All posts by Susan James Carr

Hydrangeas and Elephants

Hydrangea, Newport, RI, 2024

When I was a young girl, my family would spend several weeks in the summer at my Grandmother Grace’s farm in Knoxville, Iowa. I have such pleasant memories of those summers.

Grandma worked a 60-acre farm alone since my grandfather had died before I was born. After we’d arrive, she’d pick fixings for a salad from her garden and make her famous chicken and homemade noodles. After dinner, my brothers and I would run outside and catch lightening bugs in a jar and watch them illuminate over and over again.

On Sundays, we’d go to town after church and visit with one relative or another and that was my first introduction to hydrangeas. My parents and the relatives would linger for hours drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and reminiscing. Soon, I’d be bored and sit on the large covered front porch reading and see abundant blue, pink and purple extravagant blooms on hydrangeas shrubs lining the front of neighbors’ houses up and down the street. That image of these old-fashioned flowers is forever imprinted in my brain.

For years, I tried to grow hydrangeas in my front yard, but the sun and weather in Glendale were not conducive to them so I finally gave up. When I came to Rhode Island this summer, I was amazed by how many blossoming hydrangeas bushes were everywhere. This year due to mild spring weather with no late frost, the bushes are loaded with colorful blooms at literally every third to fourth house block. It’s hydrangea heaven!

Now … on to the elephants. Who thought you could view a herd of 100 life-sized Asian elephants on Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island? “The Great Elephant Migration” is a global fundraising project and public art exhibit to inspire humans to share space with wildlife. Two hundred Indian indigenous artisans crafted these elephants from Lantana camara (one of the world’s most invasive weeds) and they are now featured at the Rough Point Mansion, the ocean-side former residence of Doris Duke; the Breaker’s Mansion; and Salve Regina University.

After the exhibition closes in Newport in early September, the elephant herd will travel to New York City, Miami, Blackfeet Nation, Montana and Los Angeles.


By-the-Wind Sailors Wash Up On Hollywood Beach in Oxnard

By-the-Wind Sailors, Oxnard, California, 2024. Loren Lieb

Blue jellyfish-like blobs known as by-the-wind sailors, or Velella velella, continue to wash ashore by the millions along Southern California’s coast. While it might look like a massive die-off or another catastrophic event, experts say it is natural and normal and colonies of them have washed up along our coastline for years.

By-the-wind sailors are a type of hydrozoa that feed primarily on plankton and closely resemble the Portuguese man o’ war. One of their nicknames is “little sail” since they have a small, stiff sail that catches the wind and allows them to travel great distances across the world’s oceans.

They wash up in large numbers because they’re drifting in the wind and go wherever it takes them … and, right now, that’s the California coast.

The millions that have washed ashore in California recently will either rot away or be pulled back into the ocean by the tide. That’s nature doing “its thing”.

My friends Alan and Loren were on Hollywood Beach in Oxnard and snapped some photos of the palm-sized sailors and posted them on Facebook. They say, “They’re a beautiful inky purple-blue but it’s hard to capture their true colorful iridescence in photographs”.

If you’re lucky enough to see washed up colonies, look but don’t touch and keep pets away too. Velella feed by stinging plankton with barb-tipped cells contained within their tentacles. The venom is considered harmless to human beings, but beachcombers are cautioned not to touch any jelly-like animals found on shore, as some may react more strongly to the venom than others.

If you get a chance, walk our local beaches and maybe you can enjoy viewing this natural phenomenon while it lasts.


The Pasadena Casting Club

Casting Practice at Pasadena Casting Club,
Pasadena, California, 2024

Last Sunday, I went with several members of the Pasadena Village to the Pancake Breakfast and Open House at the Pasadena Casting Club. It’s located in the lush Lower Arroyo Seco, Spanish for “dry gulch”. It is a stream course canyon that begins in the San Gabriel mountains, runs the length of Pasadena  and joins the LA River south of here.

