Cue the fog

trees in fog

There’s nothing like fog for creating a spooky atmosphere, and around here, just in time for Halloween, the morning and evening fog has “come on little cat feet” as Carl Sandburg poetically expressed it. Seeing everything through a misty filter gives me an eerie feeling. Perhaps it’s the ability to hide and become almost invisible the haze provides. Or, the trees turning into ghostly figures when shrouded in fog.

tree in fogWhichever it is I can’t shake a certain uneasiness while walking in the fog. Are those footsteps I hear? What was that movement up ahead? Where did that person, who was just there, go?

tree in fogSounds become amplified and ominous. I can often hear the clanging of buoys, moaning of fog horns and crashing of waves from my front yard, which is a couple of miles from the beach, in foggy weather.

trees in fogAt times, the fog can also elicit feelings of calm, coziness and quietude. Palm trees in fog

palm trees in fog

This day, however, I choose to get in the Halloween spirit and embrace the spookiness and eeriness of the fog.




The Weekend Dish

Write now!

National Novel Writing Month begins in exactly six days and you can get a jump start on outlining, prewriting, researching, and yes, writing your book-length project this weekend.

NaNoWriMo, as its known to those in the know, is an annual event billed on the website as “thirty days and nights of literary abandon” where the challenge is to complete 50,000 words within 30 days. You do the math, that’s a lot of writing.  But a perusal of the list of published NaNoWriMo authors includes titles put out by major houses and may include a few names and novels you’ve read like Sara Gruen and Like Water For Elephants.

The concept is pretty simple. You register on the website.  It’s free.

In return for your public declaration of intent, you receive cyber pep talks and support from NaNoWriMo staff and information about local writing groups and in-person events.

You buckle your seat belt to your writing chair. You write.

I’ve already started writing.

Why I Can’t Write 50,000 Words This November
Thirty people are coming for Thanksgiving dinner and I recently moved and I’m not finished unpacking yet and there’s no mirror in the downstairs bath (and no light either) so how can I host a holiday without also doing a little shopping for the house and the new backyard is still mud and the rainy season is imminent and how can I ignore that November is an ideal month to plant in California and did I mention I have no backyard, (seriously, it’s dirt, just dirt which turns into mud when it rains and you know I have Chester and he needs to go outside because that’s what dogs do) and the new issue of dirtcakes is due out so I’ve got writers to contact and contracts to send and design to oversee and the semester is winding down and I know my students paid for and expect to receive not only teaching but grading which means I’ve got dozens and dozens of papers to read and comment upon and did I tell you me daughter’s in-laws are coming to town and I’d be rude not to plan some time for them and surely I’ve mentioned that I’m also a writer which means that all those family things and foody things and editor things and house things and garden things and teaching things will have to somehow bow to this writing thing but I’m old now and I have to sleep so maybe I just won’t eat and I certainly won’t clean (although I should shower and do laundry so as not to offend those standing nearby) but of course I’ll cook the week of Thanksgiving because I really love all those 30 people who will show up on my front porch that day –

Ack! Stop the chatter and just write.

You’ll find inspiration some where. Mine arrived in my e-mail in-box earlier this year. With permission, I’m excerpting it here:

Hi Professor,
It’s Brian Ducoffe.  I was in your “Composing the Self” class last fall. I don’t know if you remember but I participated in National Novel Writing Month and finished. I ended up spending the next 9 months editing and revising it and the book is now published. I ended up going the self publishing route after a couple conversations with some literary agents just so I could have more control but am hoping I can pick up some attention and possibly make some publishing houses take notice. Anyway I just thought you’d like to check it out since I wrote it during your class! Thanks!

See, the cool thing is that Brian never once missed an assignment or asked for an extension he just kept showing up, doing his school thing while finishing Our Elephant Graveyard.
So here’s to you and here’s to me and here’s to a growing word count.
What are you waiting for?
See you on the bright side of November.
Full details of NaNoWri Mo can be found by clicking here.
With high expectations,

Time to dream

Dear One,

I see you standing there. I read your back and see the softened slump about your shoulders.

