Category Archives: Inspiration

Compilation of Junot Diaz Stories!


Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.13.20 PM

Junot Diaz‘s writing has strong voice that never, ever shakes.  If you’ve never read him, now’s your chance.  Enjoy these free stories in print and in audio.  These are perfect for any reader and especially English teachers.  His language might be a little dicey for the classroom at times, but his characters speak the way teenagers speak, so find a school leadership ally and ask for support in bringing an authentic Dominican voice to your classroom.

A huge thank you to Josh Jones for putting this list together. Whydontcha give him a follow?


If You’re Sassy And You Own It, Raise Your Hand: Top Chef Season 13 Sneak Peak


top-chef-13-0-0Top Chef Season 13 premieres on Wednesday and Bravo offered fans an eleven minute amuse-bouche into the first competition. Internet snarksters are already wishing  cheftestant Renee Kelly culinary doom.


Kelly had had the nerve to….renee-kelly

….call herself “the super-sassy chef from Kansas City” and to express outward enthusiasm for her career.

I’m not joking.  She loves her job.  That’s her crime, folks.

She is HAPPY. Check it out at 1:10:

If it were a bearded, tattooed male hipster who’d called himself “sassy,” I would bet dollars to daikon that he would have received some giggles, tolerant eye-rolls, and even some bro-like pats on the back. But Kelly is literally mocked by one of her competitors in the next interview.

This is the conundrum of being a woman.  Look approachable but not too perky.  Be enthusiastic but stay serious. This interview with best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner provides insight into the struggle for women to be taken seriously:

“If you’re smiling in your (color) author photo, it’s chick lit. If you’re smirking, or giving a stern, thin-lipped stare in your black-and-white picture, and if you go out of your way in every interview to talk about how “unserious books do not deserve serious attention,” then it’s literature”

This exact article made me rethink my own professional head shot. I was torn between two.  One happy, one serious.  What was the message to my readers?

Here’s what it boiled down to:   I’m a generally happy person.  I was thrilled my book was published.  If someone won’t read my book because I look happy, well, that wasn’t  my problem.

So this is me. Happy.  Because I get to do what makes my heart sing: write and teach. Deal with it.

Or don’t.

You’ve got this, Chef Renee.  Keep smiling that sassy smile. We need you.

Harlen Photo

I’m a happy writer. Deal with it.

#SmarterSunday: 2016 In Three Words Or Less



My life became unmoored in 2015: my beloved uncle died in January; my amazing grandmother died in April; I left a job that was my professional home for ten years; I started an amazing new job that challenges in me in tough ways; my cousin is very sick with lymphoma.   The image that comes to mind when I think of 2015 is a balloon floating into the sky.  It’s not at all what I anticipated.

This article by Donna Talarico  has given me a way to feel more anchored as I end this bittersweet year and look forward to a happier 2016. I hope her words can help you frame your bliss, too.


#SmarterSunday: Two Harts Beating For Social Justice


“It was just a normal day” is the beginning of many stories, often sad.

September 11th, 2001.

The day my Uncle Harvey died.

But not this time. This time, this normal day became a revelation.

It was my first day volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County, so I was going on an orientation delivery.  I helped Bill and Evelyn Hart load their car with the coolers and we started our route.  We made small talk and when we started talking about my job as a teacher, Evelyn said in passing that she taught in an underground literacy program in Alabama during the 196o’s.  As a teacher, I was fascinated and inspired by her story.

That February, Evelyn spoke at my school’s Black History Night about her experience as this “secret teacher.”  One of our students asked if she’d ever contacted her maid and Evelyn said she hadn’t. That made Evelyn think…

The rest is in this article written by the talented Margie Peterson.



Make Today Count Again


Suzie and I making today count at a Penn State Game #girlfriendsrock #selfcare

Sometimes a piece of writing sticks. I’m really proud of this post I wrote for life coach Suzie Bichovsky’s blog, so I’ll share it again.

The best part: I’ve been in touch with Sue Jeffer’s family and have been able to personally tell them how much their sister and aunt’s mantra means to me.

Enjoy. Read it here.

#SmarterSunday: The J Word

#SmarterSunday:  The J Word

Until last week, I was a notorious juster.IMG_8950

I’m writing you just to see if…

Oh, I’m just working on my next book..

I need just a few minutes of your time…

Until I read this article by Ellen Petry Leanse, I had no idea how often I was potentially sabotaging my credibility.  Do you need to drop the J word, too?

For Anyone Who Questions Their Path

For Anyone Who Questions Their Path

YES hand

 Sometimes writing is just above silverfish (I can’t even hyperlink…ewww…do it yourself) on my list of things that are scary.  I’m not too proud to admit it – I doubt myself.

And then I get over it.

And then I doubt myself.

And then I get over it.

You get the pattern.

That’s why it was fun to write this piece for Connect With The Chicklit Club.  

Writing this was a good reminder to just get it done and see what happens.  But never forget about the silverfish that scampered under the sink. Never.  :0