Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Freebies:

I love fresh flowers -- we don't wait for special occasions to buy a bouquet for the living room. Flowers make the whole house brighter.

So it's a treat for me to offer you a chance to win a $40 giftcard to, plenty of money for a beautiful bouquet. To enter this final BlogHer giveaway, simply tell me your favorite flower.

Post here or send an email to Entries accepted until Sunday, Oct. 31, at midnight Central time. Winner announced Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Full disclosure: is providing the giftcard and sent me the pictured bouquet to review. I liked the Birthday Flower Cake. I thought it was creative and the flowers stayed fresh for a really long time. It is interesting to note that the photo on the left is from the website. The photo on the right is what I received. Hmmmm. I'm guessing actual product varies with the delivering florist.

That said, give me flowers and I'm happy -- whatever form they're in. Oh, and my favorite flower is a daisy. Does that surprise you?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Ray Villafane Pumpkins

My friend Rick showed me these astonishing pumpkin carvings -- you can hardly call these jack-o-lanterns! And to make this extra inspirational, artist Ray Villafane shares the "how to" info here. (Click on that link and then scroll all the way down on his tutorial. Trust me. You want to.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

This wedding photo was taken 25 years ago today.

Celebrating this silver anniversary with Tom is especially joyous for me, because I didn't think we'd make it. A few years ago, I went to see a divorce attorney. The reasons behind that action are complex, personal and irrelevant. Let's just say ... I was done.

When I hit that point, Tom agreed to counseling. As a matter of fact, he suggested it ... frankly, I wasn't all that interested. However, feeling that we should be able to tell the girls we'd done everything possible to make it work, I told him that if he found the counselor and he scheduled the appointment, I'd go.

He did. I did. And you know what happened? We worked really hard with a really good counselor -- and we worked it out.

So today we're celebrating. Not because we took vows 25 years ago. Today we're celebrating because, every day, we look at each other and think: Do I really want to be here? Today? With this person?

And the answer remains, "I do."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Creativity Exercise: My Brain is Full

There's a right way to say something:

And a wrong way:

Today's exercise? Tell me why Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon is 2 million times funnier than Bil Keane's Family Circus.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Bird by Bird

I can't possibly say enough good things about my friend Barb -- on the personal or professional level. She's amazing and I wouldn't be where I am today without her help.

Barb recently sent me a excerpt from Anne Lamott's great book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

That's my plan for the week, folks. I'm taking it bird by bird!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Fun: Laughter Yoga

At the Speaking of Women's Health conference in KC recently, Eva and I took a course in Laughter Yoga.

What a hoot. Literally. Check it out with John Cleese. And today, remember: Fake it 'til you make it.* Your body won't know the difference.

*Yes. I know what you're thinking. And if it makes you laugh, I'm good with it ...

P.S. Happy weekend! And an especially happy weekend to Diana, who posted on Facebook and won the Snackerz! You should have the candy in time for Halloween, but I suggest keeping it as a treat for yourself. Those little goblins will get plenty of other stuff.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No Trick, Just a Treat!

When I attended BlogHer, I tasted a sample of the new candy from Butterfinger® -- Snackerz. Loved it. So I went to their booth the next day and asked if I could have another sample. One of the women at the booth handed me a candy bar. The other woman laughed and said, "That's not a sample!" She handed me a full bag of these delicious treats.

The lesson? Be generous.

And they're still being generous! Tell me your favorite Halloween treat -- post here or send an email to -- and you could win four fun-size bags of Snackerz or two boxes of full-size pouches. To make sure the winner receives the goodies before Halloween, I'm only taking entries until 8 p.m. Central time tonight. Winner announced tomorrow.

Full disclosure: Butterfinger is supplying the giveaway. They did not give me additional candy; I was given the bag of fun-size Snackerz at BlogHer. I do think Snackerz are delicious, and I don't especially like Butterfinger bars. These are different. Think grown-up version. Good with coffee.

P.S. Happy birthday to the man who instigated the blog!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Creativity Tips: Anticipate

In the next three weeks, I have three trips scheduled. Whoo-hoo! I love to travel , so going on the trips and looking forward to them is a real creative battery charge.

What are you eagerly anticipating?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creativity Tips: Engage Another Sense

Want to make sense out of a complex topic? Add another sense.

For example, look what happens when you listen to Sir Ken Robinson while also watching a whiteboard illustration of his topic. Fascinating. And I love his definition of creativity:

The process of having original ideas that have value.

