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9/24 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

Smell something tasty? Have a peek at what came in for this week’s creativity contest prompt, “dinnertime.” Clearly, not necessarily everyone’s favorite time of day! Our winner is Cathy Jennings. Cathy writes: “Something different from me this time. I don’t consider myself a writer by any means but ‘dinner time’ was something I needed to write about.” Cathy wins for her highly readable personal essay — and for pushing into less comfortable territory (writing). Congratulations Cathy! Your $10 gift certificate is on its way.

Ian around a year old at the table expressing some frustration.

Ian around a year old at the table expressing some frustration.

Dinner Time

Like most people I never really thought about dinner time until I was hungry. As long as I liked it, it didn’t really matter what dinner was — pancakes, burgers, soup, whatever. It was all good. When I was pregnant the only problem was that I wanted more dinner. But that wasn’t so unusual. Enter Ian, my first and only child.

Dinner time was and is completely different for him. And now mine is, too. Ian spent most of his infancy screaming and projectile vomiting. Ian has acid reflux, food allergies, anemia and asthma (because the rest of the list is not enough). When Ian’s diet needed my attention, I naturally starting thinking more deeply about food. Dinner time became a lot more complicated.

Ian takes medication for the reflux, supplements for the anemia, and has a special diet for the allergies. On top of these challenges that would make anyone iffy about eating, he is 5. An age that is still very close to the picky preschool preferences about food. Can it get any more challenging?

I see my job as getting him to eat and to stay healthy. How do you feed a restricted fuss pot? What foods aggravate reflux? Are they the same foods for everyone? How do you make bread without wheat? What can he drink if he can’t have cow’s milk? Why is corn in everything? What foods are high in iron? What foods combined with iron make it more absorbable? Will certain foods and supplements interfere with the medications? What do we do about constipation? Are there animal crackers for my kid? What about candy? How do we handle social situations with food? Do we need to see a feeding therapist or is what he is doing normal?

My head swims with questions like these all the time. I am pretty sure there is a part of my brain that processes this stuff without my being aware of it. I have been educating myself in nutrition; become a pest at the pediatrician’s and pediatric gastroenterologist’s offices, and thankfully they don’t seem to mind. I joined an awesome message board for parents of kids with food allergies. I read books about food and the food industry. I have a knowledge of food that unnerves my family…..they don’t want to know what “modified food starch” or “natural flavors” can be. As a Christian, I get oddly excited about the Jewish holiday Passover because many of the Kosher for Passover foods are safe for my son. I go down the Kosher for Passover aisle at the store and fill my cart with candies, marshmallows, juice boxes, applesauce and fruit cups, and junky looking cereals. Our Jewish pediatrician thinks I am funny and laughs about this. She won’t think it’s so funny when I scoop up stuff she was looking for at the grocery store. Passover foods are only available once a year. Those are my marshmallows!

What to serve for dinner is always on my mind. I make a weekly menu with notes about snacks, things to make from scratch or buy at the health food store, Trader Joe’s, the regular grocery store or the farmer’s market.

I have a really big cook book collection. It was bad before I needed to buy books about gluten free baking and allergy cooking. Now it’s really out of hand. The Amazon bucks I have won here have funded my cookbook habit. I have cookbooks on general cooking, Italian, Mexican, Julia, Jacques,  Marcella Hazan, Rachel Ray. Then we move into vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, cupcakes and the list goes on. There is also a loose stack of recipes from wonderful moms on the allergy board in similar situations. Those are pretty much no-fail recipes.

Dinner time has a lot of thought behind it.

Most of the time I try to make a meal that we all can eat. Wheat/gluten, soy, corn and dairy free. Did I mention that my husband has problems with tree nuts? We avoid those, too. And it has to be reflux friendly (I’m a refluxer, too)….so no obvious tomatoes or firey foods. There is still a lot you can eat avoiding those things but throw in the 5-year-old fusspot factor and the choices drop. Ian’s favorites are burgers, roasted chicken, baked potatoes, homemade fries, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, homemade chicken nuggets, gluten-free pizza with rice cheese and the reliable hot dog. He also likes pasta with olive oil and nutritional yeast. When  Ian is on a vegetable strike, I try to sneak pureed veggies into his burgers. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. There are nights when we all eat different things because I am pmsing and I HAVE to have mac&cheese, or General Tso’s chicken with pork fried rice and an egg roll. And my husband has to have his pizza while Ian is happy to go on with a burger and fries. I really hope he wants to try some other things soon so we can broaden the family menu.

And I’m sure this is not the end of the journey with and about food. But to end this on a happy note, Ian was just weighed and measured at the pediatrician’s and he has grown an inch and gained 3 pounds in the last three months. All this research is helping.


