creepy, crawly and beautiful

Around here, nothing quite signals the beginning of fall like the increase in the number of orb-weaving spiders. It begins with one or two building their wheel shaped webs spanning great expanses between branches or leaves.orb-weaving spider

The next thing you know there are 5, 6 or more getting to work nightly building massive and incredibly sturdy webs. They start popping up all over the neighborhood.

orb spider web

There is nothing like accidentally walking through the remnants of one of these spider’s strong, sticky webs to turn me into a giant whirligig, madly brushing at my clothes. These spiders are persistent. Every night they construct and in the morning can be found seemingly floating in mid-air in the center of their web.

orb-weaving spiderYet, they are skittish too. Often, as I approach one it will scurry away from the center and hide.

orb-weaving spiderUpon the occasion of an unsuspecting bug becoming trapped in the web, the spiders will spring into action to immobilize their prey.

orb-weaving spider

As much as the sight of spiders makes my skin crawl, I can’t help but find these creatures fascinating and admire the beautiful webs they create; using a telephoto lens at 300mm from a bit of a distance, of course.

orb- weaving spider webAnd, I am thankful I have never found one inside. I like to think of them as nature’s Halloween decorations.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and would like to see all types of amazing spiders and their webs, the Natural History Museum has recently opened the spider pavilion. It’s a creepy, crawly good time!

We welcome fall and all the season brings!


A New Perspective

With the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from Kindergarten Cop urging, “get down!” in my head, I ventured out this week, my mission: to concentrate on photographing from a different angle. The Redondo Beach pier as my muse I began and caught this couple as I approached. I crouched down and click. . .

Redondo Beach Pierlet the fun begin. Simple things can take on a new perspective when addressed from a different angle. Items look larger and have more presence when photographed from down low.

coin operated binocularsLooking up,

Zeppy's pizzeria sign

and making a point to step to the side as opposed to approaching from straight on Old Tony's sign, Redondo Beach

can add interest to a photo.

I slowly became aware of many pelicans out and about.

CA brown pelican

Ca brown pelican

Suddenly, there is a commotion of flapping wings and pelicans running to one area.

pelicanspelicansA fisherman’s catch is fair game to the pelicans.

pelicanspelican with fishThere were pelicans trying to steal the fish from each other as well as getting tangled and caught up in the fishing line and lures. All the while, I was sitting on my heels clicking away.

PelicansAfter suffering a couple of bites trying to retrieve his catch and even though disappointed at his loss, the fisherman worried about the pelicans welfare and freed the snagged birds. After the commotion died down, it became apparent there were two more stuck together by a hook.

pelicans hooked together with fish hookLuckily, with the help of a bystander, they were freed.

pelicans being freedWhen one looks at something from a different angle it can change one’s perception and add interest.

I urge you to use Arnold’s “get down” line as your mantra this week, and you can experience a new perspective yourself.

Have fun with it.

~ Sue

Ebb and Flow

There is a rhythm to the shore. This rhythm is the result of the constant ebb and flow of the tide as well as the waves. This morning I took a stroll paying particular attention to the tempo of the waves and how it effects the people, birds and items at the point where the water meets the sand.
I wandered over to explore the tide pools, a wave came in. . .

tidepools, wave

And the wave went out leaving seaweed draped over many of the rocks.


I decided to zoom and bring the seaweed closer; then another wave came in.

beach photo, seaweed

And went out. . .

Beach, tidepools, seaweed

Turning to the shoreline, a wave was retreating leaving relative calm.

beach, shorelineThen zooming once again as another wave rolls in. Leaving the bird seemingly unfazed but the fisherman in hip deep water suddenly.

beach shoreline
Some seaweed and shells were left on the sand from a ride on a wave.


I zoomed again.

seaweedThe evidence of another stroller. . .

footprints in sand

is quickly erased.

footprints getting washed awaySurfers and swimmers will often pause at the shore waiting for the waves to recede to make their entrance into the water.

shoreline surfersBirds also take advantage of the ebb of the waves to hunt for sand crabs.

shoreline surfers and birdsThe rhythm of the sea is predictable in its occurrence but the effects on the surroundings can vary from day to day. Sometimes an abundance of seaweed comes ashore and sometimes a large number of seashells. There is always  something to discover at the shore.

Many happy discoveries to you.


The Weekend Dish-Peaches and Cream Italiano

“The Beautiful Month of September is here!”, our grandmother would exclaim in a sing-song voice on the first day of September. She had an affinity for September, it being her birthday month, also mine and my younger sister’s.  We have carried on the tradition and call each other to wish a Happy Beautiful Month of September on the first as well. September also is a time of changes and new beginnings. For school folk it marks the beginning of a new year. It is the time when the weather starts becoming a little cooler and the leaves begin to change colors. With a nod to a trend I see developing, lists of five things one can do, either in a week or a day, I am compiling my own list of five things to do this weekend to celebrate the beautiful month and what it brings.

1. Take some time to think about the things you are grateful for. They can be very simple: ice cream on a hot afternoon, the nudge of your dog’s nose against your leg in an attempt to elicit a pat from you, or greater: the love of your spouse or significant other, your health. If you want some inspiration check out photographer/film-maker Hailey Bartholomew’s gratitude project titled365 Grateful. She shares her tale of how finding and taking a picture of something she was grateful for every day for a year changed her life.

