Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Creativity Tips: Make One Small Change

My sister Eva teaches at the University of Missouri-Columbia. As part of their class assignments, her students send Eva brief reports -- basically, project updates.

Eva says 99.9 percent of the students use Times Roman for the reports, even though no font has been specified and there's no need for the report to be formal. So, the other day, when she received a student's paper and it was in a fun font, guess what happened?

The paper really stood out.

One little change can make you stand out, whether you're sending an email, working in a cube farm or trying to get a date. The trick is taking one little second to think about it, so you stand out in a positive light!

OK. Can't resist: My sister. She's a font of wisdom! (By the by, the image is from -- I just thought it was fun.)

Amuse Amber #6: Geezers love games. Thanks to Mo for the link! Mo is not a geezer ... I'm sure she found this by complete accident.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creativity Tips: Spring Cleaning

Passover and spring cleaning go together. So, as I was cleaning, I found a sheet Kate filled out in fourth grade, following an author's visit to her elementary school. The spelling is hers. The lesson is ours.

From the author talk today, I learned ...
That you never, never, never give up. And doun't throw away you're first draft.

Amuse Amber #5: For me, the funniest thing about this color quiz was discovering how little patience I had with part #2. And yet, I waited ...

By the by, Amber received the stem cell transplant and she's doing great! A little more time in the hospital, then back home to Cary. You go, girl!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Creativity Tips: Pleasure and Pain

My sweet Kate was born 20 years ago today. She is, quite simply, my heart. I could go on at some length regarding what a wonderful, amazing, good, kind woman she is becoming -- but I'll save that for a one-on-one with Kate.

I'm going to share with you the birth-related creativity lesson it has taken me 20 years to learn.

Let's go back to the very day: March 29, 1990. Kate arrived 12 days late and after 27 (count 'em) hours of labor.

During those 27 hours, Tom and I made two trips to the hospital. They sent us home the first time because things were progressing too slowly. When I was finally admitted, there were two reasons I was a model patient:
  1. Good drugs.
  2. By the time the drugs wore off, there was another woman in labor, screaming so loudly you could hear her all over the floor. I decided no one needed to hear my pain.
After delivery, the nurse told me I was stoic. I took this as more than a compliment. I have worn it for the past 20 years as a badge of honor. You can be a wimp and a whiner. Not me. I'm STOIC.

Do you know what the dictionary definition of stoic is? "A person indifferent to pleasure or pain." And I was setting that as my gold standard.

Well, guess what? I am not stoic. Last Friday night, I had a public meltdown after a long, hard day that included a tearful mentoring session with a friend, a three-hour doctor's appointment with my 88-year-old mother, and a farewell visit to a beloved friend who's now in hospice.

You know what happened as I sat and sobbed at the synagogue? I was comforted. Mo, Sandy, Laura, Vered, Mark and Linda hugged me, consoled me and supported me. They were not horrified or appalled to hear and see my pain. They wanted to help me. And I let them.

To be fully creative, we must be fully ourselves -- strong enough to share our pleasure and our pain. Today, part of my birthday wish for Kate is that she grow up surrounded by friends who love her through good times and bad, friends who help her be whole. Happy Birthday, sweetie!

Amuse Amber #4: Feeling boxed in? Check this out.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Food is Love: Matzo Toffee Bars

You want to know the secret to success? Surround yourself with incredibly talented people and let them do the heavy lifting.*

Well, OK. Maybe that won't work all the time. But it's working for me this week! Passover starts Monday night, and Angela posted my favorite Passover recipe on her blog. So, as any good Jewish mother would ask, "Why should I do it over?" Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter or the seasonal surplus of chocolate candy, matzo toffee bars are truly delicious and addictive.

Amuse Amber #3: This weekend, give your brain a break with a meditative look at the world through Leslie's lenses. If you haven't checked out her complete 2009: A Year in Pictures slide show, I highly recommend it!

*Yes, Mike. I hear you laughing. And I haven't made you do the heavy lifting nearly enough lately.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Be a First Follower

You know what it takes to be a leader? A follower.* Thanks to Barb for the link -- I'd follow you anywhere!

Amuse Amber #2: Keep those fun links coming for our buddy Amber! Today, enjoy a few minutes with Maru, courtesy of another CI buddy.

