30 Mash Notes ❥ 1 Community

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 30: A Sense of Place Through Community

Final Mash Notes tips the hat to Hilltown Families

Fine Hilltown Families readers, I’ve professed my love for many things in Paradise over the past twenty-nine Mash Notes, from frozen treats to farmers’ markets to Main Street to relative lack of signs. My ardor for this place, even with winter on its way, hasn’t ebbed one bit. But I think I’ve written plenty of Mash Notes now (besides, I have a Facebook page called Only in Northampton where a little more love for Paradise flows).

However, I can’t end this column without my final missive of appreciation and it’s for Sienna Wildfield, whose brainchild is Hilltown Families. And what an amazing vision she’s nurtured: to create a sense of place for families not through a physical place, like a farm or a school, rather through connections. By which I mean this network, for example provides a vehicle for people to find one another through interests or events or simply answers to simple questions and the sharing of resources. But that’s not all.

Sienna has an idea that community can be found through community events—to learn, to play and to serve. She’s worked hard to form meaningful partnerships to support all these areas. From citizenry in field science to winter wear swaps to Valentine card making to festivals for the springtime, there’s a place that’s not a place but is rooted in our community. It’s Hilltown Families. I am grateful to be part of this family, and this place.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Let Them Eat Pie! ❥ Tuesday Market Supporting Food Security.

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 29, We Eat Pie for Good Purposes

Kids ages 13yo and younger interested in culinary arts and local food are invited to bake their favorite fruit pie using local ingredients to submit to the Tuesday Market annual Pie Contest happening on Tuesday, September 10th. ❥ Baking a pie is a great way for food-enthusiastic kids to learn and/or practice kitchen skills, including basic math and kitchen chemistry. Utilizing local foods (berries, apples, peaches, milk, butter, or maybe even local flour!) in a pie can also help to connect youth with the network of local food that surrounds them here in Western MA.

FoodStampsX2 is the brilliant brainchild of Ben James and Oona Coy, farmers (Town Farm) and farmers’ market managers (Tuesday Market) in Northampton (not to be confused with their brilliant children, Silas and Wiley). The idea was pretty simple: make sure that people could use their SNAP (food stamps) benefits at the Tuesday Market. Then, the idea got better: have the first ten dollars’ worth of benefits doubled at the market for those receiving SNAP benefits. The FoodStampsX2 represents win-win: local food to people that may struggle to afford it along with a boost of dollars to hardworking farmers growing food locally.

Enter Gina Hyams, my Berkshires friend (and extraordinary connector; it’s her superpower). Her Pie Contest in a Box inspired my son. The scene went like this:

My son Ezekiel, on couch, examining Pie Contest in a Box: “Let’s have a pie contest.”

Unattributed idea that belonged to one of us: “At the Tuesday Market.”

Me: “To raise money for FoodStampsX2.”

Ezekiel: “Typical.”

Tuesday September 10th, 2013 is the third annual Pie Contest at Tuesday Market to help raise money for FoodStampsX2…

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Only in Northampton ❥ We ‘Like’ Living Here

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

We ‘Like’ Living Here

A few weeks ago, my ten year-old-son and I walked back from town toward our house along Elm Street. We do this on a fairly regular basis. A woman stopped us and inquired whether we knew where the Campus Center was, specifically the loading dock. We pointed and explained and asked why she needed the loading dock. She explained that she was on campus for a weaving conference and needed to load her wares in; she was a vendor. We nodded and wished her luck at the conference.

“Only in Northampton do you give directions out for the weaving conference,” my ten-year-old remarked as we continued on our way. He was grinning ear-to-ear with amusement about his little town…

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Tasty Top ❥ Ice Cream in the Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 27, Tasty Top in Easthampton

Tasty Top in Easthampton, MA (Submitted photo).

While I have never made an exhaustive search nor done a scientific study, I am pretty confident that the following statement holds true: Tasty Top in Easthampton has the best soft serve ice cream in the Pioneer Valley. Please comment below if you disagree with the better option—and a description of why it’s better.

In my humble opinion, Tasty Top doesn’t taste plastic-y or fake or chemical-laden. It’s a bit rich compared to some soft serve ice creams. There are three flavors, vanilla and chocolate (of course) and black raspberry. Two of my kids (that’s half, by the by) swear by the black raspberry. I’m more chocolate or vanilla or chocolate and vanilla myself. My small gal is chocolate all the way.

