Friday, December 29, 2017

New Year's Resolution: Lose the Right Weight

Dear CI Team,

Since I am the only Jewish momma many of you have, I feel obligated to tell you the truth. In the new year, you really do need to lose that weight.

You need to lose the weight of the world. Your shoulders are strong and beautiful. They were never meant to carry the universe. Keep doing what you can to make our world a better place; we need you more than ever. But, as you do, remember that the world will keep spinning even if you stop pushing. You know, at least for a day or two.

You need to lose the weight of the past. You made mistakes. You didn't do your best. You spoke in anger. Maybe you messed up this year. Maybe you're still fretting about something from decades ago. Or, perhaps the weight you bear stems from another's action. Someone wounded you, abused you, broke you. No matter what your past burden, dear heart, let this be the year you let it go.

You need to lose the weight of expectations. I don't know if it's your expectations weighing you down, or expectations imposed upon you. I do know that fear of failure can paralyze progress. In 2018, expect to do your best. Do it. And applaud your effort regardless of the results. Step by step gets us where we're going.

In 2018, let's not measure success by how many pounds we lose. Let's measure success by how many lives we enrich. Let's measure success by how generously we give, how wholeheartedly we laugh, how deeply we love.

In 2018, let's be kind to each other. Let's be kind to ourselves.

Jewish tradition tells us that 18 -- chai -- is a lucky number. Chai is also the Hebrew word for life. After surviving 2017, I'm taking the new year's new number as a good sign. May 2018 be a happy, healthy year for all of us. May you lose what you need to lose, find what you hope to find, and pause long enough to remember: It really is a wonderful world.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Magic Words: You'll Thank Me Later

There is a correct response when someone says Thank you! and it's not No problem. I'm as guilty as anyone on this -- but, seriously, peeps: What does that mean? You wouldn't have done the favor, offered the gift, opened the door, if it had been a problem? 

Words matter. And the magic words we teach our kids -- like please and thank you -- matter a lot. Manners matter. 

You know me, so you know where I'm going with this. What's the correct response when someone thanks you? Ah, that's right! You simply and graciously say: 

And, with that, let me thank you for reading the blog, as sporadically as I write it. If all goes as planned, I'll have one more post this year. It may involve my heartfelt wishes for your 2018. It may not involve nagging.

But, I make no promises on that ... 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Good Stuff: Take Pause and Look Again

You know what's wonderful about writing posts re: gratitude and happiness? It gives me a reason to shift my perspective and look for reasons to be grateful and happy. 

Hmmmmmm. Kind of ridiculous that I need a reason to do that, isn't it?  

By any measure of the word, I am blessed. Family, friends, health, work I love, roof over my head, plenty to eat, etc.* Yet I don't always pause long enough to appreciate it all. 

This week, I hope you pause. I hope you pour yourself a nice hot mug of something, settle back in a cozy chair, look around, and take note -- or make notes -- on your own version of The Good Stuff. 

Super good stuff.
Mug, from Lynn. Cider, from Louisburg
I am going to pause** this week, rather than post. Here's to a lovely Thanksgiving for us all! 

*Knock on wood. A saying that always reminds me of my grandmother, who would say it and then rap her knuckles on her head. 

**OK, OK. I'm not going to completely pause. There's baking to be done. You know me too well ... 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Good Stuff: Unexpected Kindness

Hey -- thanks for being here! Thanks for reading the blog.

As we continue the countdown to Thanksgiving with a few posts re: little things that make me happy, little things to be grateful for, here's a big one: unexpected kindness.

This past Saturday, the people who were installing our windows came back to finish the job. They came right at lunchtime, and brought a treat -- tamales from Elvira's for me and Tom. We are talking the best tamales I've ever had.

Sure, it's possible the tamales tasted extra good because they were such a lovely surprise. And I hadn't had lunch yet. I also hadn't had a tamale in years, and they always remind me of going to see the Kansas City As play baseball when I was a little girl. Dad took me once (just me!), and bought tamales for us at a little stand outside the stadium. I thought that was almost as cool as the pop-up rabbit.*

When was the last time you surprised and delighted someone? November is the perfect month. Go make someone happy.

*If you know what I'm talking about, you're either as old as I am -- or a baseball fanatic. Either way, it was a damn cool mechanical bunny, wasn't it?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Fun: Plan Ahead. Eat Ahead.

Do you realize that Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away? Two weeks from today, you'll either be out the door at the crack of dawn for sales, or ... if you're like me ... sleeping in, safe in the knowledge that there are leftovers from the feast and you don't have to do anything. At. All.

One of my favorite leftovers? Nantucket Cranberry Pie. I've shared the recipe before. I'm sharing it again. The only problem is -- sometimes there aren't leftovers. This pie disappears. Fast.

I think you should make Nantucket Cranberry Pie this weekend, just to see if it's something to add to the Thanksgiving Day spread. And I think you should invite me over for a big ol' piece, with a really good cup of coffee.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Good Stuff: Good Bones

You know how you can be absolutely sure of something -- and absolutely wrong?

Yeah, it happens now and then. Even to me. ;-)

I absolutely knew I had shared Good Bones by Maggie Smith with you, because I love this poem. There's so much to be grateful for when you find a poem, or story, or book -- or even a line* -- that communicates perfectly. That makes you say, "I know EXACTLY what she means."

Poetry or prose, such words make us feel a little less alone in this big world.

Good Bones is a good example. But, I did a quick search on the blog, and ... it wasn't here. So, now it is. Enjoy!
You could. And I believe you will.

P.S. Since the poem is about mothers and their children ... If you need a decent realtor in the KC area -- one who won't sell you on the bones -- I've got one for you. Kate Harness. You can thank me later.

*Per my post last Friday, I did read A Man Called Ove and it's absolutely wonderful. If I hadn't been reading a borrowed book, I'd have highlighted a number of perfect sentences. If you haven't read the book yet, I recommend it!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Good Stuff: Clean Windows

If change happens gradually, we ease our way into it -- good or bad. I remember an ob/gyn doctor I used to see, who would praise me if I had lost a pound or my weight had stayed the same over the course of a year. I once asked him why he made such a big deal about a pound or two, and he said:

"Most of the women I see gain a pound or two every year. It's not a health risk at first, but after 20 years, it can be."

