I was thinking this weekend about those activities in which I become completely immersed. I lose all sense of time, as I am completely absorbed in what I am doing, reading, thinking at that time. It came to mind when I was texting with a friend about what she’d done that day, which turned out to be a craft project with her father. I replied that I had gone on a hike for the first time all year, and that it was just lovely not to think about work during the few hours that I was out there.

And that made me pause for a moment. I never thought of hiking as an activity in which I become immersed, mostly because my thoughts on the matter have typically centered around how I love my work, and can become immersed in it to the point of losing track of time.

The same thing happens when I hike. I got back in the car, heard my stomach growl, and looked at the clock, only to realize that more than an hour had passed while I was out in the woods. (Side note: it was an awesome hike to this really cool natural limestone bridge…short but steep hike, and completely worth it.)

Back to the texts with my friend. She then went on to say that she used to quilt a lot – before life got so nuts – and that she loved it for how it distracted her. I’d argue, instead, that she was completely immersed in what she was doing while she was quilting.

For me? I realized that the list is longer than anticipated. For me, immersive activities include my work, particularly when I focus on one thing for a decent period of time. Reading a good book. Counted cross stitch, which I did as a child. (Side note: I love cross stitch, but cannot find kits like I used to find as a kid… also, I kind of hate cutesy images and that seems to be what the majority of kits have you make. All of that to say, I’d love to pick it up again but don’t think it’ll happen unless there’s a revolution in cross stitch kit design. Ha.) Hiking, obviously. And baking.

All of these activities take all of my attention – get distracted while hiking, and you could break an ankle. For baking? Distraction = major recipe fails. Trust me on that one. This might not apply to something like meditation, if that’s an immersive activity for you. Unless there are dangers of which I am unaware related to meditation?

Finding that immersive state is such a gift. The mental engagement combined with the silencing of the incessant list of to-dos and issues and challenges and I-have-to-reply-to-100-emails is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being human.

I feel fortunate. I’m into the summer now – freed to focus on my research projects, and preparation for fall courses (yes, already). I look forward to more immersive days than I’ve had in the last few months, although there have definitely been moments scattered here and there.

The other term for this immersive state is “flow”. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Time to stretch my mind (my body was already stretched by my workout this morning, thanks). I hope you have a similarly excellent start to your week.

Musings on work and repeated failures

**Warning… Boring research- and work-related brain dump ahead. Seriously. You might just want to skip this one, but it’s what was in my head this morning and it pushed its way out. I had planned a whole post on self-compassion and self-respect and the voice in my head and… clearly this was what my mind wanted to share instead. Sorry. Come back later this week, hopefully, for self-compassion?**

If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that if you keep the same approach, you’ll keep getting the same results. If it fails every time, then it’s time to take a step back, reassess, and think of a different way. Sometimes, a failed approach deserves another opportunity. Maybe there were circumstances outside your control. Maybe you didn’t make a key point or connection, realize that, and when you plug that hole, the “failed” approach will become your success.

Research can be a Sisyphean task. You roll that boulder up the damn mountain over and over again…and if you are lucky, one time out of 100, the reviewers will push the boulder over the summit for you. Finally. Yet, most of the time the burden is on me to find another path up the mountain, hopefully one that will have an smoother route to the top. And the the boulder will tip over thanks to the final push of outsiders approving of what I think is a really good idea.

It’s this need for justification and support for ideas that are mine and mine alone that makes this field so challenging. If it were just me having the courage to put my ideas out there, and not caring what happens as a result, then it would be completely different. Yet, I think my ideas have merit, so I keep on keeping on. We all do. That persistence in the face of repeated rejection is, I think, one of the hallmarks of a researcher. (The other, as I think I have mentioned, is an incessant need to ask questions…)

The difference with a research study is that you want to do something, you want to improve something, you want to make it better. This is especially true for the type of research I do. I’m a nurse researcher. Improving peoples’ health and well-being is, well, it’s what nurses do, whether you work at the bedside or a lab. So I don’t just put ideas out there and hope people read them. I want them to read the ideas, approve of the ideas, fund the ideas, and give me the means to make the difference that I want to make in the world. So a lot more rests on how you present my ideas and how they are received.

