Friday, September 14, 2012

Do You Want Fries with That?

Okay, September is nearly half over, and it’s time you learned the truth –
It is National Potato Month.

Go ahead, look it up… I’ll wait.
What did I tell ya?

You know what this means, don’t you?
It’s time to celebrate!

So if you’ve got work to do this weekend, you’d better drop it like a hot potato because work is small potatoes compared to couch potato time!
But if you get a little stiff from all that sitting, you can always get up and get your groove on to that 1962 dance craze, The Mashed Potato.

And if your brain starts to atrophy, you can use the time to brush up on your spelling (yeah, I’m talking to you, Dan Quayle).
Or learn the meat and potatoes about the world’s most terrific tuber…In 1995, potato plants were taken into space with the space shuttle Columbia. This marked the first time any food was ever grown in space.

Like the fact that potatoes were the first food ever grown in space (Space Shuttle Columbia, 1995).
Or this tasty tidbit – the United Nations actually declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Potato. So sorry you missed it. But hey, maybe it came with a nifty horoscope – if you had a kid born then, I’m thinking it’s worth a look.

And here’s a hefty factoid – the world’s largest potato weighed in at 18 pounds. Meanwhile, the average Chihuahua weighs about seven. Annoyed by a yappy dog? Do the math.
But let’s say that you’ve already made plans for the rest of September and don’t have time to celebrate the spud. Well fear not, February is just around the corner.

National Potato Lovers Month.

Go ahead, look it up…

PROMPT: Whether you’re writing a comedic sci-fi a la Spuds in Space, or a serious historical novel about the potato famine, there’s always a place for potatoes on the plot plate. And hey, there’s always a place for them on the hot plate, as well – inexpensive edibles are welcome additions in those months between royalty checks!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

But They Are So Cool!

Like any job, writing for educational testing companies comes with a set of rules. One such rule (for some companies I work for) is this one –
Do not write about snakes.

That’s right, snakes.
NO SNAKES – fictional, factual, or otherwise.

Can I write about a kid with a corn snake pet?

Can I write about the beneficial role that snakes play in limiting rodent populations?

Can I write about snakes in a house?

With a mouse?
On a plane?

In the rain?

Not in a house.
Not with a mouse.

Not on a plane.
Or in the rain.

You can’t put snakes in our exam,
You cannot, should not, Ma’am I Am!

Now, as a former psychologist, I completely understand that disturbing subjects should be excluded – it would certainly bias the test results if a kid freaks out.
But what about the kid with the fear of unicorns?

What about the kid who finds friendly talking animals to be, well, kind of creepy?
What if (gasp!) the test taker has testophobia?

Sorry chumps, snake phobias are the gold standard when we’re talking test taking compassion.
And so, after years of writing dutifully about anything and everything BUT snakes, well, I simply MUST write about snakes today. As in...



I feel much better.

In fact, I think I’m good for another 10 years of test writing.

PROMPT: Hmmm… what’s it gonna be today? Heck yeah!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tide Tidings

I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah.
~ The Police

When I was 7 years old, I got a little obsessed with bottled messages. Oh, how I longed to cast one of them out to sea!
At the time I lived about 140 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. However, this minor detail was not going to stop me – I happened to have a creek running through my backyard. And I was pretty sure that that little stream spilled into the North Branch of the Susquehanna River a few miles away, which in turn, spilled itself into Chesapeake Bay and Bingo – The Great Atlantic Ocean!

So I found an empty aspirin bottle and wrote a note. My printing was kind of big at the time, and I was still using that nifty three-lined (dashed one in the middle) paper, so there wasn’t much I could fit on the page. Thus, even though there was SO much I wanted to say – volumes really – I settled for the decidedly unromantic: IF FOUND, RETURN TO… and neatly printed out my name and address. Then I folded it up, crammed it into the aspirin bottle, and glued on the cap.
After assuring myself that the act didn’t really qualify as littering, I tossed it into the creek and watched it pitch and bob its way to The Great Atlantic Ocean!

I thought about that bottle every day.
I imagined it making its way over falls and under bridges.

