Category Archives: Tributes

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Celebration of Fall

Where I live, we are ending what has been an unusually spectacular fall. Trees have been ablaze with color. There has been abundant water to satisfy the plants and enough crisp, clear days to enrich us humans. We’ve been walking, hiking, visiting farms, picking pumpkins, digging for potatoes, planting bulbs, collecting acorns and pinecones for crafts and display, and otherwise enjoying the beautiful scenery around us.

I hope your fall has treated you equally well and that winter holds more wonder, beauty and joy. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Goodbye Oprah, and Thank You Talk Show Pioneer Phil Donahue

Of course, today and much of the past week (in the broadcast TV world anyway) have been all about Oprah Winfrey‘s extended farewell. As well they should have been. Whether or not you liked her style or resonated with her messages, Oprah has no doubt deeply influenced and touched countless people in numerous ways.

This is a nice tribute, Why Did Oprah Matter?, from Ken Tucker at ew.com. Another nice piece, Five Reasons Oprah’s Last Show Should Matter to You, appears in the Dallas Morning News from Michael Landauer.

But enough about Oprah.

In all the hoopla, I can’t help but think back to Phil Donahue, whose very thoughtful talk show I watched often. It is Donahue who pioneered the act of entering the studio audience and was often seen running up and down the stairs of his set, microphone in hand and white hair flopping, to record the impressions of a guest.

The Phil Donahue Show (later – in a nod to the times? – simply Donahue) ran an incredible 26 years nationally, from 1970-1996 (one year longer than Oprah), and three years locally in Dayton, OH, before that. He took on most of the political, cultural and philosophical issues of the times – civil rights, gay rights, consumer rights, religion, abortion, war, even holocaust denialĀ  – and didn’t shy from (indeed perhaps stoked) controversy and passionate conversation. He also did lighter, but no less educational, shows such as one in which he introduced many viewers to break dancing and rap.

My friend, Bay Area writer and cultural observer Barbara Tannenbaum, shared this:

I think Phil Donahue was one of several major factors helping the country with gay visibility/ cultural change. When Bill Maher said it was television, not politicians, who were behind this paradigm shift, I instantly thought of Donahue….and Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas (less so, but must tip my hat to my Mom!)

Donahue was on the air during the worst part of the AIDS epidemic in the mid to late 80s. Again, a forum for our Moms to meet gay men fighting AIDS, making that conversation much easier for parents. My mom comforted a lady in the dressing room of Nordstrom’s about discussing her gay son’s diagnosis with her husband. Her inspiration was not me, but Phil Donahue!!

Even Oprah Winfrey acknowledges, “”If it weren’t for Phil Donahue, there would never have been an Oprah Show.”

Here’s Phil Donahue interviewing writer Ayn Rand, about whom he said, in his introduction, “You mention this woman’s name and you’re in for a very vigorous conversation.” That short phrase sums up much of Phil Donahue’s talent and appeal, in addition to an element we could use much more of on television and in the greater culture and discourse.

Farewell Oprah and thank you Phil!

Photos: AP/Paul Beaty, Doug Ross

Everyday Whimsy: Two Reminders that the Mundane can be Made Fun

I love these videos.

The first is from a group called The Fun Theory. Their whole mission (if I may use such a serious word) is to illustrate that making something fun is the easiest way to ensure that people will do it. I’m quite heartened watching this and seeing how many people will go out of their way to do something playful and joyful.

There are lots of similar playful ideas on the Fun Theory site, including a mat that makes wiping ones feet fun, and a room that’s transformed with magnets, so kids can throw their clothes at the wall rather than hang them. (I’m not sure about this one, actually.)

The next, old-school, video showcases Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley, who was known for his extremely elaborate, precision dance numbers that were said to have gotten their inspiration from the military. The clip is from 1937′s Ready, Willing and Able and features Ruby Keeler (wife of Al Jolson, I just learned) tapping away in what would be one of her last musicals. (She made a remarkable comeback in theater and movies more than 30 years later.)

I think it’s a wonderful example of looking at an ordinary object in a new way — truly “thinking outside the box”, to envision women’s legs serving as typewriter keys. Plus, looking at it and listening to it can’t help but put a smile on ones face.

Have fun! Remember that a little whimsy and silliness can go a long way.

Mom’s Gifts of Nature

Today would have been my mom, Bunnie’s, 77th birthday. She died four years ago after a long illness. We were close but our relationship was not without rocky patches. Since I began working for Children & Nature Network a couple of months ago, I can say without hesitation that my appreciation for her has grown. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about her influence on my enjoyment of nature and the gifts she gave me in that regard.

