Someone Slams a Door at Work, and I Think...

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I feel like I've said this before, in other ways, but luckily this is my own blog, so I can repeat myself if I want.

And I have something more to say. Before I even saw this list, I was aching. As I made our Valentine's Day dinner while Brendan was teaching his night class, I felt anxious waiting for him to return. I felt sad for families I didn't know...I didn't even know how many families to feel sad for, but whether it was one or one hundred, I knew it was already too much.

I'm always anxious in the days after a shooting, and there is less time between them now, so I guess you could say I'm anxious most of the time. Yes, I've talked to a therapist about it, but I never quite feel comfortable at work. Do you?

Yesterday, I was in an all day student success session, and I heard a door happened twice in a row. Only I didn't know it was a door slamming. I always assume the worst now.

In an instant, I thought about the time of day, Brendan's location on campus, how far to my car, how far to the nearest exit, how long since I talked to my mother, my father, Brendan's parents, our siblings. I had meant to call my brother yesterday. I wondered if I could run at 33 weeks pregnant, and if so, how fast. I felt my throat close. I wanted to scream. I wondered if our baby could still make it if something happened to me. I thought about how I could shield my stomach with my laptop; maybe that'd give her a better chance. The meeting paused for a second. I'm not sure if other meetings are like that, but I know that every educator has had an experience like this one...


We've had the student that was withdrawn and asked to bring back a psychiatric evaluation before returning. I still get chills thinking about a student who declared himself a terrorist in my classroom and wrote a series of strange accusations and threats to my co-worker. I felt sorry for him at the time too, and I knew he was not receiving much needed medication for his schizophrenia, but I was still really afraid.

We've had the student that makes us nervous enough to request a police officer in class. My last request? Just last semester.

We've had to question whether written work is concerning enough to report. Especially if you teach a course like creative writing.

We've had the mandatory training exercises for "live active shootings," which conclude with the honest truth that there isn't a whole lot you can do should someone bring an assault rifle to your place of work.

We've heard co-workers tell us about student threats, or we've witnessed the threats or been the target of them.

We've had students tell us when they cannot afford much needed medication, or have been shamed by someone else into not taking it, or have turned to self medicating instead.

We know how tough it is to be a young person. How sometimes the things that happen seem so insurmountable. How sometimes you just feel so alone, scared, hopeless, and angry.

We know how easy it is to get a gun; heck, we know you're allowed to bring one on campus now.

All these thoughts are floating around in our heads.

Then it's just a door slamming. And for a second, I want to burst into tears. It's bad to feel this way at work.

It's painful to live in a country where we have an obvious problem, but we do nothing to address it.

It's tough knowing you've made the decision to bring someone else into it.

It's outrageous hearing people tell me (and my colleagues to) "learn to use weapons" and that if we don't we're "allowing ourselves to be victims." I teach English, writing, and the love of literature. I am not bringing a gun to work with me. Who is "allowing" this to happen? Whose job is it to pass laws to make us safe? Who pays those people money to make sure they don't pass laws?

It's heart-wrenching to see a child plead on television "you're like, the adults; you need to do something about it."

I. Want. To. Do. Something. About. It.

I'm sick with wanting to do something about it.

What about you?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pregnancy Weeks 29-32

Greetings faithful blog readers,

When we last left off with a pregnancy update, baby girl and I had just entered the third trimester, we'd been showered with love by our family and friends, I'd filled up pregnancy journal #1, and I was battling cold #2 of the season. A lot changes in a month during pregnancy, and this month was no exception!