And that brings us to this sad, but true confession: Over the course of the past 30 years, the windows of our home had probably gained about 30 pounds of dirt and dust. I am not loved for my housekeeping skills. 

This week, we got new windows throughout! And this, my friends, is the good stuff. Clean windows. I can see through them, and the wind can't blow through them. There's no condensation from the cold. And, bonus! They open and close easily -- and can be cleaned from the inside.

I just need to remember to do that, at least once every 30 years.

Take a look around the room you're in, and consider:

  • Is there something on display you don't really care about anymore?
  • Is there something else you could put out that would bring you joy?
  • Have the pictures on the wall been up so long you don't even see them?

Now, extend that fresh perspective. Take a good look at the people in your life. People change too -- at times, so gradually that we fail to see it, Or as Lillian Hellman once said, "People change, and forget to tell each other."

Change can be the good stuff. Share it.
This glider reminds me of being on
my grandmother's porch.
Memories. The good stuff.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Good Stuff: Super Socks

Over the years, I have shied away from product endorsements on the blog ... oh, I've done a few, but ... that's not really what we're here for, is it?

HOWEVER, as we continue our countdown to Thanksgiving and consider little things that make us happy, socks have to be on my list. And not just any socks. These fleece-lined socks from Columbia are THE BEST SOCKS ON THE PLANET.

Soft, warm, cozy.
I could almost like winter ... 
I'm one of those people who rarely wears shoes in the house, so I wear these socks from the moment it turns a little cold until it's warm enough to go barefoot again. Eva, THE BEST SISTER ON THE PLANET, got me my first pair a few years ago.

And there's another little thing to be grateful for*! Presents -- not necessarily hugely expensive -- that are exactly what you want when you didn't even know you wanted them.

Life is good. Sock it to the world, peeps.

*Yes. I ended a sentence with a preposition. Good catch. Thank you for caring.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Fun: Reclaim Your Hobby

"What are your hobbies?"

Sounds innocent enough, doesn't it? Yet, when a fellow consultant/new friend posed the question to me recently, I panicked. What could I say? Reading? I don't read as much as I used to. Baking? I rarely bake these days; everyone is dieting. Exercise? That's not a hobby; it's a way to keep osteoporosis at bay.

Yoga? That's definitely not a hobby. It's a lifesaver.

"I do collage art," I finally mumbled. "And I like to read and bake."

It didn't feel like a lie -- it's not like I claimed to be a knitter. I have done collage art and will again. And I do like to read and bake. And it sounded a lot better than saying, "Well, you know. I take care of the universe all day, it doesn't revolve without me, and then at night I collapse on the couch, play solitaire on my iPad, and ignore my family."

I could have given her that ugly truth, but the woman who asked the question is a new friend, and I want to keep her.

That said, you and I are old friends. So let me ask: What's your hobby? What do you do just for fun? This weekend, make time to do it! Party on, peeps.

I've meant to read it. Now I've got it.
Weekend ready!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Good Stuff: A Collection of Happy

As a writer, I hate to say, "I'm at a loss for words." However ... I'm not sure what to call this:

I can tell you what it is: The shells, rocks, shalom pottery and and breathe reminder form the collection I keep at the base of my computer monitor. I see them all day, every day. And I love them. Each one has meaning to me -- they're all from a special place and/or person.

They feel like totems, if I can call them that without being disrespectful to any Native cultures. And I'm not sure that I can, so I won't.

But, whatever we call them, this is a little collection of happy.

Oh, that image on my computer screen? That's a collection that can make you happy! My free e-book, Creative Chai, has 18 life-embracing ideas for you to consider. And one to grow on!

FYI, I see the doubt on your face. The e-book truly is free. No registration needed. No emails requested. No follow-up provided. Brilliant marketing, huh?

And that brings us to another thing I'm grateful for -- this month and always: The ability to laugh at myself.

Shalom, peeps. Breathe.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Good Stuff: Sweaters

It's fall in Kansas City, the leaves are turning, and it's finally cold enough to put on a sweater. All good stuff!

As we kick-off November and continue my list of little things that I'm grateful for, comfy sweaters are at the top of the list. We're talking soft, warm, fits-just-right-which-means-a-little-too-big sweaters. Mmmmmm. Not as good as a hug, but the sweater does stay with you all day.

Gift from Kate, from Norway.
Best. Sweater. Ever.
Is it possible to see leaves this beautiful
and not feel just a bit happier?
Even if it's just for a moment.
Moments count. 
I hope wherever you are, it's just a bit chilly outside. And you can think of one little thing -- right now -- that warms your heart.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

You know what's really scary? How easy it is to overlook the good stuff that surrounds us -- especially with all the nastiness in the daily news.

I don't want to miss the good stuff -- and I don't want you to, either.

As we wind our way toward Thanksgiving, I'm going to post about little things that add up to one grateFULL Jan. This list will not include the biggies -- family, friends, health, all that. We're talking about items, moments, what have you, that might seem insignificant. But they're not.

For example: pens. (I did check to make sure I spelled pens correctly, because one letter makes a huge difference.*)

It may surprise you, but I have never owned an expensive pen. I've written with everything from fountain pens to rollerballs, but I've never spent a chunk of change on a pen. That said, I LOVE finding a pen that fits my hand just right. I have small hands, and I like thin pens that glide on the paper. My current favorite is a freebie from a local business.

Sometimes, the best things in life are free.

People rarely know what this is -- it's an inkwell.
Photo by the lovely Leslie Adams
*Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Freud would have a field day. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

#Harvey Relief: A Creative Response

In all the years I've been blogging, this may be the first time I've posted on the weekend. But this post is for a very special cause, and prompted by a very special person.