Thanks to Bud for the link! And a very happy birthday to Tom! (That's my man. The cute little guy in the photo, a couple of birthdays ago.)

P.S. Isn't it discombobulating when the senses you add don't relate to the topic? For example, did you start reading this trying to figure out how the photo figured in?

P.P.S. Congrats to Mike D., winner of the Shapeways Color it! We'll do a yummy candy giveaway on Thursday. Judging from entries, food seems to be a more popular prize than toys. After that, I think I have a gift card for a bouquet of flowers and we're done with the giveaways.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Creativity Tips: Learn Something New

The recent Pew survey that found atheists were the best educated folks around re: religion didn't surprise me.

What DID surprise me is discovering that an atheist buddy of 36 years didn't understand when I said, "We've known each other 36 years. That's twice chai. It must be lucky!"

It's always good to learn something new, especially about other cultures. And Oct. 18 is the perfect day to discover the meaning of chai!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Freebie: Wild and Wooly Art

When I first considered doing giveaways, I wanted to make sure they fit with the blog ... and Shapeways Color it! sounded like a natural. Very creative. You color their outline of a sheep or a dog; they turn your art into a 3-dimensional statue. How cool is that!

Well ... yeah. It's a really cool idea. BUT ...
1. The pattern is so small it would frustrate little kids.
2. I needed help to upload my daughter Kate's drawing.
3. It's too expensive.

On the other hand:
1. Kate, my 20-year-old artist, really enjoyed coloring the sheep and waiting for her statue to arrive.
2. Shapeways did a great job of sending email updates re: progress on the statue, which helped build excitement.
3. It was a hoot to get it, and we like it -- even though the 3D version didn't turn out exactly like we expected. For example, the colors are off. And Kate's smiley face didn't work -- the smile, when stretched for the statue, ended up on the bottom side of the nose.

To sum it up: I wouldn't pay $50 for Wooly or Wiggle the Dog or their friends. BUT, it was a ton of fun for free. And that's what we're offering you! Leave a post or send an email and you're registered to win a Wooly or a Wiggle. Fun for you or a very different holiday gift.

I'll take posts and emails ( until midnight Sunday, Oct. 17. The Wooly/Wiggle Winner will be announced Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Thanks to Kate for being my artist! And thanks to Shapeways for today's giveaway and for giving me Wooly for free to review. Full Disclosure: I get to keep Wooly at the end of my review period. Well, Kate gets to keep Wooly. After all, it's her work of art!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Poetry Bonus

I somehow missed that this is the birthdate of e.e. cummings. Fortunately, The Writer's Almanac is on it. On today's almanac, my favorite poem of all time: i carry your heart with me.

I do. (i carry it in my heart)

Creativity Tips: Go for it!

Brag week would not be complete without a mention of Mike Brown, the instigator of the Creative Instigation blog and my first -- and for some time, only -- reader. About a year ago, Mike left his corporate job and launched Brainzooming. How's it going? Check this out. My brain zooms just thinking about his schedule. It's amazing what happens when you just go for it.

More recently, my friend Kami followed her dream to be a full-time photographer. Now, Kami is a talented copywriter, but her heart is really into photography, such as these shots. Given her writing background, it's no surprise that Kami's photos tell a story.

Speaking of stories, Kami told me a fun one re: this particular photo shoot. Looks gorgeous, right? Well, shlepping the bed outside was no picnic. Kami and her friend Kimberly finally got the bed into the field, and then Kami realized the mattress didn't fit the frame. With momma and toddlers on the way, they had to fix things fast. Fortunately, Kimberly saved the day, shoring up the mattress on concrete blocks.

Teamwork. As we know, it's a good thing! Tomorrow, I brag on Kate. And give you a chance to do something silly ...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creativity Tips: Listen, Look, Be Inspired

Brag week continues! I love braggin' on you!

Lezlie Revelle invites you to join the celebration at the release party for her solo CD, That Little Girl. If you're in the KC area, stop by the Westport Coffee House at 4010 Pennsylvania this Sunday, Oct. 17, between 6-8 p.m. There's no cover charge and it's a family friendly venue. I plan to be there -- I've heard the songs and they're wonderful. Lezlie is wonderful. Should be a perfect way to wrap up a weekend.

Head out a little early on Sunday, and you can enjoy the work of another amazing artist. The 2010 Solo Exhibition for Hana Christy Steinberg, Fresh Produce, is on display through Friday, Nov. 5, at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church at 4501 Walnut. Christy and I go waaaaay back. I don't even remember. High school for sure. Junior high, I think. Gallery hours are 9-4 MWTF, 9-2 Tues., and 7-3 Sunday.

