Monthly Archives: September 2009

Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS


Ken Burns’ new series, The National Parks, America’s Best Idea, began Sunday night on PBS stations, and is slated to run for six nights. (If you missed the first part, don’t worry. There are ways to catch up online and on TV.) The photography is amazing, as is the poetry used to describe the scenery, and you’d be forgiven for sitting gape-mouthed, as I did, through the majestic tour and sweep of the parks’ landscapes and history.

The U.S. National Park System is truly a treasure, with more than 84 million acres in 400 parks around the country, most of them quite majestic and full of fun things to do and see and ways to relax amid impossibly picturesque nature.


The National Park System began 150 years ago, spurred on both by the glory of California’s Yosemite Valley, and the specter of Niagara Falls, on the U.S./Canadian border, which at that early date had already had many of its scenic overlooks privatized by people charging tourists for the famous views.

It was John Conness, the junior senator from California, who introduced a revolutionary bill that proposed setting aside a large tract of natural land for the future enjoyment of everyone.

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the law to preserve an area he had never even seen. California took over more than 60 square miles of federal land, on the condition that the land would forever be preserved for “public use, resort, and recreation.” In years and decades to come, John Muir and then Theodore Roosevelt would champion the National Parks, further embedding them in Americans’ psyches and popularizing their use.



The PBS National Parks web site is extremely rich with pictures, history and maps, so you can learn more and get out and explore a national park. The U.S. National Park Service web site is another great place to discover a park near you. It offers a great activity search tool, so you can also find some fun things to do once you get there.




Photos: Acadia National Park, ME (two photos); Muir Woods, CA; Grand Canyon, AZ; Acadia National Park (a great, somewhat challenging, very rewarding bike loop, in addition to hiking); Grand Canyon (lots of good hiking trails in addition to the world-famous view); Muir Woods (on the recent National Day of Service.)


Sonoma County Farm Trails Weekend


As if we needed another excuse to get out and enjoy early Fall, September 26-27 is Weekend Along Farm Trails in Sonoma.

Sonoma County Farm Trails is a wonderful group. For 36 years, it has supported sustainable agriculture and provided education and tons of fun, with maps to and information about participating farms that are open to visitors. My family has visited farms for years, in all seasons — picking berries, apples, pumpkins, and zinnias; buying fresh vegetables, honey and eggs; feeding llamas, rabbits, chickens and cows; even making butter and milking cows, the last of which visitors can do at McClelland’s Dairy in Petaluma. Wineries, plant nurseries and restaurants are also on the tour.

We saw this newborn calf on one of our farm visits:


It’s just enjoyable to drive along the farm roads from one farm to another. Often, farms are closed to visitors during a typical day, or are only open by appointment. So it’s especially fun when they throw the gates open on Farm Trails Weekend, and you can really go into the many different farms and experience feeding animals, learning about the harvest, meeting farmers, participating in chores, and otherwise enjoying a taste of farm life. You can even get a jump on selecting a pumpkin. Some farms offer hay rides and other activities.

See the Weekend Along Farm Trails site to map your route and plan your visit. You’ll probably want to visit farms that are clustered in one or two areas and plan about an hour per farm visit, or 3-5 farms in a day. Have fun!

(If your area has a similar farm day, let us know.)


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Johanna Maaghul’s The Prodigal Family

Prodigal Family

My friend, Johanna Maaghul, just completed a book, The Prodigal Family: A Spiritual Roadmap for Family Reconciliation.

It’s a guide to transforming one’s relationships with family members and with oneself, in order to reach a place of greater forgiveness and ultimate healing. It’s about creating a new way to think about and thrive with those we love.

Here is what Johanna has to say about The Prodigal Family:

“Many of us can identify with the prodigal son’s story, following a desire to leave the life in which we were raised to seek out a reality that more closely aligns with our authenticity. We may even have been fortunate enough to find a moment of real awakening and a return to ourselves on this journey.