From Charlotte, a poem. Charlotte writes: “Well, yesterday I was feeling proud of myself, remembering that my appointment would take me near the British Library, and taking my laptop with me in search of a nice concentrated atmosphere in which to work on the radio play. After 2 hours I was getting absolutely nowhere, not least because everyone around me was chatting, talking on the phone, discussing forthcoming exams… apparently those ‘Silence please’ notices in libraries are a thing of my long-lost childhood. To cap it all, at 6pm a string quartet started up in the atrium, which was charming if somewhat inappropriate. I find it very difficult to work with noise at the best of times, and I really do need silence to ‘hear’ the play in my head, especially as it’s radio. So instead I decided to write whatever came out in response to your competition prompt while my brain was not really able to focus — and also not able to edit/gatekeep! I don’t usually allow less-than-perfect, which of course explains why I have hardly written anything in years. Anyway, this (with a little tinkering) was what emerged and I’m going to send it now before I spend days picking at individual words…”


trays on our knees around the goggle-box
(dining room’s Sundays only, “it’s too dark in there”)
Grampa likes the Two Ronnies
Granny’s not so keen
but i don’t get the half of it
pushing peas around the plate, i’ll eat fish fingers, salmon too
any other fish a no-no
(“what is this, Granny?” “salmon. eat it.”)
Grampa’s delighted roar – slaps his knee
(“hear that one, Babs?”), repeats the joke
Granny, one raised eyebrow, feebly smiles
double entendre is really not her thing.
she has a sense of humour, though.
“you liked the fish?”
“yes, salmon.” never saw her smile so wide.
“silly girl. that’s not salmon. salmon’s pink.”
she’d always told me every fish was salmon
and i would eat it.
programme over, time for bed
tray to the kitchen and then straight upstairs
to other stories, other gentle lies
never the blatant gunfire of the news.


From Elizabeth Beck, a cinquain and a photo. Elizabeth writes: “I should write this out and frame it in my kitchen ….. it is frequently my truth ….. if you go to this photo on flickr you can scroll your mouse over it and read about what’s what on that mess of a table…..”

is not ready
nor is it even close
spent the day in the studio


From Cathy Coley, a poem. Cathy writes: “i hate to even enter this.  i was not inspired.  we tend to suffer through dinner on a nightly basis.  who wants to revisit that?  but i tried to have fun with it anyway.”


This one is yelling or humming or mom,mom, moming.
That one in arms fussying, how can cook?
Oldest one groaning about helping or about what’s served,
I am NOT eating that again.

This one has diabetic, calorie-counting diet,
lactose intolerant, and food allergies,
That one has lactose intolerance, and only likes what he likes.
I am vegetarian with other food allergies.
Soy is not an option for the lactose people, either.
They are the meat eaters.
This is just the adults.
Oldest is just plain picky,
Middle screams about it, but will grudgingly eat.
Baby is attached to my breast,
Pulling the plate or placemat off the table,
And kicking me.

I am breaking up a fight between the older two.
I am pleading for insults to stop, the screaming, too.
Now I’m yelling, too,
But just to be heard in the din I’m trying to stop.
Mother-in-law is generally suffering through the noise in silence,
But today’s anxiety meds are wearing off and we can see it on her face.
Honey is groaning about the noise. I’m telling middle child to be quiet,
have another bite, not the bread,
the chicken, tofu dog, or pasta fagioli,
Put down that bread.
eat a carrot, a bite of kale, have another green pepper slice.

Take your dishes to the sink,
Take your dishes to the sink.
I said, take your dishes to the sink.
Can I please have a tropical vacation?


From Bec Thomas, a photograph. (Ed. note: maybe this is the solution to difficult family dinners?)


From Erin Coppin, a poem (welcome to Creative Construction, Erin!). Erin writes: “Here is my very quick response to the prompt this week. I kept the bar low, like you asked!”


I can sense your mood turning as I frantically prepare.
The whining starts to etch itself on my eardrums.
Malingerers refuse to wash their hands.
After seven mintutes you want to get down –
Half a plate mashed, half a plate waiting.
So, it begins. ‘Three more mouthfuls of this and two of that.
That wasn’t a mouthful. No, come on…’

When I am done I just want to hide.
Is this how I want our mealtimes to be?
Is this ‘manners’ I’m teaching you?
Or the beginnings of an eating disorder?
‘The child seeks attention through refusal of food.’
Why do I put us through it?
Because although it doesn’t feel like it works this way
It doesn’t work any other way either, as far as I can see.

How can I lift the mood at the table?
I just sit there exhausted from getting you into your chair
Without actual soil on your hands.
I’m already dreading the long job of tidying up.
I don’t want to lift the mood. This is familiar, this is what mealtimes always felt like.
My dad made us all sit in silence some nights, not speaking.
Hey, at least I let you eat with your hands.
At least I don’t make you clear your plate.
At least you can speak and play and sometimes we enjoy it.
Let’s see how we get on tomorrow.
Maybe we will have a picnic after all.


