Friday, December 21, 2012

A Week of Wishes: Unadulterated Fun

To wrap up the week properly, I wish you fun. Unadulterated fun. Kid fun. Real fun.

Now, for real kid fun, you don't need any supplies. You need the outdoors. (But it's 20 degrees here in Kansas and there's blowing snow and dangerous ice.) You need a sheet for a fort. (But no one will play fort with me anymore.) So ... I'm going to suggest supplies. Here's my Top 10 list for your fun toy chest:
  1. Crayola crayons. Yes, the brand matters. Get the good stuff. And the big box. None of this 8 crayon crud.
  2. A coloring pad. The brand matters less. Just big sheets of easily ripped out white paper.
  3. Good scissors. Sharp. One of the advantages of not being a kid. How does anyone learn to cut with those round-tip dealies?
  4. Craft glue. I like Allene's Original Tacky Glue.
  5. Wooden, unpainted stuff. Go to Michael's or someplace and buy a bunch of unpainted wood items. Cutouts, bulletin boards, frames, stools, whatever. Very fun for painting and collage art. And that brings us to:
  6. Paints and paintbrushes. You need a good variety of acrylic paint. And when it comes to the brushes, don't go cheap. You don't need the expensive stuff, but 12 brushes for $1 won't support your creativity for long.
  7. Mod Podge. One of my favorite glues for collage art. And you need the bag of sponges on sticks to go with it. Don't forget the sponges on sticks. Very important.
  8. Glitter glue. You're a guy? That's nice. Live a little. Get the glitter glue. If you're concerned re: your manliness rating, get the blue glitter glue. Sigh.
  9. Play-Doh. Again, the brand matters. Go crazy: Get the good stuff.
  10. Craft paper. And a ruler. And an eraser. And Sharpies. And I clearly can't stop with 10 ...
Given the insanity of holiday shopping, I'm not suggesting you go to the store today to stock up. But, if you don't have all the fun necessities on hand, go shopping before 2013! Be ready to really party when the big ball drops.

Ah, balls. Another great necessity for fun. In so many ways ...

Happy weekend!

P.S. I am trying Google's Affiliate Ads feature. If it's totally annoying, let me know. For the millions of dollars I earn from blogging, I can eliminate it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Week of Wishes: Good Cheers

Do I wish you good cheer this holiday season? Absolutely. But my fourth wish for you goes beyond that: I wish you good cheers. I wish that in 2013 your self talk is filled with self cheer.

What's self cheer? It's the positive voice of self talk -- and it's the voice most of us rarely hear. What we typically hear inside our overworked, overwhelmed brains is: How could I be that stupid? Why did I do that? What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking. I'm an idiot. A complete, freakin' idiot.

Oddly enough, continually telling yourself that you're an idiot rarely inspires great works.

So, in 2013, I want you to be as kind to yourself as we are to children. I want you to say to yourself, "Brenda, you rock!" (Insert your name inside your head. You are not Brenda. Unless you are Brenda. In which case, you do rock and I love you.)

Other self cheers?
"I'm brilliant."
"I'm amazing. No one may have noticed. But what I just did? Amazing."
"I may just be the best (whatever) in the universe."
"Man, that was nice of me."

Or, the ever popular: "Good job!"

It's so simple! You do something great and you say to yourself, "Good job!" Heck, you could do that a million times during the day: You get up on time. "Good job!" You fit in your jeans. "Good job!" You make it to the meeting with all your notes. "Good job!" You don't make the snarky comment you'd like to make to the boss/lover/whoever. "Good job!" You let a driver cut in front of you during the rush-hour commute home. "Good job!"

In 2013, be your own best cheerleader. I know you can do it. Your Jewish momma says so.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Week of Wishes: Silence

As we continue our week of wishes, I wish you something all too rare in today's world: silence. The following excerpts come from a favorite poem in one of my favorite books. Unfortunately, there's no author listed, so I can't tell you who wrote this:

May we stand still, for a brief moment,
and listen to the rain --
Stand still, for a brief moment,
and watch the play of sunlight and shadow on the leaves.
For a brief moment -- listen to the world.

We need a quiet space to test the balance of our days.
The weight of our own deeds
against the heaviness of the world's demands ...

Quiet places and stillness --
where we will hear our own best impulses speak.
Quiet places and stillness --
from which we will reach out to each other.

In 2013, find time now and then to stand still. Be still. Just be.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Week of Wishes: Resilience

My second wish for you? Be more like Silly Putty:
  1. Willing to change -- the first name was Nutty Putty.
  2. Happy to have the word "silly" associated with your name. Silliness is under-rated. Giggles are good.
  3. Unwilling to be considered a failure. Silly Putty wasn't the great replacement for synthetic rubber that GE and the government wanted. And yet ...
  4. Successful. Millions of those eggs have been sold, bringing in millions of dollars.
  5. Useful. Prop up a chair. Pick up lint. Secure tools in zero gravity on Apollo 8. Silly Putty ain't just silly.
Finally, my Silly Putty friends, I wish you resilience. May 2013 be a year where you bounce back fast, no matter what life hands you!

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Week of Wishes: A Bi Gezundt

Note from Jan: I wrote this post before the shooting in Connecticut. I thought about deleting the post, but decided last week's horror reinforces the meaning. So, hug your loved ones and do what you can to spread goodness in a world that surely needs it. On Mondays and every day.

I don't know why Mondays get such a bad rap. Today is a whole fresh start. New week. New possibilities. You should be refreshed from your weekend.

You did have a delightful weekend, right? Lots of rest. Relaxation. You weren't running around like the headless chicken, were you? Oh well. Regardless, we start anew today. And, as my holiday gift to you, we start a week of wishes.

The first? A bi gezundt*. A charming Yiddish phrase meaning, "So long as you're healthy." The Jewish momma meaning? "You're here! You're healthy! Why fret about nonsense?"

Today, I wish you and your loved ones good health. A bi gezundt, my friends!

Or, as my Jewish grandmother would say, "A bi gezundt. Have another strudel."

*Sound official -- say it right: Ah-bee-geh-zundt

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Fun: Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah! Or Chanukah! Or Hanukah! Or ... well ... it just doesn't matter. Happy day.

At our house, the big Hanukkah adventure is trying to remember the right order for placing and lighting the candles in the menorah. The adventure for the geeks at Technion went a bit beyond that.

Enjoy the video and thanks to Bud for the link! Speaking of Bud, new site. New blog. More spectacularness!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Creativity Tips: How to Make Better Resolutions

Do you have your goals in mind for 2013? Want to lose 10 pounds of creative baggage? Exercise your right to write? Or do  you just want to lose 20 literal pounds? Which, of course, you will do by EXERCISING EVERY DAY. Twice on Sundays.

Yep. Been there. Resolved that. Fortunately, making better resolutions -- and keeping them -- is easier than you might think.

