Do You Like Zucchini Pie?


How do you know unless you try it?

My daughter’s family was visiting over the summer.  I served her favorite childhood dish, zucchini pie.  I am the master zucchini pie maker–there is no humility here!  My 9-year old grandson decided that he didn’t like zucchini pie.  My daughter quoted the age-old adage…”How do you know that you don’t like something unless you try it.”  It worked. My Grandson asked for a piece of zucchini pie.  I served him a small slice and watched as he pulled the zucchini out and gave it to his mom, eating the crust and the souffle-like filling.  Then he asked for another piece and this time he ate the zucchini too. The verdict was “I do like zucchini pie!” to his amazement.

Are there qualities or techniques practiced by other authors that you admire? The way they use metaphor, how they employ image detail, their poetic inferences and subtleties, or their use of archaic words, etc.  Is there something that you think is beyond you as a writer or poet?  Is there something in writing and poetry (or painting) that you’ve been curious about but haven’t dared to try?  Have you wanted to explore any of the writing prompts that I’ve offered through this blog ?

Go at your own pace, test a technique or creative writing tool out, before immersing yourself.  You can also try the technique or form within the context of what you are presently writing.  Or, practice with how you can whittle, chisel or shave it to meet your need, desire and design.

What is one creative writing tool that you’d like to learn?  Is it how to write great metaphors or similes or other descriptive elements?  Is there a poetic form that appeals to you? Take a time out to play with a creative writing tool or poetic form of your choice and see where you can go with it.  Make it a daily practice for awhile to really deepen your relationship with it.

As I did with this story of my grandson and zucchini pie, you can insinuate things from your daily experience into your present day writing.  This technique engages your audience in a personal way.  You’ve become a real person to them.


History Repeating

Last week, I attended an artist reception in a nearby community…the exhibit was entitled “Latent” and was about an area not very far from where I live.  Tulelake, CA.  The Modoc Indians once inhabited this land.  Here lies a sad and bloody history.

During World War II, this site became one of ten Japanese Internment Camps across the United States.

This same land, degraded and impoverished, has most recently been a shambles for migrant farm workers and/or meth labs.

The curators of this show, two young women photographers, visited the site several times and took present day photos.  They were battered by the heavy winds, astonished by the starkness of the land and confronted by local habitators as they took their photos.  They got a sense of the deep sorrow in the land itself.  Having researched the history of the area, along with the photos they took, they related the stories of this desolate place and the peoples who had lived there.

I’ve returned to see the exhibit a second time.  It’s almost too much for the psyche to take in the magnitude of this story.  I plan to go again.  One comment that I heard more than once as I attended the artist reception was “It’s happening again.”

There is a phrase that has been used to describe the importance of remembering history so that we don’t repeat it.  The phrase is “Lest we forget.”

Writing Prompt:
Is there something historical in the place where you live that shouldn’t be forgotten?  How would you tell this story, lest we forget?





Cultivating Your Craft

In an earlier blog, I shared some crafting tools with you.

It is helpful for a writer to develop a love of crafting.  For me, this involves reading my work with both a critical (in the best sense of the word) and an astute eye.  It brings to the fore another type of creativity.  The sculptress in me comes forth.  There is a molding and modeling that involves checking the flow of my writing, the correctness of phrasing, the precise wording.

I like to think of this crafting as  that conversational process between me and my art of the moment, cultivating my piece.  Once I’ve got a poem, for instance, to the place where it says what it has to say, then I begin the serious cultivating.  I do the necessary weeding out of words, tangent ideas, letting go of extraneous fluff–the unnecessary editorializing, perhaps relinquishing the best line and the side shoots that belong in another poem.  I consider the shape of my poem on the page, punctuation (or not) and line endings.  I add in the precise words, the expansive and inclusive ideas, the culminating moment(s), the snap it shut conclusion.  And don’t forget the title.

To cultivate is to nurture and help grow into its optimal self. When you cultivate something, “you work to make it better.”  The word once referred only to crops that needed tending, “but the meaning has widened.  No matter what is being cultivated, the word implies a level of care that is reminiscent of gardening.  To cultivate anything requires an attention to detail, an understanding of what is being cultivated, and a lot of patience.”  from

One other thing that occurs to me is when you’ve brought your piece to the point of saying “it’s done,” especially if you intend to put it out in the world, have a trusted and learned person read it.  Ask for the type of critique you desire from him or her.  Being able to share your work within the safety of a trusted writing circle is also a boon.


Grieve Deeply, Laugh Loudly

pic2We’ve heard this, right?  In order to feel the joy, you have to feel the sorrow.  If you shut off one part of yourself, you are shutting off being fully alive.  How you relate to your emotional life is going to affect your writing and creativity.