I hear your sigh that carries just above the shush of the Pacific, not quite a keen, but not a thing like laughter.  What is it you look for? Have you been waiting for so very long?

May I tell you something? Once I saw two boys barehanded fishing for tilapia in Kauai’s Hule’ia River. Frozen still in the shadows of the mangrove, they cupped their hands and waited.  Shhhh, they warned and I froze too, midstep on the hiking path.  All at once, like athletes on a pedestal, they raised their arms victoriously overhead and one wriggling fish flung droplets into the sky.

“Dinner!” they shrieked.

That night I dreamt I stood in the shallows of Hule’ia, hands submerged into murky water. I could not see clearly, unsure exactly what I was trying to catch.  I dreamt a cold plump softness nudging my open palms. One, two – too many sleek and slippery things to count – I grasped and missed, until at dawn I awoke empty-handed, staring blankly at the wall.

Is it like that now for you?

My friend wonders about her mounting “…sense of exhaustion and ambivalence…”

My students say, “This week is awful. It’s limp broccoli.”

It seems everyone around me is feeling…

when we would all so much rather be —

Here’s my Rx.  If you can, take a visit to your girlhood dreaming spot, or one that reminds you copiously of it. Gaze into the lantern of your inner fire. Catch the glow. Reflect the blaze.

Remember who you once were and what you said you would become.  It’s not too late. But hurry. You are waiting.  And so am I.
With vibrancy and gold,

p.s. If your spirits need a boost these days, stumble upon Dearest Creature by poet Amy Gerstler.  (You can read David Kirby’s New York Times review of it here.)

This is not a new book; it was published in 2009. But it’s a new discovery for me and I highly recommend any book that contains poems with titles like, “At the Back of a Closet, Two Dresses Converse” and “Chant of the Hallucinogenic Plants,” especially as an antidote if you’re in your blues period.  There’s no expiration date on golden poetry.

Never Just a Rose

In the words of Shakespeare, “. . . a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” and I say it would look as beautiful too. Roses, and other flowers as well, make wonderful photographic subjects. That’s just another reason, beside the usual, I enjoy the gift of fresh flowers.

sidelit roseUsing a window as a sidelight, creates an interesting play of shadows and highlights. In Photoshop, by adjusting the brightness/contrast levels the shadows and highlights become enhanced. I took the brightness down and added more contrast. Just for fun – my idea of fun anyway, I decided to try processing differently. This time a deep blue photo filter at 25% luminosity was added and the brightness turned up and contrast brought down,  creating a softer effect.sidelit roseOne of the great characteristics of flowers is the translucency of the petals and leaves. which makes using back lighting rewarding. 

Position yourself so that the flower is between you and your light source; in this instance the sun. This brings out the details in the petals and leaves. The tiny thorns on the stem became highlighted also. If you like, you can let a bit of the light source shine through for a different feel.

backlit rose

Sunflowers with their large showy flowers are another one of my favorites. Here, I wanted to see how a soft, out of focus background can be achieved with a zoom lens. The first photo was taken with a zoom lens set at 80mm with an f-stop of 4.0.

sunflowerThe background, especially those flowers closer to the sunflower, are fairly in focus. When zoomed out to 105mm and stepping in a little closer (the only changes).

sunflowerEverything in the background becomes velvety and out of focus, also known as a bokeh effect. This makes the subject stand out. Having the aperture open as wide as you can is another factor that helps create the bokeh effect. If you have a kit zoom lens and your aperture will only open as far as 4, or 5.6, zooming in will help achieve that bokeh effect.

According to Gertrude Stein,  “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

Loveliness extreme. . . ”

I will keep trying to capture the beauty here in the backyard.

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish-Apple Butter

Apples It began years ago; so many I don’t know the exact number. Nana, Granddad, this backyard sister and her youngest backyard girl gathering on a day in the fall to make apple butter.

After the apples have been purchased and cleaned, and the peeler/corer/slicers and jars, have been dug out of storage, we are ready to get to work.

