Here a model, there a model

Because we have mannequins  . . . why doesn’t really matter,  I am faced with an opportunity. In the past few weeks, they have made their way out of the basement, where they have been standing/lounging, as if at a supermodel party for numerous years, to the backyard where they are standing in as our version of yard art/scarecrows. We are passing them on and I decided they need to be put to work, after so many years of rent-free living, before that could happen.

Mannequins make excellent models, no complaining, no funny faces or accidental shut eyes, but are a bit “one note” as far as expressions go. Our backyard is the location and an exercise in depth of field the first job. Setting my f-stop to 4, I shot this:

I am happy with the blurring of the background achieved and how it makes him stand out but some times you want to see the background so I set the f-stop to 16:

I like the depth of field in this one and how in focus she is, although he is a bit out of focus. Next, I tried a different set-up and an f-stop of 22:

I was very happy with the focus of all three subjects and the surroundings even the wires (they add an urban feel). The f-stop controls the opening in the camera allowing in more or less light and it also controls the depth of field. A larger opening, achieved by using a lower numbered f-stop, produces a shallow depth of field, where the background will be blurry and almost velvety. Conversely, a smaller opening, using a higher numbered f-stop, produces a deep field of vision, obtaining focus in subjects both close and farther away from the camera.                                                                                                           Face into the sun and f-stop back to 4, she shines like the supermodel she is:

Next, it was his turn:

How many models will stay still for a spider on their nose? After that, the fun really began. Time to put them to work in the yard,

Disaffected? Yes. Yet will do anything asked of them. . .

Their dreamy aura inspired this pose:

Lastly, the American Gothic painting by Grant Wood comes to my mind while gazing at these two.  A modern take on a classic:

I bid adieu to “Adam and Eve”, it was fun knowing you!

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish – Scones

Well, it has finally arrived. The opening day of the Summer Olympics is today.

Buckingham Palace

In honor of the host city, London, I felt scones would be a proper food tribute. 

The scone is a simple but delicious quick bread. It is traditionally served with clotted cream and jam. The basic recipe is versatile and can be modified by adding nuts, chocolate chips, zests, and fresh or dried fruits. My favorite addition is dried tart cherries.

They can be served with tea or they are also an excellent accompaniment to coffee. A few years ago, I found this recipe while trying to have a full-fledged tea party with my youngest daughter and since then our family has enjoyed them many times. This time I used our grandmothers’ dishes as an extra special place setting, figuring they don’t get out of the china hutch enough.

Recipe for Cream Scones

If you want to make them lighter you can use half and half or milk.

Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C) and place rack in middle of oven. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (66g) granulated white sugar
2 tsp (10g) baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup (76g) chilled, unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp (5g) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (125ml) heavy whipping cream
Egg mixture for brushing tops: (brushing the tops with mixture helps with browning the tops)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp heavy cream

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. In a small bowl combine the egg, vanilla and whipping cream. Add this mixture to the flour mixture stirring until just combined. Do not over mix this mixture. Knead dough gently on a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat the dough into a circle that is 7 inches (18cm) round and about 1 1/2 inches (3.75cm) thick. Cut this circle into 8 triangular sections. Alternatively, you can cut the the dough into rounds with a cookie cutter. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Brush the tops with the egg mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


-Add 1/3 cup dried tart cherries
-Add 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips
-Add 2 tsp lemon zest and 1 Tbsp poppy seeds
-Add 1 Tbsp poppy seeds and use 1 tsp almond extract instead of vanilla extract and       sprinkle top of scones with sliced almonds after brushing with egg mixture.

I must say the only variation I have tried is the cherries and we love it so much that I haven’t tried the others.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we do and if you would like to follow the Olympics here is the official website. Perhaps while nibbling a fresh from the oven scone . . .


Recipe courtesy of

Never enough time to say no

Are you used to the idea by now that your days aren’t long enough?

My father once asked me this during a week when I’d just moved and was still unpacking boxes.  I was also in the middle of putting out an issue of dirtcakes the literary journal I edit, finishing a poetry manuscript, writing an essay collection, and baking cookies to take for an overnight visit to that same man who’d just asked me if I was ready yet to bow to the superior strength of time’s speed pitted against my endless to-do list that stretched like one of Jack Kerouac’s legendary giant paper roll manuscripts.

From the back cover of On the Road: The Original Scroll

I almost said no, my days are never long enough.  And then I paused.

Every single day there’s time for meditation and prayer, for long dinners with my husband, conversation with our parents and children, my sisters and neighbors, friends and strangers.  I have all the time I need to hike with my dog at least for a bit and toast small discoveries like the way the afternoon sun slants golden in the living room window of the new house.