1. Think small. Don't make 10 resolutions -- just looking at the list is overwhelming. How about one resolution re: your career, one for relationships, one just for you and one for creativity? Hmm. Four sounds like a lot to me. Think three.
2. Focus on the positive. Where do you want to be in December 2013? Focus on that instead of the effort it takes to get there. Do you want to diet and exercise? Maybe. Maybe not. Do you want to be healthy and strong? I'm guessing yes. (For example, my "diet" resolution is: I will make mindful choices about what I eat. Just thinking about that resolution kept me from eating french fries last night.)
3. Make resolutions that matter -- to you. Be honest with yourself. Maybe you don't really want to write a book or compose a symphony. Maybe your creative goal has more to do with learning to play the kazoo. Very cool. Go for it. These are not your mother's resolutions.

Once you've made the resolutions, be kind to yourself. Remember that every day is a fresh start. Don't quit just because you "slip." When you take two steps forward and one back, you're still one step ahead of where you were!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thanks to My Creative Cheerleaders!

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that I'm finally moving on my BOOK. I would tell you the working title , but it changes every five minutes. Suffice it to say that the book will be much like the blog -- except organized, more in-depth and more inclusive of other people's stories.

I put my plan out there as a way of putting my feet to the fire. What I didn't expect was the overwhelming, positive, enthusiastic response -- the post generated a ton of encouraging comments. Apparently, there are people in the world who think I can successfully write and publish a book. And they want to read it. How cool is that?

It's real cool. Creative cheerleaders -- and many of mine are here on the CI team -- make a huge difference. You're more than creative instigators. You're creative fuel.

Thanks for keeping the faith -- I'll keep you posted on progress!

P.S. Writing the book is one of my creative resolutions for 2013. Tomorrow, we'll be talking about your creative resolutions. Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Creativity Tips: One Man's Trash ...

The Landfill Harmonic video is making its way around Facebook, but I didn't want any of you to miss it and I know some of you aren't Facebook fans. Don't let the 11:45 timeframe scare you from watching every moment. It's beautiful from start to finish -- creativity in motion, changing lives for the better.

Think of the video as a gift -- a reaffirming reminder that the difference between trash and treasure really is perspective.

Thanks to Leslie for being the first to point me toward the video!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Creativity Tip: Write It Down

Did you ever get a brilliant idea and then forget it? Yeah, me too. As life zooms by at a lose-your-breath pace, it's easy to also lose focus.

What to do? Simple. Keep pen and paper close at all times. Or, if you prefer, some voice recorder dealie-bob on your phone or whatever. The trick is to make note of the idea immediately, using whatever system works for you.

Case in point: I was having trouble writing an essay for a client and woke up with the intro in my head. Fortunately, I keep pen and paper near my bed, so I scribbled the idea down before I got up, got going and the intro got lost. Here's what "brilliance" looks like at 6:18 a.m.:
Clear as mud? That's OK -- I understood it. On the other hand, I recently sent myself a text saying: First Sunday in December. First Sunday in December? What? Was I supposed to go somewhere? Meet someone? Is it the title of a play? A line in a poem? Who the hell knows?

So here's the brilliant idea for today:
When you get a great idea, don't wait. Clearly, concisely and quickly capture that thought.

And you can write that down, if you'd like.

P.S. If you're reading this on Monday morning, I should be at the synagogue, participating in a meeting. I'm not there. I'm in a completely different and much less enjoyable meeting. Why? Because I forgot to write the first meeting on my calendar. Write it down. Write everything down.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life

So, picture this: It's a gorgeous, sunny day in old KC and I'm driving with my darling daughter Kate to buy food for our family Thanksgiving meal. We're going to a store about 10, 15 minutes away because I like it better than the store by us.

We pull into the lot, and I realize I don't have the coupon that will save us 10 percent on groceries.

Got the picture? OK. Now, imagine this: I'm cursing as though the world is coming to an end, fuming over the "wasted" time, and sulking about having to drive all the way back home and then go to the icky store by us. I am slamming mad -- unreasonably, loudly, insanely angry.

Kate, on the other hand, is the model of calm, reminding me that it's a pretty day, it's not that far, it's no big deal. Suggesting that possibly I need to breathe.

Yeah, well. Instead of breathing, I yank the car into reverse and pull out. And, as we leave the parking lot, we pass:
1. A homeless family holding up a sign asking for help.
2. A woman walking back to her car who is clearly fighting cancer -- she's wearing a pink T-shirt and has a pink stocking cap covering her bald head. And, fyi, she's smiling.

"Mom," Kate says, "I think someone is sending you a message."

I got the message, and I'm sharing it. During this crazy, busy time of year, it's good to remember that we're lucky people. Lucky, lucky people. And it is a wonderful life.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Creativity Tips: Slow Down

OK, raise your hand if you remember Simon & Garfunkel singing, "Slow down, you move too fast."

All right. Now that we're all feeling groovy, here's the creativity tip and exercise for the day. When I told Leslie I was going to brag about her Mortal Muses guest post, I forgot to ask her for a photograph to illustrate my post. Why? Because I move too fast. There are far too many times where I don't slow down and think things through.

I'm betting that hits a very Simon & Garfunkelish chord with a few of you.

So, a day late and a dollar short, here's the photo that should have been part of yesterday's post!
Photo by Leslie R. Adams
The creativity exercise? Slow down. Don't move too fast. Focus on one aspect of this photo -- the door, the roof, the wheel, the trees, the barrel, whatever. Now, write five descriptive sentences about that part of the photo. Remember: Details make the difference -- they bring writing to life. Don't just say it's a red door. Describe the red. The handles. Tell me what's behind the door. Go!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Creative Shout Out: Leslie Adams & Mortal Muses

When you get outside your comfort zone and really stretch creatively, you know what happens? People notice.

Want proof? Consider the wonderful and talented Leslie Adams. This week, the Mortal Muses site features our lovely Leslie and her fabulous photography. Whoo hoo!!

It's well-deserved recognition of Leslie's beautiful work and her enthusiasm for creative exploration. Whether she's expanding her talents with Instagram, baking, or blogging, Leslie is always playing, always learning. Always creating. She's amazing and I'm thrilled that she remains an essential part of the CI team.

Mazel tov!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fabulous Phrases: Anne Lamott

Joy will always be the best makeup.
-- from Anne Lamott, closing a post on Facebook -- a riff on a line from one of her books.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Creativity Tips: There Is No Wrong

This is what I love about creativity: "Take a photo that illustrates recalculating" leads to this shot from Bud:

And this one from another reader:
And this from Kate:
And this from me. After much agonizing. Because when I had the exercise in mind, I saw recalculating everywhere I looked -- from books and thermometers to plants and kitchen appliances:
The creativity lesson? Recalculate your perception that there is a right way to do everything. Enjoy the times when there is no right. There is no wrong. Enjoy the fact that the world is filled with amazing, delighting options.

Go play.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Creativity Exercise: Recalculating

Ooops. When I said last Friday's post was the 1,000th post on the CI blog, well. Yeah. I lied. It would have been if I posted every day last week, but I missed a day. So, that means ....

Ta Dah! This is #1,000!