Those peeler/corer/slicers are nifty little gadgets and save a lot of time. When all peeled,cored and sliced the apples are placed on the stove to cook.

apples cooking on stove Once they are soft enough, everyone’s favorite part begins: whirring with the hand-held blender.

Sometimes it is a solitary task, and other times a helping hand is lent.

Or, a little moral support . . .

The spices are adjusted after the first taste test.

When it’s just right, it is placed in jars and the backyard girl gets a little treat.

The backyard girl, with her excellent penmanship, always gets the job of labeling.

The day yields some delicious apple butter to be shared and enjoyed for the next few weeks, and also a fantastic bonus for this backyard sister and her daughter of time well spent catching up, reminiscing, telling tales, laughing, listening to music and dancing. We are grateful Nana and Granddad are so generous with their time and kitchen skills (utensils too!) and I, for one, always come away with not only a treasure trove of jars filled with yummy apple butter but also the precious gems of new, fond memories made from the stories told and delights of watching granddaughter and grandparents sharing with each other. That just doesn’t happen every day; but it will tomorrow. Oh, and I also come away with lots of fun photos.

Here’s the recipe in case you would like to try it and see what develops . . .


Note: This recipe is adjustable for desired quantity and flavor. Any type of apple may be used. We choose a mix of tart and sweet. Canning jars are available at most supermarkets. They need only a thorough washing and drying before use in this refrigerated canning method.

We use two pans of eight quarts each.

16 lbs. apples, peeled and cored, divided equally in the pans.

5 lbs.  Granny Smith

5 lbs.  Fuji

6 lbs.  Honey Crisp

Into each pan mix in:

3 level Tbs. Cinnamon

¾ tsp. ground cloves

1 1/4 cups of sugar

1 1/4 cups of Simply Apple brand apple juice.

Simmer each pan on stove covered for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste as you go. Adjust spices to your taste. When apples become soft mash them with a potato masher, a wand mixer or whatever tool you have to smooth them to an apple butter consistency.

Yield: 14 large (16 oz.) jars.

Refrigerate after cooling.

~ Sue


lake with mountain reflectionThis week while reflecting on some past photos, the idea to explore reflections struck.
Reflections can be created by many different shiny surfaces.  Water, is a natural.

harbor, Gwynedd, Wales

Buildings can be reflective as well. In this instance, in Chicago, the reflection of the older intricate architecture in the sleek more modern building is a nice study in contrasts.

Chicago buildings reflected in side of building


The building at 333 W. Wacker in Chicago’s riverside facade is curved to mirror the shape of the bend in the river. The surface is highly reflective which showcases the river, surrounding buildings and sky.

Chicago skyline reflected in buildings


Glass, of course, is another reflective surface which can be used very creatively because you get a picture within a picture effect.

gorilla with child's reflectionThe children here are reflected in the glass of the gorilla’s enclosure.

A shiny counter top serves as an interesting reflective subject also.

tomatoes reflected in counter top  One of the funnest places I have found for reflective pictures is the Cloud Gate sculpture, aka the bean, in Chicago.

Chicago, the bean
The skyline and sky are reflected as are the many people enjoying their reflections and the city’s too.

chicago bean and sky

The shape of the bean can distort the images creating a fun house mirror effect. Go inside the structure and you will be treated to an abstract reflective delight.

inside the Chicago bean

This week I encourage you to look to the reflections presenting themselves in your daily life and maybe snap a photo of a few.


Five lines to challenge chaos

Is it possible to offset the apparent randomness of the universe?

California Morning Sky.       Photo Credit: James Keefe Photography

Some ladies put up tomatoes, or peaches, or apple jam against the coming winter. I decide to create a stock of writing projects as sustenance against the lengthening darkness.  By spring, I’ll have a larder of poems that adhere to formal patterns found in nature, the sunflower, for example, or the whorl of a seashell, the number of legs on a spider for instance, or the swoop of an orb found glistening in early morning.

The idea takes root as I introduce my students to poetic form and we discuss the state of poetry as a mostly formless country these days, flowing as it does so frequently in free verse.  What is found when form is lost? I prod.  What is gained when form is followed?

