Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creativity Tips: Take time for "little" things

Yesterday, I read an obituary in the Kansas City Star for a woman named Faye. I didn't know Faye very well, but seeing the obituary reminded me of her mother -- Sarah.

Sarah was a distant, distant relative. If I remember correctly, her brother was my father's brother-in-law. My father's sister died far too early, so the "blood" connection was broken when I was very young. And yet ...

Sarah sent everyone in the family birthday cards. She never, never forgot a birthday. Friends might remember or might not. Aunts and uncles sent a card, but not always on time. Sarah, on the other hand, was clockwork.

To her, those cards may have been a little thing. To me, they're a treasured memory.

Sarah made me feel special.

One of my favorite people celebrated her birthday this past Tuesday. But you know what? I'm a really busy gal. Who has time to remember birthdays? Who has time to let people know you love them?

Faye's death reminded me of Sarah's life. So I'm sending a birthday message to Lucinda today -- and I'll send it on time next year.

Little things make a difference. And today is the best day to let people know you love them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creativity Exercise: FALL in Love

In honor of my very favorite season, here's the second in our series of One Word Wonders.* Give me one word that says FALL to you. I'll start:

Cowboy boots.**

*Yes. I know a compound modifier should be hyphenated: One-Word Wonders. I don't want to hyphenate it. And it's my blog, dang it.

**Yes. I also know that-- TECHNICALLY -- my response is two words. Here's the deal: It's a game. We make up the rules. We can break them. Ain't life grand?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Site Seeing: 100 Best First Lines

Because I have no blog posts written
Because I was writing for a client until after 7 p.m.
Because I went on Facebook for mindless recreation

You score!

Thanks to David for posting this link to the American Book Review's list of the 100 Best First Lines from novels. What can you do with this list? The opportunities are endless. For starts:
  1. Check the list and see how many of the novels you've read. Read more.
  2. Choose a line and use it to start a 3-minute free write. (Just write. No edits. Pen to paper, preferably.)
  3. Decide which of the 100 is your favorite. I choose #15. It's poetry. Although I wouldn't argue with #16. And, yes. I read all 100. You are such a skeptic.
  4. See how many of the titles you know or can guess simply from reading the line.
  5. Be amazed that "It was a dark and stormy night" is #22. Who knew?

Tomorrow, I will not rely solely on the kindness of Facebook friends. I'll write something before I'm too tired to think. Cross my heart and hope to have a line on someone's list.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Fun: Love Note Day

I love you.

And why am I saying that today? Because in the world of silly holidays, this is Love Note Day. Seriously. I couldn't make that up. So, write a love note to someone you adore. That will require a pen. And paper. OK, maybe not a pen. Maybe not paper. You could use icing and a cake. But I'm thinking email is feeble when it comes to love notes.

We're also going to look ahead at honest-to-goodness, not concocted celebrations. October is the birthday month for a tremendous number of my closest friends -- including Lynn J., whose birthday is Oct. 5. That day, according to, is "America's most common birthday." is launching a Deliver Birthday Smiles campaign, and we're going to be part of it. They'll send me a bouquet, I'll review it, and do a giveaway to share the fun. For info on their campaign, visit or

Now, go write your love note!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Creativity Tips: Fake It

First of all, that's not the "it" I'm talking about, so clean up your act.

Thank you. Now, let's get back to business. Here's a tip I use to make myself feel better on days when my longest piece of writing is my to do list. I add items I know I'll quickly cross off.

For example, I'm writing this sentence at 6:14 a.m. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and realized I needed to put money into Mary's school lunch account online. After making coffee, before going online, I added that task to my ridiculously over-extended to do list.

Why? Because now it's 6:15 a.m. and I already have something crossed off my list. That's right! I went online and four clicks later had paid for incredible school nutrition for my baby. Good lord, I'm one productive, creative woman! I'm amazing! It's 6:15 a.m. and I'm already crossing things off the list. And, back in the running for Mother of the Year.

Fake it, folks.*

*Digression that some of you will understand: If you haven't watched When Harry Met Sally in a while, watch it again. The scene in the diner is still hysterical. Rob Reiner's mother has perfect timing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Creative Query: Blogger

Lezlie brought up an interesting question in a blog comment recently. I'm going to expand on it:
  1. If you were going to blog, what would you blog about?
  2. If you do blog, how important do you think it is to stick with one topic?
  3. Why would you start a blog? OR ... Why do you blog?

Please link to your blogs in the comments section. There are an amazing number of CI team members with really cool blogs. We're quite the talented team!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creativity Tips: Prop Up Your Halloween Costume

I know. I know. It's only September and I'm talking about Halloween. I could blame it on the retail rush of the seasons, but ... that's not it.

I'm blaming it on Mary, my youngest. Thanks to her, you get an early tip for Halloween planning.

Mary recently went to a costume party with a celebrity theme. She initially planned to buy a bunch of baby dolls, attach them to her shirt, pen on some tattoos and go as Angelina Jolie. I liked that idea, but questioned how expensive the dolls would be. (There you have it, practical mom, squelching creativity.)

