Pomegranates, Poetry, and Play

I was invited on a field trip.  My Backyard Sisters post, “Pomegranates, Poetry, and Play” shows up today over on the Minerva Rising Literary Journal blog. Minerva Rising’s mission is, “to celebrate the creativity and wisdom in every woman.” I’m honored to be included among the fine group of writers and artists represented there.DSCN3482
I was asked to guest blog because one of my poems, “Early Warning,” appeared in the Minerva Rising’s June 2013 edition titled “Rebellion.” When I submitted the poem – a dark piece dedicated to women in history who suffered years of domestic abuse until they finally murdered their husbands- I wrote:

When I think of rebellion from a Minerva Rising perspective, I think of June Jordan‘s poem, “In My Own Quietly Explosive Here.” Women silenced sometimes feel as if we are “dying underground,” yet we discover strength when “circles hold us together.” We find wings when we tell our stories and listen to one another.

My poem was a challenge to us all not to judge, nor to ignore, unsettling behavior. Today’s post is much lighter in tone than the poem, yet it also is related to a type of rebellion. It tells the story of a front porch encounter with a group of neighbor girls playing Bigger and Better. Here’s an excerpt:

Maybe it’s the poet in me, or maybe I spy the pomegranate perched on my porch next to the pumpkin and find the perfect metaphor for why bigger isn’t always better. Pumpkins and pomegranates both ripen at this time of year with their fiery oranges and red in defiance of the coming brown and deadness. But they couldn’t be more different.

You can read the entire post on the Minerva Rising Literary Journal blog here. I’d be remiss not to mention the influence of Joan Houlihan‘s The Us upon my musing.  I was in the middle of that unique and haunting poetry book when interrupted by the neighbor girls. I doubt it’s an accident that my mind went to questioning the value of bigger over better while hypnotized by what is described on the back cover as:

The Us, Joan Houlihan’s mesmerizing new book, is a sequence of poems spoken in the collective voice of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Incompatible with a stronger, more developed culture (“thems”), the us must live outside civilization in order to be free and fully alive.


The Us is stunning.

If you’re inspired to “be free and fully alive,” through prose,  you might appreciate these recent posts of mine.

“Anything Can Happen”
“Be small. Feel big.”
“What do you bring to the table?”

May the goblins you meet tonight scare you just enough to keep the porch light on, but not enough to ruin your evening with nightmares.


p.s. You can read Darrel Lorenzo Wellingtons’ fine review of “Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan,” here. Jordan, whose spirit inspired my poem “Early Warning,” was the author of  “political verse, protest poetry, folk poetry, love poetry, scenic poetry, surrealist and associative poetry, light and humorous verse, spoken word poetry and even a few sonnets.” The collection, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2007, is big:  649 pages. Rebellion indeed.


the close-up color

_MG_1953Inspired by a photo accompanying a book excerpt in Shutterbug magazine, I looked at a collection of mine differently. This spurred the realization of the potential for color exploration and abstraction. Pastels and earth tones are the most prevalent colors of my array.

_MG_1993I have gathered these from both near and far.

_MG_1964I am looking at this collection in a whole new light.

_MG_1986The interplay of the shapes and colors is something I am just discovering about my array.

_MG_1966I like this mystery game.

_MG_2045I am especially drawn to the pastel pink and flesh tones in the one above, as well as the vibrant hues of this one.

_MG_2037Whereas, the earth tones of this one are not to be downplayed.

_MG_1968If you haven’t guessed yet, these next few photos will probably give away the items in my collection.

_MG_1955Did you guess yet?

_MG_2024Last chance.

_MG_1937You probably got it by now . . . sea shells!

I confess to being a long time beachcomber. My collection adorns many of the window sills in my home. Gazing upon them transports me to the various shores where, while strolling, they were spotted, picked up and lovingly chosen for various reasons – their flawlessness, uniqueness or color. I will always remember once, many years ago, coming home and sharing the day’s treasures of the sea with my mom by placing them in her hand, and the shriek she let out when one of them began moving across her palm – I had inadvertently collected a crab’s home – sorry mom and crab: I did return it to the sea.

