Pomodoro Technique

pomodorWhen I need to get something done, I set my timer and I don’t look up for 25 minutes. Today, I’m working on a writing project for United Methodist Women. It’s hard to get into it. But honestly, like anything, once I’m in the zone, I love it. I take great satisfaction in doing a difficult job well.

Sometimes, I con myself, saying, ‘You only have to look at your project for 25 minutes.’ But of course once I pull the file up on my laptop, I can’t just sit there gazing passively, I have to tinker. I focus on only one project during the entire 25 minute allotment. Staying on one task at a time is essential for me, a noted and proud multi-tasker.

When I’m in a pomodoro, nothing interrupts me; I do my writing. When the timer on my phone or laptop goes off, I might stretch for 5 minutes or, more commonly, scan my Twitter feed.

Then I set the timer again and start on another pomodoro. I like to think the pomodoro was invented because founder Francesco Cirillo saw his grandmother making pasta sauce and realized you need 25 minutes to make a really good sauce. But I think it’s because his timer reminded him of a tomato; pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

After four pomodoros, it’s time to give yourself a 30-minute break. ProcrastinEating, perhaps?

I learned the pomodoro technique at my old coworking space, New Work City. I got a lot of support there. We, coworkers, inspired each other to achieve our productivity goals.

Time yourself. Be accountable. Get support. Stay on task. Focus.

Let’s go team. Go on out there and get it done. It only takes 25 minutes.

The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness. In addition, there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus. Actions seem effortless and there is an increased belief that your dreams or goals can become achievable and real. In addition, there is also a sense of deep enjoyment when the person is in this unique, special and magical state of being. – Sports Psychologist Dr. Jay Granat


Extreme Kindness

I was at a faculty meeting where the administrator kept raving about one particular teacher and I felt like pulling my turtleneck over my head. Why did she not praise others? Was that one teacher her favorite? I suddenly realized, This is what a child feels like when a parent overly praises a sibling.

Children see their parents as if they were Olympic judges flashing scorecards. If one gymnast is getting straight 10s, that must mean I am getting 7s or 8s, and, let’s face it, a perfect score is nearly impossible to beat, so why even try?

But, here in the workplace conference room, we are all adults, not children. Shouldn’t we enjoy the success of our colleagues? I am going to try to enjoy other’s success, even if it feels, like, I am being passed over.

Just for today, I am going to make a secret vow to be exceedingly kind to everyone I meet. And in my generosity, I will pick no favorites.

I am hell-bent on fairness. As a teacher, I am exceedingly kind, yet I am firm and set boundaries. I am not a freakin’ doormat. Sometimes students ‘call out’ over me or another student, I will note such interruptions, respectively, asking gently, ‘Please wait your turn,’ or ‘Quick reminder: Raise your hand next time.’ I choose not to correct in a shaming way.

“Quit calling out. You’re being rude.” I have heard teachers (at another school) label students as ‘rude.’ Truly, students are motivated towards comedy, amusing one other and themselves. But I do not believe they are intentionally rude. Or are they? I’m sure behavioral psychologists have figured out at what age a child’s disrespect becomes willful or intentional. What is the age of self-control? It must arrive sometime after First Grade.

Why does kindness seem so hard? Is it that we’re giving away a bit of ourselves? Is it that giving something away goes against our human / animal tendency to hoard — hoard things like compliments? I’m not sure. All I know is that as I’m giving more and more kindness away, I haven’t lost a thing. If anything, the rewards keep rolling in.

It’s not always easy. Still. Keep on keeping on with by showing of extreme acts of daily kindness in words and deeds.

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Yesterday, I walked along the Reservoir from the east to the west side to meet friends.

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people. – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Incidentally, I realized I wrote about excessive kindness three years ago. October must be my season for reflecting on matters of kindness in the classroom.

Be an Artist of Life

  • Who am I?
  • What is real?
  • What is love?

These are the three questions in a new book by Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of the Four Agreements, which, you may recall, are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Take nothing personally
  • Make no assumptions
  • Always do your best

I was reminded of these when I listened to Maria Shriver interview Ruiz on her Sunday Morning Architects of Change newsletter.

Shriver said we are all artists of our lives and she and Ruiz agreed that we are also presidents of our own countries. I like these ideas.

I know that I am a creative person. While I am dedicating this month to documenting my creativity daily, I often feel powerless over my family situation and over this once-great country. (Just today, the country’s leader engaged in unkind, sophomoric name-calling in a way that I  would not allow my students or children to speak to one another.) I believe, leaders should follow the four agreements, especially the first.

Even more disturbing today is the fate of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggiin at the hands of a murderous regime whom the pres calls friends. We must, as a country, return to a nation of truth and honor. Realize and value that journalists are searching for the truth, as are artists.

