How Do You Eat an Elephant?

One Bite at a TimeThere are times of the year when the demands of work and life can become overwhelming. As we transition from one season, holiday, life event, or even school term to the next, we often find our TO DO lists becoming increasingly long and daunting.  I’ve always been a list maker.  It has helped me enormously in shifting the burden from my working memory to a surrogate memory holder (post its, bullet journal, scrap paper, etc.) and has alleviated a great deal of stress.  Trying to remember everything that needs to be done, is only one of the challenges that needs attention, however.

Once we transfer our intended tasks to paper, how do we tackle the enormity of what we hope to accomplish?  Rarely do we go down a list and systematically check off an entire task before initiating the next. We tend to multi-task and look for ways to combine activities to accomplish more. How many of you are like me and jot a few items on the list you have already completed, just so you can feel some sense of satisfaction and avoid a sense of defeat?

How do you prioritize your To-Dos?  Do you try to pick the “low hanging fruit” and get the simple tasks out of the way? That can help you feel like you are making a dent, but then you are left with the more difficult tasks when you are often more tired and frazzled. Do you try to take on the big tasks and then see nothing checked off as completed at the day’s end? I don’t believe there is ONE right way to prioritize, it really depends upon the personality of the person creating the list.

However, there is one thing I have done this past year that has helped me immensely. TINY GOALS.  I realized I was often procrastinating on complex tasks because I knew I couldn’t finish them. But now I look at the task and set tiny goals to break it down into more manageable chunks.  For example, I was working on my National Boards and many of the component pieces were time consuming and complicated and I would need to work on them after a long day of teaching or on my weekends. In the past I would have put them off and done some other things that took less mental energy. But by setting a tiny goal: I’m just going to write one paragraph for this section, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed and I got it done. I felt accomplished, and after several days the section was done. In the past I would have stressed for several days about getting the section done, with no work to show for it.

Sometimes I set a timer. I’m only going to work on this for 15 minutes. At the end of that time I usually stop, without guilt. Sometimes however, I find the energy and motivation to keep going a bit longer. Either way, I have done more in 15 minutes than I would have done procrastinating because the task was emotionally exhausting.

Think about some task that you have been putting off or stressing out over.  What could you reasonable tackle in 10 or 15 minutes today? Create a tiny goal that is achievable and take a bite out of that task. Celebrate your success. Remind yourself that you have moved closer to completion and alleviated a bit of stress.  Realize just how doable this is. Don’t push yourself past your tiny goal unless you are enthusiastically motivated-otherwise you are defeating the purpose for setting them.

Though I hate the thought of eating an elephant, the saying rings so true! Turn those bites into tiny goals and reframe your idea of success and you might alleviate a lot of stress in your life the way I did!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Cassie Arroyo is an American student who is studying in Rome with her father, an art history professor. One day her life is turned upside down when her father pulls her from school unexpectedly and they are chased by gunmen.  Her father is wounded but gives Cassie mysterious directions and scant information before she leaves him at the hospital. She flees to her friends home and together, with the help of a secret organization they try to decipher the clues to help her find her now missing father, and find out why she is the target of assassination. Lots of twists and turns in this fast-paced middle grade novel. I loved it even more because I had just visited many of the sites in Rome that are settings for this mystery and I always love strong female protagonists.  A Maine Student Book Award nominee that is worth a read!

Blog Break is Over!

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed an absence of posts since the Slice of Life Challenge ended in March.  Though I haven’t been blogging, I have been writing. A week ago I finally finished and submitted the last two components for my National Board work.  Being a National Board Certified Teacher has been on my bucket list, and now it is in the hands of the NBPT assessors.

Anyone who has been through this process can appreciate how grueling and yet how rewarding the work can be.  It is certainly not for the faint of heart. One of the hardest parts is the waiting. (Tom Petty was right).  I won’t get my results until December-that’s SEVEN.LONG.MONTHS.

So to fill that void, left by the nonstop work on my boards, I am happy to announce I have a new project.  My latest book proposal was just accepted by Stenhouse Publishers and so I will be busy working on that manuscript.


The tentative title is Quick Writes: Unlocking Potential in Every K-6 Writer and I’ll be exploring the role of more low-stakes writing for helping students to discover the writer inside and develop skills without the stress of grades or judgement.

And I am eager to return to my blog where I play with ideas, share experiences, and document my teaching journey. But it’s dance recital and Mother’s Day weekend so this one is brief.   Have a great week.