For some reason -- and it wasn't practicality -- she and her buddy Erin decided to go as Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen. Now, if you get People magazine, you know they're holding a cup from Starbucks in almost every photo. So, the girls went to Starbucks, asked for empty cups, fixed their hair and went.

Pay attention to details. They really do prop up creative ideas!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Creativity Tips: Don't Contradict Yourself

Now, to be fair to the good folks at Home Depot, I wouldn't have seen the Do Not Enter vs. Welcome conundrum if I hadn't been entering an exit. But still, it's a good reminder to make sure your words and design/images work together.

It's a new week! Welcome! (Seriously ... come on in. The water's fine.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food is Love: Corn Casserole

My buddy Scott does the most wonderful thing: He listens. When I talk to him, he listens. He's interested, he pays attention, he asks questions, he remembers what concerns me and inquires about it later. He listens. Isn't that amazing? Such a lost art.

Scott also cooks and bakes -- he's multi-talented. And today's "Food is Love" recipe is one he requested. It's basically from The Pampered Chef's Recipes from the Heart Cookbook. The cookbook calls this "escalloped corn." I call it "the corn casserole thingy with green chilies." You'll call it delicious.

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter*, melted
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
1 package (8 1/2 ounces) cornbread mix (I use Jiffy corn muffin mix. Mmm.)
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained

Preheat oven to 350. In large bowl, combine butter, creamed corn and whole kernel corn; stir in sour cream and eggs. Add cornbread mix; blend well. Stir in chilies. Pour batter into greased 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Bake 35-40 minutes until lightly browned and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Eat like a little piggy because that's how good it is!

*Yeah, yeah, if you have to use something else, go ahead. I'm just sayin' ... unsalted is best. And please don't tell me if you use margarine. I want us to remain friends.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Creative Inspiration: What People Give You

Here's a gorgeous, evocative poem by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno: What People Give You.

Don't you love how the right words can put you in that house, by that sink, at that moment?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creativity Tips: Name Your Cows

Whenever I fly on Southwest, I enjoy reading Spirit magazine ... always something fun in there. For example, did you know that cows with names produce considerably more milk than nameless cattle? As Spirit notes:

"Udder nonsense? Scientists think not. After studying the working relationships between farmers and dairy cows, researchers at Newcastle University in the UK found that farmers who gave Bessie and Gertrude TLC reaped the benefits of increased milk yield over a 10-month period."

Yes! Creative proof for my theory that being nice isn't just the right thing to do: It's good business.

Let's milk that for all it's worth.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Creativity Tips: Listen to the Pioneer Woman

Last week, I was starting to think ... well, maybe I've read enough of the Pioneer Woman. I love her photos, but I rarely pick up a camera. I love her recipes, but I have a million of them in my cooking queue. I love her stories, but ... well ... I'm sorta tired of the cows and the horses and her hubby's cute tush.

Then, she wrote this. As a longtime blogger and a lifetime writer, every word of her advice rings true. And she has roped me right back in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Creativity Tips: Applaud Yourself

What's the best thing you ever, ever created?

Think about it ... and we're talking big picture "creativity" here. It could be a child, a birthday cake, a poem, a strategic plan, a photo, an essay, a quilt, a friendship ... whatever.

Now, as you think about it, remember: You define best. It could be the one thing that brought you the most joy. The most money. The best response.

Whatever you created, however you define best, celebrate it* today. Applaud yourself.

You totally rock.

(Want a creativity exercise to go with the tip? Easy. Write a song to celebrate yourself, to the tune of Popeye the Sailor Man. Yes. I'm serious. Start writing!)

*Can't choose just one thing? Isn't that wonderful? Mazel tov! You're spectacular!!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Fun: Tales of Denim

OK ... I'm going to share. I told you about Talbot's Tales of Denim contest, asking for a six-word story about a pair of jeans. Turns out, the online form also allows entrants to provide a title, adding a whole new level of creative possibilities. Here's what I submitted:

Whoa, Baby
I should have left them zipped.

I think that's good enough to score a trip to Paris. But humility has never been my strong point.

Happy Friday! Happy weekend! Go play! (And you know what to do with your zippers.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy New Year

Jews around the world celebrate Rosh Hashanah today -- the Jewish New Year.

Now, I'm a Jewish mother, not a Jewish theologian. But here's my basic take on it: If you compare the Jewish New Year to the secular celebration, Rosh Hashanah is more about making peace and less about making resolutions.

It's a time to make amends with people you've wronged. A time to forgive people who've wronged you. It's a time to start fresh -- which is different than starting over.

If I have hurt you this past year, knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me. (If I hurt you knowingly, I've probably already spoken to you directly. I'm making the rounds.) If you have hurt me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive you.

Here's to a happy, healthy year. A sweet year. A year filled with love and learning, friends and family. Here's to hope and dreams and faith. Here's to creativity that brings you joy. And here's to the work that makes it real.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Creative Critic: Until I Find You

I finally finished Until I Find You by John Irving. Ohmilord. Where do I even begin a review?

