All posts by Susan James Carr

Ti Amo Papa

Dad, Rome, Italy, 1967

Dad, Rome, Italy, 1967

My dad loved many things: family, medicine, good food, a classic whiskey sour, barbecuing, travel…and taking photos.

I have boxes and boxes of slides and thousands of photographs that dad took throughout his 70-year marriage to my mom.

HIs camera equipment went with him almost as much as his stethoscope. Light meters, cameras, flash attachments almost wore a ring around his neck…a small price to pay for his love of capturing special moments on film. Thanks to dad, we have black and white and later color memories of family holidays, celebrations, vacations, trips to the ocean, summers visiting his mom on her Iowa farm. He created a kaleidoscope of our life together.

Over the last four years since he died, I sort though about a 100 slides at a sitting, keeping the best ones and tossing ones that don’t have much meaning for me. But every slide is a window into what my dad saw and what he felt was special enough to capture on film.

They are a brain trust of memories and it’s fun reliving our trips and the times when my brothers and I were kids growing up in Baltimore, St. Louis, Sherwood Forest, Chicago, Galveston and eventually California.

I see through these photos how much my dad loved his life. I’m grateful to have this special view into our past.

When I was 9 years old, he gave me my first camera — a Brownie Hawkeye. I was excited that I could begin taking snapshots too. Rebel, our Boxer dog, was a frequent subject of mine and was quite patient with the clothes and other items I used as props on her.

Brownie Hawkeye

Brownie Hawkeye

Since that time, I’ve never been without a camera. Although I have no formal training, I enjoy photographing everyday things and events and people in my life. I have thousands of photos of my own but, in the last few years, I store most of them on iPhoto.

And so dad, on this Father’s Day, I thank you not only for all the things you taught me, but also for showing me the wonders of photography.

When You Wish Upon … a Tree

Arlington Garden, Pasadena, California

Arlington Garden, Pasadena, California

Have a wish? Bring it to Arlington Garden in Pasadena and hang it on one of Yoko Ono’s wish trees. These note-strewn crape myrtles join 300 other varieties of native trees in this wonderful garden.

My friend Diana introduced me to this serene Mediterranean garden this spring. Hidden in a residential neighborhood, it’s an urban open space for anyone to enjoy who needs an escape from a fast-paced day.

In the early 1900’s, an elegant 50-room French Normandy estate in “Millionaire’s Row” graced this area. Now, a century later, you can follow windy pathways through a maze of olive trees, succulent and cactus gardens, and a small orange grove. Whimsical garden art pops up throughout this three-acre garden.

Enjoy a picnic lunch in one of the many secluded spots scattered throughout the gardens. Lawn chairs, tables, benches invite you to read, rest and restore.

Resting Place, Arlington Garden, Pasadena, California

Resting Place, Arlington Garden, Pasadena, California

Pasadena leases the land from Caltrans. 275 Arlington Drive is the place. Several nurseries in town sell bottles of sweet marmalade made from Arlington’s orange crop. Even sweeter, the proceeds help maintain the Arlington Garden.

Before you leave, don’t forget to tie your wish on a branch. As a child in Japan, Yoko would visit a temple and tie wishes on a tree filled with so many other people’s wishes that they appeared as white blossoms from afar.

A Wish, Arlington Garden, Pasadena, California

A Wish, Arlington Garden, Pasadena, California

So though “Millionaire’s Row” is a thing of the past, who could put a dollar sign on the enjoyment you’ll find spending an hour or two here?


Sunnylands Garden, Rancho Mirage, California

Sunnylands Garden, Rancho Mirage, California

In December, we visited Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, a lush 200-acre estate, built by media giant Walter Annenberg.

Walter and Leonore Annenbergs’ dream was that their west coast desert estate would someday be transformed into a retreat center bringing world leaders together to promote world peace. That dream was realized after their deaths when the estate emerged as the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in 2012. It’s often dubbed “Camp David of the West”.

The public can visit this masterpiece of midcentury modernism and enjoy a wonderful “time out”. Surrounded by acres of desert landscape, the grounds resemble a colorful canvas painted with more than 50,000 plants including blue flame agaves, coral aloes, desert marigolds, California poppies, and mesquite trees. The garden’s texture, color and light combine to create a lush masterpiece. Landscape architect James Burnett drew inspiration for this layout from the Annenbergs’ collection of Cézannes, van Goghs and other impressionist paintings.

I delighted in strolling through the gardens while enjoying landscape and stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains — just as I imagined crowned heads of state, celebrities and American presidents had when they attended the lavish parties that the Annenbergs gave many, many years ago.

Adjacent to palo verdes trees and golden barrel cactus on the café patio, we relaxed with sandwiches and French Press coffees with our good friends Al and Naomi from Salem, Oregon who introduced us to Sunnylands. Nearby, kids played on the great lawn with toys that Sunnylands provides each Sunday – hula hoops, big squishy building blocks and beribboned wands.

