Reader Question On Getting Started

Recently a reader asked about getting started.

Hi steve,

I am just about to start to record my thoughts in an organized way.

Any suggestions plz


Hi Sara,

Thanks for writing!

Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and as you go along you’ll learn more about what you need. But, here are some things I do that almost always me stay on an even keel:

(in no particular order, or format)

  1. Simple gratitude – I write down at least three reasons I should be happy. Usually I start with a few obvious ones, like that I’m not being tortured and don’t have an infected tooth or whatever. Usually I end up finishing a page, and usually I find a few items that weren’t so obvious.
  2. What’s making me anxious or is on my mind causing worry. A simple list – things I should have done but didn’t get to (like making a dentist appointment, or paying a bill), upcoming presentation/assignment/deadline, that kind of stuff. When I have it all down, I go back and write a simple todo for each one. Much of the time there isn’t anything to do – which reminds me that I need to not get wound up about things I cannot change. Just getting this stuff down helps a lot in keeping me sane.
  3. Stuff I really want to buy. I have a list in the back of my notebook. I’m prone to getting the gottahavits for stuff, much of which I do not need and then the lust pasts and I’m glad I just wrote it down instead of buying it. If it’s already on the list, I add a check mark. If something has a bunch of marks, then I feel I can buy it with a clear conscience.
  4. What do I want? In a broader sense – to be thinner? Travel more? Learn a language? By doing this I’ve learned there are things I keep coming back to, but I fall behind when I get distracted by new things. This helps me focus better on the things that are a better fit for me.
  5. Last but not least, what is going on in my life right now? Where have I been and what have I been doing? Some of the most entertaining reading is from entries when I was single, or married but no kids, compared to now being married with three kids. Such a different life! I can see how I’ve grown and gotten a bit wiser, and it’s also nostalgic. On trips and vacations it’s even more valuable because it helps me avoid mishaps on the next trip.

This last one can be the hardest to do because it’s hard to judge how much to write, how much detail, etc. My advice is write what you’d tell your mom or a good friend, or both. Try that for a while and adjust.

I hope that helps!


The Classroom Friendly Sharpener

One of the challenges of running an elementary grade classroom is noise. As my wife, Susan, says of her class, “Asking a kid to ignore 39 other kids when they’re trying to work is asking a lot”. Most adults can’t do it very well either.

Many teachers use an electric pencil sharpener but they can be quite noisy, and are expensive to buy and don’t last very long. The good old days when the school provided these kinds of supplies (heck, any supplies) are long gone.

So Classroom Friendly Supplies offers us a manual hand crank pencil sharpener. The idea is that it is quieter and longer lasting than an electric. I also suspect, because it is work, there’s perhaps less of a tendency to use it to grind every pencil down to a nubbin.

Classroom friendly was kind enough to send a sharpener for me and my wife to look at. I compared it to the venerable Mitsubishi KH-20, and Susan saw how the kids got along with it.

Compared to the Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi KH-20 is light, attractive, inexpensive, and entirely plastic. It also has no clamp. It sharpens very, very well.

But it is not very sturdy. The handle on the crank is held on my a rivet that likes to work itself out of its hole. The bottom has a dainty pad of foam that keeps it from scratching surfaces, but is not very durable. There is a button to limit how sharp the pencil can get, which is a nice feature.

The Classroom Friendly sharpener, by comparison, is heavy, metal, and a bit less refined. It is built like a tank but it retains the important features. The pencil is held by a clamp so it is sharpened properly. The cutter can be removed to fish out broken points (common with colored pencils) and the waste drawer is clear so at least there’s a chance to see it’s full before it gets too full and jams things up.

The sharpener has a table clamp included so it can be fastened down. There is also a permanent screw-down mount available. This both makes it easier to sharpen, and keeps the sharpener in one place.

I found the sharpening to be just as good as with the Mitsubishi, but the overall feel is a bit more clunky. The plastic gears in the Mitsubishi will always be smoother than the metal gears in the CF sharpener, but probably less durable.

The Mitsubishi is $33 at

The Classroom Friendly sharpener is a lot less, you can get 3 of them for less than $60 at They also have spare parts, and many colors to choose from.


Susan likes the sharpener overall. While more steps are required than an electric sharpener, and it is not much if any quieter and marginally less disruptive, it sharpens very well. It handles wrapped pencils well. One student has become the sharpener master, but all the kids are able to use it without trouble. It’s a second-grade class.

IMG_7594 IMG_7595 IMG_7596

The pencil clamp mechanism has two small black plastic pieces that form the handles. Those can come off, and one day Susan found one on the other side of the classroom. It doesn’t break the sharpener per-se, but it is a piece that could be lost.

A good deal

The Mitsubishi is $33 at

The Classroom Friendly sharpener is a lot less, you can get 3 of them for less than $60 at So, for the price of a decent electric sharpener, you could have three of these instead – placed around a classroom they should eliminate any line at the sharpener. They also have spare parts (try finding those for an electric), and many colors to choose from.

While I use the Mitsubishi at home and it is a bit more refined, for a classroom there’s no contest. The Classroom Friendly sharpener is much less expensive and more solidly built, and has a table clamp and spare parts available.

Have a look!