Note, if you’ve never been there but plan to go: the servings are gigantic…

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Track Races for Kids in the Happy Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 26, Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club

(Photo credit: Sarah Buttenwieser)

I got an inkling that running in some organized fashion could be fun for kids when my third grader decided it would be cool to do the run portion of Safe Passage’s Hot Chocolate event. There’s a two-mile walk we’d done numerous times and a 5K run. We ran. Well, we jogged and walked. We loved it.

❥ The Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club knew about this kids-like-to-run thing too. I guess that’s why they organized a series of track races for kids and why it’s become a giant social scene. When I took Remy there last Tuesday, otherwise known as the most glorious day of weather in 2013—and I challenge 2013 to do better but c’mon, keep trying pretty please—I felt as if I’d stumbled in upon everyone.

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Picture the high school track. Picture swarms of children in t-shirted rainbow array, on the grass or on the track. Picture their parents on bleachers and on the grass. Picture more children, mostly the younger siblings doing whatever it is younger siblings do at events like this (a combination of hanging on their parents, pulling their parents around or cavorting together). There you go.

To quote my ten-year-old that very evening: “Track was so much fun!”

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Music Making Opportunties for Families in the Happy Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 25, The Hootenanny

I am not one of those “organized activity” parents. I am also not one to push my kids toward music lessons.

Well, that’s because 1) I’m not at all musical, and 2) I’m lazy and I don’t want to force my kids to practice. Actually, to be completely honest, not only do I loathe the idea of forcing my kids to practice an instrument, there are many instruments I would not want to hear being practiced upon if my kids were to actually practice. Let me start the list with violin and continue to trumpet. You can add your own fingernails-on-chalkboard instruments if you’d like.

This is just one of those things about myself I’ve accepted without guilt or remorse. Besides, my middle two guys are not about performing. That’s just the truth, especially the third one. His favorite thing to do with the limelight is hide from it (except, now, it turns out, if the limelight can be a vehicle to showcase yo-yo skills).

❥ Anyway, there are great resources for kids and music, though, in these parts…

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Warm Thank You & Sad Goodbye to Main Street Shop in Northampton

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

The Mountain Goat and Main Street

I am not the only person to be sad about Northampton’s Mountain Goat closing.

Like so many parents in the Valley, I can’t count the number of pairs of Merrell shoes I bought for my children there nor how many pairs of winter-grade mittens. The Mountain Goat sealed my love for Patagonia’s warm winter jackets and Smartwool socks. That’s to say I realized New England is no joke if you walk every day or ski or want your kids to enjoy recess. And when I realized that the Goat helped me to accommodate the actual weather in ways that made the outdoors more easily accessible.

Because this is a mash note, I’ll add that I appreciated the warm service and the innate smiles of everyone who worked there (in my experience, friendliness abounded) as much as the fact that when something essential—those mittens, oh those many, many mittens—I could dash in and find the necessary replacement.

It’s so much work for small businesses to stay in business. When you live in an area comprised of small towns, you realize that each business that sells necessities counts a little extra. Sometimes, you wish you didn’t have to pay a premium for that. Like the Joni Mitchell line, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” though, you realize that premium was worth it all along for your lost mitten replacement needs or your chance to try things on or the good advice you get along with the shoe purchase about a hike or bike ride or ski trail. Whenever the punch card filled up and you got that bonus infusion of product, you felt the mini thrill of good luck earned and justified all that little bit more you spent as counterbalanced (the more you spend the more you save).

❥ Rather than dwell in melancholy, though, I want to thank the Goat folks for dependability and good cheer and to remind myself (and you, reader) how much Main Street matters in a community comprised of small towns.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Northampton History ❥ Finding Ways to Remember

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 23, History

For an upcoming issue of Preview Massachusetts Magazine, I was in Northampton interviewing a chef and a restaurant owner this week. It’s a space he relatively recently took over and we were recalling together what it had been in its last incarnation.

That evening, my husband and I strained to recall what it had been before that. We couldn’t remember.

I arrived in the Valley in 1981 as a first year student at Hampshire College. Gauzily, hazily, I can recall waiting for the train—location, obvious—for its 2 AM pickup once or twice (that wasn’t fun). Where Moshi Moshi is, Wally’s Soda Bar was. There was another health food store in town and a groovy cotton-clothing store where Florence Savings Bank is now. The town had a hardware store and a Woolworth’s and an independently owned pharmacy on Main Street.

