HOFFMAN: Pretty, productive, tomato-like

Good for perfectionists and procrastinators alike


Because I write, I’m always looking for hints to improve the quality or quantity of my writing. I also want to convey helpful, writerly guidelines to students I teach, such as those in OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).

In one week, I received two emails with similar messages. The first had bullet points attributed to R.L. Stine. No. 6 was: “Set a timer for 13 minutes. Write something — anything until the timer goes off. When it dings, if the writing is going well, set it for another 13 minutes. If it’s not going well, leave and do something else for the next 13 minutes, then return.” I contemplated using a timer and thought about how I needed one —  not for writing but for chores. It’s difficult for me to make myself vacuum, dust or clean commodes — even for five minutes.

After pondering Stine’s advice, I ran across a blog from an author’s webpage advocating the benefits of using a pomodoro. A pomodoro is a little “tomato-looking” timer. So, I googled “pomodoro” on Amazon. This kitchen timer is shaped like a cute little red tomato device. It breaks work into segments of 25 minutes. Then, there’s a pause. Pomodoro is the Italian word for “tomato,” and this timer method was named after Francesco Cirillo, who used it while a university student. He coined the phrase “Pomodoro technique.” Good for perfectionists and procrastinators alike.

I ordered five. I was thinking about my young grandchildren, who could use it to time their chores, tablet viewing or homework completion. Anyway, two grandkids were coming soon, and one parent each was coming to visit us for a long weekend. I’d give them each this inexpensive, practical gadget, which I think is a better souvenir than the usual junk I waste money on.

My son flew from New York with his 71/2-year-old daughter, finishing first grade. My daughter flew in from Michigan with her almost 5-year-old son, who’ll start kindergarten. Both kids seem precocious (all grandparents say that). My granddaughter was intrigued by my playing Wordle; therefore, I showed her how it worked, and we did multiple ones until her dad said, “No more. Go to bed.”

She pled for 10 more minutes. VOILA! I pulled out a pomodoro that had just arrived at our garage door that afternoon. She smiled, delighted by the ticking timer. I handed one, which was still in the box, to my grandson. He glanced dismissively at the red plastic tomato in Georgia’s hand and waved it away. “Nah.”

“That’s fine, Zane,” I said. “It’s not been opened. Georgia can take it home tomorrow and give it to her younger brother, who’s also starting school in the fall.”

The next day, the parents and grandkids packed to leave. Georgia carried her ticking pomodoro in her hand. I told her to put it in her suitcase or backpack. I had her take a pomodoro for her brother, too. She slid it in, near her three-ring binder of Pokémon cards.

We zoomed down I-40 to the airport. I assured them we seldom had lengthy delays in Raleigh-Durham and repeated how all the TSA folks are pleasant here in North Carolina, unlike other airports.

I kissed my two grandkids goodbye and hugged my children. I told them to give my best to their spouses and the rest of their young kids. I departed, proud of myself for the fun time I showed these older grandchildren and their parents on this five-day fun vacation.

That night, my daughter called to tell me she was back in Michigan. Their flight was fine.

“I hope your brother and Georgia had an easy flight to New York City.”

“He didn’t phone you?”


“Georgia put her backpack on the conveyor belt at the security gate, and they flagged it and took it off to inspect it.”

“Huh?” I gulped.

“Georgia started bawling. She thought they were messing with her Pokémon cards.”


“She kept screaming at her dad that it was his fault.”

“How’s that?”

“I don’t know. The TSA kept staring at Henry while his daughter had a meltdown.”

“Oh my.” My mind raced, thinking about why they were plucked out of line to have their belongings searched.


“What caused it? What was suspicious?” I asked as I formulated my theory about why the TSA swooped in on a little girl’s backpack.

“I told Georgia it was a random check. They do that sometimes,” my daughter said.

“Uh. Huh. You’re right. Sometimes, they even pick the least likely suspicious person to pat down.” I thought about telling her how the TSA often wants to pat down my back because they claim they see something on the X-ray machine. “There’s nothing there but back fat!” I’ve told TSA in airports around the world.

“Henry didn’t think it was random.”

“Oh no,” I said, feeling nauseated and thinking about the ticking tomato tracker in my granddaughter’s backpack.

“Henry thought the Pokémon cards caused them to search the bags.”

‘Hmm,” I sighed too loudly. “Who knows? A mystery, indeed.” I exhaled. “Maybe it was the cards. They are shiny. Bye!” I said quickly.

DANG! This happens when grandmas think they’ve produced an innovative idea, an inspired notion for a souvenir with a purpose. The best-laid plans of mice and men … well, parents and grandparents know how that goes.

Who’d guess a writing aid could cause such a ruckus? In Ecclesiastes 3:2-4 we read, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to grieve, and a time to dance.”

That airport scuttlebutt was, well, a time of grief. Years later, when the trauma of the pomodoro catastrophe has faded, I’ll share my ruminations about my guilt in the TSA snafu. Maybe I’ll save it for Georgia’s wedding toast? By then, we can all have a good laugh.