Give me a break

Sometimes I have an urge to use big words I don’t yet know the meaning of, or better yet to make up new words to describe certain perfections, like this dawn when the sun rose into a fog-shrouded sky at the exact moment the mist receded. For one instant the dark flared – gilded with stars – then gave way to morning.  The camera was no match, nor really is this description.

I’ll remember the moment, keep working to get it right. And then I’ll drub it up against something rugged to set the beauty in relief. “No threat, no poem” is a truism we poets abide and practice and teach. As Dave Smith writes in his essay “St. Cyril’s Dragon” The Threat of Poetry:

Great art intends threat…The good poem destabilizes, unbalances, stirs up, digs down, demands feeling in exact circumstances…No poem succeeds without threat, implied or explicit. Threat manifests what is important to know. Threat engineers the struggle of self to come into being.

That’s all well and good, but the constant struggle takes energy and it’s necessary for me, for you, to take time to revive.  Whenever I forget to build rest into my schedule, the universe has a gentle way of reminding me. The cast of characters hanging around La Jolla Cove this weekend taught infinitely wise lessons with their presence.

Seal with ballJPG

Play whenever you sealTake care of your own.

full beach

It’s great to hang out with friends.

two sleeping

But having someone special is the best gift of all.

Now before you think there’s no threat here, consider. The La Jolla Cove seals are no stranger to peril. Tourists and restaurateurs complain about the stench of too many seals too close to town.  Conservationists and environmentalists clash with businesses to protect the seals. You can read a roundup of the controversy, or crisis as some call it, at the Seal Sitters link here.

Or you cannot. Sometimes it’s alright to take a break from crisis or controversy and simply enjoy the beauty right in front of you.

And that, good readers, is the last word on the March of contrasts.

Sealed with a kiss

p.s. When you are revived and ready to seriously consider how addressing the threat can create a fine poem, do revisit Dave Smith’s essay, “St. Cyril’s Dragon” The Threat of Poetry.”  In fact, you might even sign up for Poetry Daily. From the “About Poetry Daily” page:

Poetry Daily is an anthology of contemporary poetry. Each day, we bring you a new poem from new books, magazines, and journals.

Poems are chosen from the work of a wide variety of poets published or translated in the English language. Our most eminent poets are represented in the selections, but also poets who are less well known. The daily poem is selected for its literary quality and to provide you with a window on a very broad range of poetry offered annually by publishers large and small.

The Lowdown on Low Contrast

IMG_8010locontrastThere are days when the weather is not perfect, surprise! It may be cloudy or hazy or foggy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take photos. You will get a different look to your photos those days. They will have a low contrast dreamy look to them because the sun is diffused which creates a more even lighting. The dark black shadows and bright white highlights are tempered.

IMG_2496 lo contrast.JPG I find I gravitate to coastline landscapes on these days, maybe because the fog we so often find ourselves enshrouded in here creates the low contrast lighting and there is a sense of mystery to a foggy coast.

IMG_9227locontrastI have also noticed many catalogs and wedding photographers are using low contrast lighting in their photography. One way to achieve this is to shoot towards the sun and expose for the model which often creates an overexposed background or by adjusting the contrast and brightness in post processing.

IMG_8000lo contrastSimple subjects or scenes tend to lend themselves to this type of look.


Photography using low contrast is yet another method of conveying a mood or feeling to your photos and is fun to play around and experiment with both on location and in post processing.

Dreamily searching out diffusion this week,

~ Susan

Weekend Dish – Chicken Lettuce Wraps

IMG_7943chick let wrapThe chicken lettuce wrap is another study in contrasts. The warm chicken mixture is the perfect foil to the cool crispness of the lettuce, which is enhanced by the savory saltiness of the chicken mixture contrasting with the relative blandness of the lettuce. It makes a healthy, low carb and gluten-free appetizer – sure to please a varied crowd, and in the words of Lucy Ricardo, “it’s tasty too!”  They also make a yummy after school snack if you’re feeling ambitious – or happen to have some leftovers, which is highly unlikely. I discovered this the other day when making these for this post timed out perfectly with my daughter’s arrival home from school. She was thrilled and appreciative.

IMG_7919chicken let wrapsNow let’s get to it. . .

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

  • 1 pound ground chicken breast (some stores carry this, if yours doesn’t, I have put boneless pieces of chicken breast in the food processor and chopped fine)
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 3/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 3/4 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 thai chili pepper finely chopped more or less according to taste


  • 3 Tbsp tamari soy sauce (to make this dish gluten-free you must use the tamari gluten free)
  • 1 Tbsp black bean sauce with garlic
  • 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp mirin
  • 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil

Combine all in a bowl and set aside for later.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, when hot add the canola oil and then the chicken. Cook and stir while breaking up with a spoon until the chicken is almost no longer pink and add green onions, carrots and mushrooms stirring for about one minute or until the chicken is no longer pink. Next, add the water chestnuts, garlic, ginger and chili and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Finally, add the sauce and stir to incorporate and cook about a minute more.

