May I direct your attention over here?

In the last deep blue February day, I followed my heart’s compass to the true north of another backyard.

true north

Today I spent my creative time on dirtcakes, the literary magazine I founded to “offer space for international writers and artists to illuminate a shared global humanity.”

There’s dirt under my fingernails.  Like any backyard task, it was difficult but satisfying work. What was it? Here’s a hint: I invented a new form of literature!

Maybe you remember “Five Lines to Challenge Chaos” when I dared myself to try each poetic form, “so that 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.”

I failed at that, but succeeded in invention.

The Contributor Voices Chorus is  based on a very old form of poetry – the cento. The cento is a collage, or mashup of lines from other writers, arranged in a fresh way, sort of like taking one flower from every blooming bush in your garden and creating a bouquet that looks nothing like your backyard.

For one sample of a cento, you can read “Wolf Cento” by Simone Muench.

You’ll have to wander over to dirtcakes to see my invention, the all new Contributor Voices Chorus.

It’s also time to give props. One of our readers took the poetic form challenge. In honor of The Simple Life of the Country Man’s Wife’s diligence, I’m linking to her cinquain here. I wonder how her spring larder of poems is looking? How about yours?

Adieu January, when we focused.
Goodbye February, when we explored leading lines.
See you in March when, in honor of the month’s disparate weather days, we play with contrast.


Creating Lines in Portraits

To wrap up this month of leading lines, I focus on the portrait. My most willing backyard model joined me for a short photo shoot to demonstrate a few poses.DSC_0379portraits

I found some photos taken a few years ago of my backyard model to use as well.


Limbs, hands and hair are a few of the posing, line producing possibilities. Simply bending one or both arms draws attention to the face.

IMG_4964portraitBending legs and taking the photo straight on or outstretched legs taken from the side are two ways of using the legs to draw the eye to the face. Hand placement near the face is  another way to achieve leading lines. Finally, we used a pose involving bent legs from the side mixed with straight and bent arm with hand by face, a little bit of everything.


Even a neighbor’s cat wanted in on the action.

There are many possibilities for incorporating lines in poses to draw attention to the face. I have just touched the surface. I hope you will go and try finding a few of your own.

Here’s to finding a willing model.

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – The Oscars

The 85th Academy Awards will be held in Hollywood this Sunday. hollywood sign

In honor of this occasion and sparked by a conversation with my backyard daughter, I have compiled a few recipes and ideas inspired by the best picture nominees for those of you hosting a party or simply in the mood for some culinary amusement. Most of these recipes are accessed through a link by clicking the name of the recipe and, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit most of them I have not tried yet, but they sound good to me so I am sharing.

Argo, the Iranian hostage crisis film: as I see it there are two ways to go here, either Iranian cuisine or food from the seventies. For the Persian option Kababs and/or Persian  flatbread, and if you choose the seventies tie-in how about rumaki or break out your fondue set.

Amour, the French tale of an aging couple facing tough decisions brought on by medical circumstances: I have to go with the French themed dish here and I like the LA Times Madeleine suggestion, theirs is a pistachio madeleine  or you can stick with the traditional madeleine.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, the story of a young girl and her father in a Louisiana swamp called the Bathtub during a flood: for this one I am inspired by the Southern setting and Emeril Lagasse’s jambalaya or this cheese beignet recipe sounds good.

Django Unchained, the story of a freed slave looking for his wife with the help of a German bounty hunter: once again, using the Southern setting as inspiration, I like fried chicken tenders for this film. When I make them I dredge chicken breast tenders in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, lots of dried sage (at least 1 Tbsp), and thyme; then add about a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil to a frying pan and heat until medium hot. Add chicken and cook on one side until browned, turn and cook until browned on the other side and meat is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes on each side.

Les Miserable, the story, set in early 19th century France, of an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, who for years has been pursued by a relentless police inspector, Javert: a loaf of French bread (since it was the theft of a loaf of bread that sent Valjean to prison in the first place) is a natural selection and this Crustless Leek and Gruyere Quiche recipe sounds delicious.

Silver Linings Playbook, the story of a man, Pat Solatano, trying to get his life back on track after being in a treatment center, for bi-polar disorder, and recently released into the care of his parents: I have to choose crabcakes here or this quick Crab and Avocado Toasts appetizer for a different take on crabby snacks and this recipe for Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese because it can be a date even if you only have Raisin Bran.

Life of Pi, the story of an Indian boy drifting at sea after a shipwreck on a raft with a tiger: I am going with an Indian influenced appetizer I tried recently,  Sweet Potato Lettuce Wraps, when I made these I used endive instead of the iceberg lettuce and I used ground cumin and didn’t add dried chilies to the sweet potatoes. I served it at a party and it got favorable reviews.

Lincoln, follows Lincoln’s efforts to pass the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution: according to the LA Times, it’s been said that Lincoln’s favorite dessert was apple pie so how about making some mini apple pies in his honor.

Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the hunt for and capture of Osama bin Laden: I am going to have to go with dark chocolate here and leave it at that. Choose your favorite dark chocolate.

paramount pictures melrose gate

There you have it, get busy and enjoy.

~ Susan

Look Closer

The use of leading lines as a compositional tool can also be applied to macro photography. This week my search lead me to take a longer and closer look at the world around me. Flowers possess built in leading lines; with the stems leading one’s eyes to the flower and the petals drawing attention to their center.

daisy macroBoth can be incorporated in one photo or you may choose to simply use one or the other.

orchid macroOrchids with their colorful, long-lasting flowers certainly brighten a room and make marvelous photographic subjects.

DSC_0314 mac linesThe remains of a tulip flower after the petals fell off couldn’t escape my camera. Even though the color from the petals is gone, I found some beauty in the starkness of the pistil as highlighted by the stems and stamens.

Here, the repeating lines of the woods rings . . .

wood lineslead to the cut side.

The tentacles of the sea anemone create many lines leading one’s eyes to the middle or oral disc.

anemoneYou can also create your own leading line using your hand and finger as a pointer.

sea anemoneI was happy to see that my hand model’s nail polish coordinated with the sea anemone’s hue.

Food also can either be arranged to create leading lines or as in these photos cut to create them.

cut appleWhen cut in this manner the seeds lead one’s eyes to the core.

cut red cabbageA cross section of a red cabbage contains so many lines it can be easy to get lost in them but if you focus on the larger lines, they lead to the core.

This week you too can look closer at your world and search out the leading lines there.  Who knows, once you start, you may be lead down a path you never dreamed of.

~ Susan

The Lines in the Sand

With leading lines on my mind, I recently headed down to the beach. Standing at the top of the ramp looking down, I found my first photo. The lines of the ramp were beckoning me to follow them down to the many possibilities waiting below; surfing, swimming, bike riding, walking, running or beach-combing – not this morning, it’s photography I chose this morning.

DSC_0315beach lines

Stopping to take note and looking around I see the lines are everywhere; from the tire tracks left by lifeguard trucks,

DSC_0311beach linesto the footprints left by people and birds,

DSC_0237beach lines

to   the line created by the foam of the waves rolling up to the shore,

DSC_0241beaach linesto the waves combined with footprints.

DSC_0244beach linesEverywhere I look I see lines. The jetty jutting out from the shore as if daring me to incorporate it into a photo and I must comply.

DSC_0264beach linesI got lucky because there was a pod of dolphins playing right off the jetty this morning. I had to thank it for taunting me and capturing my attention, I may have missed those dolphins if I hadn’t.

DSC_0297beach linesIt’s always thrilling to me to see the dolphins so close to shore frolicking in the surf but I can’t forget the people out and about as well.

DSC_0309beach linesThis line of cut telephone poles caught my eye too, there was no stopping me.

DSC_0262beach linesIn the mornings, these stairs are a well-used exercise spot usually filled with climbers taking on the “stairs to fitness” but this evening they are much quieter – but still as high. I especially like the shadows of the rails at this time of day and how they multiply the leading line effect.

DSC_0253beach linesLooking for leading lines has become a game and a bit of an obsession to me now. This coming week you can find me still looking for the lines but in a different location.

Until next week. . .


The Weekend Dish – Roasted Beet Salad

DSC_0051beetsBeets, the beautiful beet, is vibrant in color.


Its’ color is festive.

cut beets

When added to a salad it’s like a party in a bowl. A salad is a fine way to start a meal; leading one into the entree if you will. This roasted beet salad is a wonderfully, delicious way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, or turn an ordinary day extraordinary.

DSC_0073salad fixins

Roasted Beet Salad

6 beets, peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
1/4 red onion
6 oz arugula
6 oz mixed baby greens
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup roasted pecans

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss chopped beets with enough olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt to taste. Roast in oven until tender, about 40 minutes.
In a large bowl toss the beets with the remaining ingredients and the dressing. Serves 12.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp black pepper
Whisk ingredients together until thoroughly mixed. Ingredients can be adjusted to taste, sometimes, if not tart enough for my taste, I will add a splash of red wine or apple cider vinegar or will add more honey if too tart.

roasted beet saladEnjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!

~ Sue

You are a human treasure


Dear One,
Your compliment, so kind, compels me to remind you how much beauty also lives in you. You, of course, the person,  and you the word, so small in all the language.  “You” can mean the one, or “you” can mean the many. “You” can mean the Angel who I wrote about last May in “Stop this day and night with me.”

Angel returns one morning last week.  I open the oak front door to see him standing on the porch.  He shuffles his feet, looks at the stone, points to the empty dirt in my new yard and wonders if I need help planting.  His eyes are bloodshot, the scent of alcohol sweet in the morning air.  He smiles as he gestures toward the mud.