*It takes two ... for oh so many things ...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Spring CI Campaign: Amuse Amber

Want to put your creative talents to good use? You're in the right place! CI team member Amber is in the hospital for the final kick-butt round of chemo and an autologous stem cell transplant. It's a lengthy process. As I understand it, Amber will be in the hospital until April 10. (On the schedule, it looks like there's a day or two between the chemo and the stem cell infusion where she's home.)

Anyhoo, it's a long dang time in the hospital as we wrap this up and look forward to her healthy, happy future. Fortunately, Amber will have her computer with her, so we can do more than look ahead. We can help take care of her. I cordially invite you to join me in the Spring CI Campaign: Amuse Amber.

I will include a funny site, game, something, for Amber at the end of every post until she's back home with my nephew Cary. Here's where you come in: Send me fun ideas and links! Post them here or email them to While you're at it, post or email good wishes for the wonder woman aka Amber!

Amuse Amber #1: Let's start with Colorstrology. Oddly enough, the info for me on April 22 sounded pretty accurate!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creativity Tips: The Sound of Music

Brenda's comment on yesterday's post -- remarking about the wonderful variety of birds in her backyard -- instigated today's post. (Thanks, Brenda!)

For the past few weeks, I've enjoyed robins singing outside my office window every morning. It's beautiful wake-up music.

Here's the challenge: In another few weeks, I'll be so used to the birds, I won't even hear them. It's the avian version of marital deafness. Even worse, if I do hear them, I'll find the constant chirping annoying. I'll worry that they're building a nest in the eaves.

Sound familiar? It's a common problem. The creative solution? Slow down. Stay in the moment. And just enjoy the music.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Creativity Tips: It's Melting!

As I write this, the 7 inches of snow that arrived on the first day of spring are melting like the Wicked Witch of the West. Those of you who have tolerated my continual winter whining will be surprised to hear this, but I'm sorry to see the snow go.

Why did I like this snowfall? Because I've seen the spring. We had several days in the 60s. I walked for miles around my neighborhood without being chilled to the bone. Flowers started popping up, little yellow daffodils welcomed me home.

My attitude toward this last blast of winter was also tempered by the fact that I'm rested. In the rush of our lives, it's easy to forget how big a difference that makes. I took last week off to enjoy spring break with the girls -- and it was wonderful. Now, I'm as close as I get to perky, so watch out. We could have inspirational messages flying this week. (Or not. I may be too mellow to nag.)

Either way, we'll start by putting you to work. Tell me: What's your favorite thing about spring? I love the green -- which brings us back to the Wicked Witch. But I'm not talking about green faces. I'm talking green grass, green shoots on the flowers, green leaves on the trees. The color says, "You made it!" The color makes me happy.

Your turn!

P.S. Have I ever told you that I saw Margaret Hamilton in "The Wizard of Oz" at Starlight Theatre when I was a kid? So much fun to watch the real witch melt on stage ... very, very cool.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Food is Love: Banana Bread

I've managed to mention "vinegar" in two posts this week, so we'll go for three: If you don't have sour milk for this recipe, just pour a little vinegar into milk. You want to keep the total amount (milk and vinegar) around 2 tablespoons. And we're talking a little vinegar -- it doesn't take much.

Now, for the recipe. Don't you know any recipe from a cookbook that looks like this is good? Well loved. I got this cookbook from my grandmother. (Wow. I am having flashbacks this week.)

Anyway, everyone loves this banana bread. LOVES IT. I have put chocolate chips on top, but everyone in my house prefers it straight. And my sister is allergic to nuts, so I don't use them. Whether she's eating it or not. (Yes. I realize that makes no sense. Consider it the beauty of creative cooking. It doesn't have to make sense to you. It makes sense to me.)