It does your creative soul good to get out and about, and bask in the amazing talents of others. Plus, it's just plain fun.

What are you doing that we should share with the team? You don't have to be in KC. I'd love to hear from our talented team around the world! And, remember, we have a big definition of "creativity." So if you've come up with an amazing new recipe, a better way to jumpstart a dead battery, or a surefire method for soothing a cranky baby, let us know.

P.S. By the by, you can buy Lezlie's CD and/or Christy's paintings even if you're not in KC. Just visit their web sites.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Creativity Tips: Let It Be

As my family will attest, I cry at movies. Dramas, comedies, pirate flicks. Doesn't matter. At some point in a movie, I almost always cry. Words, on the other hand, hardly ever move me to tears.

Then my buddy Jean asked me to edit her artist's statement. Jean is the award-winning potter who crafted the gorgeous vessel you see here. In addition to being a potter, Jean is a teacher and a chef. I don't know that she would categorize herself as a writer. (Thus, the request for my editing prowess.) This is the copy she sent, the copy that made me cry:

"When I was a child I was fascinated with my father's polaroid camera. Watching the image emerge and slowly form out of a void was a mystical experience. The idea of being the subject of the photo and simultaneously being the audience to a photographic performance was thrilling but somewhat confusing. Almost frightening.

"I'm reminded of those feelings each time I watch the colors and shapes define themselves on a cooling pot. I had created those forms - coaxed them from a ball of clay, stretched and pulled them into a chosen shape. My hands had formed the profile and burnished the surface. But the fire had created its own performance and now I was the audience.

"Time and memory. Memories of specific moments; memories of what has been absorbed through cultural exposure; things forgotten but retrieved with a flash of recognition. Times ancient; time flowing like gasses across a porcelain surface; a time for control and a time to relinquish control to just watch and remember."

How incredibly beautiful and poetic. And you know what an editor should do with copy like that? Let it be. I made incredibly minor edits -- capped Polaroid, changed a few verb tenses. Jean loved the edits, so I'm sharing those as an example of how tiny changes can strengthen even incredible copy:

"When I was a child, I was fascinated with my father's Polaroid camera. Watching the image emerge and slowly form out of a void was a mystical experience. The idea of being the subject of the photo and simultaneously being the audience to a photographic performance was thrilling but somewhat confusing. Almost frightening.

"I'm reminded of those feelings each time I watch the colors and shapes define themselves on a cooling pot. I created those forms - coaxed them from a ball of clay, stretched and pulled them into a chosen shape. My hands formed the profile and burnished the surface. But the fire created its own performance and, again, I am the audience.

"Time and memory. Memories of specific moments; memories of what has been absorbed through cultural exposure; things forgotten but retrieved with a flash of recognition. Times ancient; time flowing like gasses across a porcelain surface; a time for control and a time to relinquish control. A time to watch and remember."

While Jean works on her web site, you don't need to wait to see/buy her work. Just send me an email and I'll pass it along:

P.S. Contest winner! Sandy, who posted a response on Facebook, will be the recipient of Cheryl's Cookies for the Cure Tower of Treats! Cheryl's is providing Sandy's prize, and provided two cookies for me as a sample. (Mmmmmm.) Thanks to Cheryl's and all who entered. And stay tuned! I have a few more giveaways up my sleeve, and then ... we'll be back to normal Fridays.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Creativity Tips: Celebrate the Team

There are weeks when I have no idea what I'm going to write about on the blog. This is not one of those weeks. I have a huge backlog of info I want to share with you, thanks to the successes and activities of CI team members -- including moi, as Miss Piggy would say.

To get me out of the way, two quick things:
  1. From the Heart is great -- wonderful stories and poems about parenting. I haven't finished reading the book, but what I've read is really solid. I'm honored to be included in the anthology. Proceeds from book sales benefit children's hospitals, so please consider this when you start your holiday shopping.*
  2. For my New York area friends, I'm speaking at the 2010 PRSA Northeast District Conference Nov. 4 -- and I'm really excited. I spoke to the group last year, and can't wait to see them again. And here's a writing lesson: They're billing me as a "conference bonus." Isn't that wonderful? They needed some way to explain my session: I'll be hosting an all-day room for creative instigation, discussion, etc. I think the "bonus" label is really fun.
OK. We're done with me. Tomorrow, gorgeous copy from Jean and a quick editing lesson. And more success from you throughout the week! Send me an email if you'd like to share an accomplishment:

*If you have already finished your holiday shopping, we can no longer be friends. Seriously. OK, not seriously, but sheeesh. You're making me look bad.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Food is Love: Cookies for the Cure

My mom is a breast cancer survivor. I lost Du to breast cancer earlier this year. A number of my friends have had breast cancer. So, Breast Cancer Awareness month is special to me.