Bud Simpson, itinerant photographer, announced on Twitter and Instagram that all profits from prints and digital rights sales of his images through Sept. 4, 2017, will be donated to the Red Cross Harvey relief efforts.

Buy a beautiful image. Do a beautiful thing. You'll find Bud's incredible work here.

I chose this one, taken in Texas.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

#Creativity Exercise: Find Your Four Words

While cleaning out a closet, I found a box full of old notes and clippings and a few drawings. This, this, is my self-portrait at 23 years of age.

Oy. So sad. So, so sad. I know why, and I won't bore you with the details -- let's just say men were involved. Now, looking at this, I just want to reach back and tell my dear younger self, "It gets better! It really does!"

The words that come to mind when I look at this are all negative. (Well, other than the part of my brain that says, "Damn, girl. That's not a bad self portrait.") And that brings us to today's creativity exercise!

My Instagram account includes a four-word bio -- and all four words make me happy: Writer. Mother. Baker. Friend. If you had only four words to describe yourself, what would they be? This is a quick exercise: Decide on your four words in the next 60 seconds. Go!

Looking for a longer creativity exercise? Draw a self portrait. Then put it in a box somewhere, for your future self to find ... and remember.

P.S.: I'm glad I lost the despair. I wish I still had that blue-and-white sweater.

Monday, August 21, 2017

In the Path of Totality

It's not often that a cosmic event coincides with one of my published poems, but today is the day! Being in the path of totality for the eclipse reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago. I'm happy to say it was published in The Kansas City Star. The book editor back then liked it; I hope you do too.

by Jan Sokoloff Harness

In the path of totality
the eclipse is complete.
darkness conquers
For a moment.

Those in the path
don’t look
directly at the sun.
don’t look
directly at the danger.

Standing in the path we
don’t look
directly at each other.
darkness conquers
For a moment.

P.S. You know what I think of when I think of this poem? My friend Angela cut it out of the newspaper when it was published and framed it for me. Kindness matters. Love wins.

P.P.S. Total Eclipse of the Heart. A classic, especially for today.

P.P.P.S. For goodness sake, if you're viewing the eclipse, protect your eyes.

Credit: Rick Fienberg

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Fun: Attractive People ...

While we're celebrating 15 years of Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC, I should point out that I did work a few years before launching my own company. OK, a few decades. There was KBEA, KXTR, KUDL, WHB, UMKC, CCG and -- last but definitely not least -- Blades & Associates.

I figured the resume should have at least one company with a full name.

One of my proudest career accomplishments is that I am still friends with people from every job. I even married one of them.

A perk of being friends with people for years and years and years is that they remember things I forget. Today's post is courtesy of Barb Pruitt, the best boss I ever had and an amazing woman and role model. Simply put, she rocks. (So does her son, Wes. Check this out.)

Anyhoo, after reading my Wednesday post, Barb reminded me of one of her favorite quotes from my mom -- a mom-ism I had forgotten. When I would come home in tears with a horrible school picture, Mom would hug me and say, with all sincerity: "You're beautiful, Janet! And you know what? If you met a magazine model on the street, they're really not that pretty. Attractive people just don't photograph well. It's a fact."

I believe her. Here's to Mom, and Barb, and all you beautiful people! Now you know what to say when the kids bring those hideous school photos home. Attractive people just don't photograph well.
Yep. Me at 12 -- one of my best school pics. 
I was looking for the one the year before, with the white horn-rimmed glasses.
I apparently tossed that one. Go figure. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Creative Inspiration: Kissing Words

As we continue our 15th anniversary celebration for Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC, it's only appropriate to go back to the moment that inspired me to launch the company.

In 2002, my sweet sister Eva took me to a women's health conference in Columbia, Mo. The heart of the keynote speaker's presentation came down to one essential question: "What would you do today if you were brave?"

Words matter. Words change lives. That question changed mine. As I drove back to Kansas City, I knew what I would do. And, with support from family and friends, I did it.

Given the power of words, it's only fitting that our next Fabulous 15 list focuses on a few of my favorite quotes. Enjoy!

15 Fabulous Favorites: Quotes
Photo by the wonderful Leslie Adams,
my creative partner throughout!
  1. Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
    Confucius. I love this line so much, it's on my business cards.  
  2. Though she be but little, she is fierce.
    Shakespeare. Self-explanatory. 
  3. We write. We talk. That's what Jewish women do. We kiss words. 
    We kiss words. Three is magic. By Susan Schnur in Lilith.
  4. People change, and forget to tell each other. 
    Lillian Hellman. And she was right.
  5. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
    Edmund Burke.
  6. If you rest, you rust. 
    Helen Hayes. She's gone, but she didn't rust away. (Yes, I know. Some rest is good. I'm working on it. Hmmmm. Can you work on resting? You see my challenge.)
  7. Everything happens for the best. 
    Lillian Sokoloff. 
    Vastly different than the popular Everything happens for a reason. When I was a kid, the family went to Galveston and Dad locked the keys in the car. The locksmith who came to help saw our Star of David medallion on the dashboard -- turned out, he was anti-Semitic. He and Dad almost got into a fistfight. When he finally left, the three of us kids turned to Mom and demanded to know what happened for the best. And she said, "We got to stay a little longer at the beach."
  8. To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson gave me my definition of success. (Different sources differ on a word or two, but the essence remains and it speaks to my heart.)
  9. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 
    Eleanor Roosevelt. I wonder what she would have been like as president. 
  10. Any landing you walk away from is a good landing. 
    I don't know who said it first. I heard it from a World War II pilot 40 years ago, and I'm sure he never knew how much it meant to me. I've used this line as reassurance many, many times after many, many rough landings. 
  11. Measure twice. Cut once.
    Yiddish wisdom. I come from a family of tailors. This will help you avoid some rough landings. 
  12. In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on.
    Robert Frost. It does. It goes on. Even when you feel like it shouldn't. 
  13. At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you. 
    By Goethe, maybe? Not sure. But I am sure that it's true. And it's a lovely conspiracy
  14. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. 
    Aesop. Truth.
  15. Not all who wander are lost. 
    I love the J.R.R. Tolkien line and the poem it comes from, including this stanza:
    All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.  
Since I'm a writer, not a mathematician, I'm going to ignore the numbers -- I'll give you 16 Scintillating Sayings rather than the 15 Fabulous Favorites. Why? Because my list wouldn't be complete with this final quote, one that shapes my life and my perspective. Still. Despite everything:

"I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Anne Frank

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Fun: Favorite KC Places

Friday seems like the perfect time to continue our celebration! (The CI team is partying all month, in honor of the 15th anniversary of Sokoloff Harness Communications.) Today, I'm going to take one of Shanna's ideas for a "15 Fabulous Favorites" list, and share some KC sites I love. You can visit many of these places. There are a few that require a special invitation ... 

