A new paradigm – How to sustain focus ?

There were a couple of people having a boisterous conversation in the lobby just outside where I was working. My laptop fan was whizzing like a jet engine due to the intensive task it was carrying out. All those sounds reached my ears but my mind was concentrated on the task as if it was in Microsoft’s Anechoic Chamber. Although my mobile phone is in silent mode, there were many incoming messages, notifications, and emails to my mobile phone. Aroma of the flavor from the food which was being reheated in the Informatics kitchen was very much distracting. Though I had not eaten any food in the last 6 hours, I was indifferent and was focussed on the task at hand.

I did not bother about whether I am going to finish the task that day or not. I could not care less if I would get any reward or appreciation for it. I did not think, nor plan any contingencies in the case of a failure of the task at hand. I did not know that it would benefit or harm anyone at any point in the future. I had not blabbered about the task, neither complained about it to any of my friends. It may not be super interesting task to most people in the world who were doing such tasks daily neither for those who were starters.

I was simply making my computer crunch a bunch of numbers and perform some large computations. It is neither a humungous task nor a minuscule one. I simply did not care about its size. I was super interested in performing it, though. I felt like I was swimming in the middle of an ocean by myself. I did not know whether I would be rescued, reach the shore, be eaten, or just die of exhaustion. I was not hungry, neither thirsty. I was swimming for the sake of swimming because I enjoy swimming.

Now, this may sound a little extraordinary. One may argue that one cannot be this focussed every day. Trust me this is what I had been learning in my grad school and I have been very fortunate to have discovered the secret to such unadulterated concentration. From the moment I had known the secret, I have been creating wonders. Whatever the task had been, I have been learning to focus and enjoy doing it.

“One has to learn that the result is not important”

Krishna in Bhagavadgita (A mythical God)

The secret is that one should not have the desire for the result. The motivation you may get from the result is temporary or misleading. But if your love for what you do is genuine and unadulterated, not even a tornado can distract you. Of course, each and every task we do would not be so lovely. But, one can develop a genuine relationship with anything in this world. All it takes is practice and giving.

“The mind is restless and difficult to restrain, but is subdued by practice”

Krishna in Bhagavadgita

I was not a great coder, nor was in love with it on the day I started coding. It was intimidating and It took me a lifetime to be a decent coder. I have been understanding myself and coding every single day. Although many situations stressed me, I had been learning to never feel any pressure of becoming the best, nor show any genuine interest in any results from it while enjoying it. When you associate yourself with either an art, a sport, or a person, or anything in the world, without any desire, such relationship would be so pure and would prosper for a lifetime! Not convinced yet? I am attaching a magical video about how a small kid with a growth hormone deficiency from Argentina changed the world of soccer for good. Hi is my living legend, my idol, and one of the greatest Soccer players of all time: Messi. Watch him, till the end to experience a paradigm shift. Now go create wonders every single day!

Please let your thoughts flow in the comments below!

Getting through the semester ONE MEAL at a TIME

So, I’ve admitted before, one of my favorite things to do is cook. Sadly, finding enough time in a day, a week, a month, a semester to do everything we need to do as a graduate student seems impossible so finding time to cook everyday is just as impossible.

So here’s my proposal to you: Plan a week worth of meals over the weekend. We all need to find a balance that works for each of us so there is no master plan, just some handy suggestions.

  1. Make a list of your favorite foods to make! Be sure to include meals that you are familiar with making and that are almost second nature to you.
  2. Look for recipes online that you’d like to try. There are a great occasional treat.

What does a well planned out week look like for me?