Week 29 
Baby Size: An Acorn Squash 

What a week! I'm still battling a cold, and our plans to take baby care and infant CPR class and visit with our friends over the weekend all fall by the wayside when our class instructor and our friends' daughter both contract the flu. I become paranoid about sanitizing everything that I touch at work. We buy a crib mattress with the rest of our generous gift from Brendan's parents and pick up baby girl's dresser we ordered from Babies R' Us (a generous gift from my mom). On Monday, our breastfeeding class is canceled because the instructor is still sick, but she's better in time for our second childbirth class and hospital tour on Tuesday. Touring the hospital definitely makes things start to feel more real. We're able to see both a labor and delivery and recovery room and learn more about the labor process and my options for pain management. There's lots of kicking from baby, and I end the work days feeling very tired. My heartburn at this point is bad nearly every day (and this symptom continues all month with OTC medicine becoming a must!) I have an OB visit where baby girl's heartbeat is 155 bpm, my blood pressure is good, and I'm up 14 pounds total for the pregnancy. I talk to the doctor about filling out our leave paperwork for human resources.

Week 30
Baby Size: A "large" cabbage

We're 3/4 of the way there, and I've captured the belly movements on video. By estimates, baby girl is nearly 16 inches long and 3 pounds. My parents come from Austin to help us with the nursery. On Friday night, Dad and Brendan assemble the crib, but when they unbox the dresser, they discover it's damaged. I'm super bummed by the interruption to my nesting plans, but my mom and I make progress washing all the hand me downs and putting them in the empty guest room dresser for the time being. On Saturday, we return the damaged dresser to Babies R' Us and order a new one. Brendan and Dad hang the rug from Annie and figure out the perfect way to display the wooden letters that everyone painted at the shower; they also get the curtain rod hung. The next day, Brendan hangs the banners that Katie designed and the clouds and raindrops Amanda and Matt made for our shower. The nursery is definitely coming together! Our friend Jenni is the first to see it when she stops by with a beautiful hand knitted blanket for baby girl (pics coming in the nursery tour). Our friends and family put so much love into making beautiful things for our daughter, and it truly fills our hearts with joy to think of how much she's already cared for. On Monday, I preregister at the hospital and pick up our HR paperwork from my doctor's office. Tuesday brings our final childbirth class where we practice breathing techniques and laboring positions. It's surprisingly kind of fun and an intimate experience. I think we're both glad that we took the class despite our initial skepticism about how much we could learn from it. It was also reassuring to be with other couples with the same fears, concerns, and questions. On Wednesday, the curtains we ordered for the nursery arrive, and I'm so excited that I hang them immediately after work before collapsing on the couch for three hours. Front loading my semester with eight week classes means I am grading all the time, but I know it will be worth it when I finish half my load by spring break.

Week 31 
Baby Size: A Coconut 

We start off the week figuring out our leave situation with HR, and we're both feeling better. Shoutout to my friend Laura, a lawyer, who helps me track down answers to some confusing questions. It turns out being married and working for the same employer creates some weird FMLA issues, but we get it resolved, thankfully. On Friday, the new baby dresser arrives, and our friend Dagan comes to the house to help Brendan move it from my car to the baby room (this time, we had Babies R' Us unbox it at the store before loading it into my car to ensure it wasn't damaged). On Saturday, we do a lot of work in the baby room: moving clothes from the guest room dresser to the new one, taking tags off new clothes, opening up toys, cleaning off the desk, setting up night lights, hanging pictures, and ordering shelving. On Sunday, I do hours of school work before we head to Dagan and Steph's for the Superbowl. Their daughter Violet (age 3) is intrigued by the concept of the baby and looks for the baby even though we try to explain the baby is inside of my tummy and show her some pictures. It's pretty cute. Steph gets to feel the baby kicking. I get through more thank you notes this week and also have a doctor's appointment (my 28 week appointment was late, and my 32 week appointment is early, but we should be getting back on track now). Brendan is unable to come with me because of needing to do classroom observations, but luckily, it is just a routine appointment. Baby's heartbeat is 154 bpm, my blood pressure is good, and I'm up 16 pounds total for the pregnancy. I start to talk to my doctor about delivery, and I can't believe we're to that point. I end the week with a two hour nap on the couch following work on Wednesday. I miss yoga but fatigue and pretty severe heartburn aren't leaving me with much motivation to namaste!