15 Fabulous Favorites -- Kansas City Places

A favorite photo from a favorite place.
Taken by Kate Harness
  1. My house.
    When I started doodling out my list, this was immediately what came to mind. I love the house Tom and I had built over 30 years ago, and the home we have created here. There are some days when I just stand in the living room and smile. It's not super big, but our house is a very, very, very fine house. (No, the photo isn't from our house. But we do have this photo, framed.) 
  2. Kate's house.
    I love, love, love, love, love my daughter's house. She remodeled the entire thing and it's amazing. 
  3. McLain's Market.
    For those of you familiar with KC, I'm talking about the new McLain's. Which reminds me of the old McLain's. Which reminds me of my childhood. McLain's Market is one of my favorite places for coffee and conversation. It's possible sweets could be involved.  
  4. Rainy Day Books.
    You gotta love an independent book seller
  5.  Mission Hills.
    After you go to Rainy Day Books, drive through Mission Hills. When I was a kid, Dad would take us for Sunday drives and we often wound up in Mission Hills. He knew stories about every mansion -- the people who lived there, the bricks imported from Italy. The entire neighborhood is gorgeous and not gated. 
  6. Hedy's kitchen. 
    This is not a restaurant. But it could be. But I don't want it to be. This is my friend Hedy's gorgeous kitchen/dining room/sitting area, where Hedy and Judy and I gather regularly and miss Maureen since she moved to Tucson and catch up on life. Hedy creates sanctuary. It's a gift. 
  7. The Nelson Art Gallery.
    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it's really the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Tell that to a KC native. Anyway, while you can't go into Hedy's kitchen, you can go to the Nelson. And if you're ever in KC, you absolutely should. It's world-class.
  8. Kansas City Power & Light Building.
    Oooh. You didn't see that one coming, did you? Tom and I once got to watch Fourth of July fireworks from the top of this landmark skyscraper. (No, the top is not open to the public. All those years in radio had their perks.) So, good memories. Plus, it's KC Art Deco at its best. 
  9. Char Bar.
    Why would a vegetarian put "The House of Meat" on her favorite list? Well, let me get out of third-person and tell you that I love their smoked jackfruit sandwiches. And, let's be serious. It's a list of KC places. If I don't include one BBQ restaurant, I have to move out of town. 
  10. Shanna's studio.
    There's one exercise studio on earth where I always feel comfortable, safe and strong. This is it. And the reason extends beyond wonderful Shanna -- I love the women I take classes with here
  11. Louisburg Cider Mill.
    Best cider donuts on the planet. And a lovely drive. If you see a contradiction in discussing donuts after exercise, we really can't be friends. 
  12. The Plaza.
    After I graduated college, I had no money. None. I lived at home for a few horrible months -- it's an act of love and grace that my parents ever spoke to me again after I took my bad attitude and moved out. When I did move, I went to the Plaza. So, not only do I love this shopping district for its classic KC-ness, I love the memory of being a young, independent woman in my Plaza apartment. 4627 Madison. It's a parking lot now
  13. The Bristol.
    One of my all-time favorite restaurants. Not only is the food delicious (How many biscuits can one woman eat? You don't want to know.), but the staff makes special occasions truly special. Think confetti on the table. Special greetings from the crew. Free dessert. 
  14. Kansas City International Airport.
    I know. It's not a great airport. It needs to be replaced. But it's home to memories that make me smile every time I go there. 
  15. Schaake's Pumpkin Patch. 
    Tradition! This is where we go to get our Halloween pumpkins. Every year. In all kinds of weather. Happy family. Happy momma. 

As with my favorite book list, this is all subject to change tomorrow. Possibly today. I hope you have a great weekend! Go someplace special. xxoo

Monday, August 7, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Trust Your Dream

This month marks 15 years since I decided to ignore conventional wisdom (don't quit your day job), trust my dream and launch Sokoloff Harness Communications LLC. I am tremendously grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way, and those who have given me the honor of helping them! My big advice after 15 years?
Throughout August, in honor of the fabulous 15, I'm going to post lists of 15 favorites. I decided, naturally enough, to start with books -- and quickly realized there's no way I could choose 15 favorite books. So, here's today's list of the 15 favorites on my bookshelves. Read fast. It could change tomorrow ...