In my own efforts to increase my search for more truth, empathy and kindness, I feel, at times, rudderless. Whom shall I follow? Are we all making it up as we go along? I think so. This is life — we are all improvising our own efforts to bring more hope to the world.

I find hope in the four agreements and the three questions.

Because creativity is such an individualized journey, we may not always see the guide in front of us. Yet, we are being led. And we must follow the path of creativity and kindness. We also have to be okay with uncertainty on our journey.

I am grateful to my month-long commitment to becoming more creative. I vow to continue to live my most creative life by increasing my activism, writing, painting, and teaching. And not losing hope.


Change the Narrative

Susanne Craig, a business reporter with the New York Times, is a hero of mine. She co-authored the story that proved Trump’s folksy narrative of himself as self-made billionaire is a lie.

This investigation into the fraud and financial misdealings of our commander in chief was the first story the Times has ever published twice — one time mid-week, and then again in last Sunday’s paper. The team combed through more than 100,000 financial documents over 18 months. The eight-page story follows the charade of shady financial dealings of the Trump family.

Asked about the administration’s animosity towards the press, Craig replied, “You have a president who believes that the Bill of Rights starts at the Second Amendment.”

That being true, “Donald J. Trump is as good for the media as war is good for the economy,” she quipped.

In preparing to publish the ground-breaking story on Trump’s misconduct and deceitful practices, the Times gave the pres a month to respond. “Stories are always richer when the other side comments,” she said. However, he did not comment (or deny).

Craig cautioned us several times that sources must understand that a reporter can never induce them to give a reporter evidence. A journalist can only receive evidence if it is unsolicited.

In looking to the future, she did not refute the possibility of another financial meltdown. The current administration is “going after protections that were put in place” to safeguard the economy, like the Dodd Frank Act.

I am inspired and impressed by the work ethic of Susanne Craig. It’s clear from listening to her that all presidents should release their taxes and ‘end this charade.’ This way we will know if they are in the pocket of industries, countries, or special interests. Follow the money to find the truth.

In 2016, Susanne Craig was the recipient of the three pages of 1995 tax returns that appeared in her mailbox at the New York Times. The itemized loss of a billion dollars meant that Trump received a billion dollar gift card.

As we continue to learn news of Jared Kushner’s lack of paying ANY taxes, I am grateful for journalists who comb through arcane tax codes and pages of documents.

The truth will come out. It always does. The resilience and reporting of journalists like Craig is a gift card to the American people.

Susanne Craig speaks to students at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership.

Investigative Reporting

Dogged determination. Facts. Empathy. Fairness. These are just some of the attributes of investigative reporter Mike Rezendes of the Boston Globe Spotlight team.

Rezendes, who began reporting on the Boston Catholic clergy abuses of children and youth some sixteen years ago, has noted a change in society of late. Back when he began, when people came forward with allegations of crimes, they were seen as shady. And they were, generally, not believed. Even children were not believed by their parents. The ‘sea change?’ “Now they’re listened to. They have credibility. That was profoundly satisfying,” Rezendes said.

Asked about the attributes of an investigative reporter, he replied, ‘Be naturally empathetic, curious, a good listener.’ He also said that, along with his fellow Spotlight reporters, he “became an amateur psychologist. When you’re a reporter you pick it up as you go along.”

He laughed when asked whether Mark Ruffalo was an apt actor to play him in the film Spotlight. He reported that Ruffalo and he, besides sharing the same initials, shared similar characteristics. (And Ruffalo might have nailed Rezendes a little too accurately.)


Hearing the wisdom of Rezendes and Susanne Craig, who I will write about tomorrow, at the homecoming and family weekend of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington DC, and the brilliant students who questioned them, totally inspired me. These young people and journalists have great integrity.

While I am a fast and good (humble) writer, I am not a dogged writer. I lose interest in stories that require lengthy research. I joke that my favorite parts of journalism are accepting the job and accepting the paycheck. It’s all the in-between stuff that I find difficult.

That’s not completely true, I do love interviewing people too. I like to cut through B.S. and get to what matters to people. My motto? Go deep fast.

Back to the seismic shifts in the betterment of society from the reporting of Rezendes and Craig — I believe that there is a sea change of honesty and empathy emerging in our national conversations. I have hope that my fellow civilians will treasure the work of the press the way I do.

Asked about how they respond when naysayers call the media ‘fake’ or deny the facts, Rezendes said, “Get the documents. Get the proof. Push for evidence.”

Regarding his own reporting on the institutional abuse of children by the Boston clergy, he said, “I wanted to be as fair as I could be…I’m a paid skeptic.”

As Noah Bopp, founder of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, said at the outset of this panel, “Our ethos is to be empathetic.”

From left, Reporters Susanne Craig, Mike Rezendes, interviewer Valeria Gonzalez, and School for Ethics and Global Leadership founder Noah Bopp at the homecoming weekend.