Sunnylands Visitor Center and View of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Sunnylands Visitor Center and View of the San Jacinto Mountains

Although, we didn’t have a reservation to see the Annenberg house, there was plenty to do and see in the gardens and in the comfortable and welcoming visitor center.

Before we left, the four of us walked the labyrinth alongside masses of shrubs and desert trees. The symmetrical spiral path leading to the center and back out again established a calming rhythm that slowed our pace. As we passed by the long infinity pools reflecting the desert terrain around us, we wondered where the last three hours had gone. Time seemed to vanish in this tranquil desert retreat.

Shine a Light

Piedras Blancas Light Station, San Simeon, California

Piedras Blancas Light Station, San Simeon, California

We visited Piedras Blancas lighthouse in San Simeon this spring. Located six miles north of Hearst Castle on Highway 1, Piedras Blancas is more than a light station — it’s a protected ecological and cultural reserve where native plants flourish on the ocean-side bluffs.

Along the rocky coastline in front of the lighthouse, our own aquatic show awaited: gray whales breaching, long-legged oystercatcher birds “wheeping”, boisterous elephant seals lounging on the adjacent beach and sea otters floating on the waves.

Docent Abel Martinez, a former colleague from my public health days, guided us on a tour of the light station and its environs.

The tower’s Fresnel lens produced a flashing light that alerted mariners of dangerous conditions starting in 1875. A fog signal building was added in 1906 with equipment that make sounds loud enough to carry to sea. San Simeon was then a bustling whaling seaport. Ships brought their catch to off load at the San Simeon pier just north of the large, treacherous white rocks — thus named Piedras Blancas.

The Bureau of Land Management has managed the station since 2001 and, with a dedicated volunteer team, is restoring the lighthouse to her former elegance. In 1949, removal of the upper three levels of the earthquake-damaged 100-foot lighthouse reduced the tower to 70 feet. The Fresnel lens is now displayed on Main Street in Cambria.

Did you ever wonder what lighthouse keepers did to keep themselves from going bonkers in such isolated areas? I was delighted to see a traveling library box of reading material that was sent to light stations by tender ship. The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Pictures Every Child Should Know, The Professor at the Breakfast Table and Sailors Knots were among the 33 well-thumbed books in U.S. Light House Establishment library box 141. Notice the last book on the bottom shelf is Wonders of Nature, apropos to this post.

U.S. Light House Establishment Library Box, # 141, Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

U.S. Light House Establishment Library Box # 141, Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

The light from Piedras Blancas is now an automated Vega marine rotating beacon. The Coast Guard has automated all light stations in the U.S., eliminating the need for operating personnel — except for one. Sally Snowman is the resident Coast Guard Keeper of The Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, America’s first lighthouse, built in 1716. Next year marks its 300th anniversary and it’s still a major navigation aid into Boston Harbor.

Piedras Blancas and other majestic ladies dot our coastlines and are being preserved as national treasures of our rich maritime heritage. There are hundreds of lighthouses in the U.S. and 53 of them are in California. I hope you can visit one, but if you can’t, you can always read about a lighthouse keeper’s life. The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman, is set on a remote island in Australia and P.D. James’s The Lighthouse is set off the English Cornish coast. They both shine a light on what can happen even in an orderly, solitary place.

Early Morning Rain

Jim and Molly Walking in the Rain, Glendale, California, 2009

Jim and Molly Walking in the Rain, Glendale, California, 2009

I woke up at 4 a.m. today to a noise – a strange and haunting noise and vaguely familiar. A noise that when my foggy brain finally cleared, I recognized. A noise that made me happy as a child hearing reindeer hoofs clattering on the roof.

I jumped out of bed, flung open the casement windows and breathed in the clean air thanks to rain, glorious rain.

Rain in drought-plagued southern California!  Almost two inches fell in Glendale this morning and it’s big news here. It’s not the end of the drought but an encouraging sign and one we welcome with open umbrellas.

I got out of bed, turned off the sprinklers (it’s Tuesday, one of the only two days we can run sprinklers in Glendale) … and let the rain on the roof lull me back to sleep.

Let’s hope more rain is headed our way this year.  In the meantime, I’m as joyful as Gene Kelly In “Singin’ in the Rain”,  so here goes…

I´m singin´ in the rain, Just singin´ in the rain,

What a glorious feeling,  And I´m happy again.


I´m laughing at clouds, So dark, up above,

The sun’s in my heart,  And I´m ready for love.


Let the stormy clouds chase,  Everyone from the place,

Come on with the rain, I have a smile on my face.

I´ll walk down the lane,  With a happy refrain

Just singin’, singin’ in the rain.


Dancing in the rain.

I’m happy again. I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. Dancin’ and singin’ in the rain.