The gift of walking. My mom didn’t drive. In L.A., a place built especially for transportation by car. As a result, we walked everywhere when I was little. She walked with my brother and me to different parks and playgrounds, talking to us the whole time. We ran errands on foot (and then by bike when we were older), so that we had a sense of our place on the earth and in our community. We knew neighbors and shopkeepers and had a different kind of life than the kids who were driven places.

It helped that my parents had settled in Santa Monica, which they chose because it was (and is) a very walkable, livable place, with real streets that feature neighbor-serving businesses and good public transportation. I rode the bus by myself at age 9. Pretty much everyone walked, biked, or bussed to and from school. I only recall a couple of rides to school ever, and those would have been early mornings in high school, when my dad would take me before he and Mom went to work.

I love to walk to this day. I enjoy the activity in itself, and a pace that allows you to engage with your surroundings and neighbors.

The gift of splashing in puddles. We didn’t have snow in Southern California, but we did get rain. My mom was not one to let the weather impede any plans. Dressed appropriately, in raincoats and boots, we were encouraged not only to walk in the rain but to enjoy it and to splash in the puddles. Her attitude was, “Who’s afraid of a little rain?” and I adapted it in junior high when I secretly looked down on my peers for using umbrellas. This seems a bit guerrilla now, but the spirit holds. To little kids, especially, rain is something to be enjoyed, not avoided. And children’s bodies and clothes are meant for play.

The gift of summer camp. My mom was a Brooklyn, N.Y., girl, but her childhood memories from upstate New York’s Camp Guilford and Oxford had deeply imprinted on her. She talked lovingly of classic camp activities like archery and color wars. My parents worked summers; there were not a lot of family vacations. But what my brother and I did have was camp. I got to go to camp for nine summers, seven of them at Tumbleweed Day Camp, beginning incredibly enough when I was four.

I loved everything about Tumbleweed. It was in a gorgeous, special spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Days began and ended by sitting by group in an amphitheater made of logs, singing folk songs. (I can still sing the camp and other songs.) I learned to swim there, and ride horses, and jump on a trampoline. We had cookouts and sleepouts and dress-up days. In the 70s we did modern dance to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida while the boys played caroms. There were nature hikes. (I learned about poison oak and bee stings and the glorious smell of sycamore trees.) We cared for goats and made lanyards and macaroni-and-paint-covered cigar boxes. There was one camp craft I loved so much that we started doing it at home, too — gathering items from nature and placing them in a paper cup, pouring resin over the items so that the whole hardened into a medallion, and then drilling a hole and stringing it to make a necklace.

Because I loved camp so much (can you tell?), I sent my own daughter to camp and sought the most classic, outdoor-oriented ones I could find. So far she has attended five years of JCC Day Camp and three years at Mountain Meadow Ranch in California’s Lassen County, and I believe her experiences have been formative.

The gift of independent exploration. There is no doubt some personality trait involved, but I got on that camp bus by myself at age 4, and it wasn’t even an issue. I also, from about age 5, I regularly took my own “adventure walks” around our neighborhood — with age-appropriate limits, like working up to crossing streets. My mom championed and encouraged these. She understood the power of exploring on ones own, the serendipity of what might transpire. That I called these “adventure walks”, even though they took place in a neighborhood of suburban apartment buildings, speaks volumes. Any walk can be an adventure, given the right spirit and desire to find something new. To this day, I enjoy being in a new place, whether it’s an exotic location or somewhere a bit more close-by and mundane. I like to have a map and resources, to consult if need be, but I’ll also let curiosity take me someplace if I’m pretty certain I can find my way back. (Warning: This does not always fit others’ comfort levels.)

The gift of quiet and observation in nature. I believe I inherited my mom’s mix of gregariousness and solitude. On the solitude end of the scale, she loved any walk in nature, in various seasons, usually with her twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. (A camera case is visible in the above picture of her, which was taken among cherry blossoms in Japan.) She would slowly stroll, pausing often to aim her camera and look down into its viewfinder to compose her shots. She took great pictures — in New England falls, of the plants in the park near our house, in the Japanese gardens she loved. As it does with me, I believe nature provided her a kind of meditation. The photography was a fun activity, as well as a way to harness and focus observation. On my early walks, I took a notebook. I now often carry a notebook and a camera. And, if my family is any indication, I can take just as long as Mom did to compose and take a shot.