I have gotten more careful and choosy over the the years but still enjoy a long afternoon strolling the sand with an eye out for a new addition to my collection. Now, I have another criteria for selection – as the possible subject of a color, abstract photo.

The book excerpted in Shutterbug magazine is The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature and Landscapes by Art Wolfe and Martha Hill with Tim Grey. Judging from the pictures accompanying the article, I would like to see what these three have to say.

This week either gazing at my window sill or out looking for new treasures.

~ Susan

walking on the red side

_MG_1883Red is associated with love, power, passion and energy. The color red sure grabs our attention. It’s no accident many street signs are red as well as the traffic light for stop. When red is used as an accent color or subject color in photography, it grabs the viewer’s attention and draws them into the photo. At this time of year, even in southern California, there is a little extra red out and about – some of the trees have begun turning red. It is with red in my eye and camera in hand that I head out on my daily walk. The trees, on fire with different shades of red leaves, are real attention-grabbers.

_MG_1889With zoom lens at 300mm aiming up into this tree, I fill the frame with the signs of fall. Then looking down, I can’t ignore this lone one so beautiful in its solitude.

_MG_1891Walking along a pair of red shoes has been left on the curb – that doesn’t happen everyday. I am in luck, this “I spy red day”, to stumble upon such a find.

_MG_1905When I am consciously looking for red, I realize how easy it is to spot.

_MG_1907Even when the red is a small part of a larger whole. Something red in the sand gets my attention, from quite a distance away I can’t make out what it is. It is another gift…

_MG_1910rose petals are scattered about. I am beginning to think there is a little red elf going ahead of me planting these items in my path. I wonder, are there always so many random red objects on my walk that I just haven’t noticed before or was this red photo walk meant to be today? While down on the sand, I decide to include orange-red and capture the lifeguard flag.

red orange flag on beach


The grape leaves right in my own yard are changing with the seasons too.

_MG_1887These flags stand out among a sea of green trees and gray roads.

_MG_1916After this walk, I am seeing red. It’s hard not to.

Try looking for the red around you this week and incorporate a splash of it or use a red object as your subject in your photos and see what direction your creativity takes you.

~ Susan



The Weekend Dish – Baked Garlic

_MG_1700Since it is October and we are getting close to Halloween, I have a delicious and vampire repelling dish for your snacking and dining pleasure, baked garlic.  When cooked, garlic mellows and even develops a slight sweetness. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to bread, meats, or use it as a spread on a sandwich or anything else you can think of, get creative. Begin by removing any loose outer skins and cut the top off of the bulbs so the cloves are open on the top.

_MG_1709Place the bulbs in a pie dish or any shallow oven-proof container. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over and season with salt, pepper and thyme or another herb of your choice, if you desire.

_MG_1725Cover with a lid, if your dish has one, or foil and bake in a 300° oven for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue baking for 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the olive oil, or until the garlic is golden brown and soft.

_MG_1731Baked garlic cloves can be served whole

_MG_1742or removed from the outer skins ( I usually squeeze it out ) and mashed.

_MG_1745It’s disease fighting properties are not to be overlooked as well.

_MG_1755The smell alone will elicit mouth watering responses. Here’s a tip, to keep you socially acceptable, eating a little parsley is an effective post garlic breath freshener.

To your health!

~ Susan

“Anything can happen.”

I kiss J and a shock of static electricity sparks between our chapped lips.


It is soundless where we sit outside on the patio in the late afternoon, quiet as Ash Wednesday. A blisteringly blue glints overhead.  Faintly at first, the fall decoration cornstalks begin to rustle. Sh-sh-sha-shhh-shhhhhh.

In the distance, I hear an approaching whisper as if ten thousand petticoat ladies in satin dresses swish toward us. One lone leaf at the penthouse level of the backyard sycamore begins to shimmy. Then another and another and another.  In a single elongated moment, the world changes from crackling stillness to a-roaring and a-bending. The Santa Ana winds bellow upon us. The only scent is fear of fire.