What’s On My Book Radar

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 8.44.41 AMThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Occasionally I drift away from kidlit land to the world of grown up books, and on a recent trip I downloaded this to my kindle. What a timely tale! When we read about attempts to curb the press, limit women’s choices over their own bodies, and ignore science, facts, and reason we can see the groundwork being laid for a dystopian society like Gilead. Offred is a handmaid in Gilead whose tale was discovered in Bangor, Maine 150 years after she recorded it. She tells of a life stripped of humanity for the sake of law and order and adherence to strict observance of theocracy. I can see why so many people are reading this book right now and I am certainly glad I did.

Why I Write


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Thank you to everyone in the slicing community this month who has helped me to live a more writerly life! I have loved reading about your children, parents, friendships and pets. I was uplifted by your challenges and triumphs. I have been inspired by your creative spirit and style. I appreciated your comments and connections on my own posts. I will continue to follow many of you and hope that our paths will continually cross through life-if not in person than through our words posted online. Keep writing, keep reading, keep living and loving.

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There’s a Shirt Out There Somewhere

slice-of-life_individualI’ve been teaching a long time. So long that I can’t remember all of those moments that I swore

Moe and I sporting our kidlit shirts (that kid on the left is me)

I’d never forget! Last night my friend Moe posted a picture on Facebook of her and I in our early years of teaching together. Back then I taught a first grade and Moe taught a pre-first. Oh man, did we have fun! Just the sight of that one picture flooded me with memories…

I used to read and reread books to my class and then we’d make our own version as a big book. We had quite a collection of Brown Bear Brown Bear, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Where the Wild Things Are, and anything by Tomie DePaolo. I’d spend hours at home recreating the covers and we’d bind the student pages together. Then we’d read and reread our own versions and keep them in the classroom library.

Each year we’d do at least one class play based on a favorite children’s book-long before readers’ theater became a thing. We’d invite our neighboring classes and even parents if they could come. Of course we’d have to have a cast party and our beloved lunch lady, Joan, always made us the yummiest cookies. Our room was literally where the wild things were.

And one of my favorite activities was creating kidlit character shirts for my students who met their reading goals.  They’d pledge to read a certain number of books and when they succeeded, they could bring me in any shirt and choose any children’s book character and I would draw it on for them. I went through hundreds of fabric markers in those days.

It was fun reading the comments on that Facebook post and reminiscing with those colleagues. But the best comment came from a former student, ” Just as I remember you both 😊 I still have my shirt we made with the Little Critters characters!” That blew me away. This former student is all grown up with kids of her own, but she still has a shirt I made her from first grade. Just goes to show, we never know what kind of impact we’ll make on our students that will linger.Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.16.20 PM

There’s a shirt out there somewhere with Max and a Wild Thing, with Little Critter and his mom, with Strega Nona and her pasta pot, with a coconut tree filled with letters, or a Magic School Bus racing to adventures. Maybe it’s tucked in a drawer, or on a shelf at Goodwill, or even on the child of the owner.

There’s a shirt out there made with love and once worn with pride and I almost forgot it existed.

Sharing a Pint With a Stranger


I try not to let the little things get to me, but it has been raining and sleeting for two dreary days and I was feeling more like hibernating than giving blood last night. I made my appointment  for 5:45 because I almost always have some meeting after school. Well, today I didn’t so I thought I’d go early to see if I could get in. “Can’t take you right now.  Come back in 45 minutes.” the Red Cross volunteer tells me.

“Do I need to get on a list or sign in?” I ask.

“No, just come back in about 45 minutes.” I go home and read through some work on my national boards and then head back. There are more people waiting. So I approach the volunteer  and let her know I’ve returned.

Oh, all these people are ahead of you. It’ll be about 45 minutes.” (UGH.)  I remind her that’s what she told me 45 minutes ago. I realize she hadn’t changed my appointment time.

So if I come back in 45 minutes you’re not saying I’ll get in then are you?”  I ask.

“Well, if no one is ahead of you…”  (UGH. )

“I’ll be back for my 5:45 appointment.” I head back home and do a bit more work, and try it again.

I walk in and only one person is sitting and waiting. I approach volunteer again.”Third time’s a charm I hope.” I smile.

“Do you have an appointment?”….. (UGH. )

A short time later I’m lying on the table, squeezing a small ball, and pumping some O+ into a plastic bag. I was perseverating a bit on the annoyance of the process when I realized how “annoying” it must be to be on the other side of this supply/demand equation.

