“Stop this day and night with me…”

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

Angel’s Apple Blossom

I saw Angel today.

He sat slumped in the driver’s seat of his sagging brown truck in the General Store parking lot at ten in the morning guzzling beer from a 24 oz. can.  His head waggled and seemed disjointed from his neck. His red eyes blazed. When I jumped out of my car and tried, after all these years, to finally thank him he waved me away with a wobbly hand.

“No, no, no.”

What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?

I had hired Angel one winter to mow my grass and pull weeds, to prune my roses and feed the orange trees. He did those things sporadically and not very well.  His strength was drinking beer and surprising me with gifts.  His specialty was to plant what appeared to be utterly dead fruit trees in my yard.

“The other house, no want,” he told me the first day I came home to find a bony trunk with naked branches staked on the fringe of my grass.

“What is it?” I asked.

Angel spread his muddy palms to the sky and shrugged.


“What kind of fruit?”

He spread his muddy palms to the sky and shrugged.

Slowly a patchwork orchard emerged in my backyard. Angel murmured to the branches as he hand watered the circles of dirt around each tree.  When he caught me watching him, he smiled broadly.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

“Is it alive?”

Angel nodded, always yes.

“What kind of tree?” He spread his muddy palms to the sky and shrugged.

Each tree ignored my need for it to prove its place by greening, then blooming on any proper schedule.  I researched the rhythm of bare root fruit, but spring didn’t bring an end to the mystery.  The trees remained unfazed as earth turned toward blooming season.  I stopped inspecting the branches after a while and began instead to consider how hard it might be to pull up dead trees.

Then one damp night I was restless and wandering, wanting stars.

Solitary at midnight in my backyard…

Angel’s first tree shimmered in the moonlight.  I walked up to it and swear I heard trumpets. What I had missed all those days, looking from afar at the branches barren of leaves was the riot of ruffled pink popcorn pearls pinned on slick branches. Tight blossoms were poised this night to begin a wild unfurling.


What could I imagine eating sun-warm some months from now?  What might I capture in jam jars to tie with red gingham?

Earth! you seem to look for something at my hands,
Say, old top-knot, what do you want?

The next time I saw Angel and showed off our blossoms he smiled, more bemused at my excitement than joyful for the harvest. He never doubted fruit would come.
A peach tree.
An apple.
An orange.
Another apple.
A plum.
An apricot.

For seven years Angel tended our slowly growing orchard.  His faith in the indiscernible life hiding within brown leafless branches scavenged from other yards was impeccable.  Then one day Angel stopped coming. Yet every now and then a new barren tree would appear in my backyard and I would look over my shoulder, half expecting him to be squatting at the base of the apple tree, his favorite spot, humming absently.

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

I began to wonder if I’d imagined the man.  When he called himself Angel was that a name or his being?  I took over the care and feeding of the trees and silently thanked him with each basket of ripe fruit I brought into my kitchen. I shared the bounty with neighbors and told them about how Angel showed me that you could save a thing by moving it to the right home and tending it with water and words.  Was I creating a myth?

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean…

Today as I walk back to my car, rebuffed, I turn my palms to the sky and shrug.  Driving away, I wonder: If I could plant Angel in my backyard would he bloom again?

Angel’s Apple Tree

I exist as I am, that is enough…
Imagining you in health and sun,

Note:  The words in italics come from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself (1881).  Today would be Whitman’s 193rd birthday.  If you’re lucky enough to live in or be visiting New York this Sunday, June 3, you can participate in the Ninth Annual Walt Whitman Marathon Reading of “Song of Myself.”  For more information about the man, the poet, or events at Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in West Hills, NY, visit http://www.waltwhitman.org/ 

Flashback, the Summer of Color

Occasionally, I will take a trip through the years via my photo archives. This is often spurred on by the need of a certain photo for a child’s assignment or a yearbook ad, etc. But this time I just wanted to look back on the last few years photographically and I came across these. Since summer will soon be upon us I decided to share these. A couple of years ago a group, Portraits of Hope, created the largest public art project in the US. They transformed the Lifeguard towers of the LA County beaches, from Zuma to San Pedro, into brightly colored works of art painted with flowers, geometric shapes and fish designs. The colorful towers  reminded me of the art of my youth.