On it goes. There’s so much I cannot remember. I have to admit my personal institutional memory is spotty at best.

My dear husband and I think that someone—Chamber of Commerce, perhaps—should build some kind of interactive site that offers the history of each storefront in town.

What do you remember? Where’s the history-loving and tech-savvy design student to build a site for our adorable little New England city?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Editor’s Note: Check out what they’ve done in Holyoke: The Holyoke History Walk: A Virtual Tour of the City

Snow Days in the Happy Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 22,  Snow Days

I am writing this just before the snow is about to do what it does. A few flakes have begun to drift down crookedly, almost as if in a dream state. The promise: a huge, blizzard of ’78-style dump. I LOVED the blizzard of ’78, which I spent traipsing through Center City Philadelphia. Cars were stranded and heaped with mounds of snow. My friend lived downtown (as opposed to my neighborhood in the Northwest section of the city)—and we walked and walked and slid and slipped and I think just laughed and probably yelled. It was so very snowy.

I remember the world being padded by snow. I remember how it wasn’t all that cold. I remember the deep grey-purple sky. I remember freedom.

That was freedom.

❥ This storm, this Nemo, I doubt it can make me feel free. There are four kids in this house and I, like so many other member-owners, dutifully trekked (if one can trek by car) to the River Valley Market yesterday late afternoon to make sure we have milk and butter and eggs and cheese and cauliflower. It’s so much more about everyone being safe and warm and happy as opposed to exploration or total abandon these days (as it should be, as I chose, no tiny violin plays here).

In general, I’m not a big snow day fan. I work from home and snow days reinforce the reality that my work has an asterisk next to it; it comes second. I struggle with whether that means my work is real enough. Something more real might not be upended by snow days. I don’t have an office or even a room for work (or a nanny so I could leave during snow days for my office, which I also don’t have). Putting that upended sensation aside, I am sure to finish the tasks at hand (so long as there’s power). If I let myself enjoy the whomever-and-whatever happens, this snow day is sure to be fun.

A side note: that this storm is named Nemo has me seeing animated fish in my mind’s eye and I’ve never seen the movie! I have one idea, which is to find it on the telly and watch it with my little girl.

❥ Another aspect to snow days and big weather emergencies is that they remind us all we are in this life (community, neighborhood) together. Neighbors help neighbors. We find cozy, makeshift activity. Our freedom is discovered through our rootedness to one another. That’s a pretty fantastic find.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Sharon Mollerus]

Great Halls & Great Spaces in the Pioneer Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Mash Note No. 21: On Great Halls and Great Spaces

Photo credit: Sarah Werthan ButtenwieserThe day after Christmas, my daughter Saskia and I took the grandparents to the Eric Carle Museum. For the most part, we followed Saskia’s lead: a juice box and pretzel snack in the cafeteria, a book perusal session in the library, and a puppet show. In turn, she gave us a few minutes in the galleries—and about five minutes longer than she wanted in the shop.

But when I go to the Carle, the truth is my favorite spot to spend a little time is in the Great Hall. I love the way the light comes in if it’s sunny and the way it feels light if the day is overcast (and let’s face it, many prime museum days are predicated on the fact that it’s overcast, if not worse). I like the expansiveness that space offers, not simply a physical spaciousness, but also the imaginative leap of faith that was required to dream the museum and to find the land and to create the plan and to break ground and on. Ten years after it opened, I still can feel the promise when I walk through that particular hall. I still feel exhilarated by its trajectory.

That my daughter feels entirely comfortable there is icing on the cake. Or shine on the apple. Or something.

❥ Everyone’s Valley has these places, the ones that just slow you right down to happiness. I have more, like the stretch from science buildings and boathouse past the pond at Smith College when I take the loop uphill. I like that I watch seasons change across the water and into those woods and that when students have morning classes, I always am reminded about what 18 year-olds look like.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

12.12.12 ❥ A Celebration of Generosity

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 20, Valley Gives Day

Valley Gives Logo (png)I love this about the little Valley I call home: people care about the larger world and they care about this community. I think volunteerism is something that’s a community value. To wit, my daughter’s preschool—not just the parents—are involved in community service activities. The message, as I understand it, to help others is part of life. Period.