IMG_7922chick let wrap

Wash and prepare lettuce leaves, I like to use endive because they are tender yet crisp and a nice size, butter lettuce or romaine or any lettuce you prefer can be used. Then, either serve all ready assembled or with the two components separate and let your diners assemble for themselves.

IMG_7938chick let wrap

May this weekend find you with some lucky diners at your table.

~ Susan


Life after death

Dear One,
Last time we met, 40 years ago, you were five, maybe seven? Would I recognize you today if we passed on a trail?

I hear yesterday from my father – still close with your father who passes along your news – your husband is dead.

I dream you last night. I see you far off, vulnerably alone, head hunched against a great grey howling landscape.


I didn’t know your husband, don’t know your children, can only impose any understanding of your grief based upon imagination and experience losing others who are not my husband.

So, why write now? I have no balm to erase pain.

I do have one small wonder to offer. Have you ever, as mother, as teacher, observed how very much we are already our one true self in childhood? As we age we grow longer legs, big teeth replace baby teeth, our noses broaden a little. We learn about history, mathematics, physics, and literature.  What I’m talking about though, is that flickering now, flaring then, essence of our true being that burns through the years of a life.

I vividly remember an essence of you: your all out glee when playing Hide and Seek, as if the thrill of returning to base, of throwing yourself absolutely into the game was the secret to staying alive; the way you measured both sides of an argument and implored us squabbling playmates to just get over it; your unruly hair and dirty knees when there were hills to charge or mud to tame; the way you begged us to play wedding and house. You loved those games more than the others and cared for dolls and the mop-stick man with fierce fervor. I love you forever you’d say to the wooden handle. You’d swoon and we’d giggle until breathless.

When we lose someone, I know it is the person we miss. We miss their laugh and their warm hand, their scent, and voice, and the way they break into a smooth slide and spin us around the kitchen on a Tuesday night for no reason. I love you forever.

But more than that, there is a singular way we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of a person who absolutely knows us and loves us in spite of all we are. We simply are with some people in a way we aren’t with the rest of the world.

Your husband isn’t here to look at you that way now. Unfathomable.

But I see you, that fiercely strong and passionate girl. There are many others who still see you with love and caring. We reflect your deep goodness back upon you. We are here, not in your kitchen yet here, a steady presence for you and your children, holding you up in our hearts while you tumble upon grit and boulders. We will wait with you through the grey.


With gentleness,

p.s. There is no one way that grief happens, though many doctors and psychologists refer to its five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Whenever I hear this, I imagine a five ring circus. The audience is an assemblage of family and friends peripherally affected by the grief waiting and watching for signs that the new widow, the newly one-child-less parent, the orphan, will make it through a little tap dance, a little hissy fit, a little barter or a wailing upon a stage set up in each ring before being allowed to exit stage left and reenter The Land Of Normalcy.

I don’t know what to do.

I hate being audience. I hate doing nothing. I write.

I offer Mary Oliver‘s book Thirst, a collection of the most achingly beautiful poems written by a poet in a state of grief.


That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.

Splash of Color

Color contrast adds visual interest and impact to photos. When looking at a color wheel, you notice that one side contains the warmer colors the reds, yellow and oranges and the other side is where you’ll find the cooler colors: blue, green and purple. The colors opposite from each other are considered complementary colors and as such are pleasing to the eye when used in combination. Red and green are an example of a complementary pair of colors.

DSC_0167contrastThe designers of the 7-UP can know this and here I played up the red by throwing a Coke can in to the mix. Blue and orange are another pair of complementary colors.

IMG_2383contrastThe Caribbean is full of color splashes. The towns are often painted with bright yellows, reds and oranges and many of the locals dress in the same bright colors which all complement the beautiful blue sea.

IMG_3862.JPGcontrastColor can be introduced into a monochrome scene to draw the viewer in to the photo. The players here in the vivid hued shirts stand out against the sand colored building and ground.

IMG_9307contrastThe gloominess of the rainy day is brightened by the umbrellas and shirts of the pedestrians. Color contrast can be added to a photo by either using a splash of complementary color in a scene of a predominate color, such as a splash of red in a predominately green scene, or by adding bright colors into a neutral toned scene.

It’s yet another tool to use when you are composing your photos. Remember, generally the cooler colors harmonize with the warmer colors.

Here a splash, there a splash.

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish-Irish Soda Bread

The song begins the moment first guests arrive, a ditty all four Keefes learned by heart one summer when an Irish singalong CD was our soundtrack while driving backroads from Dublin to Shannon.
(Go ahead, click play and listen while you read.)