15 Fabulous Favorites -- Books

  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    Life changing. I still want to be Jo. 
  2. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
    Drawn from her life. And mine. And quite possibly yours. 
  3. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
    I have several of his other books, and don't like them as well. But, if I could only choose five favorite books of all time, this would make the list. 
  4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    I could have listed Siddhartha or The Odyssey or Les Miserables ... or any of the books I still have that I read in my lit classes at Center Senior High School. Thank you, Miss Harvey and Mrs. Harper. I'm sorry I argued with you. I'm sure you were right re: that symbolism.
  5. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
    I love the book. You can start with the blog. Best description of depression EVER. And that's just part of it. I mean, This is Why I'll Never be an Adult
  6. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
    Vonnegut is the best-represented author on my bookshelves. I don't have all of his books, but I do have a lot of them. I chose this one because, as I remember, it was the first one I read. 
  7. The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut
    A remarkable memoir by the elder Vonnegut's son. Excellent writing runs in the family. 
  8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
    Also life changing -- nothing like reading this as a young Jewish girl, Anne's age. 
  9. i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
    My favorite poem, in book form, illustrated by mati mcdonough.
  10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
    If you've ever lost a loved one, and you haven't read this book -- read it. 
  11. The Pocket Book of Modern Verse, edited by Oscar Williams
    My first true love gave me this and it includes a few of my all-time favorite poems, including Cascando by Samuel Beckett and A Space in the Air by Jon Silkin. And Robert Frost is in there, so I won't list a Frost collection. 
  12. Samurai Widow by Judith Jacklin Belushi
    Fascinating journey through grief and recovery.
  13. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
    Reading and discussing this in college was the first time I really went: "Oh. That professor just transformed my entire literary experience." Thank you, Mrs. Ehrlich. 
  14. The Associated Press Styebook
    Am I a word nerd? Yes. Do I like rules? Yes. Do I look at this book all the time? Yes. Why clutter up my mind with effect and affect when I have my trusty stylebook?
  15. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
    My Bobbsey Twin will understand -- as she has, from the days when my love for books began!

I have purposefully not included books written by people I know and/or love and/or am connected to via social media -- like Shanna and Mark and Steve and Cotton and Brian and Bob and Stephanie and Walt and Phil and Donna and Peternelle, because that would have taken up most of the list!

If you have any ideas (or requests) for future lists of 15 Fabulous Favorites, let me know!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Creative Critic: Peternelle van Arsdale and Celeste Ng

As it turns out, there's a limit to how much political insanity I can deal with during a day. By evening, I've usually had my fill of it all -- so I'm spending less time online. Bright spot! That gives me more time to read.

The last two books I've read are shelter in the storm; beautifully written tales that make me eager to read the next works from both authors.

In The Beast is an Animal, Peternelle van Arsdale transports you to a world unlike any you've ever encountered, and makes it feel like home. You know this place, even though it's populated with magical creatures, evil and wonderful. Yes, it's a young adult novel about soul eaters. Don't let that stop you from buying it -- much of today's best writing is classified as young adult, and the best fantasy reflects reality.

Truly. I mean, if you've never dealt with a soul eater, then you've never been employed.

Peternelle also publishes a great newsletter; you can sign up for it here. As she says, "C'mon. Give it a try. Life is too short to live with regrets."

I have one regret about the next book I'm recommending -- I regret that I waited so long to read it.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng made all the top lists when it was published -- I bought it for my daughter Mary some time ago, and recently "borrowed" it from her. She's not getting it back. This one goes on my favorites bookshelf.

It's the story of a Chinese American family dealing with the death of a child and it should come with a warning: Don't read the last few chapters while on a plane. Not that I cried -- a lot -- while sitting next to a complete stranger or anything. (We're not talking sniffles. We're talking tears rolling down my face.)

The next book from Celeste -- Little Fires Everywhere -- is due out next month, Sept. 12. I will be reading it ASAP. Maybe I'll let Mary borrow it. Hmmm. No. Probably not.

Celeste also has a cool story online from the 2015 Twitter Fiction Festival. (She was an invited author the year I was in the festival as a contest winner. And I was pretty dang excited to be in her company, even loosely and virtually.)

Interestingly, both The Beast is an Animal and Everything I Never Told You explore some of the same topics -- family, loss, the challenge of being an outsider, the power of love to both hurt and heal.

Gorgeously conceived, written and edited books have always been an oasis for me. Given the days we live in, these two books are absolute gifts, instant transport to another time and place. Take a break. Read the books.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Fun: The Struggle is Real

"If you look at page 16 of your brief ..."

Want to see how corporate America designs a stop sign? Start here.

You might watch the video and think, That's funny, but it can't be true. Let me assure you: When I was a creative director, this was my life.

Thanks to Pat for sending me the link!

Monday, July 10, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Thunder Thighs

There are times when we believe something is out of our control -- and it's not. Case in point: 

Thigh gap has never been an issue for me. When I was a child, I was chubby enough that my thighs rubbed together when I walked. If you've never experienced this kind of chafing, let me tell you right now: It hurts.

When I would complain, my mother would sympathetically tell me not to fret: "You just have the Eisen thighs," she'd say. "I do too."

Now, Eisen is mom's maiden name -- so "Eisen thighs" was our family's code for thunder thighs. And, while it didn't stop the chafing, it did make me feel better. There was nothing I could do about my legs. Clearly, I was genetically doomed.

I carried this concept with me for, oh, 55 years or so. As my weight and exercise levels varied over the years, it never once occurred to me that I could do anything re: those Eisen thighs.

So imagine my surprise one day when I got ready for yoga and realized that ... hmmm .... Mom was wrong.

Normally I wouldn't mention this at all -- much less in a blog post. Weight and health and exercise and body image are very personal and I try to tread this ground lightly. However, this example extends far beyond my legs.

As you start your week, stop for a moment and consider this: What "truths" have you carried with you for years without question? Are they still true? Were they ever? It's a new week, my friends. Don't let old ideas hold you back from new possibilities.

P.S. You don't even want to know how many photos were taken before Tom got one that I deemed acceptable and non-thunder-thigh-ish. I'm wearing single-digit-sized Lululemons and still struggling with how my legs look. We're awfully hard on ourselves, aren't we?

Monday, June 12, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Embrace Your Structure

When I start a new job for a client, the first thing I do is create a header:
Draft 1/ Job Name/ Date

This will amaze you but, now and then, the first draft isn't the final draft. Yeah. It's true. When that happens, I change the draft number and the date as the project moves forward. The process helps with version control and communication with multiple clients/editors. 

That's great, but here's the primary benefit: 
Creating the header provides a structure that works for me -- it marks the moment my brain shifts from one client to another, from one job to another, from doodling copy in my head to putting words on paper. 

On the other hand, outlines don't work for me and they never have. When I was in school, and a teacher expected an outline before the full paper, I had to write the paper first and then create the outline from it. 