My mistake and a frequent admonition from my GPS combine to create today's exercise: Let's illustrate the infamous recalculating. (Does your GPS say that every freakin' time you make a wrong turn? And do you make a lot of wrong turns? Of course, in our house, we like to consider those turns the scenic route.*)

So. We're recalculating. Take your digital camera, your fancy phone, your Polaroid, whatever, and take a photo of something that symbolizes recalculating. If you want to email me your creative results, great!

*Do not, under any circumstance, ever ask my buddy Lynn about the scenic route to Canyon de Chelly. It is not a pretty story. Not pretty at all. Let's just say that a lesser woman would have recalculated our friendship ...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Fun: Village Shalom

If the Google stats are to be believed, this is the 1,000th post on the Creative Instigation blog. Woohoo! I'm thankful to still be writing -- and very thankful you're still reading!

One of the funnest aspects of creativity is that there's no age limit. Check out this video from Village Shalom, where my mom lives. They're celebrating 100 years of helping the aged live happy, creative lives.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Creativity Tips: Be Grateful

On this Thanksgiving Day, I'm going to share the prayer I say every morning when I wake up and dozens of times throughout the day. It's my brain's automatic response to the good things that happen in life and the bad things that don't. (You know. You're driving and some idiot almost smashes into you. It's the almost that matters. Not the idiot.)

My continual prayer/mantra of thanksgiving is incredibly simple:

Thank you G-d for all your blessings. Thank you very much. Amen.

Is it fair to title this post a creativity tip? Absolutely. I believe grateful souls -- whether they believe in any god or not -- have more space in their brains for creative thoughts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Creativity Tips: Keep an Open Mind

Thanks to Lezlie for posting this video on Facebook! Keeping an open mind, seeing the good around us ... seems like an appropriate message for this blog and this week. (The link is on Facebook, so if you get this post via email and can't access the video or the link, you can always look at the blog online. Thanks!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Creativity Tips: How to Write a Thank You Note

As we start the week of Thanksgiving, it's a perfect time for a primer on thank you notes -- and there is a test at the end, so sit up straight and pay attention. You'll thank me later.

How to Write a Thank You Note:
  1. Have stationery* on hand so you're ready to put pen to paper. That's right. Pen to paper. A quick email is completely wonderful to acknowledge receipt of a gift, but nothing replaces a note in the mail.
  2. Be prompt. Write the note within a day of receiving the gift, enjoying the dinner out, whatever. "Within a day" is not Emily Post etiquette -- I'm sure you have longer than that to still be correct. However, the longer you put it off, the less likely you are to write it. And, unfortunately, the longer you put it off, the more likely you are to approach it like a task rather than a genuine expression of gratitude.  
  3. Make it a genuine expression of gratitude. Stop for a minute and think about why this is nice, what the gift/event means to you, what the person means to you, etc.
  4. Don't worry about the salutation. Dear "Name" is always appropriate. Or, have fun if you want -- for example, Pattibeth! as opposed to Dear Patty. (Again, I am not Emily Post.)
  5. Don't worry about word count. Keep it short and sincere. You're writing a note, not a term paper. On the other hand, this is no time for a tweet -- Thanks a lot! is not enough.  
  6. Be specific. Mention the item or event and a reason or two why it is special. For example:
    Dear Mo,
    Thank you so much for the Anne Lamott book! I know you really enjoyed Help, Thanks, Wow and I look forward to discussing it with you after I read it. Lamott is one of my favorite authors -- and you are one of my favorite people!

    Dear John,
    Thank you for the wonderful lunch at Yia Yia's! The company was spectacular and the food was delicious. It was incredibly thoughtful of you to tell the hostess ahead of time that it was my birthday -- dessert is always a treat. As is time with you!
    All the best,
  7. Consider all these fabulous ending options: Thanks again, Cheers, All the best, With gratitude, In appreciation, Love, Sincerely, or the basic and perfectly lovely Thank you!
Now, for the test! (Hey, I warned you.) Look around and find a present someone gave you a long, long time ago. Something that you have kept, treasured, etc. For example, I keep a framed photo on my desk that mybestfriendintheworldsincefourthgrade sent me years ago -- a photo of us on vacation, in a frame that has special meaning. Did you find something? Great. Now write a thank you note to the person who gave it to you. Mail it. Make their day.

Naturally, there's only one way to end a post like this: Thank you for being part of the CI team!

*And keep a dictionary on hand so you can look up stationery vs. stationary.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Fun: "Nerd" is the Word

Today's Friday Fun is two for the price of one!
  1. In yesterday's entry, I mentioned that I had a "really important" post to write. REALLY IMPORTANT. Holy crap. I'm taking myself seriously. This is the first sign of insanity. I apologize -- feel free to laugh at me and with me.
  2. That nonsense aside, this is important! :-) I recently discovered the genesis of the word nerd -- the first person to use it was Dr. Seuss. Of course! That first nerd was a creature in the wonderful If I Ran the Zoo.
  3. Bonus! I said two and you get three: If I ran the zoo, all word nerds would be as wonderful as Cheri. Check it out.
Happy weekend! It's almost turkey time!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creativity Tips: Know When to Stop

When you exercise creative muscles, you get stronger. I exercise my writing muscles daily, so it generally doesn't take me more than 15 minutes to write a blog post. Sometimes, the posts only take a few minutes. (And don't think I'm talking about the super brief posts. They can take the longest time.)

Given that, when I agonize for hours over a blog post, it tells me something: It's time to stop.

I have a really important post -- or two, or three -- to write about my newfound love for exercise and yoga and how the lessons learned in the gym apply to a creative life. However, I'm not going to post these tips until I love them. And I don't love them yet.

Whatever your creative endeavor, when it's just not working, stop. And don't worry -- your creative juices will flow again. Trust me. I'm a professional.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Creativity Tips: See the Miracles

When I was growing up, my family attended Beth Shalom synagogue. Throughout my childhood, we had one religious leader: Rabbi Morris Margolies. Rabbi Margolies, who died last Friday, literally towers over my memories -- I can still see him standing up on the bima, leading the congregation in worship.

When Rabbi Margolies read a prayer that began, "I am the Lord your G-d .., " well. I kinda believed him. He was a force.

I thought I had shared my favorite line from the rabbi on the CI blog before, but it didn't show up in a quick search, so let me share it now:

"The parting of the Red Sea is no greater miracle than the sea itself."

May his memory be a blessing. And may we all see the miracles that surround us, day by day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fabulous Phrases: Shumway's Law

Shumway's Law: The bleeding always stops.

Isn't that wonderful? I discovered Shumway's Law while reading Daryl Levings' column in Sunday's KC Star Magazine. Apparently it originates with heart transplant surgeon Norman Shumway.

The bleeding always stops would be a great line for a poem. Or it could serve as inspiration to create your own "law" based on your field of expertise.

Hmmm. I wonder what the Harness Law might be ....

Monday, November 12, 2012

Creativity Tips: Focus

Common wisdom tells us the biggest damper to creativity is fear. For me, it's another F word: focus.

