All posts by Susan James Carr

Spring Has Arrived

Hummingbird Nest in Construction, Glendale, California

Spring arrives with backyard surprises for us. It could be the discovery of eight baby skunks (phew!) or a blue-eyed fledging crow that left his nest before he was ready to fly. Yesterday, a hummingbird decided to build her nest on an electric cord in our garage.

A red hummingbird feeder hangs outside our kitchen window and it’s been popular with the iridescent birds for years. That, plus plenty of hummingbirds’ favorite plants keep them around all year long. But I have yet to spot any hummingbird nests…that is, until yesterday.

The last few mornings when I opened our garage door, a hummingbird whizzed in and out of the garage like a tiny jet. She flew up towards the ceiling, over the garage door and out again…over and over. I wondered what was going on. Lost? Looking for something? Frightened?

I couldn’t figure it out until yesterday when I saw her light for a nano-second on the electric cord dangling from our garage door motor. And then I saw it – the beginnings of her nest. YIKES! Not a good place to nest at all.

Luckily, I knew who to call since I heard Terry Masear, the hummingbird rescuer of more than 5,000 little darlings, speak at San Marino’s Huntington Gardens a few weeks ago. Terry helped me plan what to do since we can’t leave our garage door open for the next couple months for access and the nest was still in the early stages.

So I got to work. I removed the nesting material from the electrical cord and placed it in the Silver Sheen tall shrubs that line our driveway. Then I scurried around our yard collecting sticky spider-webs, which I stuck close to her nesting material in the shrubs. Neighbors donated lint from their clothes dryers to adorn the shrubs. I washed a load of towels to collect more fluffy lint. I climbed a ladder and hung a large red sign above the webs and lint hoping to guide her. Fingers crossed that she uses these materials to build an outside nest.

But the scientist in me wondered why would a hummingbird after all these years suddenly decide our garage was the right place to lay her precious eggs? I looked around and saw “RED”.

Hummingbirds are attracted to red – the bright color signals flowers and nectar. We had the inside of our garage painted white recently. And I realized all the red stuff that was on the shelves must have looked like the Garden of Eden to the little bird — red plastic storage bins, a dartboard box, a large “TEAM CARR” sign from our Rose Bowl Alzheimer’s walk, Jim’s red tennis bag, the bright orange box of Hefty bags…and the red emergency release cord for the garage door with a round red plastic handle that must look like a giant hanging flower.

Needless to say, our garage door is staying closed until our expectant hummingbird builds a new nest…with a little help from her extreme home makeover neighbors.

Hummingbird — Don’t Fly Away

Hummingbird, Northeast Oklahoma ©. Photo by Laurel Clark. Cannot be used without permission.

Hummingbird, Northeast Oklahoma ©. Photo by Laurel Clark. Cannot be used without permission.

Hummingbirds! They bring us joy and inspiration. Singers Seals and Crofts celebrated the hummingbird’s glories in their lyrical eponymous song. The hummingbird is Papyrus paper company’s logo — every greeting card includes this message: “Legend say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying out our hopes for love, joy and celebration”. And Native American mythology abounds with hummingbird stories and meanings.

Hummingbirds always stop me in my tracks with their flashing iridescence, whirring wings and aerial acrobatics. But best of all, they slow me down to enjoy a moment of beauty with this marvel of nature.

My friend, Laurel photographed this Ruby-throated hummingbird, feasting on nectar one early evening this summer while she was visiting her parents in the deep woods of Northeast Oklahoma. “My dad has hung hummingbird feeders for more years that I can remember. He used to hang six, but this year, considering his advancing age, he hung only four. My parents’ yard has many choices for gathering their nectar from the many flowering plants they have planted over the years. Dad hangs one feeder early in April in case there’s an early bird arrival in the spring. They usually herald tax season arriving on April 15 most years! In past years, I remember it sounded like a helicopter was outside their living room window with so many hummingbirds coming to feed”. Lori shot this photo with her Nikon D5500.

Laurel is grateful for the hummingbirds because her dad at 93 could still feed the birds. They got him out of his chair to make the sweet nectar and in return, the birds entertained her dad and mom from dawn to dusk.

A hummingbird’s delicate grace is deceiving. Even though they weigh less than a nickel, they are pugnacious and can take on larger birds infringing on their territory. They can zoom from 0-60 in four seconds. Cirque du Soleil can’t begin to complete with their aerial feats: flying upside down, backwards and sideways, zooming into figure 8’s, and lots of loop-di-loos.

Anna’s hummingbirds regularly jet over to the Perky-Pet ® feeder hanging outside our kitchen window and visit our backyard nectar bars of velvety Mexican sage bush and lush lantana.

Like Laurel’s dad, I stop whatever I’m doing to watch my own hummingbirds. Just like Seals and Crofts, I never want them to fly away.

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.