Given that, I was delighted to talk with Mary Eckenrode from Cheryl's about Cookies for the Cure, their current fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

"Our company is passionate about reaching out to organizations and specifically to the Susan G. Komen Foundation," Mary says. "Many of our associates have been touched by breast cancer -- we've all been touched in some way."

I appreciate that commitment -- and I also like Cheryl's for three other big reasons:
  1. Cheryl, who started the company, used to bake with her grandmother and brought some of the old family recipes to the business. My grandmother's kitchen was one of my favorite places on earth. Talk about food is love ...
  2. Before sending sample cookies for us to review, Mary said, "Oh, honey! Just wait until you taste them. Our buttercream frosted cookies are to die for. They will melt in your mouth!" Trust me, that's not copy someone wrote for her to say. Mary likes the cookies. Genuine enthusiasm from a corporate spokesperson. Gotta love that.
  3. The review cookies lived up to the promotion. My Mary -- cookie taster extraordinaire -- said: "Very good. Soft. The icing wasn't too sweet like some buttercreams can be. The cookie is a nice texture, not too soft, so you can hold it, but soft enough. Overall, very good. Tastes homemade."

And here's one more reason to like Cheryl's. They're going to give one of you a treat -- "Cookies for the Cure Treat Tower." All three layers of the tower are pink boxes. One tier includes the buttercream pink hearts, another tier includes a sugar, oatmeal, chocolate chip assortment, and the last tier includes four frosted brownies that I've been told are incredible.

I'm gaining weight just thinking about it. If you'd like to win the treat tower, just post a comment here.* Tell me what cookie you like best, or post the name of someone you'd like to honor during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Tell me your favorite color. I don't care ... just post something. Or, since I know some of you don't like posting, you can email me at I'll take entries through Sunday, Oct. 10, at midnight. Winner will be announced Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Thanks to Cheryl's for supporting the cause!

* I think the posting thing on Blogspot has issues. If you don't get a word to copy for the "word verification" line, just type in XXX. It will come back and tell you the answer didn't match, and then give you a word. Works for me every time. Happy weekend!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Creativity Tips: Do Something New. For Yourself

You know why I love being a writer? Every day brings an opportunity to learn something new.

For example, yesterday afternoon I called Ken, a senior account executive in Portland, Ore. I needed info for a client's newsletter and Ken was tremendously helpful. Here's how we wrapped up our chat:

Ken: "Now, I want you to go out and do something for yourself that you've never done before."

Jan: "Excuse me?"

Ken: "We always find time to take care of a brother or sister. We never find time to take care of ourselves. I want you to keep a list of things you see that look like fun, things you've never done. Write down how much time and money each thing would take. Then, once a month, look at your list, decide how much time and money you have, and choose one thing to do. You'll be amazed at how much good it does you -- and how many great people you meet."

Now, this is coming from a man who appreciates life. Ken beat the odds and stage 4 melanoma years ago; he was gearing up for a 50-mile bike ride after we talked. My time on the phone with him was a gift -- one I'm delighted to share with you.

I do love my job. And, today, I start writing my list.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When I am an old woman

Get out your red pens! Here's your chance to edit my poetry before I take it to a writers' workshop tomorrow night. The draft below is a riff on Warning by Jenny Joseph. Let me know what you think ... and thanks to my Facebook/blog friends who saw this last night and commented! (And to Bud, who made me laugh with an email re: the importance of never, ever wearing a red hat.)

When I am an old woman
©2010 Jan Sokoloff Harness

When I am an old woman, I shall wear black
except to funerals. Then I’ll wear green to show I’m alive.
The friends I am burying will understand.
And I shall spend my savings on good wine and leather-bound books
and red flannel shirts and say there’s no money for a walker.
I shall never sit on the pavement, even when tired,
or on a bench or in a rocker. I shall sit in the driver’s seat
of a baby Benz and drive with the top down every summer.
I shall go out in my jammies to pick up the paper
and sip Jamaican coffee with cream while my collie runs free
and happily amok in the nasty neighbor’s yard.