I wander. I daydream. I'm easily distracted by shiny objects. I stop writing poetry to doodle on a novel and then put that down to pick up scissors because I have an awesome idea for a collage but I really need to paint a canvas first and I think I'm going to paint it black to make the colors pop and that reminds me maybe I should bake brownies for dessert.

You get the idea. And, yes. Painting the canvas black can remind me of baking brownies. If that transition doesn't make sense to you, imagine how poor Tom feels when I start my conversations mid-thought and don't know why he isn't tracking.


So, this week, my focus is on focus! I'm going to divide the days into 45-minute chunks and do one thing for 45 minutes. At the designated minute, I'll make an executive decision: Continue what I'm doing or mindfully switch.

What's keeping you from being your most creative? Think about it. Decide how to fix it. Then, do it!

I'll let you know how my attempt goes. But first ... I was about to start a sock monkey when I started writing this post ...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Fun: Gone With the Wind

Did you notice? I'm blogging again! And it feels like fun, so maybe I'll continue. My creativity sessions for the kids last week did more to energize me than them, I bet.

Anyhoo. Friday Fun! I read The Writer's Almanac every morning for my daily dose of poetry. Check out this one -- I like the poem, but what I really want you to do is scroll down and read about Margaret Mitchell and the story behind Gone With the Wind.

Classic. And, just for the record, her manuscript was as tall as I am.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Creativity Tips: Sample Asimov's Science Fiction

If you like science fiction, I have a great idea for you.
If you don't like science fiction, I have a great idea for you.

Buy the December issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. Then, immediately read the novella featured on the cover: Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected by Steve Popkes. It's wonderful. And it's a reminder to me that it's not the genre I typically like or don't like -- it's the writing.

P.S. Since Steve is an old friend of mine, this is also a Creative Instigation Shout Out to the cover boy! And by "old friend, " I mean ... well. We've been friends for almost 40 years. Whatever meaning you'd like to apply to the word probably works.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Creativity Exercise: Name Your Traits

My friend Eleanor inspired today's exercise -- one of her recent art projects involved listing a personality trait or characteristic for every letter in her name. The match I loved the most? N for Necessary. Isn't that wonderful? And accurate.

I'd like to steal Eleanor's word, but I'll show a little restraint and be:

or I could be:

Or ... well, you get the idea. Your turn! List your name and traits. Try to be nice to yourself. (One of the lists I came up with for Janet made it sound like I could benefit from years in therapy.) Keep in mind: Whether you have an N in your name or not, you are necessary!

*The dictionary is my friend. I also considered enamored and egalitarian. Easy was another option, but ... yeah. Too many potential meanings there.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Creativity Tips: This Is How You Lose Her

Want to be a great writer? Read great writing.

I am late to the table, but recently discovered Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz. I LOVE his writing. LOVE it. After devouring his new collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, I have started his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Here's a sampling that puts the title of the short story collection in context. I don't believe it's a spoiler. The narrator has been caught cheating after his girlfriend reads his journal:

"Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal as one might hold a baby's beshatted diaper, as one might pinch a recently benutted condom. You glance at the offending passages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.

"This is how you lose her."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I Do What I Do

Every once in a while, if you're very, very lucky, you get a reminder of why you stay with your partner. Why your kids are amazing. Why you live where you live.

Why you love your work.

I had one of those moments Friday. After presenting three Creative Instigation sessions at an elementary school, I received a lovely email from one of the students. I'm sharing part of it here, because it makes me want to blog again.

i had so much fun listening to u in class and i don't usually like listening in class, but u made it fun u helped me on a story I'm writing. thank u for telling me that writing is not weird because at first i was scared about what people would think. but now i don't care as long as i like it then that's all that matters.

And that, my friends, is all that matters.

So here's the question to start your week: Why do you do what you do?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Fun: Killer Commas

Maureen sent me this. I love Maureen.
Happy weekend!
Go out there and save a few lives. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Fun: Not so Random Acts of Kindness

My mother is 91 years old and nearly blind. For her, maneuvering in public restrooms is truly a challenge -- the only constant in these facilities is that they put the stall for the disabled as far away from the door as possible.

Because that makes sense. Make the people with walkers and wheelchairs go the distance, while the rest of us slackers get the shortcut.

But, I digress. Despite any difficulties mom faces when she's out on the town, she takes great delight in this simple, not-random act of kindness. After she dries her hands, mom makes sure there's a towel ready for the next person.
Please note: I typically do not
take photos in public restrooms.
Thank you.
My suggestion for the weekend? Don't be a drip.* Follow mom's lead. Wave your hand under the magic dispenser and leave a towel for the next gal.

**This is the danger of being a writer with a blog. No self control leads to bad, bad lines. Please forgive me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Fun: DIY Dog Bed

You know how sometimes things fall perfectly into place? The Yiddish term is b'sheret -- meant to be. Well, a couple of days after Kate got her new pup, Zoe, I opened Facebook and there was a post for a DIY dog bed.
B'sheret. And easy peasy, to make it even better. I'm not sure if the link to the DogTV page on Facebook will work for everyone, so here are the instructions:

You will need: an old sweatshirt, pillow, polyfill or other stuffing, and one lucky dog.
  1. Stuff sleeves and shoulder/collar area of sweatshirt (The instructions say you might need to put in a few stitches to create a "pocket" in the body of the shirt, but I didn't do that. I also used an old throw pillow, rather than the bed pillow they suggested.)
  2. Insert pillow through bottom of shirt.
  3. Stitch end of sleeves together.
  4. Attach pillow "ring" to bed bottom with a few stitches. Enjoy!
Zoe. Preciousness personified.
Dogified? Whatever. Damn cute.
For what it's worth, I didn't attach a ring at the bottom, and I made a number of stitches to tack the arms into more of a ring around the pillow and close up the bottom of the sweatshirt -- I figure the whole thing can go in the wash, so what the heck.

This project took less than an hour and demonstrates one of the things I like most about creativity -- taking different things and bringing them together, creating something that didn't exist before. Such fun. Makes me feel like I really accomplished something, whether I'm baking or writing or making dog beds.

Go have fun. Make something! Here's to a lovely weekend.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Creativity Tips: 5 Ways to Celebrate Labor Day

When I was 15, I got my first professional job. I wrapped silverware at Putsch's Cafeteria. Mom still says no one wraps silverware as good as I did*. Heck, she might be right. Regardless, after 42 years in the workforce, I appreciate a day off -- so here are five ways to celebrate today!
  1. Start with the obvious: Don't labor.
    Of course, obvious isn't always as obvious as you think. What do you really consider to be work? For example, the writing I do for clients is fun, but it is work. Writing poetry is not work. Make a list of your top five labor-intensive items and avoid them. My list? Writing for clients; handling agency projects, such as invoicing and insurance; cleaning house; doing laundry; paying bills.
  2. Read Working by Studs Terkel.
  3. Observe this symbolic end of summer with a triple-play.
    Eat an ice cream cone or a popsicle. Enjoy a beach read. Sit outside and chat, with a cold drink at your side.
  4. Think back on all the jobs you've had and all the experience gained.
    What was the most fun you ever had at work? What was the worst job ever? Who was your favorite co-worker? Just thinking is enough, but if you're in the mood, write a few paragraphs about any of those.
  5. Thank someone who is laboring today -- at a grocery store, restaurant, whatever.
    While you're at it, send good thoughts toward all the people laboring away at jobs you wouldn't want to handle -- from the trauma center nurse to the plumber to the president.
*Yes. This explains a lot about why I am the way I am. Being loved that much was a lovely way to grow up.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creativity Tips: Tell Me a Story

I love a good story. And I love a good blog post -- especially when it includes a good story. Check this out by Andrew Nemiccolo of Seven Story Learning.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creativity Tips: Never Pass Up a Celebration

I love this face.
Mary is 19 today! Whoo hoo! In honor of my baby's birthday, here's a story I've told most of my friends, but may not have shared here ...