Now, maybe outlines work for you. Maybe thought clouds help you write. Maybe your desk has to be absolutely clean. Maybe you need to turn email off, or have music on. 

The right structure boosts creativity. This week, embrace your structure!

P.S. As it turns out, the Table of Contents for my book -- a necessary part of the book proposal -- feels like a damn outline to me. I'm now writing what I want for the book, and will go back when I'm done and structure it. Woot! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lost: One Creative Mojo

Dear Readers,

For the past year-and-a-half, I've been working with a book agent on the East Coast -- hammering out a book proposal. The project started as a longer version of my ebook and morphed into a real book, Thank God It's Monday! A week-by-week guide to banishing the Monday morning blues.

Unfortunately -- and despite the fact that several editorial boards liked the book and my writing -- the consensus was that I don't have the platform to sell 20,000 books. Basically, I haven't been on Oprah. I haven't delivered a TED talk.

The agent told me he was regretfully "throwing in the towel" on May 2. I sent the appropriate, and heartfelt, thank you note to him for all his work; we had a lovely farewell chat on the phone; he strongly encouraged me to finish writing the book and self-publish; I thanked him, hung up and gave up.

That's right. The creative instigator's creative mojo meter plummeted to zero. I told the family and a few of my closest friends -- and they were all wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to keep going; this was just a bump in the road.

I heard them, and I tried to believe them. Whenever I gave someone the disappointing update, I purposefully added encouraging comments about self-publishing.

"It's fine! It's all fine!"

But it wasn't. I couldn't even bring myself to tell everyone who knew about my work with the agent that it was over. I still haven't (so if you're on the "didn't know" list, consider this post your update).

One of the people I couldn't stand to tell was Jody Summers. Jody and I worked together years ago and have remained close. She's an incredibly talented writer, understands my writer's mind, and had been a huge cheerleader throughout the months of work on the book proposal. I knew she would be disappointed for me. I didn't want her to be disappointed in me.

Basically, I felt like I had failed at something really important and I just didn't want her to know.

Finally, two weeks after the talk with the agent, I put my big-girl panties on and sent Jod an email update. She immediately responded with kindness and encouragement:

Hi, Jannie:
They are wrong. It’s a great book idea and it deserves to be born. Want to schedule lunch?
This is only a step in the journey, Jan. Don’t give up. Get some time away from it, but don’t let it go.

My creative mojo meter inched up a bit. Jody still believed in me and the book. Everyone else I had told still believed in me and the book -- including the agent and several editors at prominent publishing houses. Maybe I should press on.

I went online, reviewed Amazon CreateSpace, and got to work formatting the existing copy. Heck, knowing that I had a lunch date with Jod (deadlines are wonderful), I even started writing new copy.

The mojo meter moved minutely in the right direction. I'd write, but then I'd chop it apart. The words weren't flowing. And my words typically flow.

Then, yesterday, Jody and I had lunch. I brought pages from the CreateSpace site as proof that I was doing something. But, God bless her heart, she wasn't concerned about the copy. She was concerned about me, my reaction, and whether I was taking care of my own creative soul.

And, since she knows me and knew the answer to that question, Jod also:
  • Gave me the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert to read for guidance. 
  • Reminded me of the value of morning pages -- I am always at my most creative when I do them every morning, and I haven't done them for some time. 
  • Suggested that I be kinder to myself, and go on solo artist dates. Alone time, in new environments, is inspirational. I know it. I forget to do it. 
The waitress brought our check nestled inside a book -- a hardback that guests can inscribe if they want. I wanted. 

I haven't started reading Big Magic yet, but I'll tell you what the magic is for me: It's you. It's Jod. It's everyone who reads my writing, and encourages me to keep going. You are the magic -- and you are the reason my creative mojo is coming back.

So here we are, my friends. I'm going to do the morning pages and take myself on artist dates. I'm going to read Elizabeth Gilbert's book -- and write my own, at my pace, when it's fun. I may finish it this summer, this year, or next year. But I will finish it. 

Why? Because I believe with all my heart that this book can help people. It's 52 quick chapters of stories and inspiration and ideas and exercises that can make life happier and help people regain the creative spark we all had as children. It's a wonderful reminder of our own wonderful potential. And I'm a damn good writer, so it will be a fun read. 

Lunch with Jody reminded me: One person can make a huge difference. Today, she was that person for me. With the book, I hope to be that person for many others. 

Hugs and happy day,

Thursday, June 1, 2017

#Creativity Tips: Instant (Creative) Gratification

When was the last time you went on a completely new creative adventure? I recently veered way off my usual path to take part in the first InstantlyKC Instant Film Workshop – and it was amazing.

I went with Kate, who takes gorgeous photos with digital and instant cameras. So, naturally, I started by telling the instructors – Leslie Adams and Anne Hollond – that Kate was the photographer. I was just there for fun.

Well, by the end of the workshop, I was singing a different tune. Turns out, with the right coaching and camera, I am a photographer. (And it is fun!)

After a brief introduction to different instant cameras and their features, Leslie and Anne took the workshop participants on a guided tour of the West Bottoms, a fascinating area in Kansas City, not far from downtown. The skies were gray and rain threatened, but the lighting turned out to be terrific for instant photography. As we wandered around (and you can wander, even with a guide), I took a few hesitant shots like this:

And then grew progressively bolder:

Not all of my photos were, shall we say, perfect, but I captured a few images I really love! This one is my favorite:

To top it all off, Anne and Leslie gave us wonderful little albums as a workshop keepsake.

I was going to wait and tell you about the workshop when they have the next one scheduled, but ... I’m all about instant gratification now. So I couldn’t wait. I’ll post again when the next InstantlyKC Instant Film Workshop is on the calendar!

For now, look around. Picture the possibilities. What can you do this summer that you’ve never done before? 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Fabulous Phrases: Pablo Neruda

"I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees."