Every day is exactly as long as it needs to be when I take time to write and teach and breathe a prayer of gratitude for living with the kind of mind that dreams up all the things that fill my days.   That to-do list only feels like it stretches to eternity, but in fact it’s filled with tasks that will hardly outlive my body the way love will link my life to others in ways that will continue to give long after I’m gone.  There’s never enough time to say no to what matters.

So, yes, I said, rather surprised at myself.  Every day is exactly long enough, I told my father.  Yes, this day is the perfect length, as will be the one tomorrow when I come visit.

What, what did you do today?  My monkey mind can’t help but ask this persistently during the daily hour when I finally concede surrender to the uncrossed off items still standing under the to-do heading.  My answer today?  I wrote you and I feel great.  And now it’s time to go get busy in the kitchen.

With all the time in the world,
~ Catherine

p.s.  If reading lists brings you pleasure, one of my all time favorite books is Journeys of Simplicity: Traveling Light edited by Philip Harnden.  It’s a compilation of lists from writers, poets, even an arctic tern.

An excerpt:


peanut butter
hot choc



What will you pack into your day? What are you willing to let go?

Marshy Tapestry

The Madrona Marsh in Torrance, CA is an urban oasis situated on a corner of a busy intersection in the city. It is a haven for birds, insects, reptiles, plants and people. A walk around the marsh and surrounding area can reveal all sorts of surprises and delights. This time, I turned my attention to the plants in the native garden. More specifically, I filled my viewfinder with the vegetation.

The colors are exceptional, especially in the spring when these photos were taken. Even the whites are particularly vibrant.

The flowers’ appearance has a textural richness.

The last thing I did was look up while under a sycamore tree.

If you are in the area, have a look at the Madrona Marsh and you can discover, for yourself, what the natives have to offer (plants that is).


The Weekend Dish – Creeping Crust Cobbler

… A Creeping Crust Cobbler Recipe and story

Apricots, like most good things, require patience.  The tree stands barren through winter’s chill while you are left to remember and dream, to wait and hope the small fruit arrives by the buckets come summer.

There are many things like an apricot.

Crystal Cove, CA

 A California sunset, for example.  Or, as Deborah Slicer writes in her poem, “Apricot,” “The weight of a small child’s fist, / a girl…”

Apricot Girl with her Nana who made the family’s first Creeping Crust Cobbler.

In our family it was a girl who inspired Nana, the Backyard Sisters’ mom and grandmother to 10, to turn a bumper crop of apricots into Creeping Crust Cobbler, now a summer dessert staple in all the sisters’ homes.

It was the blazing hot summer of 1987 and Nana had come to stay with Catherine who had just given birth to a son.  Nana made a tradition of spending a week with her daughters whenever a new baby was born. One of the joys of this time was getting an extended visit with the older children in the house, and one of the Apricot Girl’s favorite things was picking up fallen fruit from the ground.

Apricots were one of Nana’s favorite fruits and she knew there was something better to be done with this backyard gift than throwing them for Max the Golden Retriever to catch.  “Let’s turn this into something delicious for dessert.”

When Nana asked what sort of cookbooks I had, I pulled out one that her own mother, Gammy to us sisters, had given me as a wedding shower gift.  A Collection of the VERY FINEST RECIPES ever assembled into one Cookbook was exactly the kind of book to find a homey recipe for apricots.

Gammy loved buying cookbooks from church groups or school PTAs and this book was a compilation of a fund-raising cookbook publishers best recipes.  It perfectly captured the sort of mid-western American fare she made most frequently.  Turns out, I put the right tool in the good cook’s hand. On page 189, Nana found a recipe for Creeping Crust Cobbler.  We’ve tweaked it a little over the years.  But there’s one thing that’s never changed; I always remember the summer Nana and the Apricot Girl discovered one of the favorite desserts in the entire Backyard Sister family.

Heat oven to 350.

1/2 C butter
1 C flour
1 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 C milk

1 C, or less, sugar.
2 C fruit  We’ve successfully made this with apricots, peaches, plums, and blueberries, or any combination of them all.  You can use the fruit solo or mix together. I usually don’t peel the fruit, but you can if you like.

– Heat fruit with sugar in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts and thickens a little.

– Melt butter in 10-inch baking dish by setting dish with butter in it in heating oven.

– Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
– Add milk and mix.
– Spoon batter in large glops over the melted butter. (Is there anything better than a recipe that uses the word “glops?”)
– Pour fruit and sugar mixture over dough.
– Bake in 350 oven about 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown. (Sometimes this bubbles over into your oven so you might want to place the pie pan on a cookie sheet.)
-Crust will rise to the top.  Serve warm or cold.

Superb with a dollop of ice cream. Excellent for breakfast.

With sweetness,
~ Catherine, Sue, Gammy, Nana, and the Apricot Girl

p.s. You can read Deborah Slicer‘s poem, “Apricot,” in its entirety on the Orion magazine website hereOrion is a treasure for anyone interested in nature meets literature meets culture.