When Mary was just a little thing, maybe 3 years old, I was rushing to get her and Kate (probably 7 at the time) ready to go -- Mary to daycare and Kate to school. Mary was being pokey. I told her to hurry up. She told me to shut up.

Say what?

"Did you tell me to shut up?" I asked, pulling myself up to a towering 5-feet in full strict-mother mode.

Picture the panic, as the toddler tried to squirm her way out of this one.You could see the creative brain cells in action. Her eyes were literally spinning. Then, she stood up straight to declare her innocence.

"No, momma!" she insisted. "I said, 'Shit!'"

Well, I started laughing so hard I had to leave the room. At which point, poor little Kate came trailing after me to point out that first Mary told me to shut up, then she cursed, and she still didn't get in trouble.

My girls. I'll keep 'em both. Happy birthday, baby!

P.S. There is a definite creativity lesson here. With a little imagination, you can turn a bad situation around. Just ask Mary.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Food is Love: Nutella

I waffle. Should this be a Food is Love post? Or a Friday Fun post? I think it's both.
Nutella has been around since the 1940s, so I'm a little late to the table. I tried it for the first time a few weeks ago and discovered my new favorite snack: Nutella on a graham cracker. It's yum, it's fun and that makes it good for you.

Let's ignore the fact that the first ingredient is sugar. Better yet, don't ignore it. Because, as my grandmother used to say, "Everyone needs a little sweets."

Happy weekend!

(If you're ready to expand beyond Nutella on a graham cracker, check out this muffin recipe, one of many floating around Pinterest. AKA, the site currently known as a bottomless hole of time-sucking possibilities. I haven't tried the muffin recipe yet, so let me know if it's good.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fabulous Phrases: Gratitude

I'm so glad I started my professional life as a radio reporter. My need then to really listen to people so I could quickly capture the best soundbite has helped shape my career -- and my relationship to the universe. I hear soundbites others might miss.

For example ...

One of the speakers in Jerusalem was a young rebbetzin who had recently recovered from a critical illness. During the months when she was hospitalized, many people stepped up to help. They fed her family, sat by her bedside, prayed for her recovery.

Later, she told one of her friends, "I will never be able to repay all these kindnesses."

The friend quietly replied, "You're not indebted. You're connected."

You're not indebted. You're connected. I've never heard a more gracious, freeing and absolutely accurate way to describe that kind of situation.

And, for the record, I'm grateful you and I are connected.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creativity Tips: Thinking Back to School

With apologies to my many friends who are English teachers, this is exactly how I felt during junior high and high school. I could never understand why the teacher's take on the author's true meaning was any more accurate than mine. After all, the teachers weren't around when Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter.

A few lessons from the chart:
  1. You don't know what you don't know. And none of us knows what the other knows. And who knows if what any of us knows is right?
  2. If you create something that may go viral, put your dang name on it prominently. I would credit whoever put this together if I could. As it is, I'll just thank Patty for sending it to me.
  3. More than one opinion can be right. The curtains may have represented the author's immense depression. Even if the author was just thinking, "Blue. I'll make the curtains blue."
I still have The Scarlet Letter on my bookshelf, along with most of the other books we discussed in class. Take that as proof that my English teachers did a wonderful job. I still love literature. And I still love arguing about it!

P.S. for those of you who have been around me for decades. Everyone is posting picures of their cute kids in adorable back-to-school outfits. Kate is out of school and won't let me post a pic of her going off to work. Mary is back at K-State. I'm tempted to stalk her Facebook page and steal a photo. But I'm trying to control myself ...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Creativity Tips: On the other hand ...

Chuck Dymer has a well-deserved reputation as a brilliance activator and if you haven't looked around his site, give yourself a treat and do it now.

Chuck sent me this insightful response to yesterday's post. I agree with everything he says and am delighted he gave me permission to share his feedback with you. We do run the risk of becoming observers of our own lives ...


You did seize the moment. You took the time to flip the painting over to read the artist's commentary. You got "the lost in translation" humor. You shared it with your traveling companions and you shared it with your readers. You told a story with words instead of pictures. What better thing to do in a land which has given the world a wealth of stories long before photography was invented. 

We don't always need photos and videos to validate our experiences. In fact, when I watch people filming everything they do, I get the sense they're no longer in a state of experience but rather a detached state of observer.

Thanks for sharing your experience.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Creativity Tips: Seize the Moment

There's a beautiful section of Proverbs that discusses a woman of valor. During one of our shopping expeditions in Israel, I found an interesting painting of a woman. When I flipped it over to read the artist's commentary, I discovered the real work of art -- a classic lost-in-translation example. The painting was titled .... wait for it ...

A Woman of Velour.

Did I take a photo? No. I did not. I didn't seize the moment and then it was gone. Learn from my mistakes, peeps. When you see the perfect shot, take it.

(Yes, this became a running joke throughout the trip. My traveling buddies and I now live in terror of becoming Women of Velour.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creativity Tips: Schedules Matter

Two weeks ago today I stood for the first time before the Western Wall. The Wall is the last remnant of  the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed thousands of years ago. I don't remember ever not knowing about this holy site -- the image of the Western Wall is engraved in my memory.
I had imagined standing here -- but I hadn't imagined standing here with the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project. This group masterminded logistics. They keep 200 women on time, all the time.

To stay on schedule, we had about 30 minutes at the Wall. That meant I had 30 minutes to work my way through the crowd, reach the Wall and say a prayer. Then, most importantly, I had to find a reachable crevice where I could leave my carefully printed prayer and the prayers I had carried for my mom and a friend.

Thirty minutes. I had one eye on the Wall and one eye on my watch.

Did that create an incredibly spiritual moment? Nope. Not at the Wall. But as I stepped away, something unexpected happened. A heartfelt prayer silently poured out.

You can schedule spirituality -- we do it when we attend weekly services, light candles, meditate every morning, say a prayer before going to bed. You can also schedule creativity. Trust me, writers who have novels published don't wait for "the mood" to hit. They write. Every. Single. Day.

If you haven't blocked out time for creativity yet, do it now. Pull out the calendar and get it on your schedule. You'd be amazed at what can happen in 30 minutes.