Week 32
Baby Size: a "large" Jicama

By now, baby girl should be nearing 4 pounds and over 16 1/2 inches in length. I start meetings with my replacements who will be filling in for me while I'm gone. So far, I'm keeping a good perspective about stepping away from work for a bit (not to say I'm not nervous about other aspects of motherhood!). I end the work week feeling extremely worn down, but I have just enough energy to "help" Brendan hang floating bookcases in the nursery. The room is really coming together, and we absolutely love it and enjoy just sitting in there. A cold front hits Midland, and I'm so over dressing for colder temperatures while pregnant. Please please please, bring on the dress weather! Because there's so much to do during the week, we have to use our weekends productively: laundry, washing all the new baby clothes, grading, grocery run, errands, and hours of food prep pretty much consume the weekend, but at least we're staying caught up and healthy (knock on wood). Another thing I'm trying desperately to keep up with? Thank you notes. I've managed to finish the ones to co-workers (40 something so far!), but I just started notes from our friends and family shower (Brendan will help, but I harbor a love of letter writing, and I am hesitate to give over any of them!). During the work week, the weather starts warming up, and I recruit Brendan as an after work walking partner. It's not that I feel particularly excited about walking, but I know it's good for me, and it does seem to improve my mood (and I love the warmer weather!) Baby girl is moving and kicking strong and all the time now, and I have some pretty amazing videos of her punches and rolls. I do have some lower back pain at the end of the day, and I want to look into a support band (any suggestions?). We end week 32 with a lovely Valentine's Day. While Brendan teaches his night class, I make us a delicious dinner (salad with homemade dressing and fettuccine with goat cheese and scallions, plus chocolate/cream cheese cupcakes for dessert). We make each other cards and exchange gifts (I gift Brendan matching big dipper/little dipper t-shirts, so he can match with baby girl, and he gives me beautiful emerald stud earrings). We enjoy our quiet evenings together, reminding ourselves that we may soon reminisce about them, but we're both so eager to meet our daughter. It's a bit strange to be in such a stage of anticipation all the time.

After week 32, my doctor's appointments will increase to every two weeks and so will my pregnancy recap blog posts. I look forward to checking in in two weeks with a week 33-34 recap. I predict that the next few weeks are going to be tough for me: these eight week classes are really challenging me right now and squeezing in all the events we usually orchestrate in four months into two months has meant staying late often in the past couple of weeks. Not to mention, I'm entering the discomfort phase of pregnancy. I'm so thankful for my job and for our baby, but I'd be withholding here if I didn't mention that I'm nervous about surviving the next three weeks before spring break.

Please keep us in your thoughts, faithful blog readers.

Happy ALMOST weekend to everyone. I hope you all have some major rest and relaxation planned! 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Remembering Dr. Joe Cash

Greetings faithful blog readers,

Yesterday, I read news on Facebook about the death of one of our graduate school professors, Dr. Joe Cash. With the exception of social media, I hadn't kept in touch with Dr. Cash, but the news of his death made me stop a lot this weekend and ponder what it means to leave a legacy and how it is that people, specifically teachers, do that. I thought of Dr. Cash and what he meant in my life today while in a parking lot at Michael's waiting for Brendan to pick up some supplies.

I thought about Dr. Cash's course on the Major Writers of the Romantic Period that Brendan and I both took in the fall of our second year (2009). I discovered my love for gothic literature in that class, and I remember being excited that Dr. Cash was encouraging about my paper topic idea, which was looking at how horror and humor worked in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. It may have been the most fun I've ever had writing a research paper. If it weren't for Dr. Cash, that's all the project would have been, but he wanted me to do something more with it: present the paper at the SCMLA conference the following year. I remember feeling intimidated by the idea. I was "just a graduate student" and didn't have confidence that my research was interesting or innovative enough to present it in front of a panel. But Dr. Cash was so encouraging and so convinced that I could pull it off. I submitted the abstract just to tell him I had done it, and then, much to my surprise, I was actually accepted to the panel.

