Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Fun: Three Towers Solitaire

In honor of my sister Eva's visit this weekend, let me introduce you to the biggest time-sucking game I've played lately: Three Towers Solitaire.

Eva found the game and led me to it. Nice of her? Not so much. I won't tell you how much time I have spent trying to beat her high score. I haven't gotten close. Does it matter? Of course it does. I play to win.

But, competitive insanity aside, when you need a few minutes of mindless entertainment to unwind, this is good. And it looks like the Mind Jolt site has lots of other fun games. Enjoy!

P.S. If you haven't given me a good thought about winter, I'm still accepting ideas. Because spring is 23 days away. Not that I'm counting ...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Warm Up to Winter

My friend Chris (aka, the son I would have had if I would have had a son) is from Canada. This has totally skewed his view of the world. You want proof? He likes winter. Seriously. The man likes winter. He also thinks I have made far too many disparaging winter remarks.

Heck. I'm a reporter. I can tell you exactly what he said. I was taking notes:

Any hack can spew wonderful things about spring and summer and they do. That stuff's obvious. But winter!

Okey dokey. Let's "hack" away at my complete lack of creative delight in the frozen arctic. Tell me one good thing about winter. Post away!

*Chris also said, "I didn't say YOU were a hack." Uh huh.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Site Seeing: Surrender, Dorothy

I had heard of Surrender, Dorothy some time back, and just started reading it regularly. It's a great blog for people who notice and care about the difference between Surrender, Dorothy and Surrender Dorothy.

And if you happen to live in Toto land like I do, so much the better!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Creative Query: Are You as Smart as a Teenager?

Isn't that a pretty photo of my pretty baby? The young woman who took the photo, Erin, dances on the drill team with my daughter. Erin is incredibly talented as a dancer and a gymnast.

She isn't going to be on the team next year, because it's too time consuming. She wants to focus on her passion: art.

At 16, Erin is smart enough to understand something many of us fail to grasp. Just because you have a talent, doesn't mean you have to pursue it. If your talent doesn't give you joy, if your passion lies elsewhere, go with your heart. Do what you love. Follow Erin's lead.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Creativity Tips: Question Authority

Back in the day, when I was handling media relations and PR for a university, I had this bumper sticker on my car. After a while, someone pointed out that I was the authority.

Which, of course, is why I liked the bumper sticker.

My training is in broadcast journalism, where you're taught to say everything with authority whether you know what you're talking about or not. My mentor -- who has been my role model for the past 24 years -- is an authentic force of nature. My self esteem is high, I'm not a youngster, and I don't tolerate fools.

Put it all together and you have a potentially dangerous situation: When I'm an idiot, people often assume they're the ones missing something. Trust me. You're not missing anything.

The contest I announced last week made no sense whatsoever. If I EVER do that again, I want all of you to post a comment telling me I'm babbling. Promise. Pinky swear. Hand over heart right now and repeat: "If Jan is an idiot, I will tell her."

Thank you. Oh, and congrats to Barb, who won the giveaway! (Barb: Call or email and I'll explain how you can collect!) And the lesson from the giveaway: You can't win if you don't enter. I may never know exactly why BlogHer selected me to be a conference speaker. I do know that they wouldn't have selected me if I hadn't applied. Put yourself out there. It's the only way ...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Food is Love: Be a Cooking Rebel!

I don't cry over spilled milk, but I can throw a pretty good temper tantrum over a crumbled cupcake. Here's the deal: I recently tried a new recipe. I stuck to the recipe. The recipe stuck to the pan. Guest blogger Angela Pritchett -- the mad baker -- reminds us that rules, and recipes, are meant to be creatively broken:

As I search through cookbooks for recipes, I often come across notes written on pages and items or instructions that have been crossed out. Changing recipes may not be easy for all cooks but you can't let the recipe be the boss. My tip for CI readers is to be cooking rebels!

If a recipe calls for white sugar but you only have brown, use the brown. Your cake or cookies will have a richer taste. Do you think you really have to devote two hours for homemade cinnamon rolls? No! Eliminate the last rising and have scratch rolls from your oven in less than an hour. Trust me, anyone eating a warm cinnamon roll will not even think to ask, "How long did this rise before you baked it?"

