The tongue-tied -- at work or in love -- have two helpful new primers. Perpetually cheery Minneapolis "flirting expert" Jill Spiegel, with an assist from husband Joe Brozic, offers "How to Talk to Anyone About Anything: The Secrets to Connecting." Spiegel, who's been featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "The Today Show" and in People magazine, fills her breezy little book (110 pages, $12, widely available) with entertaining anecdotes and advice for talking to braggarts, people with different beliefs than yours and those Minnesota stalwarts, "passive-aggressives." Hint for the latter: Gently ask, "What do you mean?" It works wonders, Spiegel promises.

Those moved by the luscious (and fictitious) bedtime book of love letters read by Carrie to Big in the "Sex and the City" film will be happy to know that a real book now exists. "Love Letters of Great Men" (St. Martin's Press, $16.95, edited by Ursula Doyle) includes missives and poetry interspersed with brief biographies of dozens of romantic fellows, from Charles Darwin to Mozart to Robert Browning. And Ludwig, of course: "Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours."

Stephanie Ross, 44, and Wendy Lutter, 41, also understand the power of words. The longtime friends from St. Paul have launched "Empoword" ( as a simple, yet compelling, call to action. Their clean and bright products feature inspirational words carefully paired with everyday objects: "breathe" on a water bottle, "gratitude" on a coffee mug, "balance" on a soft and calming baby blue T-shirt; "love" and "giggle" on tiny pins. But Ross, a holistic health practitioner, and Lutter, who has an MBA in marketing, hope their words will lead to more than smiles.

"It's a simple way to put your inspiration in front of you," Lutter says. "Having 'gratitude' on a mug gives them a chance to forget about their 401(k) for a moment and bring what's good into their lives."

Anyone who's lost feeling in their outer ear after being part of a school- or church-related telephone tree should listen up: You now have Phonevite ( The free service allows you to send a prerecorded message from your cell phone to up to 25 people at once. The message plays when recipients pick up, or it remains on their answering machine. It's a fast way to notify large groups about game cancellations, holiday parties, births or whom to vote for in 2012.

Parents of children with autism have a new ally. Autism Allies, a nonprofit organization based in Buffalo, Minn., has launched a website ( to help parents find professional services and financial support. The organization also will fund research to "solve the mysteries of autism and eventually find a cure," president Roger Strege said. Autism is the nation's fastest-growing developmental disability, he said, with more than 1.5 million Americans affected.

Those silly zoo animals! Not a single one can tie its shoes. Can your child help? The adorable, hands-on book "The Zoo's Shoes" by Lynn Brunelle and Emilie Chollat (Workman, $12) teaches your preschooler how to tie shoes by helping Crocodile and friends tie theirs. Recommended for ages 4 and up, the book comes with a certificate for your little expert. Hold the Velcro.

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350