Banana (Nut or Not) Bread

1 cup chopped nuts (If you want them.)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (Always unsalted. ALWAYS.)
2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons sour milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 mashed bananas (The best baking bananas are soft and mushy and the banana peels are dark. Fresh bananas aren't great for baking.)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Cream butter and sugar.
  3. Add eggs, bananas and nuts.
  4. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk. (I just dump it all together, no alternating. But I'm giving you the recipe from the book.)
  5. Bake in loaf pan for one hour. (You don't need to grease the pan. And it generally takes my loafs longer than an hour. At least 10 minutes longer. At least. Stick a toothpick in the center to see when it's done. Gooey isn't done.)
  6. Ess! Ess tov! (Eat! Enjoy! And I'll see you back here Monday!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Creative Critic: A Serious Man

Yesterday, I told you the smell of vinegar took me back to my grandmother's house. Today, we continue the trip down memory lane. A Serious Man by the Coen brothers takes me back to bat mitzvah lessons in 1968. However, I would like to go on record as saying I was not stoned at my bat mitzvah.

The details in the film are perfect in everything from set design to costumes to dialogue. The scenes with the rabbis are laugh-out-loud funny.

I'd encourage you to rent it, but I have one big question: Does it only make sense because I know this world? Midwest, Jewish kids, the '60s ...

I'm too close to the topic to know. So, you be the critic. If you've seen the movie, do you recommend it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Creativity Tips: It Makes Scents

This past weekend, I poured a bottle of vinegar into a cut-glass vase to clean it and was instantly transported back to my childhood. I had spent the night with my grandmother and after she washed my hair, she rinsed it with vinegar. (There was a scientific reason*, and it made sense. I don't remember what it was. Maybe one of you know. Dark hair, rinse with vinegar. Light hair, rinse with lemon juice.)

But I digress. Here's the point: Scent creates a powerful memory. Is there some creative way to add scent to what you're doing and make it more memorable? Consider:
  • Lightly spraying perfume on a letter** to a lover. (The classic ideas never go out of style.)
  • Baking bread in a house you're trying to sell. (Another classic.)
  • Adding aroma words to copy. (You can be talking about the "new car" smell or "napalm in the morning." Details make the difference.)
Those are ideas to get you started. Now, your turn!

My grandmother, by the by, didn't smell like vinegar. She smelled like roses.

* Thus, the image from ChemistryLand
**You remember letters. Think any tweets are being saved forever? But again, I digress.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Fun: Michael Giacchino

You might think that Fantastic Mr. Fox would be my favorite movie of 2009, given my overwhelming fondness for talking animals and George Clooney -- and the rarity of finding them together in one film.

However, you'd be wrong. Up was my favorite, and I was delighted last weekend when it won the Academy Award for Animated Feature Film. Unfortunately, my limited attention span and I had wandered by the time they handed out the Oscar for Music (Original Score) to Up's Michael Giacchino.

But here's the good news: Vanessa was paying attention! Thanks to her, we have today's fun moment -- Michael's brief acceptance speech, all about creativity. Enjoy! And if you haven't seen Up yet, do it. Do it now.

Thanks, Vanessa!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

And now a word from our sponsor

My friend Cory recently pointed out that the CI blog is evolving. A number of posts don't directly speak to creative instigation.

Cory wasn't complaining -- I think he likes my various ramblings. And that's good, because I like mixing things up. I've been writing these daily posts for more than two years. I have to keep myself interested if I'm going to keep you interested.

And that, my friends, does speak directly to creative instigation. You have to be engaged to be fully creative. You can be in love or enraged, but you have to be involved.

Consider my involvement with the blog. Sure, I write it for you. But I also write it for me. Knowing that I intend* to write five posts a week keeps me engaged. I see the world through a different lens because I'm looking for things to write about -- things that interest me and hopefully you.

Many regular CI readers, like Cory, are my personal friends. Others, I've never met. Some of you post comments. Others don't. Regardless, you are all part of my creative team. Thank you for stopping by, for inspiring me, for instigating my creativity.

If you want more of something or less of something, let me know. It's our blog. Whatever it may be ...

*Perfect example of how this works. I had written, "Knowing that I have to write five posts ..." I went back and edited. I don't have to write squat. I want to write these posts. The blog sharpens my editing skills. It's all good.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Creativity Tips: Branch Out

Reading is cool and libraries rock.*

This week, go to the library. Wander through a section you generally ignore. For example, if you love fiction, take a gander at the biography shelves. Check out a book by an author you haven't read before -- or in a genre you haven't read in a while. Stretching your brain stretches your creativity. Branch out!

(The image is from Studio Mela on Etsy. I really like her stuff.)