-- Pablo Neruda

Thursday, April 27, 2017

#Creativity Tip: Tuck It

Ahhhhh. Proofreading is a wonderful art. But, I did mean tuck it in the headline -- not what you might have thought.

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day -- part of the National Poetry Month celebration. While I have been woefully remiss in celebrating on the blog this year, I am going to tuck a poem in my pocket today, and I hope you do too! It's a lovely reminder of the power and beauty of words.

If you looked in my pocket, this is what you'd see -- right after I smacked you for looking in my pocket:

Mother, in Love at Sixty
by Susanna Styve

Reason number one it can't work: his name is Bill. For god's
sake, he hunts. He has no pets, other than two doting
daughters, and his ex-wife is still alive. He's simply not my
type. Who wants to get married again, anyway? I'm too old.
I go South at the first frost. Plus, he's messy. Men are messy.
He could die. Then where would I be?

And in my back pocket, there's this -- from a poet I took classes with, years ago:

How Things Are
by Philip Miller

You asked me to tell you
how things are,
why we rarely speak, never touch.
Words won't come.
In the garden, yesterday,
the pampas grass turned silver,
whispered in the wind,
the edges of its leaves
felt sharp.
We were weeding petunias,
and I touched your shoulder,
spoke your name.
You jumped,
as if all afternoon
you'd been resting
sure you were alone.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Creativity Tips: Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Yep. Yoda was right: Do. Or do not. There is no try.

So I'm doing something new -- a bullet journal! Mary gave me a Moleskine (yes!) graphed journal as part of my birthday present, and I'm off and running on a new creative endeavor, learning as I go.

What have you been wanting to try? Do it! And remember my theory with creative adventures: You can't get better until you get started.

P.S. You know what's fun about being 62 instead of 26? I'm willing to share a work in progress, rather than waiting for a work of art.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Creativity Exercise: Don't ask. I tell.

There are some life lessons I learn. And forget. And learn. And forget. And learn. And ... well. You get the idea. For example:

People ask questions they don't want answered. 

You know what question tops the list? It's one we hear all the time: How are you?

Apparently, 98.6 percent of people who ask that question do not care about the answer. They are, I think, trying to be polite. And yet ...

Do me a favor today, my friends. Show up. If you ask a question, listen to the answer. And if you doubt the veracity of my lead-in line, look at the date on this post.

P.S. Thanks to Kate O'Neill Rauber -- one of the world's great listeners -- for the blog idea!

P.P.S. This post also reminds me of a favorite Yiddish proverb: No answer is also an answer.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Fun: Be Amazed

Kate and I recently went on a fabulous mother/daughter vacation to Seattle and Victoria, B.C. Gotta say, it was close to perfect. Even the weather cooperated!

At the start of the trip, a friend who lives in Seattle took a day off work to drive us to Snoqualmie Falls.

It's gorgeous. After admiring the view from the top, we hiked to the bottom. Along the way, every twist and turn took us to another incredibly beautiful vista -- a fairy tale forest, complete with moss-covered trees, soaring in the sunlight.

Kate walked ahead, taking these pics, while I dawdled. And oohed. And ahhed. And repeatedly said, "It's so beautiful!"

After a while of this, our Seattle friend finally asked, "What is?"

"All of this," I said, astonished by the question. "All of it."

He looked around again and quietly said, "You're right. I forget to be amazed."

My friend is a writer, an artist. His world revolves around creativity. It doesn't matter -- sooner or later, we all forget to be amazed. This weekend, don't forget. Open your eyes. See the beauty, appreciate the wonder. Be amazed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Creativity Tips: Treat Yoself

You know the feeling. You go to one of your favorite restaurants, and there's a new menu. It can only mean one thing: They've raised the prices. Right?

OR, in the case of Houlihan's, they've raised the bar on menu copy. Enjoy! Or, as they say, Treat yoself. And think of ways you could add some humor and interest to whatever you're writing today. 

FYI, the website is fun too. I don't know who's handling Houlihan's creative work, but I like it!

P.S. I snapped the menu pic while at Houlihan's with my wonderful Kate, and it's her birthday today! Happy birthday, Kate! You've been a sparkler since the day you were born, and every year, you shine brighter. I'm incredibly proud to be your momma. xxoo
All the love. All the time. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Don't Quit. Denik.

When was the last time you had a fun customer service experience? You know, the kind that makes you feel like someone is actually taking care of you and values your business?

I was on the hunt for a specific notebook from Denik, a company that believes Art Can Change the World. The response to my first email was fast and friendly -- and offered alternatives, since the notebook was no longer in production.

Now, options are lovely. But writers can be a choosy lot when it comes to our notebooks. If I'm going to veer from Moleskine, I want what I want, not an alternative.

Then, the second response! While I was thinking about what to do next, the Denik Team searched again, found exactly what I was looking for, and offered to ship it to me ASAP. Yes!

During the back-and-forth emails re: the order, Melanie from the Denik Team was exceptional. Proactive, friendly, instantly responsive, helpful, courteous, informative -- everything you want in customer service and so rarely get these days.

I didn't have to wait. I didn't feel like a number. I didn't get lost in the shuffle. And I'll be back for more Denik goodies in the future.

This week, be extraordinary. Be Denik. If you don't have an answer, if you can't find what someone wants or needs immediately, don't quit. Look again. Look a little harder.

Art Can Change the World. And so can you. Happy Monday!

This is not the notebook I was looking for, but isn't it great?
They still have it online!
P.S. Want to be a Denik designer? Start here.

Monday, March 6, 2017

#MondayMotivation -- Start Happy!

Want to kick your creativity up a notch this week? Start happy. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh.

What? You don't have funny people around you? Well, then:
1. We need an immediate intervention.
2. I'm going to loan you my incredibly talented friend, Kate O'Neill Rauber.

Yes. I mentor her. 
She's a cutie, huh? And, in a post that takes about 25 seconds to read, Kate explains the sartorial splendor -- and you get a laugh to start the week.

And there's more! Get inspired. You may not change your work wardrobe (not everyone can pull this look off), but while you're on Kate's site, check out the theory behind her 15 and 5 posts. Creative instigation in action.