The gift of appreciation of nature. My mom’s appreciation for the beauty of nature was apparent in her photos, and also in our home. She had a beautiful rose garden, which she lovingly tended. Once a week, she’d pick roses from it and arrange them in vases that would be placed around our house. She seemed to spend hours arranging them to please her aesthetic eye. I have memories of the lovely rose smells, the snipped stems on our kitchen counter, and also of her being lost in the activity, as her slender fingers repositioned the open roses in their vases. Here, I believe I have her eye but lack some of her patience.

I do especially enjoy taking pictures of wildflowers. Appearing each year, as a fresh surprise, wildflowers embody so many of the gifts available in nature: serendipity and discovery, wonder and delight, rejuvenation, quiet enjoyment, and sheer beauty of form.

For all these gifts of and in nature, Thank You, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!


Who Brought you to Gardening?

As a wonderful treat yesterday, I awoke to a lovely post on my friend Alison Kerr’s blog, Loving Nature’s Garden. Alison is a very talented observer of the natural world. From her, I’ve learned all about birds, flowers, and critters; ideas for getting myself and others outdoors; and Alison’s special relationship with her own Kansas habitat, which she shares with a great deal of wisdom and humor. And did I mention how thorough she is?

Her new post is about all the people who have influenced her to be a gardener, a wonderful trail back to her grandfather who bought baby leeks, her grandmothers who made rhubarb pie and grew wildflowers, and her mother who grew improbably warm-weather crops in Scotland. All these threads of course led to Alison’s own love of gardening and the way it connects her to family members who came before. It is a beautiful piece, with great pictures of everyone, and of course it led to a flood of hearfelt comments from readers sharing their own memories of the people who influenced them to love getting their hands dirty and growing things.

She got me thinking about my own gardening heritage, which I shared:

My family has always grown something, on patios and decks, in windowboxes and raised beds. At 9 we moved from an apartment to an old house that miraculously had a greenhouse, great beds and soil, and wonderful sun. My mom grew beautiful roses and spent lots of time lovingly cutting and arranging them. She had long, pretty fingers and I can still picture them tending to her roses.

My dad and I took to the greenhouse, to propagate and experiment. Into the beds went cucumbers, tomatoes, marigolds, zinnias, and other cheery and fairly easy flowers. My dad worked hard at his job and gardening was a way to spend relaxing, fascinating time together.

I still always grow something, now with my own daughter. I love sowing the seeds, watching new shoots come in. Our shadier spot is home to peas, lettuce, pansies, cosmos, and tulips that are just coming up now.

I really appreciate Alison’s continuing inspiration and her getting me to think about who brought me to gardening, which I probably would not have done without the prompt. (Such can be the beauty of the internet.) I recommend you take a look at Loving Nature’s Garden, and visit often. There’s always a link to it on my front page.

My mom was also an avid photographer. The rose pictures are ones she took of her garden.

Here is my dad with a prized cucumber from a fruitful growing season.

And here we are celebrating together.

Photos by Bunnie Sachs

Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 2

Holiday light displays seem contagious among neighborhoods — I truly think this occurs more from the spread of cheer than a ruthless electrical competition. Really, who can resist a bit of joy when encountering twinkling lights, moving characters, and various expressions of cheer and calm? Marinwood, in Marin County, CA, is one such decorated neighborhood and has apparently been for more than a generation. We drove around there last week, taking in all the fun lights and decorations gracing the various homes. We visited our old favorites, which, as always, stood out.

The Lights of the Valley web site has directions and hours for these houses, plus tons of photos and directions for houses all over Northern California. Do yourself a favor and visit.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fantastic Rombeiro House in Novato, which you can actually go in!

Mize’s Mickey Mouse House, 417 Blackstone Drive, Marinwood

This super-fun house has been going for 33 years. In addition to all the lights and characters decorating the outside, a two-car garage is windowed off and filled to the brim with all manner of Disney toys and characters, in Christmas dress and settings. Particularly prominent is Mickey Mouse, down to the house’s mouse-ear-shaped shrubbery. It is all quite a delight, a fantasy toyland. Smiling visitors of all ages just try to take it all in.

The Nisja Bear House, 383 Quietwood Drive, Marinwood

This delightful house also features diorama displays, but its real crown is the elaborate model railroad that runs through the front yard. Whimsical pieces seem to be added on every year. This year, we had the pleasure of talking to Roy Nisja, who explained how he started decorating the house and building the railroad 29 years ago, when his son was small. His son and family live nearby, but they all continue to build the train each year on Quietwood.