At our house on March 17, “there’s a welcome there for you” regardless of where you hail from. We invite the intrepid and seasoned St. Patrick Day’s revelers in for a taste of tradition dating beyond our family trip to the homeland, beyond the Backyard Sisters’ mom making corned beef, back, back to the maternal and paternal grandmothers who couldn’t let a March 17 pass without corned beef and a haunting round of “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby) sung a capella in the kitchen.

At the O’Keefe’s Hooley on St. Patrick’s Day, “whoever you are you’re one us,” ’tis true. But there are three hard and fast rules for being a good guest.

Sing along.
Wear green.

St Pattys Day Maizie Maizie the Wonderlab.  Photo Credit: James Keefe

And kick off your shoes to kitchen jig.

kitchen danceWe take care of the rest by creating a feast based on updated versions of the Irish classics of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes; some sort of green vegetable, an ancient green jello salad recipe, and Irish soda bread.

Table Setting

The corned beef is boiled in the conventional manner, then treated with a catsup, horseradish, mustard, brown sugar, and melted butter glaze which is brushed over the beef, then oven roasted for 30 minutes at 350 to create a savory, almost caramelized coating. Cabbage is oven roasted in olive oil so it browns and remains more crisp than its boiled cousin. Potatoes are mashed, country style with roasted garlic and laced with parsley. Usually by the time I’m finished making all of this, enthusiasm and time left to make soda bread have waned.

And honestly, up until last year, for me Irish Soda Bread wasn’t anything worth troubling over. Some years I whipped up Bisquick biscuits; other times I called Pop ‘N Fresh biscuits Irish, or better yet, I passed out bread duty to guests. As the luck of the Irish would have it, last year my friend Maureen brought the bread that changed my mind about it being a second class citizen at the feast. And wouldn’t you know, this recipe is straight from Ireland by way of her mother.

Soda Bread

Eileen Shea’s Irish Soda Bread. Photo Credit: James Keefe

Here’s the story behind the bread, in Maureen’s words.

The Irish soda bread is a very fond memory from my mom, Eileen Shea. Her parents came over from Ireland and met in buffalo NY , settled in an Irish neighborhood there. My mom had been making the bread for many years, always on St. Paddy’s day, along with corned beef and cabbage if course!  I began making the bread when I had our daughters and wanted to keep the Irish tradition alive for them…. I make it every St. Paddy’s…I hope the girls will carry on the recipe when they have their own families….

It’s funny because I am out here in the desert with my Buffalo cousins , who have kept up the same tradition and actually brought us a wonderful loaf of soda bread on the plane …we have been eating it as we speak, the same recipe that our moms have shared ….

So cheers to you and cheers to Eileen and Maureen and the Buffalo cousins.  “Whoever you are, you’re one of us.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
~ Catherine

Eileen Shea’s Irish Soda Bread
Preheat oven to 350

  • 4 Cups flour (scant)
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 Cup sugar
  • 3/4 Cup butter (chilled)
  • 1 Cup raisins
  • 2 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 1/3 Cups buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Cut in butter. Add raisins, caraway seeds, and milk. Turn out on a floured board. Knead about one minute. (Maureen divides dough in half and makes two small round loaves.)

Bake on cookie sheet for 50-60 minutes until brown and crackled.

bread blessing

contrast – CONTRAST

In photography, contrast is one of many tools used to draw attention to your subject while also creating a mood. There are a few different types of contrast. Today, I have tonal contrast on my mind; the difference between the light and dark areas of a photo. When there is a greater difference between the light and dark areas it is considered high contrast and conversely when there is not much of a difference between the two it is a low contrast situation. Higher contrast images tend to be more dramatic and convey a sense of power while low contrast images have a softness to them imparting a feeling of gentleness. There are a few methods we can use to create high contrast images. One is to choose subjects with contrasting colors, such as piano keys.

piano keys Adjusting your lighting is yet another way of achieving greater contrast. In a darker room using a strong light source from the side of your subject will bathe that side in light while leaving the rest in the shadows.

cellofrench hornUsing this technique, you can highlight the area of your subject you wish to call attention to while creating a dramatic mood at the same time. Underexposing your photo by a stop or two, which is similar to adding black to your image, will enhance your shadow areas. If you don’t want such a dramatic difference in your light and dark areas keep your exposure at the proper exposure determined by your light meter.

cello scroll and pegs

french horn

An additional technique for creating high contrast is placing your subject in front of a bright light source (a window or a sunset for example) and exposing for the light source, which results in a silhouette of your subject.

window figure

I challenge you to go out this week and look for the contrast in your world and try to enhance it.

Keeping in mind, “where there is much light, the shadow is deep.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

~ Susan