Poetry has been the greatest facilitator of the big emotions for me.  Journal writing and painting are close seconds.  I’ve learned that as I’m able to be present with an emotion, I then pass through that territory.  I come out the other side intact and a bit more integrated.

To be an effective writer, finding a way to say “I feel sad” without explicitly stating “I feel sad,” comes with practice.

Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2011.  My parents had died six months apart following several years of their decline and concurrent family disruption.

“I stopped at Burger Express.  It seemed like a burger was called for.  Single patty with cheese, no special sauce, no onions.  Yes to catsup.  Yes to small fries.  No book to read.  Waiting for my order.  Staring out at the falling snowflakes.  Staring out at nothing.  Squinting and staring at signs across the street.  Staring.  The wait person calls my number.  I take the red tray and head towards a little tucked-away table.  A man sitting at the counter asks “Are you going to share half of that with me?”  I recognize an acquaintance’s warm voice.  I stop to say hello and tell him that my Mom died last week.  I am telling everyone it seems.  Now, the cook, cashier and waitperson at Burger Express know too.  He is sorry.  His Dad died a year ago.  His Mom, 84, lives an hour south of here.  Everything is so tentative.  He gives me a big hug in his bear arms.  “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” He adds “Seriously.”  I thank him.  How I’d like to be held in strong arms for half a day.  I think that would really help.  It gets old, this wrapping my own arms around myself all the time.”

In this short excerpt, do you get a sense of my grief?  Did writing about this help me?  In some odd way, yes.  I wasn’t in denial of these feelings and I found refuge through writing these words.

How do you write about the feeling of sadness?  Typically, this type of writing is only for you.  Do you allow yourself to fully express your sadness in writing, poetry or painting or any other creative outlet?



One of Those “Presence” Poems


It’s so easy to drift off into the past.  There are those encounters we have during the course of a day that trigger a memory and send us back there whether or not we want to go.  Sometimes, we have a welcome memory.  And choose to linger there or share it with another.  Of course, if you’re writing a memoir, you intentionally revisit this landscape.

However, when the past has too much of a tug…

© by Christine O’Brien

The hummingbird hovers
its elongated tongue
goes right to the core
of the flower.
It sips the nectar,
collects some pollen,
then, onto the next.
Purposeful life.

I linger in the depleted soils
of the past
wandering in and out of memory doorways
like a vagrant
trying to find a friendly hearth.
There is nothing there.

Today, the bulbs have burst into flower.
Today, the sun is warming.
Today, the blossoms are gathering
like a choir,
lifting their throats heavenward
in sweet, scented song.

The hummingbird darts
close to my ear.
I hear the rapid thrum of wings
I hear the wakeup call, “Now.”

Writing Prompt:
Today, notice what tugs at you from the past.  Then, find something in today that brings you back into the here and now.  Write about it in a poem or prose.

Have a nice day.

A Pang

Pang:  “A sudden sharp pain or emotion”

I was looking for a low rim dish to marinate the al dente asparagus.  I looked through a storage bin in the garage and then remembered a shallow plate my mother had given me a long time ago.  I knew where it was but had forgotten why I never used it.

I retrieved it from the top shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets.  I rinsed it off and read the name of the porcelain producer on the back.  Christineholm, it read.  Then, there it was the pang!  Urgh.  A sort of a bittersweet feeling accompanied by a wave of thoughts.  Did my mother buy this dish with me in mind?  Did she save it for me all those years?  Was she waiting for me to notice the name on the back of the quiche plate?  To bake her a quiche in it perhaps?

I won’t ever know her thoughts.  When she gave me the dish, we were barely connecting as Mother and Daughter.  We weren’t exactly estranged…we just didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength.  And, my father was the huge wedge in her relationship with any of her nine children.

As I lay the asparagus in the plate, poured the homemade marinade over the top, covered the dish with Glad wrap and put it in the refrigerator for later, the pang persisted.  And a sort of lump in my throat.neo1.jpg

Writing Prompt:
How do you hold these sudden emotions?  How do you respond to the questions that arise?  How do you navigate this rocky terrain?  How do you communicate with those who are gone?  Does writing help?


a potpourri of prompts

Over the past year plus, I’ve offered you a variety of writing and creative prompts. I would love to hear from you who have been following this blog.

  • Have you used any of the prompts?
  • Are there one or two that have been especially interesting, fruitful or fun for you?
  • How has this blog served your creative process?

Thank you for taking the time to reply.

Enjoy your creative life!