Nisja showed us the camera he rigged so that when he does take breaks and go back inside the house he can still be certain both Eastbound and Westbound trains are running. Chuckling, he pointed out the new lighted landing strip he added on his roof for Santa. People, aged from children to seniors, in Santa hats and warm coats, came up his walk to marvel at the trains, bears, and other snow creatures and characters and wonder which had been added this year.

The Statham Christmas House, 12 Adobestone Court, Marinwood

Luckily, we did talk to Roy Nisja, because he told us about a traditional, wonderful decorated house that we didn’t know about and that had been resurrected after 12 dark years. The Statham House was a 40-year Marinwood tradition until Charles “Dooley” Statham decided to call it quits for health reasons year ago. Sadly, he died this fall, and his family decided to resurrect the house one more time in his honor. It’s an amazing sight to come upon, walking up the hill from Blackstone. (The Court, a little cul-de-sac, is blocked to cars.)

It’s completely magical, with large wooden cut-outs and wonderful lights. We got there close to 11 p.m. (!) Crowds had still been milling about the other houses, but lights were beginning to rather dramatically click off and dim. We did get to see the house in its glory, including some lighted displays of vintage toys in large windows, and hope to again before it’s gone for good in a few days.

The Marin Mommies web site has directions and hours, as well as some more nice material about Statham and the house.

Still to come: A sweet “gingerbread” house in Mill Valley.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

See also Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 1

Walt Disney Family Museum Opens Today in San Francisco

disneystatue

As if by Disney magic, an army barracks and adjoining buildings in San Francisco’s formerly military Presidio have been transformed into The Walt Disney Family Museum, which opens today. Visitors can travel through 10 galleries and a theater and see early sketches that became the characters we know and love today, ton of animated movie clips, family home movies and reminiscences, vintage Disney toys, 3-D models, a two-story-high animation camera that was used to create 3-D effects for the movies, Fantasia and Pinocchio, and a model of the original plans for Disneyland.

disneyentrance

Also featured is Mary Blair’s beautiful artwork for Peter Pan. Mary Blair was an extremely talented painter and colorist who worked closely with Walt Disney, designing many of the evocative technicolor backgrounds for his movies. She also did the character and art design for my favorite Disneyland ride, It’s a Small World.

disneysmallworld

The museum provides an insight into the craft of animation, as well as Walt Disney as a person. One of the reasons for constructing the museum, Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller has said, is that as time has gone on since Walt Disney’s death in 1966, fewer and fewer children had any idea that there was a person behind the ubiquitous Disney corporate logo.

Disney was indeed quite playful and an extraordinary visionary. He so altered the fields of animation and theme parks that someone who was born in an era during which both are plentiful could easily take his achievements for granted.

disneymatterhorn

Disney retained a sense of joy and awe of his craft. The museum features an early Alice in Wonderland film in which Alice visits an animation studio and falls into a wonderfully animated dream state. Also featured are clips and items from the early movies that altered animation history long before the 1990s animation wave hit: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and Fantasia.

Having been fortunate to have had regular pilgrimages to Disneyland as a child, and now with my family, I am looking forward to seeing the museum’s history of the park. At every stage of life, as corny as it may sound, I still find it “The Happiest Place on Earth” and have no doubt that a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum will be similarly filled with imagination and mirth.

disneycar

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Saluting Silver Palate’s Sheila Lukins

SPShelf

The hoopla surrounding the book and movie, Julie and Julia, has been wonderful, of course — for amateur cooks, for foodies, for bloggers. Anything that gets people back into the kitchen after seasons of take-out (if, indeed, that’s where they head post-movie) and certainly anything that makes us stop and truly appreciate the pioneering Julia Child, with her trilling voice, kind demeanor and no-nonsense insistence that any of us, too, could pull off chicken Cordon Bleu, is inherently good. For my mother’s generation, Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was the guide that perhaps their own parents — in a harder era during which, for many, cooking was an artless enterprise, synonymous with “getting food on the table” — were not.

My own cooking was informed by a different set of guides. So it was with dismay that I learned that Sheila Lukins, co-creator with Julie Rosso of the Silver Palate cookbooks and empire, had died, at just 66, of brain cancer.

When I moved to New York, after college, in 1982, I quickly experienced the personal revelation that was fettuccine Alfredo. “Pasta, Etc.” stores were springing up around Manhattan, with their ready-made sauces and varieties of pasta. Growing up, pasta meant spaghetti, and usually at a restaurant. Home meals tended to revolve around chicken, meat or fish, and were dishes without a lot of variation, week to week, that my working mom could easily prepare and get on the table. (Kitchen leisure was reserved for baking projects and Thanksgiving Day.)