You can have gorgeous white hair and laugh lines you’ve earned
and eat bagels and lox, dark chocolate and salads,
or only bread and butter if that’s what you want
and be glad there is nothing you care to hoard.

But now we must have sensible shoes and a working umbrella
and pay for the toll roads and for tuition
and read the obituaries just to keep score.
We must do lunch and check our email and answer every beeping call.

But in the future, I will be fun again. I will be me.
And people who know me will not be shocked
when suddenly I am old, and still wearing black.

(With apologies to Jenny Joseph, author of “Warning”)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Pick-Up Lines

There are some lines too good to ignore, and Angela gave me one the other day with this Facebook post about her husband, Michael:

Some lady offered to hold Michael's ladder while he was trimming trees. Geez...

Oh, yeah, baby. I'd like to hold your ladder. (Ha! LOVE it! So much better than, "What's a nice guy like you doing in a tree like that?")

Today's exercise? It's multiple choice -- choose the one you like, post if you want, or just play with the words in your wonderfully creative brain.
  1. Think of a good-looking person, at least 40 years old, who lives in suburbia. Come up with a great pick-up line for that tree-trimming, happily married hottie.
  2. Answer this: What was the best pick-up line you ever heard? Ever used?
  3. Tell me why the 20-something guy who recently stopped me at a restaurant to compliment my jewelry IMMEDIATELY followed that lovely comment with, "I'm not trying to pick you up." Really? You're not? I'm astonished. Wait 'til I tell my friends at AARP. (Private joke to Jody: Yes. I think he had shuffleboard abs.)

Taking care of business: Congrats to Stephanie, who won the two Mastermind games! I only have a few more post-BlogHer giveaways planned. For example, this Friday, we'll be giving away a tower of yummy goodies from Cheryl's as part of Cookies for the Cure, a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good news and a good reminder

We'll start the week off with good news: Amber's doctor says she's cancer-free! As the kids would say: Woot! Thanks for the good thoughts and fun links throughout the past year as she's gone through chemo after chemo, surgery after surgery. She's regaining her strength now, and should be back at work later this month or early next month. Amber totally rocks.

Eva also rocks. My sister and I have a tradition of attending the Speaking of Women's Health event in Kansas City every year -- one year, she buys the tickets for my birthday present; the next year, I buy the tickets for her birthday present. This year, she bought. One message that resounded in every session? Breathe.

We've talked about it before, but I'm astonished at how often I forget to breathe. And I'm not alone. Look it up: Idea #13 -- stolen from the first person who impressed it on me, my daughter Kate.

Here's to a happy, healthy week! Complete with oxygen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday Freebie: Mastermind!

All right! We're starting the giveaways. Up first, two Mastermind® games -- the classic version and Animal Towers. To enter, just leave a comment by midnight Sunday, Oct. 3, telling me your favorite game. One winner, chosen at random, will be announced next Tuesday.

Pressman® sent review copies for me to keep and will provide the giveaway games. The review games went to two of my younger buddies, Daniel and Jacob.

Here's Daniel's take on Mastermind:
I was excited when I heard I was going to review Mastermind and Mastermind Towers. Mastermind is a fun and challenging game. In Mastermind there are two players, the code maker and the code breaker. The code maker makes a code with colored pegs, the code breaker guesses a combination and the code maker responds with other red and white pegs. I liked this game a lot, it is perfect for 10-year-olds.

And here's the review on Animal Towers from Daniel's brother Jacob -- and mom Vicki:
Mastermind Towers is a fun logic game for younger kids. It's a two player game played with plastic and cardboard tiles illustrated with cute animals. The players each pick a certain number of plastic animal tiles, and then arranges them vertically in a plastic tower. Each player gets larger cardboard tiles with the same pictures their opponent has in his or her tower, and then players take turns asking questions. The object of the game is to figure out the order, from top to bottom, of your opponents animal tiles. This game was slightly difficult for my 6-year-old, who enjoyed playing it with help, but slightly older kids really liked playing it. Here's what Jacob (age 6) had to say about the game: "The game is really fun. I like the animals. It's a good game for kids my age."

The experts have spoken: Now let's hear from you! (Hmmm. Does that sound bad? You know what I mean.) Tell me your favorite game and you could win. And, yes. You can define "game" anway you'd like ...

P.S. There is a creativity lesson here. Someone at Pressman said, "Hey, we've been selling this classic game for years. How can we expand the market?" And someone else said, "Well, maybe we could come up with a version for little kids." And, voila! A new twist on the old game.