Ironically, however, it is once reunited with our true essence that we are often met with an unrelenting desire to return home. Suddenly we realize that our authenticity includes the family we grew up in. They were not just a reflection of our false life – they were part of who we really are all along. Yet it is this return home that is often the most difficult as we revisit relationships with family members who are far away, emotionally unavailable or even no longer with us. As we contemplate the challenges of such a return, we may want to consider the following:

What we leave on the table with our family relationships may well prove to be some of the most powerful and spiritually healing material available to us during our earthly journey – our grist for the soul mill. As with the prodigal son, the role our family has played in our life is an important one and what our family brings out in us offers us great opportunities for further personal growth. They are at the heart of our learning, essential to the ‘soulular’ transformations that we came here to embody. As we trace and even rebuild these connections, we may come to see and appreciate these individuals as members of our own spiritual Olympic team on our journey here on Earth.”

Johanna recently discussed the book on KSVY radio in Sonoma, CA, where she lives with her husband and children, ages 10, 12 and 14. “We have to find forgiveness within each other and try to heal,” Johanna said.

She added that after undergoing treatment for breast cancer two years ago, she truly realized the power of love in ones life and the role it plays in healing. In order to heal, Johanna said, “You have to have access to people who love you and find that love in yourself.” She added, “Going through the cancer and coming out on the other side has shown me that there is an element to healing beyond the medical world.”

She also talked about the example that her journey has set for her children. “The Greatest gift to children is your ability to have humility, to set an example for them so that they can go out into the world realizing that they don’t have to be perfect.” In other words, that forgiveness, to self and others, comes from within.

Johanna will be at Reader’s Books, 130 E. Napa St. in Sonoma Thursday, September 24, 7:30 pm.

You can order The Prodigal Family here or on Amazon.


The Wheel of the Year: Summer Turns to Fall


Seasons, and changes of season, seem to bring out the poet in many of us. I think that’s especially true of the spring and fall equinoxes, when the drama of the turning year is most apparent, the earth teetering between seasons even as it experiences its twice-yearly equality of day and night.

And, between spring and fall, I’d have to give the drama nod to autumn: The air chills, the leaves blush and drop, and many creatures experience a turning inward — perhaps a period of contemplation, if not one of hibernation. Fall is when I feel the turning of the year most profoundly.

Japanese Haiku is a poetic form that has observations of seasons and nature at its core. The best 17-syllable word sketches are deceptively simple meditations on passing moments, beauty, and feelings, and ones place within them. Growing up, we had a book of haiku in our home called The Four Seasons. I still have it, and I chose some fall haiku from it to share.

The haiku ranges from the 17th century master Basho to the 19th century poet Shiki.

Autumn officially begins this year on September 22, at 21:28 Universal Time, 5:28 pm Eastern Daylight Time, and 2:28 pm Pacific Standard Time. Happy equinox, and a fulfilling fall to all.


Jagged candle-flame …

The very shape of Autumn

Sifts through the shutters

— Raizan


Here is the dark tree

Denuded now of leafage …

But a million stars



Autumn breezes shake

The scarlet flowers my poor child

Could not wait to pick



We stand still to hear

Tinkle of far temple bell …

Willow-leaves falling



In unending rain

The house-pent boy is fretting

With his brand-new kite



A windblown grass …

Hovering in mid-air in vain

An autumn dragonfly






Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Make this Honey Spice Cake for a Sweet New Year and Fall


Honey is one of the world’s oldest foods. Ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs from as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. show bees being smoked from their hives to produce it. Nomads and traders helped honey’s popularity spread worldwide, while it remained a prevalent sweetener in the Middle East, where it still often, and wonderfully, appears in Mediterranean, Arab and Jewish dishes.

Jews around the world traditionally celebrate their new year by dipping apples in honey, and by eating honey and spice cakes, the better to usher in a “sweet new year.”

And lots of people ring in the fall by making honeyed cakes of wonderful harvest ingredients like pumpkin, and warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.

This terrific and tasty honeyed spice cake recipe recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, just in time for our good friend and fabulous cook Sandy Waks to try it out for a Jewish New Year gathering last week. It was very meaningful to slow down and gather around her table, which brimmed with fresh, often biblical, foods — Sandy’s also a fantastic gardener — and warm, interesting company, and to stop and give thanks and blessings for the new year.

Of course, a year, or even a season, needn’t be starting to make this cake. I intend to make it many times this fall. Dense cakes like this one pack well for school lunches and other times, are loaded with healthy ingredients, and just taste yummy.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman: Pumpkin spice cake at the Mill Valley Book Depot

Loom and Finger Weaving


Discovering and writing about Jo Meesters‘ wonderful loom-inspired furniture pieces made me want to post instructions to help you discover or rediscover loom weaving. As a kid, I made a ton of potholders on a simple loom. I was fascinated by the infinite possibilities of pattern and color. (And many a relative received a potholder gift.)