*Short sentences with active verbs also rock. Try it. You'll like it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Find the Love

In yesterday's post, we talked about the love and care inherent in a drawing where all the white space is filled in. This is a drawing Mary did of me, for me, when she was 10; I display it in my office.

Your exercise? Find the love. What saying does Mary's drawing illustrate? It's what she said as she handed this to me. Sigh ... the good old days. Before she became a teenager and I became the Wicked Witch of the West.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Creativity Tips: Color It In!

My friend Vered recently posted a note on Facebook about her daughter Ellie, one hellacious trip to the dentist, and the resulting visit from the tooth fairy.

I'll let Vered take the story from there:

"Miss Ellie wrote a thank you note to the tooth fairy and drew a picture of a butterfly without any white space. If you have a young child, you know that a picture where all the white space is colored in is a true act of care and love."

Whoa. After almost 20 years of being a mother, after countless crayon-colored gifts, that had never occurred to me. It is an act of care and love to fill every square inch of the paper with color.

I don't know about you, but there are a lot of projects in my life where I haven't been filling in all the white space lately. This week, I'm going to do better. Thanks to Vered and Ellie for another lesson!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Food is Love: Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake

I'm going to a dinner party this weekend where we'll be celebrating a friend's birthday. And nothing says "Par-tay!" like the Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake. This recipe is easier than a mix and the frosting is killer good. If you don't believe me, ask my daughter Kate -- this cake is her favorite.

Oh. Very important. When you look at the recipe online, for god's sake, don't click on the button that says "Nutritional Info." You really don't want to know. If you do look, I'll just say this -- it's worth every calorie.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Follow the Instructions

Today's exercise is on the Rabbit Fumes blog. Check it out. Then, follow the instructions.

P.S. Admiring the Big Rabbit makes me happy. I intend to keep doing it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Creativity Tips: Wrap it Right

Not long ago, I ran into a former colleague who mentioned that she tells someone the story about my mother and the silverware at least once a week. It's a good story ... worth sharing now and then. So, for your reading pleasure, here's a formative moment of my life:

My first job was at Putsch's Cafeteria at Ward Parkway Shopping Center. I was 15 and it was not my dream job. I wrapped silverware. Every Saturday, 9-5. That's a heckuva lot of utensils.

My mom would periodically come to Putsch's to eat lunch with me. She'd take a silverware bundle out of the bin at the start of the line, hold it up like a trophy, and proudly announce to everyone within hearing distance, "No one wraps it like you do, Janet!"

Silly? Sure. Important? You bet. While I might groan and roll my eyes, I went back to work ready to wrap. And I rolled those napkins tight. Because even if it didn't matter to everyone, it mattered to Mom.

Whether we're at work or at home, what we say to each other makes a difference. What we do for each other matters. Don't just do your job. Do it right.

Full disclosure: I worked at Putsch's 39 years ago. Mom still thinks I wrap silverware better than anyone else. But if you'd like to give me a run for the money, you can find tips at, where I found the photo.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Creativity Tips: Take Care of Yourself

This almost never happens to me, but I don't have any special ideas about what to post right now. I've been sitting at the computer for 45 minutes, doodling with ideas, and I don't like any of them.

So, I'm going to follow my own advice. I'm going to recognize when I need a break, and I'm going to take one. I'll be back with something completely brilliant tomorrow. Or kinda brilliant. Or, sorta interesting.

Right now, I just need to inhale chocolate.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Creativity Tips: To Pee or Not to Pee

That's not really the question. I just thought it was a funny headline for this photo.* Here's the question:

Have you ever driven somewhere and realize when you get there that you don't remember the trip? Of course you have. We all have. When we do the same thing over and over again, drive the same route day after day, we go into automatic.

Automatic does not breed creativity.

This week, take it out of automatic and put it in manual. Do more than show up. Be present.

Then, when you're asked to do something that's been done a million times before, you can come up with something new -- like the designer of this sign did. I saw this great take on the standard image at an Old Chicago restaurant during our fun visit with Kate in Manhattan. LOVE IT. Love it enough to stand in front of the men's room and snap a few photos, praying no guy would come out and think I was a pervert.

No guy came out. Life is good. Here's to March!

*You know what Mom says: Little things amuse little minds.