“If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me? You are a human being with a unique story to tell. You have every right.” – Richard Rhodes

P.S. My prayer was for courage.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

JWRP Journey: Kayaking, camels and creativity

Now that I'm back from the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project trip to Israel, I want to share a few lessons learned ... and the easiest way may be a day-by-day review. We'll start with activities for Tuesday, July 24th. We were jetlagged but jazzed as we left Tiberias to go kayaking on the Jordan River.

I'd never been kayaking before, but it won't surprise you to learn that I spent most of the time at the back of the boat, paddling and steering.

Hey! What would you expect? The trip was just beginning. I hadn't realized yet there were plenty of women on this ride perfectly capable of moving our boat in the right direction.

Despite my control freak tendencies, my first kayaking experience was a blast. We even turned the dang boat around in time to go over the "rapids" face forward. Whoo hoo! Later in the week, I would ride a camel. Another first.
The lesson learned:  I like kayaking. I don't like camels. Will I go kayaking again? Absolutely. But next time, I won't go in circles as much and I won't drink the river water. I can be taught.

And that's the real creativity lesson of kayaking and camels.
You learn something new every time you try something new.

As we move through our own individual journeys, it's absolutely essential to try new adventures -- and absolutely no reason to wait. You don't have to travel halfway around the world to explore your options. Wonders await us everywhere.

What have you always wanted to do? Hike a long trail? Sail a boat? Paint a picture? Do it. Do it now.

P.S. It's nice to let someone else steer the boat and lead the camel. Really, really, really, really nice.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Creativity Tips: While I'm Away

As I head off for Israel, here's what I wish for you -- Itsy Bitsy Spider moments. You find them at home, at work, out in the world. Those moments where you and one other person completely connect. Moments where you give and receive joyous, generous, undivided attention.

Want to tap into all your creative wonderfulness? When you're at home, be at home. When you're at work, be at work. And when you're on vacation, vacate.*

Hugs to all of you and thanks for being part of the CI team!

*According to a new study by Harris Interactive for TeamViewer, 52 percent of Americans expect to work while on vacation this year. I proudly remain in the minority.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Creativity Tips: Mock Trial

So, you were saved last week from a long post re: mean people. However, without going into gruesome details, I do want to mention one thing:

If someone mentions a creative idea to you -- in a meeting, at home, wherever -- don't mock them. I don't care if the idea is silly, impractical, expensive and ridiculous. If you can't say something nice about the idea itself, try this:

That's fascinating! What made you think of that?
How interesting! I don't know if we can make that work, but maybe we can use your idea as a starting point for brainstorming ...

If nothing else, just smile and remain silent. Don't mock. Mocking kills creativity.

P.S. With that off my chest, I can now move on. And that may be the bigger creativity tip today. When something is bothering you, deal with it. Then forget about it. Life is too precious to waste time fretting about other people's mistakes.

P.P.S. Life is also too precious to waste time fretting about our own mistakes. Fix 'em. Apologize if you should. Move on.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Creative Query: I'm Looking for a Few Good Books

You've heard of a beach read? Well, I'm looking for a sky read. Sunday's flight from New York to Tel Aviv is more than 10 hours long. I can download books from my Kindle to my iPad* because I'm cool like that. I also plan to take a few real, solid, tactile books and magazines -- just for old time's sake.

Any suggestions on what I should read? All ideas are appreciated, other than "50 Shades of Grey." Seriously. I bought it. I tried to read it. The writing literally makes me cringe. The writing -- not the topic. Very important distinction. Erotica can be literature. Read Anaïs Nin.

(Hmmm. Even literary erotica is probably not the appropriate read for a flight to Israel. You can see why I need some help here.)

*I think it's a lot easier to read on the iPad -- better lighting and resolution.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Creativity Exercise: Find Your ABCs

One of the joys of doing the Creative Instigation blog is connecting with people I don't know -- I love it that my friends and family read the blog, but it still amazes and delights me when strangers find the blog and like it.

That brings us to CJ, who posts comments here now and then. The Alphabet Sunday feature on her Pony Express blog prompted today's creativity exercise:
  1. Check out CJ's posts -- she found the entire alphabet, including this V, at home.
  2. Grab your camera.
  3. Walk around the house, the yard whatever, and take photos of objects that create the letters of your first name.
  4. If you love what you come up with, send me the photos so I can admire your work!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Creativity Exercise: It Might Have Been

Let's start the week by firing off a few new synapses, courtesy of a few old memories. Ready? Get out a clean sheet of paper. Now ...
  1. Write down three things you've lost: 1 object, 1 person, 1 belief.
  2. Write one sentence about each.
  3. Choose the lost item that feels most important right now.
  4. Write why that loss matters, and why or if you would like to have the
    object/person/belief back.
  5. Consider these lines from John Greenleaf Whittier:
    For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
    The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
  6. Wad the paper into a ball, aim for the trashcan, score nothing but net.
Fresh week. Fresh start. Here's to Monday! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Fun: Kate's New Adventure

Right after the mortarboard tossing, Kate traveled with her friend Ann to Europe for a month. They're home now and Kate is looking for work. What qualifies that as a Friday Fun feature? Simple. It's fun to share her creative resume with all of you. And take a look at this fun photo!

Oh, yeah. She's mine.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creativity Tips: Stop Whining

I had an entire post written for today encouraging people to be nice, drawing on several recent not-nice experiences I've had.

Then, my friend Chris took me to lunch. And I was reminded that the world is full of kind, good, supportive people. So I don't feel like chiding anyone today. It's summertime. Go outside. Go play.

P.S. With Chris and colleagues Keith and Karen, I have a whole Armada on my side! They're brilliant. Check 'em out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Creativity Exercise: Write a Note for the Western Wall

In two weeks, I plan to be in Jerusalem as part of a trip with the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project. It's an interesting time to be in Israel. Lots of unrest between Orthodox Jews and other Jews -- along with the usual geo-political issues.

This is my first trip to Israel and much of my time will be spent studying at a facility near the Western Wall. It's traditional to leave a note -- often a prayer -- in a crevice of the Wall.
That brings us to an interesting creativity exercise: If you could send a short message to a higher power, what would it be?

(You don't need to believe in a higher power to do the exercise. In some ways, it's probably a better creativity exercise for those of you who don't -- requires more imagination!)

Here's another exercise. Finish Bart's message:
"Holy ..."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creativity Tips: Create an All-Star Team

As a Kansas City native, I feel obligated to do a post re: today's All-Star game:

One of the many activities tied to the game was Sunday's program at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, a fond look back at the 1985 World Series.* In The Kansas City Star story about the event, the reporter quotes former Royals catcher Jim Sundberg, talking about the 1985 squad:

"This team probably wasn't our most talented team, but it was the team that played best together."

That's what I'm talking about, folks. "Plays well with others" is more than a box to check off on the kindergarten grade card. It's an approach to life, a generosity of spirit, that leads to success. It leads to championships.