Don't sweat the occasional flops and disasters. When the Creative Instigator had her recent crumbling cupcake experience, she hated to waste the chocolate. But her hubby and daughter gladly scooped up cake crumbs and said they didn't care what it looked like because it tasted so good.

If your cooking experiment produces a not-so-pretty dish, make notes and try something different next time. Rebels always have another inspiration to try!
-- Angela Pritchett, February 19, 2010

P.S. from Jan: Angela inspired me. I tried the cinnamon roll recipe. Mmmmmm. Seriously good.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Two Quick Updates

1. I apologize. The post for the giveaway was really confusing. So, I'm changing the rules. Everyone who emails or posts an answer is eligible for the prize. You still have until 4:22 a.m. Saturday morning to enter.

2. Speaking of contests, I was asked to submit Peggy's Dill Dip in the "Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook" contest. Please take a second, click here and give the recipe a five-star rating! It would be a wonderful way to honor and remember my sister-in-law Peggy. Thanks!

Giveaway Clue!

This is fascinating. The answer to the giveaway question in this morning's post is so clear to me that I thought it would be clear to everyone. Judging from the number of entries received so far, I'm wrong. (Whoa. Mark that down.)

Here's the lesson from that: Just because something makes sense to you, doesn't mean it makes sense to anyone else.

So ... let me give you a clue: There's one step you have to take before you can be selected for this kind of panel. I mentioned it earlier this week. And it has nothing to do with talent, although I truly appreciate the answers pointing to my astonishing skills. :-)

I hope that helps. If you've already sent an answer, feel free to answer again!

Good News and a Giveaway!

OK, show some respect: The CI blog will be at the BlogHer '10 conference this summer in New York! I've been invited to speak on the Writing Inspiration: Stoke Your Creativity panel.

If you're not familiar with BlogHer, check this out. Basically, for women in the blogosphere, it's the big time -- and I'm very excited.

Since I wouldn't have reached this point without you, I want to share the good times with a giveaway. It's easy to win. Just answer this question:

To be selected as a BlogHer speaker, what's the one thing I did that made me stand out from thousands of other creative bloggers?

Submit your answer by sending an email to or posting in the comments section. I'll randomly select a winner from all the correct answers. Since we're a team, we'll keep the celebration in the CI family: The winner will receive a $25 shopping spree at TeaMoka.

You have until 4:22 a.m. Central Time Saturday morning to enter. Check back Monday morning for the winner!

P.S. for NY readers: I'd love to meet you while I'm at the conference! It's Aug. 6-7, so let me know if you want to get together.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sharing Excellence: The Pioneer Woman

My buddy Barb had a good idea a while back, and I've been meaning to mention it. Whenver you find a phrase or a sentence or a paragraph or a post that is absolutely excellent, send it to me. I'll put it on the blog and we'll learn from it.

To start us off, I want to share a post from The Pioneer Woman about her grandmother. It's beautiful. Look at how she uses detail to bring this story to life. Her position on the floor while she watched TV. What shows she watched. The whipped cream on the peaches. The Daily Word connections to her life.

Consider how much she packs into the brief story about her grandfather's closet. Because of the detail, and the honesty, you know exactly how she feels. And, chances are, you've felt that way too. I know I have.

Details make the difference, my friend, whether you're sharing a family story or writing an ad. Make it real and you'll make it memorable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Three-Minute Fiction

NPR is holding a three-minute fiction contest. It's simple: You write a short short story to go with this photo. Check out the rules. Then write! Like everything else in life, you can't win if you don't enter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Creativity Tips: Success is Sweet!

Look! The prettiest cookies I ever made! And they tasted pretty good too. I got tired of cutting out the hearts after a while, so just tossed in some good baking chocolate and made a big heart. All yummy.

The cookies remind me of two creativity tips:
  1. For those of you who take beautiful food photos and think everyone can -- yeah, well, not so much. It's a talent. A young artist suggested I tilt the pretty cookies, which helped.
  2. Success is counted sweetest by those who can share it. Mark that down as one more advantage of being part of a creative team.
Speaking of creative teams, if you haven't seen the whole We are the World video for Haiti, take a look. Fascinating group of singers, different styles, all together. Diversity is sweet too.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Food is Love: Valentine's Day Goodies

For our first Valentine's Day together, I baked a cake for Tom, cut the top layer in the shape of a heart, and wrote "You take the cake" on it.