I’ve lived in California my whole life, but it wasn’t until I built a hilltop house in Trabuco Canyon, at the mouth of Santiago Peak, that the Santa Ana’s full fury bent me in awe. In one single night, a teak dining table and a ping-pong table slammed against the house walls, narrowly missing sliding glass doors. Reckless gusts flipped chairs off rockers, clattering seats like bones in darkness against rumbling tempered glass. A metal gazing ball tumbled from its garden perch and rolled down the hill, lost forever, a bowling ball flung down the canyon alley.

I stood outside in the midnight din, away from the house and trees, beneath stars so plentiful and clear they seemed an arms reach away. Parched lips stuck on teeth, I smiled and watched eucalyptus bow and dance as if directed by a drunken puppeteer.  Leaves eddied in dervishes about my shins, swirled above my shoulders and neck.  I shrieked until my voice dissolved into the howl.  I stayed outside until dawn, eyes closed against the blow, arms held to the sky just to feel nature’s unbridled power.

Wind is so very much like love. You can feel it, watch its path and effect. But you can’t draw a picture of it, nor capture it with a photograph. It exists only in the rapture of what stands in its way. When it calms once again, ordinary gifts lie scattered in its wake.


How better to spend one night than to stand in wind’s way?
How better to spend one life than to stand in love’s way?


p.s. One of the most legendary literary descriptions of the Santa Ana winds is found in Raymond Chandler‘s short story, “Red Wind.” This post’s title comes from a line in that story:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen.

For a cool scientific explanation of the winds with illustrations, check out “What causes Santa Ana winds” by Paul Duginski.

A shorter version of this post first appeared in The Bucket List issue of Orange Coast magazine. If you live anywhere near Orange County, California and want to include a wild night in the wind on your own bucket list, here are a few prime spots to experience Late Night Theatre of the Wind.

Most raw: Drive to the mouth of Holy Jim Trail just off Trabuco Canyon, a major wind thoroughfare. Unless there’s severe fire danger, travel the 4.5 miles into the canyon on a rutted and rocky dirt road. Face the canyon and roar back. For information, click here.

Tamer: Hunker down – for a day or night – along Trabuco Creek in O’Neill Regional Park. Arroyo Campground sites 31-78 offer the best views of the pristine night sky and the wind wails down the creek bed.

Downright Civilized: Share a margarita, and swap wind and fire stories with long time canyon residents from inside while staring out through the wall of windows at Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill.

Into the Blue – Waves

There are many different shades of blue, 62 according to Wikipedia. There’s sky blue, deep sky blue, cerulean, baby blue, and, as a September baby one of my favorites, sapphire blue; just to name a few. The ocean has a dynamic color quality. The shades change and vary on different days and even at different times of day. Add to that variety the constant motion of the waves and you end up with a dazzling display.

_MG_1506I went to the shore with the intent of freezing the waves in motion. That moment right before they break when the water becomes translucent and the light shines through is my target.

_MG_1605I was struck by the added delight of the different shades of blue on display. It was late afternoon and the sun positioned behind the waves making it’s way towards the west and the horizon.

_MG_1489Sometimes, the sun’s beams shone through the waves.

_MG_1529Other times, the water appears like glass. The blue of the waves changing as it makes its way to shore.

_MG_1568When shooting towards the sun the blue is lost a bit in the glare.


Aiming away from the sun the blue is most apparent. Capturing the waves,


at the moment they are about to break,

_MG_1546is never the same twice.

_MG_1572The waves, even though not particularly large this day, possess a power. For me, it’s the power to mesmerize and lead to a relaxing meditation on their constant roll to shore. Then, the challenge to catch, with a photo, the split second in the cycle of one wave and ponder the array of blue hues present there. Other days, it’s the call to grab a boogie board and harness the power for fun.

This October if you are a fan of baseball and a certain southern California team, there is another shade of blue to get excited about – Dodger blue! Yes, it is one of the 62 shades listed in Wikipedia.

Go Dodgers!