For me, these towers brought fun and a touch of whimsy to the beach.

According to their website, “The Portraits of Hope program is aimed at enriching the lives of children and adults – many who may be coping with adversity or serious illness – through their participation in creative, educational, high-profile, one-of-a-kind projects.” They have completed many projects throughout the US and one in Japan.

I like to say, ” a little pop of color never hurt any one!”  Can’t we all use a little more art in our lives?


The Weekend Dish – Big Puffy Baby Cake

Big Puffy Baby Cake

It begins with the scent of butter, slightly burning.

Early one Thursday evening in July, 1986, my husband Jim and I, along with Erin our 20-month-old daughter asleep in a stroller, arrived at a café au lait brown home in a suburb of Vancouver.  We’d found this place, a home-stay arrangement during Expo 86, the last World’s Fair to be held in North America, through an acquaintance which came by way of something like a business associate’s friend’s nephew’s mother-in-law.  We were here as part of a parenting plan that I can only look back at with fond compassion for my earnest intentions; I wanted to launch my daughter into a life of international travel. Yes, I’ll pause while you laugh and no, she remembers nothing of the experience.

Backyard Sister and daughter, circa 1986

Anyway, a small man with thick spectacles responded to our knock on the door.  He pointed down a dark staircase which lead to a basement and advised us that breakfast would be served at 7 a.m. the next morning. We didn’t want to wake Erin; ours was one of several rooms, separated by temporarily curtained walls, so we settled her in the middle of the queen-size bed between us, dined on apples and Cheez-Its, and looked forward to a meal I imagined to be delicious based on the rich buttery scent which had greeted us at the front door.

I’ll never know what was cooking upstairs because our downstairs breakfast consisted of Fruit Loops, canned peaches, and white bread that was impossible to toast without setting off the fire alarm.  We probably would have given this place more of a chance if it hadn’t been for the giant Rottweiler which freely roamed the house and scared me to death as his gleaming teeth were eye level with my child.

“I don’t expect silver and a tablecloth and fresh scones,” I told Jim when he listened to my plea to relocate.  “But I wouldn’t mind a fresh-cooked breakfast, a room with a window, and preferably no pets.”  I really don’t remember what made us decide to hop on the ferry to Victoria and walk into a Visitor’s Bureau asking for an accommodation recommendation, but by some stroke of luck we were directed to a beautiful cornflower blue Victorian home, painted with bright red and yellow fretwork, surrounded by a garden in full rose bloom.

“Breakfast will be served any time between 8 and 10. What will work best for you and your baby?”

In the morning, we awoke to the scent of butter, slightly burning.  Following our noses, we tiptoed down a wood floor hallway and discovered a large lace-covered dining table set with silver and fresh roses.  Karen, the soft-spoken woman of the house, served up a pie-pan of the most decadently satisfying combination of butter, eggs, flour, and powdered sugar.  When I had my first bite of what Karen called a Dutch Baby I had no idea that this recipe, which Karen later hand scrawled on a real estate agent’s note pad for me, would become ingrained in my memory from frequent use.

And while Erin remembers nothing of her World’s Fair visit, she loves the story of how her favorite breakfast joined family lore.  This is our go-to breakfast for occasions like birthdays, homecomings, and a welcome to our own out-of-town guests.

I first met this as a Dutch Baby, but some people call this Big Puffy Pancake.  Here’s Karen’s original recipe, tweaked throughout the years and renamed to encompass all its history in our family.

