It’s been a while. A long while. Even for me. There are reasons, but first, again, I’m sorry for the disappearance. I still need this space to process, to think out loud, to send my inner ponderings out into the universe, even if it’s kind of anonymous. There’s something about writing here that reminds me that I don’t just exist in a vacuum – I’m still part of the world, despite feeling disconnected at times.

Right now, though, I’m overwhelmed by disappointment and frustration. Why, you ask? After planning for months and (finally) starting to feel a sense of anticipation (with, admittedly, a side of trepidation), I’ve had to cancel my trip to Ireland at the end of the month. The reason for this is also what has been keeping me from the blog.

While I’m not critically ill, I have been dealing with unpredictable and worsening health issues for the last year. This is in addition to the challenges created by my shoulder fracture and surgery last summer. It’s been A Year, and it’s not over yet, unfortunately. The uncertainty created by my health is the reason I had to cancel the Ireland trip. That uncertainty, plus the time taken up by the many appointments and tests I’ve had to try to pinpoint the reason for my issues, the mental load of trying to find an answer, and the symptoms themselves, have made it more and more difficult to show up here.

The worst part is, I need this space more than ever. I need to have some small way of showing that I am still here. That I’m not reduced to just a mystery diagnosis. That I am not just the person who is currently not well. I’m also someone who can still take time for introspection. For connection. For community. Even when I’m mostly restricted to doing that online. In a way, I feel like I’m back under a stay-close-to-home order. Travel, right now, is not a good option for me. I was able to travel to visit my family out East this past week – more to come on that, I hope – only because I took complete control by driving myself. That meant I could stop at any time if need be. If I needed to get off a plane – or deal with symptoms – at 30,000 feet and halfway over the Atlantic, well, that would be a bit more difficult.

So I’m dealing with the disappointment. The lack of energy, and the frustration at not knowing why my life has evolved (devolved?) into a seemingly never ending cycle of appointments and symptoms and exhaustion. Notice that I didn’t say I’m dealing well with it. I used to be a healthy person. I used to take pride in my health and my body’s capabilities. Having a body that betrays you sucks.

I’m not writing this to garner sympathy. It’s just reality. Eventually – maybe? hopefully? – we’ll figure out why things are so bad for me right now. Until then, I’m just going to hang on as best I can. I’m going to show up here, but not as often as I’d like. I’m going to (eventually) show up in your comment threads. I need this space and these connections. Thank you for reminding me that I am more than just a bunch of symptoms held together with frustration and (sometimes) anger. <3


A few weeks ago, Engie (Hi Engie!) posted about her collection of bowls, and whether that makes her a collector of things. I left a long-winded comment, as is my wont, because her post made me start thinking about whether I consider myself a collector.

I grew up in a family of collectors. My father has, believe it or not, one of the larger collections of antique spectacles and related material in the country. My mother always claimed that she does not collect anything, but well, let’s just say her collections of snowmen, cookbooks, and other ephemera tend to say otherwise. 😉

I used to attach a lot of sentiment to objects. I was a saver – of newspaper articles, cards from others – and a collector – of cow paraphernalia, of all things. I rarely got rid of anything. I’d go through it and “organize” it but there was never a time when I truly got rid of things.

And then something changed. I’m not sure when this happened, but it seems to be a product of my frequent moves as an adult (until this location… I’ve lived here longer than any other location post-HS) and realizing things aren’t memories. Memories are memories. I can get rid of a card from a loved one (well, save for the truly special ones) and still know that they love me. I can read a book and donate it, or take it back to the half price bookstore. I can get rid of clothing, even if it has a sentimental tie, because if I’m not wearing it, what function does it serve?

This hit home when I saw my ex’s new place in the fall. When we were together, we verged into tchotchke land. Lots of folk art, unique pieces, antiques that spoke to us, and so on. Because of the sequence of events that led to our eventual split, he wound up with the vast majority of the stuff – we moved to two different places from one shared place and his place was MUCH bigger, plus, we considered that our “home”, an my place as merely temporary.

I looked around his home and realized, I don’t want most of these things.

I don’t want the folk art sculptures that graced our table tops and cabinets. I don’t want the wedding dishes or silverware or napkins. I don’t want a full set of dishes – I get by just fine with my small set. And so on.

And so… now I have to figure out what I’m going to do about all the stuff that I need to make a decision on. Some in a storage closet here that I need to go through. Antique books my father (a true collector) bought me; some I will keep, of course, but the vast majority, no. The things that were “mine” from our marriage, currently stored in my ex’s basement. So many old photos. So much… stuff.

It’s a daunting task. I feel like I’m going to be death cleaning even though, well, I’m not planning to shuffle off this mortal coil any time soon.

But I really need – and want – to do it. To get rid of things. To clear physical space in my world.