Hurricane? Fabulous

Hurricane Fabio, Fabio (Weather Channel/AP/File)
Photo collage compiled by Yahoo! News

When I packed to move this weekend, I found a 1995 newspaper clipping of a public letter I’d written to Fabio, the Italian model, after he stood me up for a workout date to discuss a fitness book he’d written. The headline reads, “Black leotard awaits its fabulous destiny with Fabio.”

Oddly, my weekend seemed filled with Fabio disruptions.

Hurricane Fabio surf. July 13, 2012. Crystal Cove, CA

“There’s a hurricane swell today,” the lifeguard told me on Friday. “You shouldn’t go in without fins.”

I don’t own fins.   Undertow yanked my ankles like a two-fisted giant; waves crashed overhead. Hurricane Fabio’s effects impressed me enough that for the first time ever I postponed an annual tradition begun when I was 15.  I always body surf on my birthday to celebrate life’s wild beauty, and in some weird way, to prove that I’m not yet old. I wondered what it’d mean to give myself a hurricane delay.

Swell and crash. July 13, Crystal Cove State Beach

When the universe nudges me twice in one weekend, I wonder if it’s trying to tell me something.  I reread snippets of the letter.

Dear Fabio,
You’ve broken my heart.

Oh sure. I’m the one who stood you up on our first date.  That afternoon we were supposed to work out together at Gold’s Gym was a nightmare. There I was, stuck in traffic, miles from you.  The clock crept fast; the Hollywood Freeway did not.  You had to leave before I got there. Remember what you said when we spoke by cell phone?

Don’t worry, Catherine. When I get back from New York we will work out.

When my friends and husband and editor found out I’d missed our date they wailed and gnashed their teeth.  Who’s late for a date with Fabio? I felt terrible, but I readied myself for your promise. We will work out.

I bought a new leotard. Black.

I reread your book, Fabio Fitness

I had so many questions.

Do you really use miniature utensils so you don’t eat too much?  Is it better to work out with a buddy as you suggest on page 188?

I was nervous thinking about standing bicep-to-bicep with the Great Maned One. My hands sweat just thinking about it.

I did a few sit-ups. Eight.
I bought new shoes. Black.

I mourned that we’d missed our first date, but was secretly relieved. I thought your workout might be too hard and I’d huff and pant and act the fitness level of someone who spends her time reading romance novels.  I was willing to sacrifice my body because I had more important things on my mind. Fabio, I wanted to give you the chance to prove that looks aren’t everything and that you really cared about the health and well-being of all the women who swoon at the sight of you.

I bought a new pair of tights. Black.

You returned from New York and invited me to your Hollywood Hills home instead of Gold’s Gym.  Your Los Angeles publicist said it was because you’d just installed a new sound and video system.  You wanted to show it off.

I told her I’d be glad to come to your house. To work out.
Your publicist invited me to your house for breakfast. I said I’d be glad to eat breakfast with you. After we worked out.

Your publicist invited me to your house for lunch. I said I’d be delighted to come, I’d even help cook recipes from your new book. After we worked out.

Your publicist said you’d changed your mind; you didn’t want to share your workout. Your workout is a religious experience for you.

I didn’t want to come to your house to talk. I wanted Fabio in action, helping women becoming more healthy and fit, like the press kit said you were devoted to doing.

I’m wearing black.


I threw back my head and laughed.  I did used to buy new clothes when I was nervous and running late is something I’ve spent years trying to purge from my bad habit list. But seriously, I’d given up a date with Fabio to prove a point?

I know one thing for sure. I’ll be headed back to Crystal Cove in a few weeks to make good on that birthday body surfing tradition. If you happen to see Fabio, tell him he can join me. To work out.


Wishing you all swell things,

p.s. This letter to Fabio first appeared in a slightly longer form in The Orange County Register, Oct. 3, 1995.

Light Play on the Pacific

While driving along the coast in the late afternoon I noticed the sun, clouds and water interacting together and making patterns of radiance on the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Pulling over, I grabbed my camera with my 24-105mm zoom lens to capture the glory.

Usually there are only a few times I will shoot towards the sun, for sunsets or rises, but I have started changing that lately and this is one of those instances. The reflections were mesmerizing.

After taking a few photos I switched to my 100-300mm zoom lens and decided to bring the brilliance closer.

And then, even closer, to see the light dancing on the water.

I couldn’t resist these two fishing boats heading back to the harbor.

Finally, a pelican flew right across my sights and I have a soft spot for pelicans, so yet another pelican photo. . .

Photography is about using and capturing light and there are many ways to accomplish it. I am not so reluctant to shoot towards the sun any more. Capturing the sun’s rays is yet another way of photographing scenes, even if it can be a bit challenging.  The dance of the sun and water with a few clouds for shadows was something to celebrate.

~ Sue