I ask this, of course because it’s a good beginning for an Introduction to Creative Writing unit on poetry. But the debatable merits of structured versus unstructured poetry are making headlines these days within the literary community and I want my students to understand the fray. Before you roll your eyes and wonder who cares outside of a classroom or a Paris garret, consider that poets have long considered themselves to be what the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley writes “In Defense of Poetry” as:

“… the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

(You can read Shelley’s essay in its entirety here.)

It’s this role of poets as “mirrors of society,” that most concerns William Childress, a noted poet and National Geographic photojournalist, in a recent letter to the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, a journal of Literature and Discussion.

“Is free verse killing poetry…A blind person can see that American society is in turmoil…shouldn’t poets be trying to change things instead of writing chaos-poetry or “woe is me” diaries? Who will read poetry when they can’t find a common bond in a poet’s writing? Who likes ruptured grammar, twisted syntax and what my grandpa called flapdoodle? There’s at least a partial consensus that free verse these days consists of a lot of badwriting. I forget who said, “Poets should learn to write before they try to write poetry.”  Many of today’s poets don’t seem to realize that all writing is connected.”

All writing must be connected because all life is braided together in one way or another isn’t it.

As go the poets…
As go the canaries…
So go the humans?

Does nature, I ask my students, follow predictable patterns?

“No,” says the student who arrived late for the semester because Hurricane Isaac interrupted her flight plans from Florida. “It’s random and unpredictable.”

“Of course,” answers the biology major who cites genus and species classifications as one example of nature’s way of behaving according rules.

“Does art that most mirrors nature create more of an impact than art which seems more artificial?” I prod, quoting the philosopher Pseudo-Longinus‘ line about finding sublimity.

For art is perfect when it seems to be nature, and nature hits the mark when she contains art hidden within her.”

My students and I decide we’ll compose one sample of as many structured poetic forms as possible before we write any more free verse. We’ll read deeply from poets who follow form and from poets who made their break with form for reasons buried within the poem itself. We begin small, with a tanka, “a thirty-one-syllable poem, traditionally written in a single unbroken line. A form of waka, Japanese song or verse, tanka translates as “short song,” and is better known in its five-line, 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count form.”

Here’s my tanka-in-progress:

What one spider knows
spinning glass in dawn-dark fall —
even leaves let go.
Brilliance against the barren
this alone.  Can I believe?

Wishing you enough chaos to unsettle and enough structure to soothe,

p.s. Care to join our writing challenge? Up next is the cinquain, a five-line poem with 22 syllables broken down, according to lines as:  2, 4, 6, 8,and 2.

A Rearranging of the Resources

What to do when a beach is losing its sand? Move sand from one area in the ocean to another of course! After many years of shrinking, the beach between the Topaz jetty and Ruby St. in Redondo Beach, CA  is growing. This is no easy feat. There has been a barge and much activity just offshore for the past month. A sign on the shore explains that this is part of a beach replenishment project.

sand dredgingIt is an intriguing sight that has initiated much speculation and musings from onlookers. Also, it piqued my curiosity. When that happens, I will often turn to Google and this time I learned the sand is being moved from the harbor entrance of Marina del Rey where it had settled thus making the entrance too shallow at times of low tide. Seeing the barge for the past few weeks and desiring a closer look, I grabbed my camera with my most powerful zoom lens attached and went to the shore.

sand dredging equipmentIt was early morning a little past the golden hour, the hour immediately following sunrise or preceding sunset, but the light was still soft with a warm hue. The early morning and late evening hours provide diffused softer lighting due to the sun’s position in the sky and are often favored by photographer’s because of this.

sand dredging equipment

The interaction of the boats with the barge kept my attention for quite awhile.

sand dredging equpment

sand dreddging equipmentI was glad to be able to zoom to 300mm making it possible to make out the names of the boats and the barge.

sand dredging equipmentAlso, allowing for a peek at the activity I couldn’t have gotten with another lens or my naked eye.

sand dredging equipment

Part of the enjoyment I get from photography is the ability to get closer to things and activities and then being able to capture them. It helps to have a lens, such as a 300mm, with the capability of bringing a subject closer when it isn’t  physically possible to get closer. Some may, OK do, call it my inner paparazzi.