I realized that this is what’s been happening to me in my most recent attempts. I try to fit the kitchen sink in there, without a clear argument for everything I am cramming in, and it just doesn’t work. Trying to put every single idea I have into one particular study – rather than judiciously picking those that I need to examine first, and prioritizing and focusing on those – does not work. Focused and purposeful is a better approach then jamming every possible variable, every possible concept, into THIS particular study.

It’s taken me too long – and too many failed attempts – to figure this out. On the other hand, at least I figured it out now, and not in 20 years? That said, it’s going to be hard to change what I’ve been doing. Then again, isn’t doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result the definition of insanity? Probably time to try something different. Time to find a new path up the mountain. Even if I don’t succeed this time, I’ll know that I made a change, I worked to improve the outcome, and I can do it again.

The Definition of Insanity. - Smaggle

Random thoughts on a Sunday morning

I haven’t written in what seems like forever, but it’s not because I don’t want to. Have you ever felt like you have so many thoughts backed up in your brain that it’s hard to pick the one that you want to focus on first? I’m sure I’m not the only one this happens to… and I suspect if I made writing here and in my personal journal more of a routine, it would help with this problem.

Obviously, I haven’t tried that yet. But I may, since the Pileup of Thoughts also makes it hard for me to focus on my work sometimes!

Today, though, some random thoughts to share… bits and pieces from the odd landscape of my brain.

  • I have so many thoughts on finding your true north, and the path you’re mean to follow to get there, that I think it deserves a post (or two) of its own. Hopefully that will be coming later this week.
  • The end of the semester is (finally) upon us. I am always amazed at how time speeds up as we enter the last few weeks of classes, then all of a sudden, it’s over. I’m going to miss my students, even though we’ve only met virtually. They have been absolute rock stars in dealing with college during a pandemic. And I can’t wait to meet them in person, hopefully next year.
  • I’m finally back on the coffee train after a couple of years off. It stopped tasting good to me, so I switched to tea and Diet Coke (my one addiction, and I refuse to apologize for it or give it up…. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I generally lead a healthy life, let me have my fizzy addiction, please). I’m thrilled by this but now daunted by the challenge of figuring out what kind of coffee maker I want to buy. I got rid of my last one because it was barely functional, so don’t want to make the same mistake again. Cold brew? Pour over? Keurig with environmentally friendly pods? Sigh. So many choices. Opinions welcomed if you’d care to share.
  • I am SO READY for warm weather. Bring it on. I love the season of “not having to spend 5 minutes getting ready to freeze my rear off outside”.
  • I haven’t been able to run for a few weeks now due to a nasty crack on my heel. Ow. And surprisingly, I am okay with that. I’m also really happy not going to my gym for right now, so need to decide if i want to continue the membership or not.
  • I have had both doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and am now eagerly planning a trip out East to see my family. I cannot wait to hug them. It’s been too long. (I know that others are even further from their families, and it’s been even longer for them. I hope that you, too, get to see your families soon…)
  • I have the biggest pile of stuff to donate right now. Time to figure out when I can make a big drop off.
  • Anyone have any tips for getting my brain out of a “worry spiral”? This morning, I fixated on one particular challenge with the types of studies that I want to do, but it wasn’t like I could DO anything about it at the time. This drives me bonkers – when something takes over my thoughts and pushes out everything else. Does this happen to anyone else? Tips?

OK, that might be enough randomness for, well, a long time. This gives a snapshot, probably a scary one, into all of the different directions my thoughts go at any given time. I’m not sure if anyone is still reading at this point as this isn’t the most exciting topic… but if you are, thank you. I do love writing here and am working on being back here more regularly.