It was dang cute. Of course, he was 33, so the cuteness was completely lost on him. But I impressed myself, and there's something to be said for that.

This year, I'm planning to bake these yummy-sounding, totally cute cookies* from -- also the source of the photo. I haven't tried them yet, so I'm not recommending them. I'm just pointing you toward them, and then on to the Bakerella site. Looks interesting. And I'm hoping you take time this weekend to try a new recipe for the people you love. Or, that someone tries a new recipe for you!

Here's to happy hearts!

*That first Valentine's Day for us was 31 years ago. Tom now realizes it's a good idea to admire my attempts at cute baked goods. Marriage. It's a good thing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Creativity Tips: Ask Better

Here's a lesson from an old reporter: The quality of the answers you receive reveals the quality of the questions you ask.

Now, depending on the topic and the person, the best question can be as simple as, Why? (It's a wonderful question, as three-year-olds know and we forget.)

Often, though, the question needs to be a bit more targeted. For example, I rarely get really, really angry. It happened recently and I ranted a bit to a friend. His question back to me: What is the source of your anger?

For me, it was the perfect question. He didn't ask me to justify my emotional reaction. (Why are you so upset?) He didn't offer blanket sympathy. (Is there anything I can do to help?) Instead, he asked a question that made me stop and think -- a question that elicited a long, cathartic response.

If you're not getting the feedback you'd like from people at home or at work, consider your questions. Put your creative cap on. And ask better.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Creativity Tips: 5 Tips for Kicking Winter Blues

It may be warm where you are. It is not warm in Kansas City. That's a problem for me. After a few days of freezing weather, I can feel my creativity freeze up. Since it's cold a lot here in the Midwest, I've developed quick ways to jumpstart my creative batteries. Who knows? They might work for you too!
  1. Watch a silly/funny movie. Something that makes you laugh. I like The Producers, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Just looking at Zero Mostel makes me laugh. I met him once. What a hoot.
  2. Admire someone else's creativity. For example, look at the cool stuff in the Handmade Olympics at the Rikrack Studio. While you're there, vote for the Sew Inspired quilt in category 2. (Yes! Vicki made the Handmade Olympics!)
  3. Eat an orange. It will remind you of summer, which reminds you that winter will end. I'm currently in love with clementines. They're oranges my size. (You. Stop laughing. It's not nice to mock short people.)
  4. Write down the names of your elementary school teachers. (This requires more effort for those of us over 25. I am a tad over 25.)
  5. Draw a snarky Valentine. Something rude. Play off the old "letters are written, never meaning to send" concept. Draw the Valentine you'd like to send ... but won't. We'll never tell.
  6. And here's a bonus idea: Remember that you don't have to be creative in a vacuum. We have an amazing team here! Speaking of which ... Happy Birthday, Jody!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Creative Query: Movie Magic

Here's a quickie. Tell me: What's your favorite movie?

I'm going with "Sliding Doors." Why? Because it tells me that life works out the way it should. That's also the case in "Before Sunset," another one of my favorites.*

Oops. I just gave two answers. I'm not good at following directions. I am good at giving them: Post! I'm trying to figure out what movies to watch next.

*For the record, neither of these films have a talking animated animal or George Clooney. I am not nearly as shallow as I look.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Valentine Love Letters

Chocolate, love, lust*, creativity. It all comes together in a perfect writing exercise, thanks to Bernstein-Rein and Christopher Elbow. You're 45 characters away from a prize!

*No, they don't mention lust. I'm mentioning lust. I really, really, really crave good chocolate. And there are no calories in chocolate during Valentine's Day week. Everyone knows that.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Food is Love: Nestle Tollhouse Cookies

We've lived in the same house for 23 years. Many of our neighbors have been here almost as long -- we've shared in each others simchas and sorrows, watched the kids grow up, we're pretty much family.

And when I bake these classic chocolate chip cookies, the family shows up at the door.