May you unleash your inner paparazzi.


The Weekend Dish

brownies, dessert

Brownies –  chocolaty, chewy brownies, are one of my favorite desserts. Over the years, I have made countless batches and tried many different recipes. While some are very good, I think that there are a couple of types of brownie mixes that produce results just as good as, if not better than, the ones I have made from scratch. And let’s face it sometimes you just don’t have the time to make something from scratch but still want that fresh baked, warm from the oven goodie.

brownies, dessert

My two favorites are Trader Joe’s truffle brownie mix and Ghirardelli”s double chocolate brownie mix. When making the Trader Joe’s mix lately, I have been using olive oil instead of the melted butter, with the intent of making it lower in saturated fats. The result has been an excellent, moist brownie.

brownie mix and ingredientsThe brownies can be mixed up, baked and ready in a little over an hour – which also allows for a half an hour of cooling time. Both these mixes include chocolate chips and if you wanted to, you could add nuts or maybe some dried fruits as well. For another treat and perhaps dessert for a dinner party top a brownie with vanilla ice cream and drizzle your favorite caramel sauce over the whole thing (could even be topped with whipped cream.)

brownie sundaeI sure enjoyed preparing and photographing this recent batch, which also had the added benefit of making this backyard sister’s house smell wonderful; yet another reason to bake! We will be indulging all weekend long.

brownies, dessertAll in the name of art!

~ Sue

jumpin’ jazz, levitation and light, oh my

Kamasi Washington and the Next Step were the featured act at the Jazz at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) series a couple of weeks ago and I was lucky to have wandered over that way and stumbled upon such a lively and talent filled performance; with my camera too.Kamasi Washington and the Next Step

Kamasi Washington is a Los Angeles native jazz saxophonist that I was not familiar with yet. It turned out the show was great entertainment. Dynamic music accompanied by powerful vocals and interspersed with solos by the accomplished band members kept the evening flowing.

Kamasi Washington and the Next Step

Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
Since it started at six, the lighting for the first half was fairly easy. I started with my ISO at 500 and my aperture as wide as it would go;  which with the lens I was using was 5.6f, and a shutter speed of 125. As the sun began to set, I slowly raised my ISO to 800 and then 1250 in order to be able to use a faster shutter speed.
During the intermission, we went to explore the new installation titled Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer.

Levitated Mass, Michael HeizerIt made headlines around town when the giant boulder was transported from the inland empire to the museum via a huge transporter constructed just for that purpose. The crowds it drew as it slowly made its’ way through the city over the course of several nights  made it a legitimate and literal “rock star”! Now, in its’ new home at the museum it is a fun exhibit to experience. The sun was setting making a beautiful back drop and many people were playing nearby and venturing under it.

Levitated Mass, Michael HeizerThe second half lighting was a little trickier because the sun had set; making it a great deal darker. With my ISO at 3200 and my location closer to the band, I attempted some more shots.

Kamasi Washington and the Next StepI changed locations and was able to capture the pianist back lit.

Kamasi Washington and the Next Step It is a distinct venue with the stage in front of the Urban Light installation and I wanted to express the sense of place the art provides.

Kamasi Washington and the Next StepAlso, the palm trees create a unique scene I was able to capture from up close and down low, looking up at the stage.

Kamasi Washington and the Next StepOn the way out, I couldn’t resist setting my ISO lower again to 400 and using the Urban Light installation by the artist Chris Burden as my subject.

Urban Light, Chris BurdenI’m glad I am now familiar with Kamasi Washington and the Next Step. I enjoyed a delightful evening of jazz, art and photography. For this backyard sister, it doesn’t get much better than that. If you would like to discover what it’s all about, the Jazz at LACMA series will be occurring this Thursday and every Friday through Thanksgiving weekend.

Happy wanderings~