Big Puffy Baby Cake

4 T butter (and no, a butter substitute really doesn’t work)
4 eggs
1 C milk
2 T vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 C flour

Set oven to 425.

Slice butter into a 10 inch pie pan and place in oven as it is heating. Let butter melt, until almost brown and bubbly.

Meanwhile beat together eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Sift flour with salt, and then add to egg mixture.  Stir well.  Pour batter into pan over melted butter.

Bake 20-25 minutes until pancake has puffed up over the sides of the pan. Serve immediately. It will deflate slightly. We like it sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Serves 8 moderate eaters, or 4 ravenous ones.

Excuse me

I tried to write today.  I was on my way into the house.  I was going straight upstairs to my office to begin composing.  But then I noticed something in the front yard between the tree roses still wild in their red ruffled first bloom. There! A tender cotyledon of some sort pushing up through the mulch.

You know how I often yank out weeds sometimes when I return from my morning walk. Can you see the bend of my back as I stoop down to inspect this new growth?

But there was something so non-weedy about this growing thing. Perhaps it was the unusual turn of its green, a domesticity blaring in the gentle roundness of her leaves. I left her there, leaves turned toward the early morning sun, germinating.  But by then, filled with the curiosity of what she might become, I forgot entirely what else I had to say.  Oh, wonder. All day, all I could do was fill up on wonder.

I promise to do better tomorrow.

Farther Afield

I wandered into new territory a few months back. Feeling the call of the open road my family and I hopped in the car and headed north with the  idea of exploring the redwoods of northern California. The journey took us through some of California’s farmlands. It was winter. I find there is beauty in the browns and grays of the winter landscape.

Roadside Ducks

was it something I said?

What I captured from the road . . .

shore pastures

Sure would love to celebrate with them!

ha, ha, ha

CA country

Got up early for the golden hour and wasn’t disappointed.

golden cows

lone fisherman

We made it to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and cruised the Avenue of the Giants Highway.

The Founder’s Grove


Founder’s Grove hiker

Hiking the Founder’s Grove trail  is an experience of truly walking among giants!

The Founder’s Tree

what’s in there?

Click here to learn more about the redwoods and hiking options in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish

Ready, set…

When I bought a jembe and began toting it to drum circles my kids looked worried.  It wasn’t until after I began an informal jam session in the family room at the end of my daughter’s engagement party with her soon-to-be in-laws that my daughter finally broke the news, my son solemnly standing by her side for moral support.

“You know, um, Mom, there’s a certain um, stereotype, um, a certain, um, a certain kind of person who goes to drum circles.”

They thought I might be becoming a dope-smoking hippy.  I giggled, lectured on stereotypes, and kept right on seeking out all the drum circles I could find, quite clean and sober.

There are dozens in the southland, but since it’s spring, this would be a great weekend to take your beat to the beach.  If you’re in the Southland, take your pick of The Venice Beach Drum Circle, Hermosa Beach Community Drum Circle, Huntington Beach Drum Circle.  No worries if you live elsewhere. You’ll find a complete listing of Drum Circles throughout the US, including start times, exact locations, and which events provide instruments here.

What to expect?

A drum circle, like a sub-skin tattoo beats under bones and dancing bodies mark upon sand. A soul peeks and shouts, “I am mad!” with lust for living. Spinning. My chest – beating. My drum – beating. My palms – beating. My soul – flinging. My joy – rising.  Beating – my peace to palms – mine, bruised with beating the song. Still spinning – the sun. Still, stirring the still. Still – beating awake, the mute silent gawkers – still. Beating the sun – still. Setting the sun – still. Singing the song – still. Slowing the beat – still! Dark and then all – still.

A follow-up challenge, if you go:

Read Alex Wain’s “25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English,” and see how many of these non translatable expressions you experience while immersed in a drum circle.  Personally, I always find #6 and #15 but I never ever encounter the feeling of #24. And that right there is the reason I return.

Things I will miss someday

You, of course, Dear One,

And books made of paper.