“Would you like me to put in roses? Fruit trees?”

“Let me check with J,” I say, acting like it hasn’t been months and months since he stopped gardening for me, acting like this newly emaciated body clothed in muddy khaki pants, cinched with a black belt flapping several extra inches at the end, might actually be able  to dig holes and tamp mud any better than my own.  He has a gift, this man who knows exactly how to coax a growing thing to triumph. Should I stand in the way of allowing him to work?

“Can you come next week?”

“Sure, sure.”

I give him J’s number to arrange a day, a time, a price.  Angel calls on Sunday.

“I can’t make it on Monday. I’m in the hospital. For tests. Maybe I can come on Tuesday.”

On Tuesday night Angel calls.

“I have stomach cancer. I have an operation tomorrow. I cannot come and plant your garden. Maybe next week.”

You are a human treasure.

Must I know exactly where I’m going when I compose a leading line?

chester on trail

What if I have no idea how the story ends, or how to compose a view for effect, or how to make any sense of muddy paths leading straight into the fog?

Is it an accident, or part of nature’s wondrous plan that the view when looking up

Light and lattice

offers much more hope and light than the gaze that meets the ground?Two muddy feet

Yet it’s on the ground where the growing things begin. Salt of the earth.  Grounded. It’s the earth we all return to.

When a writer thinks of leading lines, a writer thinks of books, that first taste of a voice which can make a difference in the way a reader sees the world.

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

from Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

There is nothing worse I think, than the feeling of not being seen.

Even among books, some seem small in stature, insignificant when compared to the legacy of others based on copies sold, appearances on syllabi, or inclusion in the conversation among critics.


Some books, some lives, are at risk of getting lost.  I’d like to highly recommend such a book that might have missed your radar.  Dominque Fabre’s The Waitress Was New, (translated from the French by Jordan Stump) is the perfect little 106 page gem to reacquaint yourself with what  Fabre describes as the, “genuine beauty, genuine dignity of  places or people that have been somehow overlooked.”


It’s the story of an entirely undistinguished bartender.  It offers a leading line straight to the very mystery of the beauty of the anonymous life most of us exalt in. It reminds us that we must take the time to tell each other, You are a human treasure. And then, we must live as if we believe it to be true.

With all due respect,

Read the Lines

It’s February and that means we have a new theme. This month’s photographic concept is leading lines.  Photographically speaking, it is a compositional tool in which the photographer utilizes lines to engage and draw the viewer into the photo and/or highlight a subject.

leading lines children walkingIt can be subtle

LA city hall and musi center fountainor more obvious.

IMG_4433.JPGlead line

Sometimes, these lines will lead the eye through and out of the photo.

Park path leading line

wyoming country roadLines are everywhere once you start noticing and are often created by objects such as a road, a tree line, a building, telephone poles, stairs, there are many possibilities. Your lines  don’t have to be straight; so keep your eyes out for curvy and diagonal lines as well.

Versailles grounds leading linesWith an eye on the lines.

~ Susan

Lines in a photo can be used to highlight a subject and bring a viewer’s eye to that subject or beyond.

Search for lines to incorporate into your photography this week.
Look for diagonal and curved lines also.
Place your subject in such a way that the lines draw a viewer’s eyes to your subject.

Look for works by one of your favorite photographers, in a book or online or go to a museum, and see if you can find leading lines in their photos. Take note of how your experience of that picture is affected by these lines.

The Weekend Dish-Sea Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of our favorite Backyard Sister family chefs, Michele of Creamy Tomato Soup fame, returns today with her recipe for Sea Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Cookies During

A few weekends ago, I had the taste for something sweet and the time on my hands to try a new recipe. I recently subscribed to Bon Appetit, so I have had no shortage of inspiring food photos and recipes. I figured, why not give one a try? I decided to go with a recipe for Sea Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. Whether it is in the form of sea salted caramels or chocolate covered pretzels, I have always been a fan of the sweet and salty combo.

cookie dough

Sea Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 72% cacao), coarsely chopped. Or you can use chocolate chips.
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 375°. Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, sugar, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add egg yolks, egg, and vanilla. Beat, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low; slowly add dry ingredients, mixing just to blend. Using a spatula, fold in chocolate.

Spoon rounded tablespoonfuls of cookie dough onto 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing 1-inch apart. Sprinkle cookies with sea salt. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until just golden brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes (the cookies will firm up as they cool). Let cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks; let cool completely.

Cookies - Finished

Chef’s Note: I cooked the first batch a little too long, so I took the second batch out of the oven earlier. To the eye the cookies almost looked undone, but they do continue to cook and harden after being removed from the heat.

This recipe made about 24 cookies, which was way to many to have lying around the house tempting me, so I shared with others. They were a hit!

~With sweetness,