  • Friday: Pick out SIX or SEVEN meals on  for the following week.Think healthy and abundant dinners. This should generate leftovers for lunch.
  • Saturday: Go grocery shopping!
  • Sunday: Crockpot Day! nice warm meals that takes care of itself while I plan lectures, grade, clean up around the house, and, the best part, there’s leftovers.
  • Monday: Burritos. My favorite meal ever.
  • Tuesday: Leftovers
  • Wednesday: Soup or pasta. Bacon Mac and Cheese? Or a more traditional. sopa de albondigas?
  • Thursday: Pizza
  • Friday: Leftovers

The two most important thing I’ve learned about meal prep and storage:

  1. Organize your refrigerator, your pantry, and your dishes! 
  2. Consider investing in three items: A SLOW COOKER, A PANINI PRESS, A WAFFLE MAKERS. These three kitchen gadgets are economical investments and my favorite acquisitions of the semester. I took WAY to long to get around to buying them.

Now, remember, I have a hound at home that requires me walking him at lunch time. I often make myself a turkey, bacon, and tomato panini sandwich for lunch or a fruit salad.

Everyone is happy on a full stomach! Helps me think and save money.

Find your balance but when the plan fails, Bloomington has a great selection of ethnic restaurants down the street from Sample Gates.

Nom Nom Nom

Photo by me (LaNita C)

Photo by me (LaNita C)

The picture above is my weekly meal prep time. It may look like too much food but its an easy way to save money and time for anyone and everyone, whether you are a graduate student or not. Clockwise from top left I have tilapia, pork chops, chicken and potatoes, ground beef and salsa, and steak burgers. Cooking in bulk will save you time because you cook one time for the whole week.

Just a few pointers/tips so you can experiment with meal prepping:

#1- CROCKPOTS I have 2 and I will put meats/veggies in them and let them cook on low or high for hours. EXAMPLE: chicken breasts or drumsticks with some garlic, salt, pepper, and cajun spice and chicken broth on low for 6 hours. Then you can just broil them for a few minutes to get the skin crispy.

#2- EGGS I hard boil about 10-12 eggs for easy breakfast or snacks. I don’t have time to scramble eggs everyday.

#3- FISH So you cant make a ton of fish and expect it to stay fresh- but it will last a day or two. I love tilapia for breakfast. I buy a ton of frozen tilapia fillets. Thaw them and put some cajun or chipotle seasoning on it. Heat a bit of olive oil in non-stick pan and sear it. Adding green chile sauce to it while its in the pan. Easy, fast, lean protein.

#4- LOTS OF TUPPERWARE Yep you need a lot to save in fridge or freezer and to take with you everywhere.

#5- MRS DASH SEASONING (no salt) Great and easy seasoning. I have a cabinet full. Most spices and marinades are full of sodium.

These are just a few suggestions to make life easier when schedules are chaotic!

Piecing Together the Puzzle

Finding time for your research around your class, teaching, and work schedules may seem daunting by itself – but what about fitting your schooling and research into your long term plan, applying for jobs, figuring out a place to live, and finally starting your career?  It can all be overwhelming – but like a puzzle, once you find the corners, build the edges, and sort the pieces, everything starts to fall into place and the middle begins to fill in.

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Sometimes getting through school, job applications, moving, etc. can feel like one big puzzle. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

So don’t despair – there is hope!  No matter how despondent you may feel at times, hold the line and keep plugging along, because you will piece your puzzle together and reach your goals. Continue reading

212° the extra degree

One of my closest friends and mentors once shared a short book with me called 212° the extra degree.  He is a highly successful businessman who is an IU alumnus, former Hoosier football player, and whose dad was also a Hoosier football player who went on to play for the 1972 Miami Dolphins team that went undefeated and won the Super Bowl.  My teammates and I owe him for his continued guidance as we grow from teenagers into adults, and we are all grateful to have him in our lives.

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212° the extra degree by S.I. Parker. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

The premise of 212° the extra degree, is that “at 211 degrees, water is hot.  At 212 degrees, it boils.  And with boiling water, comes steam.  And with steam, you can power a train.”  Now this might sound like a gimmick, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the meaning of this book and how applying its principles can help you advance in your studies, career, and life.