I know this for certain as I pack my bookcases, preparing to move.  When I open my dog-eared copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I discover a pencil-scrawled note in my own hand.

…overheard in Target at the checkout line by a little girl wearing a bee yellow soccer t-shirt.

“Can I start reading my new book in the car, Mom?”
No, Chelsea. No. Don’t ask me again.”

I write all kinds of things in books. Notes to myself. Things to track down.  Finding this jot immediately takes me back to that night in Target and how I almost touched Chelsea’s shoulder and told her she could drive home with me.  Realizing that would be an infintely eerie and highly misunderstood act, I inscribed her name instead and recorded these words in a book I hadn’t even paid for yet to remind me to speak wisely to my own daughter.

I wonder someday, when all the books are digital, where I’ll keep these memorandums.

It’s frontismatter – will that word become extinct? – and marginalia words recorded in another’s hand that I’ll miss even more when paper books have dwindled to near extinction.

As I pack another shelf, I discover my mother’s signature, swirled in black fountain pen, on the browned and brittle first page of a 1965 Vintage edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea. So many years after the lend I feel guilty that I’ve not returned it, but in exact opposition to the slow way I lost track of having her book, I immediately remember her words the day she pressed it into my hands.

“This is a lovely book for a woman in the middle of family life. I think you might enjoy it. I know I did.”

I read the book as grown-up daughter, not the seven-year-old I was when my mother read it first, and I wonder if this passage also began a slow shift in the river of her life the way it opened in me the possibility of finding rhythm, peace, and solitude in nature.

“…Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state of William James describes so well in the German word, “‘Zerrissenheit—torn-to-pieces-hood.’ She cannot live perpetually in ‘Zerrissenheit. She will be shattered into a thousand pieces.”

The wonderful thing about my mother is the graceful way she can guide without seeming to do so. So subtle was her influence that even though I own several editions of Gift From the Sea, and I’ve given it frequently as a present, it wasn’t until I found my mother’s copy, with her tidy penmanship on the blank first page, that I remembered who first introduced me to its beauty and its wisdom.  I also realize if I alone have kept it all these years, my sisters haven’t had a chance to read their mother’s treasure. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

Packing and moving can make a person feel nostalgic, but this longing for the permanence of pen and ink goes deeper than my desire to touch the same page as one I love.

Where will I find the croissant crumbs from that little boulangerie in Paris when I reread Baudelaire?

Where will I tuck the card or letter from my book’s giver and how will he inscribe upon the front, “Love, Dad.”

When I really really miss you, where will I find your chocolate fingerprints, or the sand leftover from your own sojourn one summer by the sea?

I suppose these things will remain alone in my memory’s cache or I’ll forget and never miss what I don’t recall.

Oh I suppose I could always write about them, but how would I find the time and words?

Imagine this in pen and ink,

Close-Up and Patterned

Occasionally, to add variety to my workout routine and have a nature interlude I will head to the Santa Monica mountains for a hike, with my camera, a “photo hike” if you will.  The Solstice Canyon trail was my recent destination. It is a serene and relaxing park with a few trail options of differing difficulty levels. I decided to focus on something different to photograph this time. Instead of capturing the big picture, which I usually do when hiking on this trail, I looked to the small details.  The patterns in the leaves, rocks and tree trunks were the subjects that day. The delicate leaves of this plant still have dew drops lingering.

ground cover green carpet

A tree trunk caught my eye. . .

“A” bark

Then this fungus.

false turkey tail fungus

And the water of the stream gently flowing over the rocks.

creek-size cascade

Suddenly a loud squawk overhead pulled my attention from the quiet details of the flora to the noisy insistence of the fauna as I was joined by two parrots.


Solstice Canyon is full of opportunities to experience the beauty of the Santa Monica mountains and get exercise at the same time.  The area has been hit with many wildfires over the years and there are remains from a few of the homes that used to stand there. Next time, I will be exploring some of these; always with an eye for the details but not forgetting the big picture!