I’m sharing a pint with someone who was probably having a truly bad day, someone who would trade places with my annoyance in a heartbeat, someone who might not make it through the day without the fruit of my frustration. Perspective, Paula, perspective.

So I’m toasting the pint to the stranger I’ll share it with…

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.

                                                                                                 -Irish Blessing



Privilege Primer


  • “I don’t need to march, I’m not oppressed.” 
  • “They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
  • “I’m not racist. Those people are just looking for attention.” 
  • “My ancestors came here legally.”
  • “How do you not know what sex you are?”  
  • “They’re rapists, and some I assume are good people
  • “She’s too shrill. She’s such a b***ch!”
  • He shouldn’ta been wearing a hoodie.”
  • They don’t want equal rights, they want special rights.”
  • He’s so disrespectful not standing for the National Anthem.”
  • “I just start kissing them, I don’t even wait.”
  • Nobody helped me!”

What I’ve Learned From My Place of Privilege

Privilege is when you aren’t constantly reminded of…

Your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your income, your education, Your identity.

Privilege is when you don’t have to fear…

The police, the government, the landlord, the neighborhood watch, your future

Privilege is when you don’t have to think about…

Where you drive, how to talk, what you wear, who you date, where you live, pigmentation

Privilege is when you can choose…

Who you’ll marry,  where to dine, which color of car to drive, what college you’ll attend

Privilege is when you can choose not to…

March for someone’s rights, listen to someone’s pleas, tune in to disturbing news, see color.

Privilege is never having a reason to notice your privilege or deny its existence.

Privilege does not require an apology…but seeks acknowledgement

Privilege does not demand a sense of guilt…but should engender gratitude.

Privilege is not possessed by only few, but often only perceived in others.

My privilege can empower me,

to push others down

or lift others up

Privilege is relative…Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 9.38.35 PM

Privilege is real.


The In Between

slice-of-life_individualThe In Between varies it’s arrival time.  Some days, hours early, other days much later. Sometimes it is a welcome visitor and others, an unwanted intruder. The In Between slips in unannounced in those minutes or hours ‘tween sleep and rising.

I lie in bed dozing and the In Between caresses my mind, enticing me to engage. It starts interjecting images or ideas as teasers, waiting to see which will seduce my cataleptic state.

Sometimes I consent to the intrusion and I am gifted with flashes of inspiration. Creative conceptions overwhelm me and I race for a pen to capture them before they retreat.

Other times I resist as a cascade of catastrophizing contemplation consumes me. Distress disturbs my  dreams and worry wakens me.

Where does the In Between come from? Where does it retreat? Why does it choose to haunt and daunt me one morn, yet motivate and invigorate the next, leaving me vexed and perplexed at the dawn of the day?

The answer absconds and I rise to meet the day, while the In Between withdraws into murky memory.

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Tax Reminders

Today is my tax day.  As I pulled together files and receipts and forms, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on 2016.  All of these papers were evidence of the life I lived. It gave tax preparation a whole new meaning and perspective for me.


Taxes are a reminder..

That I am paid for doing what I love.

That I bought some really awesome books last year.

That I traveled to new places to learn new things.

That some people actually bought my book.

That my home really is my castle.

That I have two dependents that mean the world to me.

That marriage to this amazing guy is always an advantage.

That I am contributing to the welfare of others.

That I am a citizen of an already great nation.

That I existed.


Thou Shalt Covet

slice-of-life_individualIt was a long day, followed by parent conference night.  It was a little disheartening when there were a few cancellations from parents I really wanted to meet. I walked down the hallway, headed for the teachers’ room, and around the corner raced TJ*.

Hey buddy, slow down there.

He pulled up, clutching a book to his chest. His dad caught up with him. I introduced myself. “Yeah, she teaches us,” he told his dad. I explained that I am the literacy coach who comes in to work in his kindergarten during reading and writing workshops.

I gotta book!” TJ thrust it out to me.

What’s it called?” I asked.

Read it.  Read right here,” he swiped his fingers across the title.

Mouse Paint?” I asked him.

Yeah. That’s my book. I got this in Title I. I’m in Title I now.” he beamed.

I heard. That’s awesome.  You’ll get to read lots of books,” I said.

Yeah, but this one’s my book!” He pulled it to his chest.

He and his dad headed down the hall.

May you always be so covetous of your books my little reader.” I prayed.


*not his real name