The book discusses how a difference of just 1 degree distinguishes hot water and steam, and goes on to give many examples of how the smallest of differences can have a large impact.  One of my favorite examples is the average margin of victory in the Indianapolis 500 (we are at Indiana University after all) between 1997-2006 is 2.80 seconds, but the first place prize is $1,497,639 whereas the second place price is $587,321.  That 2.80 second difference over 500 miles of racing makes a huge difference in the outcome for the drivers in terms of prestige and prize money.  The book goes on to give examples of where and how you can teach the 212 philosophy and how small changes in your daily life can amount to big returns, such as eliminating 30 minutes of television every day to get 182.5 extra hours (or four and a half weeks of work) each year that you can devote to something else.

I would highly recommend this book, you can read it in about 15 minutes, but the message is powerful and can motivate you to take that tiny bit of extra time and effort to differentiate and distinguish yourself amongst your peers.  So ask yourself, “what have I done today to get that extra degree?”

Relationships Outside of Gradschool: “Okay Denise…”

Photo by http://thestylepagess.blogspot.com/

Photo by http://thestylepagess.blogspot.com/

With Winter in full swing, it’s just about time to start bemoaning the lack of having a significant other. Because I’m on that list, I’d rather curb this discussion to talk about relationships in a different light, particularly with one’s family, during the process of seeking a degree.

I am very close to my family. We have a strong bond centered around a love of food each other, support, and trust. That being said, when it’s holiday time, or time to go visit home, it can get a bit tense, especially when trying to go home and instill upon your family all that enlightenment that has come from higher education.

My sister and I lovingly call out “Okay, Denise,” in reference to the lovable, yet severely out of tune Denise Huxtable from the Cosby Show,whenever we start going off on tangents about how society needs to change, and that our parents need to get with the program of all the new progressive things we have learned while away. It is difficult to remember sometimes that your family is not the same as your cohort, and they aren’t in your same social sphere. While it can feel like everyone around you is learning the same things you are, it is important to remember that graduate school exists in a bubble.

I had become…a Denise with a Master’s degree…

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When things don’t go as expected: Car edition

Regular maintenance with your car will prevent these scary signals from popping up. However, when you have an 5+ old car expect major repairs and bills. Photo courtesy of www.convoyautorepair.com

People tell you to save for grad school.  But what does that money go towards?  The most visible channels of your savings goes to tuition, fees, and living expenses.  However, one of the most unexpected expenses I faced Continue reading

Freezing your Assets: How to Save Money in a Polar Vortex

Photo by gohabitat.net

Photo by gohabitat.net

Any Midwesterner will tell you, the Midwest doesn’t have “mild” temperature very often. Winter is no exception. When it’s cold outside, all one really wants to do is crank up the heater to a toasty 85 degrees, eat chocolate, and sit down to a fun movie, courtesy of Netflix. Unfortunately, doing so will has a direct correlation to the electric bill. I’m going to provide a few tips here for saving money when Jack Frost decides to swoop in and steal away your happiness warmth.
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A Tale of Two Cities

As a disclaimer, this post has nothing to do with the book.

Image courtesy of Google Maps. Edited by Tiphani D

Image courtesy of Google Maps. Edited by Tiphani D

I am a Kansas City native (from the better, more functional Missouri side, not the dark, desolate Kansas side), and I used to be a fair weather fan; I didn’t want to be there when I was in high school, but when I went off to college and  then graduate school, I missed it terribly. What can be said…often times, the adult longs for the crib as it were; recalling a place where life was all about coloring, watching Disney movies (without analyzing it down to the pixels), and eating cereal, laden with refined sugar.

I almost didn’t trust myself on this topic, due to the extreme bias it permits me to take, without really having to provide any empirical evidence, or legitimate scholarly insight. However, I will attempt to make this post somewhat informative, in that it will hopefully assist as a guide for how to get through the “This city is (insert colorful adjective, noun, or noun phrase here)” inner dialogue, that will without question, plague your mind at least twice a week.

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