Dr. Cash was so happy when I told him about the acceptance. He promised me that he'd be there to see the presentation himself, so then there really was no backing out! Getting ready to present that first time felt like a huge undertaking. I borrowed equipment from my mom and from the university for my presentation and spent a lot of time prepping my powerpoint. Those that were at McNeese with me know that the fall of my third year in school was a particularly hard time for me. Despite everything that was going on in my life, I was determined to make it to that conference. Dr. Cash even told me that the chair of the English Department at Sul Ross, a friend of his, was going to be there, and that they were planning to hire. He said he would bring her to the presentation and make sure to put in a good word for me (no pressure, right?!).

That first SCMLA was like nothing I've experienced since. I had a huge audience (something like 50 people), which is a lot more than I've ever had since. I wonder just how many people Dr. Cash convinced to attend? Despite some technology issues, the presentation went well. I felt good about it and so proud of myself for doing it. At the end of the session, I was nominated to be secretary for the following year's gothic literature session. The trip was a kind of turning point in the semester for me. I came back from it pulled together and convinced I'd be okay.

Sul Ross didn't end up opening a position that spring, but it didn't end up mattering; Dr. Cash may not have realized it, but he'd given me the confidence to see myself as a professional. When I went on the job market that spring, I applied for eighty positions (and I ended up in west Texas anyway, maybe because Dr. Cash had me excited about Alpine?) And another part of the legacy Dr. Cash left in my life...I've never missed a SCMLA conference since that first one. I present every year and have now presented on gothic literature, fiction writers, metafiction/metatheatre, teaching freshman composition, and science fiction panels. I've even chaired several of the panels. SCMLA has had a huge impact in my life: I look forward to it every year, and it has given me such an enjoyable outlet for professional development. Plus, I've traveled to many fun cities because of it and have a yearly built in reunion with McNeese friends because of it too.

I haven't spoken to Dr. Cash in years, but I found myself crying in the parking lot of Michael's today thinking of what he meant in my life. Though our paths only crossed for a short period of time, he was a voice of encouragement that shaped my life as I know it. As a professor, his impact is a reminder to me to be encouraging to all the students I encounter. I know Dr. Cash is remembered by many students, and I hope he had an idea of the number of lives he influenced for the better. This is a photo of him (center) accepting his Professor Emeritus award at McNeese, and this is how I remember him.

Rest in peace, Dr. Cash. I have no doubt you will be remembered for your enthusiasm in the classroom and for seeing the potential in your students long before they saw it in themselves. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I Wrote a [CHAP]book and You Can Order It!

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I wrote a chapbook, and soon you'll be able to hold it in your hands! I'm really excited about it and proud of it, but this wouldn't be my blog if I didn't tell you the long story behind it, so before I get to the details, I'm backing up to tell you how it all came to be (details on how to order at the end of the post if you'd rather skip ahead).

Back in the summer of 2016, I set a small goal for myself: I had a handful of short stories that I felt worked well together, and I wanted to submit them to a chapbook contest. A chapbook is essentially a mini book (think 50ish pages of prose or poetry), though it's more common to see chapbooks for poetry.

I found a few presses and journals accepting chapbook submissions for prose, but there was only one that seemed like a good fit based on the contest requirements and my familiarity with the publication. I submitted to PANK's contest on June 24th, 2016, and the rest of a summer was a blur. We left for our trip to Namibia and then mourned the loss of my grandmother, Mimi, while we were literally halfway across the world. The fall brought a pregnancy...and then a pregnancy loss, and then the election happened on November 8th, and I felt shaken. To be honest, not only was my chapbook far from my mind, but I initially missed the November 10th email informing me that I'd made the shortlist of five finalists for the contest. The email came on a Thursday evening, but I didn't see it until late Friday night (and yes, this is why my cousin Amanda is always on my case about my 92,917--true number--unread messages).