The folks at the Community Foundation apparently think the same and so this year, there’s an initiative Valley Gives to bring lots of energy—and money—to participating organizations across the Valley. Their language: Valley Gives is a “celebration of generosity.” In order to partake in the day—it’s 12.12.12—each non-profit received some training, about using website and email and social media to reach out to their constituencies, and to ride the wave of the larger effort, the 12.12.12 one (is this date lodged in your mind yet?).

Even our preschool is participating.

I’ll be honest; there’s an overwhelm factor to a day like this—for the people doing the asking and for the people being asked, often, if you’re someone like me, known to be a cheerleader and a donor, you are being asked to help loads of organizations on one day and how can you possibly do so?

I’ve been thinking hard about this. Here are my answers:

  1. I am going to take some money that would have gone to holiday gifts and give it out on 12.12.12—and then I’m going to let my family know, as a holiday gift, that I have done so. I will give to organizations that matter not just to me but also to them. It’s not going to do magic for anyone, but it’s a way at this rather expensive time of year to justify giving a little more—and back to the helping is part of life, period sentiment, I’m not going to apologize for the fact that giving is part of life. To give is, in fact, a gift. You probably agree if you’ve read this far.
  2. I am inviting you—if you are involved with or enamored of an organization that’s participating in Valley Gives to leave a comment and let more people know about your favorite organization (click the link on the word, preschool, above, for one of mine). Add a link; tell us why.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Handmade, Independent and Local for the Holidays in Western MA

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

To Buy Local is to Buy Well and Eat Well, Too

By the time this goes to press, the weekend of open studios in Florence’s gigantic Arts and Industries building will be over. Mark your calendar for next year, though. But don’t despair. There are some buy local opportunities around these parts that really make winter more delightful (and if you know me, you know I don’t find winter all that delightful, so this is very high praise).

Snow Farm has two weekends’ worth of seconds’ sales upcoming. Cottage Street has its open studios coming up. The same weekend there’s a big craft show at Northampton High School. In Westhampton, there’s RED. At my very own house, there’s a craft show ahead too (for me, that’s buying extremely locally—in my living room). Shameless plug: work by Crispina ffrench, Caitlin Bosco, Lucy Fagella and Liz Ryan, amongst others—and Herrell’s Hot Fudge for sale, too.

❥ Heck, you really can skip all those big-box stores on mall strips or under mall roofs and go local. I adore local business owner and designer Mary Moore Cathcart’s Claw Foot Tub in Amherst (moved to the building on Main Street where Valley Frameworks is—tucked in the back, take a wander and a gander). I love her aesthetic—her gentle eye and also am a fan of her blog, which looks small and big constantly, much as is the case in her design work and describes well how she chooses goods to offer at her shop. Her friend, Eliza, recently of San Francisco but originally from Amherst, opened Kestrel just last month. The place feels more SF than most of Noho. And my pal Colette Katsikas, longtime manager of Essentials, on Main Street in Northampton, just bought the business. With her very own stamp, the store is refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated and oh-so-fabulous (go, shop at locally owned businesses!). Her eye is clean but quirky, and for brides, grooms, brides, brides, grooms, grooms she will pay the kind of attention necessary to make invitations etc. for the big day truly special. And I could go on and on. Remember that Artisan Gallery has its sixth annual Cup and Mug Invitational this month (an annual favorite) and that Pinch recently remodeled so the beautiful things inside are even more strikingly displayed. And I could go on…

But maybe you’ve done your craft shopping by the end of those paragraphs. You’ve made your map and marked your calendar. You could just go have fun: my son’s elementary school has a kid-centered, participatory Winter Fair on December first, if you’re looking for fun chaos with kids (the better chaos; chaos being a given).

Then, there’s local food. Tuesday Market goes until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. A slew of winter farmers’ markets starts up in the here and the now—check CISA’s page listing them all: Northampton, Greenfield, Springfield and Amherst. And there’s an opportunity at each of your winter farmers’ markets to experience a week at the end of January of Winter Fare (as in, more like fair for the winter fare).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Community in the Happy Valley ❥ Helping Friends and Neighbors

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 18, Community

Recently, a friend of my third boy had a medical emergency. This is a lifelong buddy, who lives a hop, skip, one street crossed and a jump away so that play can flow like a helix from one abode to the other and back again.