If you would like to learn more about Solstice Canyon here is a link to the National Park Service information  

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish

We know your mother is the sun, the stars, and the moon (OK, that’s the last moon reference for a very long time.)  And we know how much you like photography. So why not take mom to San Diego’s Balboa Park this weekend for a superb photography exhibit?

Sure, it’ll probably be crowded at the park. But Sunday, May 13 is your last chance to catch  “Eyes of a Nation: A Century of American Photography” at the Museum of Photographic Art.  (Admission:  $8 with discounts for seniors, students, and military.) There are so many things to love about the show, but as a neophyte photography historian, I found it deeply interesting that it’s arranged to follow the history of photography’s evolution into the realm of fine art.  You can read W.S. Di Piero’s fine review here.

Di Piero is also an accomplished poet whose most recent book, Nitro Nights (2011), was published by Copper Canyon Press, the Port Townsend publishing house I was reading for when I discovered a the “grey-haired man and a white-haired woman” from yesterday’s post.

As I was saying.

Take a picnic. I’ve already checked and predictably The Prado has no reservations. The sweet hostess who answered my call chortled a little when I asked if she thought a person might be able to get a stand-by seat.  “It’s MOTHER’S DAY,” she said. In all caps, just like that. As if I didn’t know.

Take a garden walk.  Choose between the Lily Pond in front of the Botanical Building (free);  the California Native Plant Garden (free); or the Japanese Friendship Garden ($4). If none of those inspire, there are 16 others to choose from. Preview here.

Take a seat at the free organ concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion from 2-3 p.m.

If you go. Take a picture with your mom and send it to us.  Because here at The Backyard Sisters, we love our mom.  She taught us that sunglasses can create allure, that outdoor dining is the finest, and that family really is the most important thing.

Backyard Sisters, circa 1966
(Yes there are four of us. More on that another time.)

For every perigee, an equal and predictable apogee

One night in Venice

Dear One,
Am I the moon and you the earth? If so, what then is the sun?

The moon recedes, will reach its furthest point from earth this year on May 19 as it slowly starts to spin away.  Away. What brilliance shone on May 5 must be remembered. Will you walk into the dim lit dark, look up into the sky and wait?

dateline: PORT TOWNSEND, Washington, one May evening

Upon finding myself walking behind a grey-haired man and a white-haired woman not holding hands on a Friday night and following them into Sweet Laurette Cafe.

His right hand is in his right pocket instead of holding hers. The tilt of his shoulders in stride veers just that much toward the sidewalk. Away from her.

There’s enough space to fit another adult between them.

She bounds, feet wildly meeting the pavement as if an afterthought of movement, a requirement, this tethering to the earth. Her legs flail. Is it possible that one wants to head right and the other left?  She glances furtively at him, catches the side of his cheek, not his eyes.  She swivels her gaze wide in the opposite direction.

They lack the lean, the comfort of aging into each other, the ah yes, it’s you and I’m so glad.

Not that there’s tension. No sparks fly. None of either kind.

She will let him dawdle over the menu. He will wait while she spoons great gobs of loganberry pie à la mode into her mouth long after his hunger has been sated.

She will snort when she laughs and his silence will halt her mirth.

He will pick the chicken from the spot where his gums recede with the sharpened fingernail of his left pinky.  They will walk back up the hill, no closer than when they descended.


I want to tell her, (but of course I don’t because that might admit too much), nature teaches trust amidst her rhythmic wax and wane.  I want to tell her about the moon. But of course that would be too metaphoric for a stranger I never met.  I might tell you instead.

If you want to chart the progress of the moon, check out this Lunar Perigee and Apogee Calculator.

If you’re more poetically inclined, take exactly one minute, nine seconds to have a listen to Caroline Caddy read her poem, “Editing the Moon.”