I'm glad I found that email though because it wasn't just any email. The words from editor Chris Campanioni gave me hope: hope that the stories that I wanted to tell mattered and hope because life was going on. It felt particularly hard right then, but this was proof that everyone was still moving. I read the email aloud to Brendan. We were both so excited.

I had no idea how many of the chapbooks PANK was intending to publish, and while I was really hopeful, I tried, partially unsuccessfully, not to think about it too much. The holidays were a distraction, and then, I was in my office setting up for the Spring 2017 semester when I saw an announcement on Facebook.

I just remember thinking "Whoa, that's my name" and running next door to Brendan's office to show him. It felt extremely surreal.

A year later, and my chapbook has been through many rounds of edits, and I've learned a TON in the process of putting it together. Best of all, there's a finished product that I'm really proud of, and you can actually order it and have it in your hands this May!

I'm lucky to have had amazing support with this project. The team at PANK has truly poured much effort and energy into making this little book the best it could be. I reached out to authors Timothy Willis Sanders and Lindsay Hunter, and they both took the time to read my work and came back with wonderful, thoughtful blurbs. My brother and Erynn helped me find photography for the cover (which was beautifully designed by Iona Escuardo at PANK). And of course, Brendan has obsessed with me (and with deep care) over every question I've brought to his attention during the editing process. I'm grateful that my work has received loving treatment from many people.

There's still a lot that this project has left to teach me. Sadly, I will be missing AWP this year and cannot read at PANK's event (my doctor does not want me flying that late into my pregnancy, though I hope you check out the reading if you're at AWP this year--Thursday, March 8th at Rialto Theatre in Tampa, FL at 9PM!) I will need to learn how to promote my own work and will hopefully schedule a reading (or readings) for this summer after baby girl arrives.

Here's the link where you can preorder my chapbook, which actually ships this May. The cost is $12 + $5 shipping, and your support would mean a ton to me. Please feel free to share the link: on your own social media pages and help me spread the word. Also, check out the books by Trace DePass (poetry), Maya Sonenberg (memoir), and Laura Buccieri (poetry). 

It's been a long journey with this little book, and I'm at a loss for how to express my gratitude for the experience. Thank you to PANK, to writing, and always, always to those who read. I still think discovering and embracing our shared humanity through the page is one of the most revolutionary things we can do.


Friday, February 2, 2018

Hello Baby! Our Friends & Family Baby Shower

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I'm backtracking to Sunday, January 14th to tell you all about our amazing baby shower my cousin, Amanda, and her husband, Matt, hosted for us in their home. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was ideal for the celebration because we wanted Brendan's family to have more travel time, and it was ideal for us to have a longer to visit with everyone too. I have to hand it to Amanda and Matt for being game with the MLK weekend plan because not only were they recovering from the holidays but also from a recent trip to London. They were very busy leading up to the shower and obviously put a ton of time and energy into making it special for us. There were so many gorgeous details, and we loved them all. The most special part though was the people that were there to share the celebration with us. We really wanted a couple's shower, and many of the men in attendance were tickled to experience their first baby shower ever. We loved having our dads, uncles, cousins, and friends in on the fun. I couldn't have imagined the day without the guys and dad-to-be in attendance; Brendan has been with me for every second of this journey, and our friends and family shower was one of the happiest days of it so far. Here's a look into a most special day:

If you've been reading for awhile, you know I have a thing for puns and jokes that I think are hilarious (okay, maybe only me). Amanda's "baby shower" craft takes the cake for most amazing decor that made me laugh. As an added bonus, we were able to take the clouds and raindrops to hang in baby girl's nursery.

Speaking of cake, can you believe this one? Amanda, her mom (my aunt Annette), and her sister (my cousin Elena) made this gorgeous (and delicious) chocolate cake with cream cheese icing (my favorite). Elena decorated to create all the succulents on the cake. And Brendan's cousin, Katie, sent the topper (she made) all the way from New Jersey (the matching banner is hanging in our nursery now). It truly looked remarkable and was a compilation of family love.