Why? Is it that I want a ‘clean’ start? Is it that external order (should) lead to internal peace and calm? Is it that my stuff doesn’t reflect who I am anymore? Am I trying to break from my old life (or, really, lives)?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that I value the memories. The love. The relationships. Not the things. Material representations have their value, to be sure. I just don’t need quite so many of them.

I feel a pressing need to find the time to Just Do This Thing. To go through everything and ruthlessly weed out those items that I no longer need or want. Even better if they can be used by someone else, who actually wants or needs them.

“Clutter is a manifestation of a) holding onto the past and b) fear of what might happen in the future.”

Leo Babauta

Nothing like a quote to get me thinking…

It’ll be an interesting – but necessary – journey. Now I just need to take the first step!

When you make a dumb decision…

I try very hard not to make dumb decisions. Despite my best intentions, though…they happen.

Last Friday was one of those times. I was at a conference in Des Moines (I thought about not saying where, but since location is key to my dumb decision, it didn’t make sense…). I went down Thursday, had a wonderful day Friday (poster presentation, catching up with former students and colleagues, and even some current colleagues who I see infrequently), and then drove home Friday night. I needed to be home for the weekend not only to work, but also because I really need to be in my routine as much as possible right now. Life is (still) crazy, and it’s one of the things that’s keeping me (mostly?) sane.

So, let’s put the pieces together: Friday afternoon departure. From Des Moines (in the middle of Iowa, for the geographically unsure). And a weather forecast that was, shall we say, not ideal. They were calling for severe thunderstorms and there were tornado warnings. But when I looked at the timing, and the predictions, it seemed like my planned departure would work well. The storms should have moved through by then, and I’d be in the clear for my 5-hour drive home.

You should probably start shaking your head about now, if you’re a shaking-the-head kind of person.

Let’s just say it was a…challenging ride home. The storms were in front of me, sure – when I started. But then I started to catch up to them. And just over an hour into my trip, I found myself on a 2-lane highway in, well, a deluge. So I pulled over, like a good midwestern driver, along with all of the other good midwestern drivers on the road.

It eased up, I moved on, and then, half an hour later, really dark skies and…was that hail? My car may be almost 11 years old but… hail damage was not something I really wanted to deal with right now. I managed to find one of the few overpasses on the road and pulled mostly under it to save my car from the worst of it.

And when it eased up, I moved on. Sensing a pattern here? There was wind (so much wind), there was rain on and off, there were a few stupid drivers. But I kept white-knuckling through, determined to get home. And I did get home – obviously, as I’m writing this post. But it got me thinking about how I am the type of person who, when I make a decision, I pretty much stick with it. I am not the kind of person to second-guess, or change my mind. It takes me forever to MAKE a decision, sure. But once it’s made? It’s done.

I’m wondering whether this is always the best approach. It works well for many things – make a decision, commit, and move on. But for other choices, perhaps a more nuanced approach is better? The option to revisit the choice I made and see if it’s still the right choice for me.

Despite my tendency to stick with my choices, I have changed my mind and made a different choice more in my career than in any other area of my life. So far, it’s worked out…okay. I haven’t talked about my long and winding work history, but let’s just say that the years just before I came here were a bit more unsettled, and I made some choices that I do question, even 7 years later.

I’m wondering if I need to give myself permission to, well, make different choices in other areas of my life. Maybe this hard-headed tendency to stick with it at all costs isn’t the best option. Maybe I should think about different options, choices, approaches… and the ways those might impact my life. This is probably most relevant, right now, to my chronic overwork situation. Definitely some food for thought…

A few random quotes to end this… although I will come back to it, for sure.

It’s okay that life is messy. It’s okay that we take wrong turns all the time, even get lost once in a while. It’s okay that we’re still learning how to do it better, or make a different choice. As a beloved friend said recently, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of what’s good.” ~Melanie Harth (note: this was from something I saved in 2016…and is one reason I love my digital “scrapbook” of quotes and articles in Evernote…)

This one resonates even more, from Ozan Varol:

What you want from your life can also change as the world changes around you and as you change as a person. In fact, pursuing your curiosity will inevitably change you, by taking you off the path you’ve followed in the past and introducing you to new ways of being in the world. As long as you choose it intentionally, there’s nothing wrong with changing your direction.


I read this recently on Rachel’s blog: On Friday I listened to this episode of Deep Questions and I’ve decided I need to be much better about my remote work discipline.  So often I find myself in the almost meditative state of replying to emails, sending teams messages, finishing one random thing from my inbox.  I know that this isn’t efficient but I love the tiny series of accomplishments I get from the bits and bobs. BUT, no one is going to promote me because I responded quickly or wrote 60 emails in a day.  

I need to be a lot better about big picture. 

Me again…

Oh, Rachel, me too. Which brings me to my other nudge word this year, which is grounded. I don’t mean it in the sense of me being grounded and stuck in place (a la, “You’re grounded for missing curfew”, which ha, would never happen since I’m rarely up past 8:45, let alone midnight). Instead, I’m using grounded to describe how I want to be this year, as I work to engage more with life.