My brain has too many tabs open | Words, Inspirational quotes, Quotes
It’s a classic for a reason…


“…I thought that life was a matter of figuring out the answers to questions and that was that. Now I’m learning that good answers lead to better questions, and that the cycle never ends.” Physicist Frank Wilczek

I am always asking questions. Always wondering, as it were. One of my favorite phrases in the whole world is “I wonder why…” I say this so often that it drives some of the non-questioners in my life bonkers. Fortunately, there are others, like my dad, who get it because they, too, are wonderers.

We’re the people who aren’t content with seeing something odd or unusual and letting it go. No, we’re the ones who say, “I wonder why…” and then finish the sentence with any number of queries. Knowing this about myself, I tried to count the number of times I wondered something this morning. The questions ranged from, “I wonder why the birds are cranking it up so early this year?” to “I wonder what the heck my upstairs neighbor is doing up there, again?***”, to “I wonder why two pairs of leggings in the same color from the same brand fit so differently?” to “I wonder why that guy behind has his brights on?” In other words, nearly everything that I do, see or say in a day is something that could – and often does – prompt a question.

I like to think this is one reason that I love my job so much. If you don’t know, I’m a faculty member at a University. I do teach, but the other big part of my position is research. Asking questions that I try to answer either through the literature or doing studies of my own.

And I love it. I really, really do. What an awesome job – they pay me to ask questions! It’s the ideal career for a chronic wonderer. One of the best things is that my colleagues are also likely to be wonderers, so no one rolls their eyes when I pose new and (to me, at least) interesting questions. Another best thing? There are so many questions that I could – and probably will – work for as long as I possibly can, and I’ll never, ever get to them all. The best finding from a study is a finding that makes you say, “I wonder why….” It never ends, and I love it more than I can say.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to turn something that I do naturally into a career that pays me (admittedly, not as much as if I’d stayed in the position I had right out of college…no, seriously…) to do one of the things I love the most. Time to get another day started. Time to see if I can find some more answers.

“Don’t just go through life. Make it a point, instead, to acknowledge mystery and welcome rich questions–questions that nudge you towards a greater understanding of this world and your place in it.” ~Nipun Mehta

**Note: My upstairs neighbor, I believe, jumps on a pogo stick while juggling bowling balls. Seriously. Sigh.

How did I forget the popcorn?

Quotes about Popcorn (139 quotes)
When I wrote my post about how my family shows love through food, I completely forgot the popcorn. How could I forget the popcorn?
Popcorn is a key component of so many childhood memories. Except for a brief fling with an air popper (probably in the 80s), we’ve always used a plug-in oil popper. Popcorn with butter and salt was the taste of my childhood weekends… enjoyed while watching the Muppets, or later on, a rented movie. Popcorn is actually considered an hors d’oeuvre in my parents’ house – and disappears faster than the cheese and crackers or veggies and hummus. 
Now? Popcorn is how my parents show love long-distance. During the pandemic, each of their far-flung children and / or grandchildren has received a care package with… popcorn. In a zip top bag. Salt already applied. Love included.
I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been rationing my last care package of popcorn and eating it very, very slowly. At this rate, I’ll probably give myself food poisoning (can one get food poisoning from old oil-popped popcorn? I certainly hope not…). But every time I take a kernel or two, I feel my parents’ love.
They’re almost always eating some when we do our weekly family Zoom calls. There is always popcorn in the drawer or on the counter when we come home for visits. It’s the first thing my old friends request when they come to visit. And it’s always made by my dad.
He can make two things: corn muffins and popcorn. Oh, and peanut butter sandwiches. A whiz in the kitchen, he is not.
But oh, his popcorn. You can taste the love in each bite. And he loves making it for us.
So today, I might have another kernel or two of my stash. And think of the day when I can hug them and tell them how much I love them in person.
And maybe eat some fresh popcorn, ready for me, sitting on the counter, showing their love for me. 
Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate – Alan D. Wolfelt

Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate – Alan D. Wolfelt