But back to the Pasadena Casting Club. First of all, the breakfast was great…scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon all prepared outside by club members and served in the clubhouse. Lots of OJ and coffee. We were welcomed by several members, including several women fly fishing enthusiasts.

I was impressed by the large library of books on fishing in the clubhouse. Rods were available, free of charge, for visitors who want to practice casting whether they’re members or not. Some of the club members have been internationally recognized for contributions spanning decades and plaques attesting to these awards are scattered on all the walls.

The Pasadena Casting Club was founded in 1947. The casting pool is one of only three in the State. General meetings are held the second Thursday of the month in the evening and include “fish stories” and a program given by a guest expert on a current fly fishing topic. The club organizes a several of fishing trips each year, which include informal day trips as well as professionally guided out-of-state trips. Details can be found at

After breakfast, we went out to the casting pond and watched men practice their fly casting. They would cast over and over again. The line responding to their whippy actions like a well-rehearsed dance partner.

Daisy, Pasadena Csting Cclub

And I fell in love with Daisy, the Basset Hound, who was patiently waiting for her owner to take off his wading boots and give her some attention. In the meantime, I tried to keep her occupied. Every time I left, she starts to bark so I made several return trips.

I can’t believe I’ve never been to the Lower Arroyo before. The area was bustling with people and lots of dogs seeking a release from indoors after many days of rain. It’s beautiful and has an archery range, horseback riding and hiking trails that run along the LA River. The view of Pasadena’s Colorado Street’s “Suicide Bridge” from the parking lot is impressive.

The day was a hit — learning about fly fishing and also discovering a gem of a park that I’ll be back to soon!

Windswept in Newport

Sunset, Newport, Rhode Island, 2023

Founded In 1639, Newport is on the southern tip of Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island. This sailing capital of the world has many charms include its well-preserved colonial architecture, art museums and galleries; its America’s Cup sailing heritage; its Gilded Age mansions and its jazz and folk festivals.

I’ve spent the last two summers here and enjoy exploring the many wonders that are in Newport. The Redwood Library is walking distance from the condo we’re renting on Catherine Street. It opened in 1750 and is the first purpose-built library in America — part library, museum, rare book repository and research center. I’m trying my best to read a book a week while here!

Trinity Church was completed in 1726 and has been beautifully restored. This Episcopalian church has box pews of various shapes and sizes. I’ve never seen this setup before but learned they originally were built to keep parishioners warm during the winter before the building was heated. Duby and I sit in box 99 which is where his grandmother and parents once sat. A striking feature is the triple-tiered chalice-shaped pulpit that soars in front of the altar. The church is surrounded by a cemetery; some of the gravestones go back 300 years.








Ellen Dawson and I took in the umbrella installation at the Brick Marketplace on Thames Street near the wharves. These colorful umbrellas are part of the Colorful Sky Project. Up, up and away!









We took a tour of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, the official flagship of Rhode Island, which is docked at Fort Adams. This tall ship is the largest civilian Sailing School Vessel in the United States. Its namesake is the Commodore who was the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812.













Stay tuned as I share various adventures while I’m here this summer.

Wishing you a good summer!


Spring has Sprung at Descanso Gardens

Japanese Garden, Descanso Gardens, La Canada, California, 2023

I wasn’t able to visit Descanso Gardens for the last eight weeks as I recuperated from my right knee replacement. Glad to say, the worst is behind me and I’m walking almost pain-free.

Two weeks ago, I ventured out early to the Gardens when members can get a jump on the crowds.





What a beautiful sight it was. The garden was alive with color, foliage and blooming plants. Abundant tulips along the Promenade, fragrant lilacs in the Lilac garden, cherry blossoms surrounding the Japanese Tea House were some of the spring flora. Bright orange Clivia plants formed borders along many walking paths.

The recent rains dropped several Coastal Live Oak trees to their knees  in the Ancient Forest. A big loss for the Gardens. Luckily, there are 1,000 plus more Oaks still standing in the 165 acre garden.

I felt fortunate that I was back at a place that I love and seeing it at the height of flowering!

So I’m sharing some highlights with you.