There are a couple of secrets to my version of the recipe:
  1. You have to use unsalted butter. Seriously. It makes a difference.
  2. Add a bit more vanilla. I just hold the measuring spoon over the batter and let it spill. This is probably not the recommended baking tactic, but it works.
  3. Take the cookies out before they're "done." If they look done, they're overdone. They continue to cook while you cool them. (Mary is better at this than I am. She recommends 8-9 minutes in the oven, but that will vary with your oven.)
By the by, if you need further proof that "Food is Love," the cookie jar photo is for my sister Eva. It's the same cookie jar our Mom has had since we were kids; it's in Mom's apartment now. I found the image on a site called "Collectibles by PJ." The Internet is amazing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Creative Critic: (500) Days of Summer

This week's Oscar nominations overlooked one really great movie. (500) Days of Summer should have scored for screenwriting.

For those of you who don't know my movie-watching rules, it basically boils down to this: No violence. No hideous story line that will give me nightmares. Talking animals and/or George Clooney improve any movie. (OK, not really. But I do like animation*. And George.)

Given that, my husband humors me now and then and agrees to watch a "chick flick" with me. We both thought that's what (500) Days would be. It is so much more. It's a wonderful movie about love and life and work and possibilities. Amazing script and script structure -- worthy of Creative Critic praise. Terrific soundtrack. Rent it. Watch it. Enjoy!

*One of the scenes in (500) Days that made us both laugh out loud does have a moment of animation. Gotta love it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Creativity Tips: Kudo Cards

I went to the Johnson County Imaging Center yesterday for an annual appointment (in honor of the men, we won't discuss that part of the visit). Suffice it to say, what is generally a hideous experience was almost pleasant.

Ashley, the woman who conducted my exam, was a gem. Friendly, comforting, with that yoga-teacher approach/voice that makes you feel like everything in the world is going to be OK.

On the way out, I asked to speak to the office manager, so I could pass along my compliments re: Ashley. Rather than having me wait for the manager, the receptionist handed me a Kudo Card. I was able to write a quick note to Ashley on their pre-printed "thank you" postcard. The card went to the office manager, then to Ashley. The whole process took about a minute.

It's a great idea. Make it easy for people to give and receive praise. Kudos to that!

Site Seeing: Making Art

People amaze me. There's always a new way to express creativity. Check out Seed Magazine's article on Life Imitating Life.

Then, take a look at Pigeon: Impossible. Fun stuff, with a "Behind the Scenes" report that reminds us of the creativity rule re: cheap, good or fast.

Creativity is wonderful ... unending opportunities to learn.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Creativity Exercise: What's Wrong With This Picture?

My daughter Mary is on the drill team at her high school. The day this dance was choreographed, Mary came home from school, dropped her 2,000-pound backpack at the door, sighed and said:

"They needed someone who could do a backbend. Everyone can do a backbend."

Here's your exercise: Tell me what creativity boo-boo that statement represents. La-dee-da-dee-dah. (I'm waiting, patiently, for your answer.)

Yes. That's right. Mary fails to appreciate her own talents! We all do it. The other day, even ego-maniacal me made the mistake of responding to a rush writing request by saying, "Sure, that's easy."

You know what? It's not easy -- for everyone -- to write great copy really, really fast. It's not easy -- for everyone -- to do a backbend. It's not easy -- for everyone -- to sew or parent or volunteer or garden. We need to appreciate our own talents. It's the first step in gaining appreciation from others.

(Your second creativity exercise? Come up with a caption for the photo.)

P.S. I know I'm her mom, but that's a darn good-looking backbend.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creativity Tips: Say Yay! for You!

We'll start the week learning a Yididish word: kvell.

I am kvelling over the accomplishments of CI team members, and just want to share a few:
  • Mike launched the new Brainzooming site. Very cool!
  • Bud's six-word bio was published in the Kansas City Star. It was, of course, the best of the lot: Saw the light, turned it off.
  • Vicki is selling her gorgeous work on Etsy. I have the kitchen towel and coasters. Love them.
  • Joe and Michele's book, Harzfeld's: A Brief History, is A REAL BOOK. I bought a copy for a friend at Borders. Walked into Borders and bought their book. Now, that's a reason to kvell.
  • Leslie is marketing her gorgeous photos. I'm buying my Valentines from her.
Mazel tov* to all of you! And I know there are many of you on the CI team doing spectacular things. Just let me know if you want to share. Here's to a fun February!