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – Hot Fudge Pie

_MG_1057In the mood for baking and chocolate? I was recently; and here is something that fits both those desires perfectly. This recipe has been in our family so long I have forgotten where the original came from. It can be made with a store bought pie crust but this time I was really in the mood for baking and made mine from scratch. It has been awhile since I did this and I forgot how fun it can be plus how nice it is knowing exactly what is in the crust you are eating and being able to pronounce all the ingredients ( which isn’t very many).

I will start with the pie crust.

_MG_1028Four ingredients that’s all:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold butter, I cut mine and put in freezer a short time
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
Mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs.
_MG_1031Add water just enough water, with fork, to moisten the flour.
_MG_1043Divide dough in half and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.
_MG_1044Roll out a ball of the dough to fit in a 9-inch pie pan, so roll to about 12 inches.
_MG_1048Trim the edges and press around the edges with a fork, or fold the excess dough up and flute the edges.
Now for the filling:
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2t flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 2t vanilla extract
  • 1 cube butter, melted
  • 1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell

Mix cocoa, flour, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add eggs, vanilla and butter.

_MG_1051Mix well. Pour into the pie shell.

_MG_1055Bake at 350º about 25 minutes.

_MG_1170It is delicious warm, on its own or with ice cream.

_MG_1180After trying it, you will come to realize why our father nicknamed it “good-bye” pie…


Dare I say it is as “easy as pie”, and sure to impress.

May your chocolate dreams come true.

~ Susan

accent on the color

Fall has arrived and for this backyard sister that means cooler nights, girls’ tennis season, butternut squash and pears in the market, colorful leaves, yes, here too,  and our California native fuchsias blooming in the garden. This month we will be investigating some of the many ways to accent colors in your photos and maybe even your life. First, back to the garden and those fuchsias. They are a bright red and attract many hummingbirds and I have spent many minutes sitting by them taking pleasure in their brilliance. I snapped this shot early one morning.

_MG_0256 originalWith this month’s theme in mind, I wanted to highlight the red as much as possible. To achieve this effect or something similar, in photoshop, select a new hue/saturation adjustment layer and take down the saturation of all the colors individually, except red, to -100.

California native fuschiaI then turned to some late season tomatoes sitting on the patio table.

_MG_0928First, I used the same technique of adding the new layer and de-saturating all the colors except red.

_MG_0928 desaturatedAs you can see, there is some red on one of the front tomatoes still, which I like, but to try another method, I decided to use the selection tool and select just one tomato to remain  red.

_MG_0928-2 color accentThis look, although a bit of a cliché, I still find fun to play around with. Frequently in fall, here in southern California, we will have unusually big surf for a couple of days due to storms out in the Pacific. I selected a photo of the Manhattan Beach Pier during a previous fall big surf day to experiment more with color.

IMG_1376 I decided to try highlighting the red in the picture using the hue/ saturation adjustment layer again. This method is not as precise as the selection tool method but works great if you have many areas of color you wish to highlight.

IMG_1376 desaturateNext, I chose to highlight the hues of the water and blues on the pier.

desaturate MB pierTo achieve this effect, I de-saturated all the colors except cyan which I boosted to +40.

A boogie boarder became my next subject. His board with its red outline was a natural.

IMG_9655Notice the seaweed and his skin still retain some of their color using the adjustment layer method but I like that effect. Then he catches a wave.

IMG_9693The last photo I tried manipulating is from the Park Güell in Barcelona.

IMG_4422.JPGThese children caught my attention because of their red attire standing out against the crushed granite. To enhance the effect, first, I used the hue/saturation layer approach.

IMG_4422.JPG desaturatedThis is a subtle effect with this photo. There must be a lot of red tones in the other colors. I decided to select the children, invert the selection, and then add a hue/saturation adjustment layer and slide the master color to -100.

children running color accentAdding color to a black and white photo will highlight the colorful subject and draw the viewer’s eyes immediately to it. Now that fall is here in all its colorful glory, take some time to see the colors in your world.

~ Susan