Creative Disobedience

“I said my piece in a shaky voice,” Stephanie Wilkinson said about the night in June when she quietly turned away Sarah Huckabee Sanders from her restaurant.

Ms. Wilkinson is the co-founder and co-owner of The Red Hen, and she characterized her action as a “private act of conscience, not meant to be public.” The only reason her small action made it to the evening news and became a part of the national discourse was that a server posted the story on Facebook.

“This was about our own personal stand.” Since that quiet moment on the patio when she asked Ms. Sanders to leave, she’s received more than four thousand pieces of mail (including, literally, ‘pieces of shit.’)

From that small chat, a larger conversation emerged — when and with whom do our colleagues feel safe? Is this simply a sign of our polarized nation? Is a restaurant a public or private space; that is, is a restaurant more like a club than an open public park? It is, most assuredly, a business.

Ms. Wilkinson said, Yes, dining together — breaking bread — is personal, but it’s also political. As a restaurant that serves farm-to-table food, ‘We have to think about the immigrants who are picking our strawberries.’ Or the hands in the kitchen preparing our salad. Also, the context matters. How do you treat a person who fails to apologize for the lies of our executive in chief? How about someone who dismisses sexual abuse?

Is the person who explains policy about, basically, kidnapping children at our border welcome to dinner at your home?

“Would you serve Hitler? Would you serve Osama Bin Laden? Someone who kidnapped your child? ….Everybody has a line,” Wilkinson said. “What is the line you will not cross?” By asking Sanders to leave, Wilkinson and her staff addressed the inhumane and dangerous practices of the administration.

Not too be dramatic, Ms. Wilkinson said, but that was the context of the June evening when Ms. Sanders and her party quietly exited the restaurant.

While many people disagree with the choice the staff at the Red Hen that night, ‘business is up at the Red Hen. Business is up in the town.’ (Business is also good for Nike, led by Colin Kaepernick’s civil disobedience.)

Asked whether she would have taken the same action, had she known the outcome, Ms. Wilkinson replied, “I sleep very well at night. I have a staff who sleeps very well at night.”

While she does receive hate mail, she also receives gratitude mail. People have purchased gift cards from the restaurant. She has received meaningful letters, like the one that says, ‘I am an immigrant. What you did makes me feel there are people who stand with me.’

I am far left talking to Wilkinson beside me and two other mothers at the homecoming for the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington DC today.


Parenting an Empty Nest

Feeling bittersweet, my kids are growing up. Today my daughters turn 19.

I wanted kids so badly and got unbelievably lucky, thanks to God and the science of fertility, to have them. (Not that we didn’t try, endlessly and enjoyably, the old-fashioned way.)

It was about two decades ago, I was waiting to hear if I was pregnant. I recall exiting the 72nd Street subway, knowing there would be an answering machine message at home with the pregnancy results. The whole world seemed super taut — like a too-tight, vibrating guitar string. I was reverberating on a super-high frequency. And I noticed all the commuters going about their ordinary lives. And I thought, ‘None of them is going through what I’m going through.’ The stakes were high. I hoped I would not burst before I got home to find out the news.

And it was a YES! The universe (and science) gave us what we were longing for.

Fast forward all these years. The chicks have flown the coop. I sort of hate the Empty Nest metaphor. After all, New York City kids are pretty independent, flying around on Uber accounts as if they were magic carpets.

On the plus side, the house stays way neater, but sadly, there’s way less liveliness. Dinner time is most difficult for us. Chris still slowly cooks way too much food for just the two of us. We forget that we are not feeding vegetarians and we still, healthily, eat mostly meatless meals. Over our meal, we talk about the kids or about our work or creative projects.

And then, we watch Jeopardy. See, as kids grow up and move out, there is this one consolation prize: game shows. Is this pathetic? Yes, and it is also very fun. The two of us discuss how well we do on our favorite categories of Entertainment and Literature. And then, we might play Gin Rummy. Then, for me, it’s time for bed with a book.

In any case, once a month, the pattern is disrupted. The chicks return home. Or maybe a nephew or friend will come to stay, briefly populating our empty rooms, adding dinner table conversation or another hand to deal at the card table.

When our kids were young, I was told endlessly, ‘The years go fast, the days go slow.’ And it is unbearably true.

So cherish each day, each year. Mark the birthdays with joy and remembrance of how badly you wanted these darlings. And then, remember, how, when they came into the world, they surprised and exceeded every hope and dream. Their childhood was not always easy, but, oh, it was undeniably worth it.

Let love for your family still fill your heart. And then, after feeling all these feelings — the waves of gratitude and love, tune in to Jeopardy.

People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth of their stories are the real badasses. – Dr. Brené Brown, Rising Strong

I tried to take a selfie with Alex Trebek but he disappeared and all I’m left with is this selfie with the Jeopardy contestants.