Being grounded, to me, means being clear in my priorities and values, and ensuring that those priorities and values guide my engagement with the world. I could engage more by working more. By (further) blurring the links between work and home. By continuing to work all-day, every day, with my only breaks coming for sleep, exercise, and the occasional Engie adventure.

But that’s not my intent with choosing engaged for my word. And it’s why I think grounding myself in my values and priorities is critical this year, and as I move into the next phase of my life. I still don’t know how that is going to look – there will be a LOT of work-related uncertainty for the next year + – but I can figure out what matters to me, what priorities I have for engaging with the world, and what I value as I work to (re)build my life in a way that lights me up.

I was trying to figure out how this word popped into my mind. It’s not entirely clear, but on reading through the quotes that I saved from the fabulous Keep Moving, by Maggie Smith, I realized that her book may have been part of the reason. A sampling of the phrases and statements that jumped out for me:

  • Stop rewinding and playing the past in your mind. Live here, now. Give the present the gift of your full attention.
  • Today, take one step, however small, toward creating a life you can be proud of.
  • Close the gap between yourself and your spirit – the person you know you can be. Let your choices reflect the person you want to become, not just the person you think you are.
  • And maybe the one that resonated most: Even if you don’t believe you have “a purpose”, think about the work you can do in the world that would make a difference to others.

Reading these words also coincided with me seeing the phrase “Be here now” in multiple places.

It’s important to me to ground myself in the now, while simultaneously figuring out how I want to reach, and extend, from that solid foundation.

These are Big Ideas and Big Thoughts, and obviously this is not a one-month or even one-year process. But good grief, it’s time to start.

And so, to end, with a quote from Oliver Burkeman’s newsletter:

“In fact, to paraphrase Cope, you may really only have one meaningful choice, which is either to move in the direction “becoming who you are” – becoming more and more yourself, in whatever situation you find yourself in – or else to hold back from doing so.”

Setting the record straight

Subtitle: a fun get-together with NGS/Engie/NGradStudent.

As those of you who read NGS’/Engie’s blog know already, we met up at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens last Saturday, during their open house. To be clear, we were not intending to go the weekend of the open house, but, well, that’s how it turned out. Despite the crowds – and my hideous social awkwardness – we had a wonderful time, and had some unexpected, fun experiences.

The best surprise? They had the greenhouses open! As in, “here’s where the magic happens”. It turns out that Engie is – not surprisingly – someone who also loves to ask questions and who also will engage with and ask questions of guards and volunteers. I’ve been known to engage security staff and volunteers in places like Hampton Court, in England. There, I thoroughly annoyed and embarrassed my then-spouse by talking with the security guard in one section for about 10 minutes. They know so much! And they spend so much time there, observing others, that they have fascinating stories to tell. (Side note: The Baltimore Museum of Art had a fantastic exhibit about a year ago that was curated by the security guards. I was so bummed I couldn’t go see it…)

We learned a ton from Don, a volunteer in the greenhouse, who told us how they rotate stock in and out of the conservatory exhibit/display every night. As in, grab the plants that look a little worn out, funky, or overgrown, and (ta da!) replace them with ones from the green houses! How cool is that? Don also taught us that banana trees are grasses. And that they are cut back nearly to the ground in the winter. I. Had. No. Idea. (Also, you really do learn something every day…)

But the best part of the greenhouses – particularly the tropical one – was the temperature. It was 80 degrees. And humid. And wonderful. I nearly took off my coat! (I did get to see the Famous Heated Vest of NGS lore. :>).

Engie even convinced me to put my (exceedingly limited) painting skills to work and do a little watercolor on a postcard. It was so immersive and fun – almost meditative. I’m reposting the picture she sent me and adding a caveat, to set the record straight:

OK, see the boring, monochromatic, exceptionally dull postcard on the left? That’s mine.

See the lovely, colorful, and just gorgeous postcard on the right? Painted by someone who knows that color is not something of which we should be afraid? That’s Engie’s.

Clearly, one of us is more creative than the other. I shall leave it up to you to make the final determination.

The best part of the day – other than meeting Engie, of course – was that this forced me to ENGAGE. This helped me live up to that word that I picked a few (long) weeks ago. I got out of my apartment! I did something fun, that did not involve one of the two people with whom I have Done Stuff since I moved here (a very short list: a coworker [one lunch], and my ex-MIL). It was so enjoyable that I’m starting to (gasp) think about other things I could do on the weekend, other than work. This is… not typical behavior for me, my friends.

I shall be back – I promise – to share the Other Word, soon. In the meantime, thank you NGS/Engie, for nudging me out of my comfort zone. 🙂

You can avoid uncertainty, hide within the familiar comfort of the status quo, and keep doing what you did yesterday.

Or you can step into the unknown, confident that you can use your considerable abilities to handle the cosmic curve balls that will inevitably come your way…if you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected. ~Ozan Varol