I imagined it bumped by river bass and a snapping turtle or two.
I imagined it breaking free of the bay and riding the waves in the wide open sea…

I imagined for a long time.
And then…

I stopped.

In fact, I forgot all about that little aspirin bottle with the penciled note.

About a year later, when a neighbor pulled up in his pickup, got out, and handed me a note – my note.
He smiled.

I shrugged.
My message had made it less than a mile.

But dang, those months of dreaming were fun!
And a couple of weeks ago when the world’s oldest message in a bottle was found off the coast of Scotland, I just had to smile.

First off, there was nothing particularly romantic about that note either – it was simply a Department of Fisheries ocean current study done way back in 1914.
And second, it was a Scottish study found just off the coast of Scotland.

Okay, maybe it made it more than a mile, but still…
I think I’m in good company.

PROMPT: Nothing adds more mystery, intrigue, and fascination to a tale than a message in a bottle. Cast one into your story today just to see where it goes! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One of Those Days

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
~Helen Keller

Everybody has bad days.

That’s just part of this crazy little thing called life.

But then, once in a while there are those suffering kind of days that bad doesn’t begin to cover…

The kind you think you might never get over…

The kind that change the shape of your heart.

Well, everybody actually has those, too.

And I know that this might be one of those suffering kind of days for a lot of folks out there.

But like Helen Keller, I believe in overcoming.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place.

I believe that artistic expression heals.

And my good friend Science tends to believe that, too. For example, a review of the literature by Stuckey and Nobel (2010) found that music engagement, visual arts, dance, and written expression all affect mental and physical health in positive ways.

Art changes lives for the better.

Consequently, art can change the world for the better (Yeah, I have never been accused of dreaming small).

So, get out there, get your creative groove on, and be artful today... yes, especially today.

And when life hands you lemons, DO NOT settle for lemonade!

Make lemon pound cake instead.

I’ll even give you my recipe…

Barb’s Best Ever(!) Lemon Pound Cake


1 cup salted butter at room temp. (that’s only ½ pound – practically fat free!)
1 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup more
4 eggs (yes, 4 – do not be a wimp and skimp)
1 tsp. dried lemon peel
¼ cup lemon juice, plus 1/3 cup more
1½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder

(By the way, this recipe still rocks it gluten and dairy free – just use any GF flour blend and sub. canola oil and ½ tsp. of salt for the butter)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9x9 cake pan.

Beat butter senseless, then add 1 cup of the sugar as a goodwill gesture. Beat it some more.

Add eggs one at a time (without the shells). Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat.

Add the lemon peel. Need I say it? Yes, BEAT.

Throw in 1 cup of flour and the baking power. Mix (Yeah, you thought I was going to say beat, didn’t you?).

Add ¼ cup of lemon juice and remaining ½ cup of flour. Beat.

Pour into your oiled pan and bake for about 40 minutes… maybe 45… sometimes 50 – this is art, you know, so it varies. Anyway, you’ll know it’s done when a knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs are okay).

Remove from oven, then mix your remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice (you thought I forgot about those didn’t you? Didn’t, so there). And here’s the best part – pour the lemon and sugar mix all over the top and let it soak into the cake.

Let cool, if you can wait that long.

Best if enjoyed with a friend or a stranger you’d like to have as a friend.
Plates are optional.

PROMPT: Create. Bake. Share. Look, the world is a better place already!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Get Your Om On

Would you like to give your creativity a super boost this week?

Then muse over your Muse with a little meditation.

Cognitive Psychologist Lorenza Colzato and friends (2012) have found that certain meditative techniques promote creative thinking.

In particular, they noted that “Open Monitoring” meditation helped their subjects generate the greatest number of new ideas.

To “open monitor” meditate, you sit, breathe, and remain open to all thoughts and sensations without focusing attention on any one of them. In other words, you think of those thoughts and sensations as pretty puffy clouds just passing through.

I’m thinking that open monitoring meditation sounds like a great excuse to get your butt into a lawn chair and call it work…


PROMPT: Writer’s block? Give this technique a 10-minute whirl. Follow it up with a brainstorm of plot possibilities, and you’ll be rocking instead of blocking in no time!