From me (Miranda), a haiku and image pairing. While I was trying to get a few good photographs, my family grew impatient to eat. My husband decided that my still life needed a little help from him (see  below). I realized that he’d totally encapsulated what dinnertime is like at our house — and that creating a “still life” at my house during dinnertime was a pretty silly idea. Our dinners are punctuated by colorful conversation (politics, personal issues, bodily functions — you name it) and an array of sometimes-clashing personalities.

Dinner Chez Nous
Irreverent and
loud, nothing is off limits
and laughter is balm



This week’s prompt: “The notebook”

Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 8:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, September 30. The winning entry receives a $10 gift certificate to Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly contest, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) Remember, the point here is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathy #


    and to think i am at heart a foodie! nice to see the challenges are more than just mine! guiltily, i add, we do have fun, too.

    bec, i’ll have a glass!

    September 24, 2008
  2. these are all incredibly entertaining! i never got around to doing anything for this week’s prompt because our dinnertime tends to revolve around grilled cheese and/or PB&J with the twin 5-year-olds. 🙂 and i’ll I kept thinking about was my favorite pizza place in tallahassee, barnaby’s. yummy. 🙂 even with the cobwebs on the 1970’s chandeliers.

    September 24, 2008
  3. cathy jennings #

    thank you! another cookbook is in the wings……
    some day i want to create my own. thank you for reading it.

    all these pieces are great. i love to see how quite a few dinner times are frustrating and loud. i guess it’s the norm, ay?

    e. b. white wrote an essay that had a blurb in it about teaching kids manners and how it wrecks dinner time. i have to look for it. and i think he also said something about how they learn to use these things we teach them against us. ha!

    elizabeth, my mil was always in the studio and she didn’t get dinner rolling til 9pm.

    September 24, 2008
  4. ohhhhh this is wonderful! i will have to jump in on the next prompt; what fun (and truthful) entries. elizabeth beck is a girl after my own heart 🙂

    September 24, 2008
  5. Cathy #

    i really want to see that eb white essay!

    i have an anthology of 20th cen essays around here somewhere (out of about 12-20) that i know he’s in, and if i am recalling correctly, the name of one of the essays is On Manners. hmmm…i fi find it, i’ll scan and send….

    September 24, 2008
  6. Charlotte #

    LOVE that photo of Ian. And I’d never heard of a cinquain before, interesting.

    September 24, 2008
  7. a cinquain is a syllable driven poem , like a haiku … but instead of 575, it is 2 4 6 8 2 ……
    i think some english professor who was tired of haikus invented it ….

    September 24, 2008
  8. Charlotte #

    I’d sort of worked that out from reading yours – thanks, something new to play with!

    September 24, 2008
  9. It’s so interesting that certain prompts provoke a lot of visual submissions, and others provoke more words. Hmmm….

    September 24, 2008
  10. Cathy #

    well, who wants to see pics of each other fed up at the table while mayhem ensues?! lol!

    but yes, and to get so many words for this one from usually visual women.

    September 24, 2008
  11. cathy jennings #

    thanks charlotte. i think i took the photo with my old yashica gsn rangefinder from the 70s.

    cathy, the e.b. white essay is in the book “one man’s meat”. the essay is “sanitation”.

    September 25, 2008
  12. Cathy #

    great! thx, cj. i went looking but couldn’t come up with it.

    September 25, 2008
  13. Great fun reading all of these posts! I’m thinking about my “notebook” post for next week. I’d like to hear more about Charlotte’s radio theater writing . . . . .. I’ve been involved with a small local radio theater group for several years, actually one group in Michigan in the 90s and then more recently for three years with a group near Denver, CO. I LOVE radio theater, and would like to chat about your work, Charlotte. Looking forward to more entertainment and inspiration next week! Nina

    September 25, 2008
  14. Charlotte #

    Hi Nina, thanks for asking. I’d love to hear more about my radio drama writing too!! it’s not really progressing right now… 😉 I work as a radio journalist, have acted in several radio plays, and have written three 15′ plays that were broadcast on schools radio in Germany (in English). 18mths ago I wrote a 45′ one that had a rehearsed reading in a theatre here in London, and that got a BBC producer interested in working with me. We worked on one pitch together that didn’t get picked up, and now I’m supposed to be working on more, but… I haven’t.
    We’re really spoiled for radio drama here in the UK – there’s a play on BBC Radio 4 every day and they’re usually very good. I love the possibilities of radio for creating spaces and atmospheres in people’s minds through sound. It’s so different from writing a theatre play, or a narrative, or (presumably – I’ve never tried) a film.

    What kind of drama do you work on with your local station?

    September 25, 2008

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