To set the stage, Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my all-time favorite books. I think it's brilliant. Fortunately, I read it before I read Until I Find You -- because I may never read another Irving book again.

Until I Find You proves that talent is no guarantee of ... well, anything. Irving is obviously a talented writer. And yet ...

The characters in this novel are unappealing and unreal. The only characters with any charm are too-soon killed. The dialogue and much of the action is completely implausible. And repulsive -- do any siblings really discuss the proper way they should kiss each other on the mouth?

Oh, heck. Forget the uncharismatic characters and the overwrought plot. The writing is awful. (By which I mean, not good. Not good at all.) Irving has a ridiculously unnecessary parenthetical phrase (that is to say, not needed) on almost every page. And there are more than 800 pages (which, one might say, would be many chapters indeed).

My big learning came from my buddy Lynn, after she listened to me whine about the novel.

"You don't have to finish it, Janet," she said. "If you're not engaged in a book, stop reading. Find another book."

Next time, I'll listen to Lynn. This time, I kept reading -- hoping against hope that John Irving would pull it out of the fire. He never did. Too bad. He was one of my favorite authors. Until He Lost Me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Creativity Tips: It's Always Personal

For one of her journalism classes last week, my daughter Kate live-tweeted a presentation celebrating the K-State J-school's centennial. One of her tweets, quoting a speaker, really hit home with me: "Every national story is someone's local story."

Then, on Facebook, author Stephanie Calmenson posted a note about the first Brooke Jackman Foundation Read-A-Thon -- scheduled for this morning. If you're in NYC, check it out.

After I looked at the Read-A-Thon info, I read all about Brooke Jackman, a lovely 23-year-old woman who was killed in the 9-11 attacks.

Throughout the week, we'll hear stories tied to the 9-11 anniversary. It's a national story. For New Yorkers, it's a local story. And for oh so many people, it's a personal story.

Remember when you write: Every word matters. Every story is personal to someone.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Fun: Pacman Lives

First and foremost, good news! Amber came through her surgery (all 6.5 hours of it!) in good shape. The doctor said they got the entire tumor this time. Yes! Thanks for the good thoughts and I'll keep you posted. Now ... back to your regularly scheduled Friday Fun:

I have never been any good at Pacman. This was a problem back in the ... what? '70s? '80s? Whenever. Back when I was dating. I definitely couldn't impress guys with my Pacman skills. I also couldn't feign interest in their high scores.

Level 5? Really. Wow ... look at the time.

That said, I'm guessing a few CI team members love Pacman. So here's one version for you. And if you'd rather play with Homer, I found a Simpson version. At least the "d'oh!" with this one amused me.

Here's to an amusing three-day weekend! With very little labor ...

(Does "play with Homer" sound bad to anyone but me? Perhaps I need a three-day weekend.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Creativity Tips: I Love Creative Medicine

Do you ever stop and think about how amazingly creative the field of medicine is? There are so many ways to treat an illness now, thanks to new drugs, new procedures -- and creative doctors who continually find different ways to cure people.

Ten years ago, TIME magazine named the PET/CT scanner the medical invention of the year. As you can tell from the Wikipedia article, the device was created by brilliant people building on the learnings of other brilliant people.

I really appreciate all these people. They're helping Amber, my 26-year-old niece, kick her ovarian cancer.

Since many of you have asked how Amber is doing, I want to give you a quick update. The PET scan taken after Amber's last massive round of chemo revealed two tiny spots of cancer. So, now that she has built up her strength, she's heading back to the hospital today for one more operation. The chemo shrank the tumor by her heart to the point where the surgeon can remove it. The surgeon will also be removing the itsy, bitsy cancer by Amber's belly button.

Ovarian cancer is tough. Fortunately, so is Amber. She's also looking dang good for a young woman who's been through so much! (I know. Looks are not what's important. But, in this case, Amber's beauty is as much a reflection of her indomitable spirit as a tribute to her gorgeous eyes. My nephew Cary does know how to pick 'em!)

Thanks for all your good thoughts and I'll keep you posted.

By the by, Amber had no idea when she joined the CI team that she was getting an arsenal of cheerleaders -- she really appreciates the support!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creativity Tips: Celebrate September

Ohmigosh. It's September. I love September. For me, it signals the pending fall, and I love fall. Or, as Woody Allen would say, I lerve fall. Why? It's cooler. I live in the Midwest -- it's gorgeous. The trees transform. Added bonus: October brings the birthdays of a million people I adore and my wedding anniversary.

You get the picture: September starts a fabulous season. So, celebrate properly. Go for a long walk today and look for a fall color. What color is that? You tell me. We could go with the basic yellow. Or orange. Or brown. But fall to you might be burgundy. Or pink.

Whatever. Choose one of those lovely colors, and go find all the shades of it you can.

(We fall in love, don't we? We don't spring into love. No one summers or winters love. Heck, winter is the time of our discontent. I could go on, but I lerve you too much to continue.)