You don’t have to stop at the potholder, of course. The woven squares can be sewn together to make quilts, rugs, placemats, purses, tissue box covers, book covers, or doll sleeping bags and blankets.

To make a potholder, simply begin fastening the loops across the loom by hooking them around a peg at each end. Once you have a solid surface of loops running in one direction on the loom (and running evenly between pegs), you can begin to weave the second set of loops across the first, by pulling them alternately over and under each existing loop, either with your fingers or with the tool that comes in loom kits. The second set of loops should alternate their over-under patterns, so that the weave is even. Play with color combinations. You can create anything, from a solid block of color to a neat checked pattern to a completely random design.

To finish the potholder, begin at the start of a row. Take the first loop off its peg, then do the same with the second loop. Now put the first loop around the second and pull the second loop through the circle. Now the second loop is sticking up. Take the third loop off its peg and put the second loop around it and pull the third loop through the circle. Now the third loop is sticking up. Proceed around the potholder. The edge should lay nicely around it like a braid. You’ll have one loop left, and that will be the hook for hanging the potholder.

I recommend cotton loops, for their nice texture and colors. Wool is also great.


Here are some resources for loom and loop materials:

Harrisville Designs, in New Hampshire, has a great selection of cotton loops in all kinds of exciting colors that you can buy individually. The store specializes in yarn, weaving, and other fiber crafts.

The Woolery features individual loop colors from Harrisville, as well as lots of kids’ weaving and felting supplies.

Live and Learn offers a sturdy metal loom, bags of assorted colorful cotton and wool loops, and lots of bags of loops in individual colors.

Magic Cabin has a loom-and-cotton-loop set at a good price.


Every year, at our annual Girl Scout Camporee weekend, one craft activity proved exceptionally popular with a variety of girls: Finger Weaving. This simple, tactile craft occupied girls of all ages, who wove, chatted, and relaxed in nature. Some of the resulting strands were so long, they became unique fashion accessories. Even though I like to make potholders with traditional cotton loops, the newer, stretchier nylon loops are the best for finger weaving. (It will still work with cotton loops, but some may not be stretchy enough.)

Detailed instructions for finger weaving are here.

The Making Friends craft site is a good source for nylon loops.



Photo by Jo Meesters (Stool)

Photos by Harrisville Designs (Potholders)

Additional Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Jo Meesters’ Sustainable Furniture


I did a doubletake when I first saw a picture of Jo Meesters’ adorable furniture for his Netherlands design studio, TESTLAB. Yes, it did — It looked just like the potholders I made as a kid, using cotton loops strung and woven on a small square loom. I loved the potholders’ colors and patterns, and made oodles of them. Nothing else seemed to have quite the same appearance of weave and texture. Until now.

Meesters’ furniture collection, “Odds & Ends, Bits & Pieces”, uses only recycled material — 34 discarded wooden beams and 16 leftover blankets goes into each four-piece set.

This stool looks so soft and appealing.


The studio explores the intersection of craftsmanship and mass production. Many of the forms are elemental. Sustainability, innovation and good design are guiding principles, as is the transformation that is possible when one considers or uses something in a new way.

The “My Secret Garden” carpet, which was done in 2005 in collaboration with Marije van der Park for Meesters & Van der Park, is made from discarded woolen blankets. Traditional needlework and floral patterns lend it extra charm.


This woodwork-inspired table, “Reshaping Wood”, was also created in 2005 in collaboration with Marije van der Park for Meesters & Van der Park. The project explored the intersection of traditional woodwork and cutting-edge water jet technology in its fabrication.


I find Meesters’ work incredibly inspiring, for its beauty and obvious love of craftsmanship and for its care and creativity in regards to re-use of everyday materials. Indeed, one of Meesters’ stated goals is to create a bond between object and user, to imbue his projects with an emotional value. If all that weren’t enough, Testlab and Meesters’ creations are just plain fun.

Photos by Marielle Leenders for Jo Meesters (Collection, Stool)

Photos by Jo Meesters (Carpet, Table)