When you build your All-Star creative team, consider talent the table stakes. But before you move forward, ask yourself: "If I didn't have to, would I really want to play with this person?"
In keeping with the All-Star trends, here's my list of what makes KC special -- beyond the BBQ, boulevards and baseball.
  • Kansas City drivers let you cut in front of them in traffic. Not always, but often.
  • Neighbors still borrow sugar and eggs from each other.
  • Steaks. If you're a carnivore, you're in the right place. However, we also have every other kind of deliciousness available. With the possible exception of a Kosher deli.
  • Four seasons trump two or one. Even if two of the seasons are less than delightful.
  • Many of our wealthiest neighborhoods aren't gated. You can drive through Mission Hills and gawk at the houses, a favorite family activity when I was young.
  • Farms. I love driving by farms and grazing horses right next to houses.
  • We report the traffic, but ... yeah. It's not New York. And if you live here, you know the roads to avoid and when to avoid them. Quivira, for example. For now and the foreseeable future.
  • Strangers help each other. Happened to me just this past weekend -- Tom and I were trying to move a heavy piece of furniture at Mom's assisted living facility. A man -- not young -- standing nearby immediately came over and helped. (Remind me of this on Thursday. You'll see why.)
*I have a ticket from that series in my wedding album. Tom and I got married on Oct. 27, 1985, the day the Royals won it all. That must be a good marriage omen ...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Creativity Tips: Expand Your Team

Recently, Kate and I were driving to the car shop and went past a young man, zooming along the sidewalk on his bicycle.

"He's going really fast," I said.

"He's going downhill," Kate replied.

Now, here's the fascinating thing about that exchange: I hadn't noticed he was going downhill. Consider it part of my charm; I often overlook the obvious.* Fortunately for all of us, Kate adds her insight and perspective to my continually evolving creative team.

This week's advice? Surround yourself with people who see the world differently than you do. It's a really fast way to widen your creative vantage point. And that's a huge advantage.

*Be nice. It's Monday. Let's call it a charming trait rather than a sign of impending senility.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Creativity Tips: Follow the Path to Weird U.S.

You never know where the path of a journey -- or a conversation -- may take you.

Yesterday, out of the blue, Kate asked me if Atchison, Kan., was one of the seven gateways to hell. OK, the mention of Atchison wasn't completely out of the blue. We were discussing Amelia Earhart. However, the "gateway to hell" was a bit off topic.

While I was still laughing about that, she corrected herself: "Oh, no. It's not Atchison. It's Stull, Kan."

And that, my friends, brings us to Weird U.S., where a funky little homespun newsletter turned into a much bigger creative endeavor -- a place where you can discover why Stull is considered a direct path to hell. Read carefully, and you'll also uncover a bit of creative inspiration: The guys behind the project recognized an opportunity when it came their way and pursued it. Think that's common? Think again.When opportunity knocks, a lot of us refuse to listen.

It's a weird, weird, weird, weird world, my friends. Here's to wandering.

(But avoid those gateways to hell. Especially in Stull. Hell, if I'm going down, I expect a more exotic entryway than a cemetery in Kansas ...)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Creativity Tips: Avoid the Busy Trap

Do you have time to read a short essay by Tim Kreider in The New York Times? No? Ah, then you're the person who needs to read it most.

Thanks to Bob for pointing me toward the essay and reminding me to avoid the busy trap. Happy Monday!

This is Bob.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thanks, Nora Ephron

A writer I've long admired, Nora Ephron, died yesterday. Too young. 71. As is fitting, her obituary in The Washington Post is well written. It begins with the line:

“Take notes,” Nora Ephron’s mother advised her as a child. “Everything is copy.”

So noted.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Creativity Tips: Staying Alive

Does music make a difference? When you're talking about lifesaving creativity, it absolutely does. Take a tip from the American Heart Association and their approach to hands-only CPR. The more of us who know it, the more likely we are to be staying alive.

(Isn't it amazing how adding music makes the process more memorable? The more senses involved in an experience, the more memorable that experience becomes.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Creativity Tips: Isaac's Proposal

There are times when amazing creativity demands a team. Check out Isaac's proposal. It starts strong and just gets better. Mazel tov to the happy couple!

And here's hoping your week is something to sing about!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Fun: Homer

Do you know the secret to a successful marriage? Laughter.
This clock was a gift from me to Tom.
With his creative skills, he turned my gift into an animated GIF.

I think it's time for the weekend! 
And possibly a beer. And a donut.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Creativity Exercise: Name Your Street

Kate and her friend Ann fly home today, after a month in Europe. Yay! Reason enough for a fun creativity exercise.

During their time overseas, Kate and Ann lived on a street named Jerichausgade in Copenhagen; their flat in Berlin was on lichtenrader. (If you are familiar with the lichtenrader area, don't tell me about it. I get the feeling I would have retroactive heart palpitations.)

Streets in my life have included: 63rd, Quincy, Holmes, Seminole, 47th, Price and the lyrical,historical Daniel Boone Road. When we were kids and went to look at the house on Daniel Boone, we made the address into a song. Sang it as part of our effort to convince the folks to buy the house. "87-47-Daniel-Boone-Road! 87-47-Daniel-Boone-Road!"

Hey -- don't laugh. The magical incantation worked. Mom and Dad bought the house.

Today's exercise: Pretend you can name your street. Choose your address. Go!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Creativity Tips: Ask the Right Question, Part 2

Now that we've considered the creative approach for offering help, let's flip the situation around. How talented are you when it comes to asking for help?

Monday, I was stomping around the house. The dining room and kitchen were crammed with boxes -- we had new carpet installed last week and haven't had a chance to unpack, put things away. There were more boxes from mom's pending move in the entryway. Yet more boxes packed for charity and sitting by the fireplace.

Which stack pushed me over the edge? Doesn't matter. Here's the issue: I still expect people to read my mind. It's the classic, "If you really loved me, you'd just know." So, imagine my surprise when Mary said,

Mom, do you need help with something?
All you have to do is ask.

She really and truly didn't know that I wanted help to move the boxes. She was trying her best to simply stay out of my control-freak way. Whoa. I came out of insane mode long enough to say,

Yes. I would really appreciate your help.
Would you please move all these boxes up to my office?

And, snap. Easy as that, boxes disappeared. Take a lesson from John, Paul, George and Ringo. Get better at asking:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Creativity Tips: Ask the Right Question

When you know someone who is in a challenging situation -- death in the family, illness, lost job, whatever -- the typical question a typical friend asks is:

What can I do to help?

Interestingly enough, that is not a helpful question. When people are stressed, the last thing they want is another tough question to answer. If you really want to help -- and it's not just a generic How are you today? remark -- take a tip from my good friend Maureen. Knowing that I will be at Mom's apartment tomorrow to continue packing her stuff*, Maureen's immediate question was:

What time should I meet you at Mom’s tomorrow?

Ask the right question. Make it easy for the person in need to accept your gracious offer. Words matter -- and knowing that is always a tremendous help.