2. Go for a walk with an eye out for signs of the changing seasons; the different flowers which are beginning to bloom, perhaps the presence of new wildlife making a fall appearance in your area or the thinning crowds at the beach.

3. Tackle a project you have been putting off all summer; that closet that needs cleaning, the stack of paperwork which has been pushed aside too many times.

4. Launch a creative endeavor; begin a painting or drawing , a photography project, or writing the first page of your novel, a poem or even a letter. To read some fascinating letters written by notable authors ( actors, authors, politicians) visit the letters of note website.

5. Use the last of the season’s peaches to make this deliciously simple dessert.

Peaches and Cream Italiano

3 peaches, peeled, pitted and halved
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup marsala wine
Dissolve the sugar in the water and marsala and let the peaches macerate in the liquid for approximately one hour.
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup whipped cream ( made by whipping: 1 cup cream, 2 Tbsp powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla until thickened)
Mix together cheese and whipping cream and splash of marsala wine and set aside until ready to use.
Dark chocolate for grating

Heat skillet over medium high heat and place peaches cut side down . Cook until beginning to brown and slightly caramelized. Place one half peach in a bowl with cut side up. Fill space where pit was with the whipped cream/cheese mixture and grate the chocolate over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 6

If you like the idea of lists of 5 things to do, and would like to be inspired every day, then you may want to see what David has compiled at

Have a great weekend easing into the changing rhythms of September, the Backyard Sisters’ way.


The Weekend Dish

The slow paddle toward change has already begun.

Diver’s Cove, Laguna Beach, CA

August traditionally means the warmest ocean waters of the year here in California, along with ripening figs on my backyard tree and plenty of afternoon sunlight for long bike rides.  But it also means a new slant in the shadows that whisper a shift toward that inevitable, all too soon, glide toward the golden fall.

Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO

When I look at my calendar, I see 24 more days left of summer vacation, but I this month also holds the day that school begins and I must return to the classroom to face dozens of new writing students.

If this time of year incites a yearning in you to return to school to hone your writing craft, but you’ve got no intention of beginning any sort of long term program, have you ever thought about embarking on a long learning weekend?   If poetry is your thing, I’ve got just the right event for you to consider in New York City.

Attend The American Academy of Poets 2012 Poets Forum from Thursday-Saturday, October 18-20.  There are no entrance exams to worry about and no minimum GPA requirements to sweat over, just some good old fashioned immersion into poetry and a little bit of planning on your part if you don’t live in the city.

Check out hotels.  Look for flight deals.  Act soon. If you register before Sept. 1, you get an all-events pass to the full three days of events for $95.  This includes readings by poets like Toi Derricotte, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Arthur Sze, and panel conversations like “Poetry in the Age of Social Media,” and “The Anxiety of Audience: Who We Write For, Real & Imagined.” There will even be poet-guided walking tours where you can “walk the same streets traversed by Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, E. E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, and countless other poets. These poet-guided walking tours will explore the literary history of Harlem, the West Village, the Museum of Modern Art, and SoHo.”

For a full schedule of events, clips of past Poets Forums, and a link to purchase tickets, click here.

Embrace the summer, but remember what follows the long days of sun.  If your inner student begins to hunger, find ways to nourish the craving for wisdom.

With more sun than shadows,

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).


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.

Passing Through and Going On

Sometimes, I like to go out in the backyard with my camera and wait to see what develops. I choose a location, set-up and wait. If I’m lucky a hummingbird or another type of bird will pass through. Other times, I see something happening and run out to capture it. This week, I have a little bit of both. . . A bushtit and hummingbird both made an appearance.

We have been trying our best to manage a squirrel and our apricot tree so that we are able to harvest at least some of the apricots. Whenever we catch the squirrel approaching, we run out to discourage foraging. However, we can’t be on guard every minute and they do get their way with the tree from time to time. Occasionally, one will take up watch on a telephone pole waiting and watching to make sure the coast is clear.

This year, they have begun leaving remnants of their marauding on display.

Lastly, I like to capture the eco warrior at work.

There is much to engage one’s lens; right in one’s own backyard.

~ Sue

Close-Up and Patterned

Occasionally, to add variety to my workout routine and have a nature interlude I will head to the Santa Monica mountains for a hike, with my camera, a “photo hike” if you will.  The Solstice Canyon trail was my recent destination. It is a serene and relaxing park with a few trail options of differing difficulty levels. I decided to focus on something different to photograph this time. Instead of capturing the big picture, which I usually do when hiking on this trail, I looked to the small details.  The patterns in the leaves, rocks and tree trunks were the subjects that day. The delicate leaves of this plant still have dew drops lingering.

ground cover green carpet

A tree trunk caught my eye. . .

“A” bark

Then this fungus.

false turkey tail fungus

And the water of the stream gently flowing over the rocks.

creek-size cascade

Suddenly a loud squawk overhead pulled my attention from the quiet details of the flora to the noisy insistence of the fauna as I was joined by two parrots.


Solstice Canyon is full of opportunities to experience the beauty of the Santa Monica mountains and get exercise at the same time.  The area has been hit with many wildfires over the years and there are remains from a few of the homes that used to stand there. Next time, I will be exploring some of these; always with an eye for the details but not forgetting the big picture!

If you would like to learn more about Solstice Canyon here is a link to the National Park Service information  

~ Sue