By the by, since Kate is elegantly tall, strongly slim and totally gorgeous, I would just like to go on record as saying we wear exactly the same size Snuggie.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Creative Community: Blessing for the Dark Times

True fact, as opposed to any other kind: My Facebook feed isn't nearly as enjoyable as it was before the election. But, I do see some fun news from friends amidst the political updates. And, because many of my friends are writers, I sometimes have the pleasure of a poetic post. I hope you enjoy this one from the very talented Linda Rodriguez, who notes that she was recently reminded that the artist's job in such times is to offer healing and hope.

Creator reminds us daily 
through the fragrant winds,
the re-leafing trees,
the dark-of-morning bird chorus,
the taste of rain on upheld faces,
that this world was built in beauty,
made for harmony and wholeness.
We must remember
it is we humans
who break what is shining and whole.
It is our species that creates dark times.
We must learn to live
in tune with creation once more. We must sing
balance back into this bountiful earth.
As we work together
to mend the broken world—
against the forces among our own kind
choosing destruction over grace—
may we keep in our imaginations
the ancestral memory
of this world as it was created to be.
May we will it into existence
again. May we move always toward healing
and wholeness. May we never forget
the force of willed action
and words of power.
May we create a blessed light
in these dark times in which we find ourselves.
May we know
deep inside our bones
that, no matter how broken,
our world is always
worth the labor of mending.
© Linda Rodriguez 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Creativity Tips: Read Like a Reporter

I received my Bachelor of Journalism degree back when dinosaurs roamed and social media consisted of notes we passed in class or chain letters.* However, the passage of time and the evolution of my career hasn't changed my love for journalism and my respect for the First Amendment.

Knowing my history as a reporter and news director, several people have recently asked me about social media stories that creatively pass as fact when they are fiction. How can you tell the difference? Read like a reporter.

  1. Approach all stories with a healthy dose of curiosity. Keep in mind, curiosity is not the same as cynicism. But ask yourself the five basic "W" questions: Who wrote this? What publication ran it? Where did it first appear -- in the "News" section or the "Opinion" section? When did it run? (I have seen stories presented as current that were published years ago.) Why is this in my social media feed? (Is it from a trusted news source? Is it from Uncle Jerry? Is it a post someone has paid to distribute?)
  2. Consider the source. Andy Borowitz is satire, dear hearts. This particular Borowitz column brings up another red flag that we see in non-satirical fiction online these days: Inaccurate information. Unfortunately, the cutbacks in news rooms across the country have led to fewer editors and fact checkers. But facts that are this blatantly wrong would be captured before publication at a valid news outlet. Think as you read. (Example: If you're thinking, you realize I just stated as fact the info re: the news room layoffs, and I didn't give you any supporting data to back it up.)
  3. Consider the source again. Along these same lines, remember that anyone can put "News," "Report" or "Daily" in the name of their post and make it sound legitimate. This could be the Kansan Daily News, rather than the Creative Instigation blog. How long has the news source been around? Have you ever heard of it before?
  4. Get information from multiple legitimate sources. If you think The New York Times leans left and The Wall Street Journal leans right, then go for the center. I've started following the Associated Press and Reuters. I relied on the Associated Press as a reporter, and still find their information factual and non-biased.
  5. Look for attribution when you see an adjective. If the story says: Jan and Tom Harness have two daughters, the "two" is an easily provable fact and does not need attribution. If the story says: Jan and Tom Harness have two brilliant daughters, the "brilliant" needs attribution. (Even though it is a fact and we all know it.) The correct approach for that would be: According to Jan Harness, both daughters are brilliant. An attribution would typically be from one person or source -- people don't say exactly the same things, even when they are married. And, when tackling this topic, the question I ask myself is: "Can you prove it?"
  6. Read critically. Reporters know that the concept of "two sides to every story" is wrong -- there are typically far more than that. But, in a news report, look for both sides, look for multiple and differing opinions. Reading critically also means separating fact from opinion -- per tip #5.
  7. Remember that photos and videos can be edited. Case in point: A video "showing" Anderson Cooper laughing uncontrollably at Kellyanne Conway got a gazillion hits. It was an edited clip. If you have questions about the nature of a photo or video -- or story -- Snopes is a great resource. 
  8. Question hyperbole. If you see a story with a number like "a gazillion" in it, ask yourself if that's a fact or if the writer (in this case, me), is stretching the facts to make a point. And because she (the writer, in this case, me) is too lazy to look up the accurate number of hits. If I did look it up, I would need to qualify it: A video "showing" Anderson Cooper laughing uncontrollably at Kellyanne Conway had received 1,333, 291 hits at the time this story was written. Or: A video "showing" Anderson Cooper laughing uncontrollably at Kellyanne Conway received more than 1.3 million hits. 
  9. Check the spelling and the grammar. If the story includes misspelled words and poor grammar -- especially in the first paragraph -- chances are it is not from a reliable news source. Do reliable sources make mistakes? Absolutely. But most mistakes will be caught by an editor.
  10. Back away from vulgarity. Respected news media do not use obscenities in the headline unless they are quoting someone. Consider the publication's style preference, but all caps can be another giveaway that you're seeing a creative take on a story, rather than a news report. With the headline below, using all caps with the vulgarity only provides two immediate clues that you don't need to read this story. 

One of the biggest journalistic dangers today is the same danger I dealt with years ago -- in our rush to be first on the air with a story, there was always the risk that we would move too fast, not check every fact, and make a mistake. There are times now when I see breaking news, and go to check it at the Associated Press or The Washington Post -- and they don't have it. Later, they will. They may not be the first to report the news, but I'm comforted by the idea that they are checking to make sure it's accurate before publication.

If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, read like a reporter, my friends. Reporters, by nature, question. Now, more than ever, you need to do the same.

*If you're too young to know what a chain letter is, think of a Facebook message that warns you will lose a valued appendage if you don't forward it immediately to seven other people.