*Mom is moving from her assisted living apartment to a room in the health care center of her facility. She's OK. Just 91. Getting old, as Betty Davis said, is not for sissies.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Creativity Tips: I'm Fine

As a writer, one of my favorite creativity exercises is to find different ways to say the same thing. For example, we've all said, "I'm fine," when we are not fine. Here's Mary Englebreit's take on that:

And now for something completely different, here's a version from Bad Idea T-Shirts:
One of these made me laugh out loud. Yeah. That one. If I weren't in a "toss it out, toss it all out" mood, I'd buy that one. Twisted? Could be. Could be.

But here's a fine idea: Take this concept and run with it. Look at something you've done one way and consider a different twist. Maybe you use whole wheat flour rather than white flour in a recipe. Mix and match your clothes this week in a way you've never tried before -- different T with those jeans, perhaps. Orange tie with the blue shirt. Blue tie with the blue shirt. Purple nail polish.

Do something that makes you smile. Then, when people ask, you can say in all honesty: I'm fine!

Happy Monday!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Food is Love: Yogurt Apple Pie

Yep! I'm bringing it back -- the Food is Love feature on the CI blog. If you're new, don't argue with me re: the psychological impact of equating food with love. I'm a Jewish mother. Don't go there.

Our first new recipe is easy-peasy and scrumptious. It's not really apple pie, but it's the next best thing. Actually, I don't like apple pie, so this is the first best thing for me. There are no measurements because we are all creative souls and I have no idea how much cinnamon you prefer.

Mix this up in quantities you like. Taste as you go. Enjoy!

  • Cut up one very fresh, crisp apple. Eat about a third of it while you're cutting, because you don't need it all with the yogurt.
  • Mix the apple pieces into low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • Sprinkle in a fair amount of cinnamon.
  • Toss in a good handful of chopped pecans, pecan pieces, whatever you have in your freezer. (You do keep pecans in the freezer, ready for baking, correct? Good.) If you are allergic to nuts, don't be nutty. Don't add nuts.
  • Stir it all up.
Now, here's the important part:
Put this in a beautiful bowl or parfait glass, because that makes it taste even better.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Creativity Tips: Stretch

As I write this, I am sitting in an empty home office. In a few minutes, I will unplug this computer and move it to the dining room table. After 25 years, two kids and three dogs, we're getting new carpet throughout the house.

Oh yeah, baby. Fresh. New. Carpet. There may never be another glass of red wine, Kool-Aid or apple juice in this house again.

In preparation for the carpet installers, I completely cleaned the office so they can move furniture. That included emptying the closet -- stuffed to the gills with office supplies, creativity toys and craft stuff. And two huge bookshelves, filled with books, photos and other essentials for life.

Since the office was clean, I took that as an opportunity to paint. Rather than the charming Johnson County beige we had before, the walls are now a beautiful pale turquoise.

I had never painted a room before -- that was always Tom's job. But, he was busy, I had time, and it's my space. As it turns out, I'm a heckuva good painter. Damn few drips and hardly any stripes. I also spackle and tape like a pro. Never knew I could do that. Then again, I never tried.

Ooooh. There's a key. I never tried.

Think of something you've always let other people do -- some creative, productive task you've just never tackled. The weekend is coming up. Stretch. Do something new!

P.S. The link on "Johnson County beige" contains adult language and excellent sarcasm. It's also a fairly accurate description of Johnson County. For the record, I am not from Johnson County. I'm a KCMO native. Just sayin ...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Creativity Tips: In the Mood

There are many different kinds of creativity. In my world, these often fall into two categories: professional and personal.

Professional creative activities include my client work. I don't wait for "the mood" to strike before I do these. Or, perhaps I do, but the work mood strikes every day. Deadlines -- and paychecks -- inspire me.

Then, there are those other creative endeavors. You know, the sock monkeys. I have a list of five or six people, including Mary, waiting for their monkeys. There's the T-shirt quilt Kate expected for college graduation. Yeah ... no. Hell, I haven't finished the baby quilts for Kate and Mary yet.

My point? When it comes to personal creativity, I do what I do when I want to do it -- and that's fine. I will get the monkeys and quilts done, or I won't. It's not brain surgery.

This blog falls somewhere between professional and personal. For a long time, I considered it an important daily deadline. Then, I didn't. Now ... well, I'm still not interested in adding another daily deadline to the schedule, but I do feel I have new ideas and stories to share.

Frankly, I also miss you. (Sidenote: Never start a sentence with Frankly... or To tell the truth... or To be honest ... because it implies the rest of your comments have been bold-faced lies.)

This realization came to me recently in a meeting. After my portion of the session ended, there was no graceful way to leave. So, I doodled. What came to mind, unbidden, was a list of blog ideas:

I'm a writer. Not a photographer.
Don't judge me.
You know what this list means to me? The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many blogs. Expect to see a bit more of me in the days ahead. No promises, and I could always get a headache. But at the moment, I think I'm in the mood.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Creativity Tips: Just Do It

Once upon a time, when my daughter Kate was in second or third grade, she told me she needed a new pair of athletic shoes.

"OK," I said. "What kind do you want?"
"I want boy shoes," she said.
"Why do you want boy shoes?"
"Because the boys at school run faster than the girls," Kate answered, "so I figure it has to be the shoes."

There are about 10 million potential creativity lessons in that reply and my response. For example, I could have told her that she was being ridiculous -- that a boy's ability to run fast did not hinge on his shoes. However, making someone feel stupid is the world's fastest way to to squelch creativity. So, that would be wrong. Real wrong.

That leaves three immediate options:
  1. Gently explain that the idea is wonderful, but might not work. Buy girl shoes.
  2. Gently explain that the idea is wonderful, but might not work. Buy boy shoes anyway.
  3. Buy the boy shoes and let her run.
I'm going to let you guess what I did.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Creativity Exercise: Put Out the Fire

Happy Monday!

Over the weekend, I was driving somewhere with the radio on. I was flipping stations and don't know what the DJ was talking about, but he said this line and attributed it to Tennessee Williams:

We all live in a house on fire.

Now, that's a fabulous phrase. I thought maybe it was from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but I couldn't find it in a quick skim. Any of you know where it's from?

Meanwhile, here's your creativity exercise to start the week. Figure out what's on fire in your house -- what makes you want to run screaming out the door. Then, don't ignore it. Put the fire out. It's hard to be at our creative best when there's something nagging at us -- something we know we need to do, to fix, to say. This week, deal with the issue and move on.

Right after you find the quote for me ...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Creativity Tips: Read Shepublican

Now and then, we've talked about voice on the blog. I talk about it all the time with clients. Your voice, whether it's personal or brand, sets you apart. I like to think that the success I've had with this blog stems, in part, from people liking my voice.

And, of course, the bribes I paid out at the start of it all.

My friend Kate is launching her blog, Shepublican. She did not bribe me to mention this. I bring it to your attention because:
  1. Her voice is apparent right from the get-go. Read this. First post, and you hear her.
  2. We're going into a political season that promises to be nasty and mean. I welcome a view from the center of it all.
  3. I love Kate.
Read and enjoy. Then raise your voice. Now's the time.