Knowing Brendan's love for cheesecake, Amanda ordered him one. And the beautiful E? She made that for baby, and it's in her nursery now. Amanda said she'll even make us a first initial once baby girl has a name (nope, we still haven't decided and don't plan to until we see her!) 

I really wanted our shower to be fun and saw no reason for it to be alcohol free. Amanda was super thoughtful and got me some non-alcoholic sparkling cider to mix with my juice, and it was awesome. Everyone else got champagne. Bonus points for the "mom-osa" and "hot dad chocolate" signs that made me laugh out loud.

I'm not sure what was in the hot dad chocolate, but it was amaz-ing. Amanda and I obsessed over the weather leading up to the shower, and we ended up with a nice day though there was a little chill in the air...just enough so that this hot chocolate was the perfect thing! 

Yummy snacks: 

The guestbook was a copy of the book The Giving Tree and the sign read "pick a page from one to three and leave a note for baby E." Our parents brought our baby photos/albums to display on the table. I loved looking at all of Brendan's adorable photos and taking a walk down memory lane checking out my own baby album. 

Amanda had an awesome idea to have everyone paint wooden letters that we could use to decorate the nursery. Each guest picked a letter, wrote their name on the back, and painted the front. It was a nice day, so we could move outside to the picnic tables, and it was so cool to see everyone's creativity. 

Cousin Elena & her boyfriend Byron, Bob and his wife Lucy (Bob and my Dad have been friends since I was a child!), my parents, my honorary aunt Alicia! 

Here are the results (for now). Brendan and I will decorate the "X" and the "O" ourselves. We already have these up in the nursery, and oh my are they adorable (nursery tour coming soon to a blog near you).

We had so many guests that came from near and far to celebrate! 

Cassie, my friend from HS and her boyfriend, John (who reminds me a lot of Brendan!)
Kelsey and I have been friends since birth. Kelsey's son is a year old. It will be fun to be on this journey together.  
All the way from Connecticut: "Gigi," "Auntie," and "Buddy"
I had family there from New Orleans, Houston, Georgetown, and Kyle:
Austin Gals: Aunt Annette, Cousins Elena & Casey, Aunt Elaine, Me, Cousins Amy & Amanda 
Dad and Uncle Julio

Matt & Alicia 

Mom and Uncle John

Remember the lips and mustaches game from my bridal shower? They've become a tradition of sorts. Amanda has used them for another shower she hosted, they made an appearance at her bridal shower and at my friend Kristen's shower as well. Brendan and I answered questions about parenthood and Amanda read one of our answers. Guests had to hold up either lips or mustaches to indicate who they thought said what. My dad wanted to know what he would win, and Amanda said "we're millennials, everyone wins!" Brendan and I really enjoyed hearing each other's thoughts on becoming all started to feel much more real. 

After the game, we cut into the cake and cheesecake before opening presents. The desserts were served with fresh berries, which was scrumptious! 

Every single gift was a highlight. We are truly grateful that we now have all the essentials to care for our daughter. Here's a look at some of the gifts (also, behind us is the banner that Brendan's cousin made that's now in the nursery): 

Mom's friend, Virginia, knitted this baby blanket
Brendan's dad painted these for our southwest themed nursery. 

Brendan's grandma made this beautiful quilt (now there's officially one or two in every bedroom of our house)
Annie & Josh found a beautiful antique rug to hang in baby girl's nursery
Gigi and Auntie went on a bit of a shopping spree for baby! 
There was a hilarious moment at the shower where my cousins Gant & Amy presented us with a Buc-ees onesie and much hilarity ensued explaining the wonders of Buc-ees to Brendan's family.

Brendan's family made baby girl adorable onesies 

There were delicious homemade rice crispies treats as favors. In Amanda's words "nom."

We truly had a spectacular time, and we couldn't be more thankful for the people that shared the day with us.

Hot dad chocolate with a "hot dad-to-be"

We look forward to the journey ahead and are so thankful for the friends and family that will share it with us.

We hope everyone has an awesome Superbowl weekend.


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