Then I discovered the Silver Palate stores, with their amazing chicken salads and chutneys and raspberry and walnut vinaigrettes. I snapped up the Silver Palate Cookbook and learned to make such staples on my own. The book was such an obvious labor of love — as had been the Moosewood Cookbook before it, which I belatedly found — with its hand-drawings, personal notes, and unique recipes that I could easily replicate. It had clearly been created by people who adored food and combining ingredients in interesting, tasty ways. Their recipes were (to me) informed by global cuisines, which became especially apparent when the pair split forces and Lukins traveled the world to research and create her astonishing Around the World Cookbook, which, along with the Silver Palate Cookbook and the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, I am continually inspired by.

Barely a week goes by when I don’t cook from, or at least reference, one of these books (along with the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook.) Into my repertoire have gone their Chicken Marbella (which is so popular among my generation of home cooks, especially for dinner parties, that it is mentioned in Lukins’ New York Times obituary.) Four Seasons Pasta, Pasta Putanesca, Game Hens in Raspberry, Seven Vegetable Couscous, Salmon Mousse, and June’s Apple Crisp are just a few of the recipes that I turn to time and again. Just this weekend, my daughter and I made Three-Ginger Cookies from the Good Times cookbook, which, as its name implies, is a fun compendium of recipes and occasions to enjoy them with others.

Sheila, you gave me a lot.

While racking up influences from my early ’80s burgeoning cooking and entertaining life, I would be remiss in not mentioning Martha Stewart’s own first book, Entertaining. It’s hard to remember that, prior to the Martha Stewart many of us know now, this extremely talented, energetic, and comparatively anonymous caterer put together a gorgeous collection of recipes for parties that one could just happen upon in a bookstore. Not a rumaki was to be found within its pages. Like Silver Palate, Entertaining was a revelation as far as food and style — verve, really — and is another book I’ve referred to repeatedly over the years.

I wonder which books will be the touchstones for the cooks who are coming of age now.

gingermix

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: A Cottage Garden Grows in Brooklyn

I love this story by Anne Raver that appeared in the Home section of Thursday’s New York Times. It’s about a garden that was implausibly imagined and created, and then lovingly tended, in a blighted area at the entrance to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY.

Its creator, Kirstin Tobiasson, began the project seven years ago, with no gardening experience, but plenty of common sense and a desire to create something of beauty. In the process, she found her green thumb, along with a community of people who find themselves drawn to her project.

In the article, Tobiasson says of her unlikely cottage flowers, “They’re opportunistic” and refers to her garden as “an insurrection on the sidewalk.”

Lovely, colorful photos by Jenn Ackerman accompany the piece as well. Kirstin and her garden’s spirit and cheer made my morning.

Thank a Teacher with a Book or Other Gift

The end of the school year is again upon us. In the flurry of activities for the students, it’s always good to take a moment and thank the teachers who give so very much of their wisdom and their time throughout the year.

teacherbooks

The middle school my daughter attends has a wonderful tradition I wanted to pass on. At the annual school Book Fair in Spring, teachers are invited to take a look around before its opening and create wish lists of books. Each teacher/book combination is written on a library due date card and filed in a pocket, which is mounted with the others on a board.

Parents can attend the fair and shop for their teachers, in what is the ultimate win-win situation: Teachers receive some books they want, just in time for Summer; parents know they are choosing a wanted gift; and, in our case, some proceeds from the book fair go to the school. (The card is a nice touch, as it serves to remind the giver which book is intended for each teacher.) These needn’t be high-end gifts. Most teachers requested books under $10 in their mixes.

Anna’s elementary school also provided a gift wrapping service, which was also a fundraiser for a specific class. The children in that class had hand-stamped and decorated the wrapping paper, as well.

Most people don’t have a lot of money to spend on teacher gifts, especially as children get older and have multiple teachers. We’ve given teachers homemade soap and jam, thinking that those are both things we’re able to make at home that someone would really use and appreciate. For certain teachers, homemade, personal art pieces or cards are very meaningful. If you don’t want to give a teacher another “thing”, gift cards are always welcome.

And if you really want to think outside the box, you might consider making a donation to a charity in a teacher’s name. Justgive.org is a fantastic organization that lets you do just that. Minimum donations are $10. There is a wide variety of organizations at the site, which is very easy to navigate and explore. Many are relevant to education, and some would apply to a teacher’s passion, as well. Let your child help pick the gift to learn more about helping others, and the kinds of groups that are available to do so.

Happy Summer to all, especially our hard-working teachers.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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