During the crisis, friends began to rally. First, there were a couple of phone calls, then a flurry of emails. Little surprises for the sick child appeared, along with snacks for the parents. The entire class sent cards.

Things were hard, and harder and then improving and improving—phew.

My family has been on the receiving end of such rallying, the dinner that simply shows up in the preschool cubby after a new baby arrives, the piece of advice that tilts things in the right direction after the kindergartner breaks his leg (this: “You won’t recognize your child for days, because he’s in pain, but right when you fear he’ll never return, in about a week, he’s there again.”), and stellar support during times of bigger, messier crisis.

Anywhere you go or anywhere you live, you can and will find kindness much like this when things go wrong. Communities reach out, or neighborhoods or classrooms, sure. The thing about where we live—biased opinion, indeed—is that in a way, our reaching out isn’t remarkable; this is what happens whenever there’s a crisis. You get concerts for arson victims; you get friends like ours, who just reach out because it’s a reflex to do so, or if not a reflex, perhaps a muscle that remains toned, because the gesture—meals when someone has a baby or friends pooling resources to help fund a parental leave in lieu of other gifts—of reaching out, that’s engrained. That’s how everyone does it around here. We help our friends and neighbors. It is so cool. And I am grateful every single time.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Classes in Noho ❥ Yoga to Art. Pottery to Swimming.

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 17, All Those Classes Everywhere

Sometimes, when you hear friends from big cities discuss the options for classes available—chess clubs for preschoolers or some such, ballet barre workouts for adults, you get the idea—it’s acceptable to get momentarily jealous. As I delve down a rabbit hole that is simply called yoga by others less prone to rabbit hole diving afflictions, I’m reminded that for a not-urban spot, we are incredibly well endowed with amazing learning opportunities taught be masterful folks.

I guess I have to start with yoga. I’ve spent a bunch of time over the past months in classes taught by Brandt, Anna, Doris, and Abigail. I’ve just begun with the newest noontime teacher at Yoga Sanctuary, Khalila and am looking forward to her classes.

If your thing were more Pilates or Gyrokinesis, I’d say, there’s Kate Faulkner and Michelle Marroquin through Studio Helix to try or Katrina Hawley at the Pilates Studio in Hadley.

Your kids like art? Art Always is your spot. You like art? Ditto. You like pottery or your kids do? Try Northampton Pottery or check with a favorite potter: Tiffany Hilton is offering classes in Florence; Molly Cantor is offering classes in Shelburne Falls, so you get the idea.

For swim instruction you cannot beat Craig at the Valley Swim School. He’s famous—with good reason.

Karate abounds; the hidden gem is James’ Dragon Den dojo. I should know; my second guy goes there (leave a comment if interested, for the number). If you’re more interested in the awesomeness that is Capoeira, you are in luck.

You can even learn to sew; a sewing studio has opened up in town so I am told.

And in a category unto itself is the Y—I can vouch for the Hampshire Y but I know others can do the same for Holyoke and Greenfield. Our Y is a truly democratic institution, with sliding scales and a commitment to healthy community—and some kickass teachers, teams and all that good stuff. I have just started (this week) to use it for its yoga offerings. my daughter Saskia begins her classes this week (gym and swim plus a second gymnastics class; may she go down a rabbit hole of her own soon). Plus, there’s a sauna.

I’d love people to add tips in comments, because the few options I’ve listed here are some I happen to know, tip-of-iceberg ideas. For the record, a ballet barre workout class is on my lifetime bucket list so seriously if I’ve just missed the opportunity (especially in Northampton), please pretty please do tell.

Editors Note: Check our Suggest A Class bulletin board and the bulletin board section of our list of Weekly Suggested Events for classes happening throughout Western MA.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Flowers ❥ Happy Bouquets in the Pioneer Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 16, Flowers

Very often at Tuesday Market I come with camera and snap photos of flowers. In fact, often that’s the only thing I photograph at the market. (Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

It hit me yesterday at the Tuesday Market how much the flowers around here mean to me. I’m not a big bouquet person (although, as you read on, ask yourself why didn’t she buy some of these flowers she fell in love with?). I enjoy when we have flowers on the table, but then, they wilt and droop and dry up and eventually we toss ‘em and I think I didn’t care about them correctly and I certainly didn’t dispose of them quickly enough.

I think maybe because I walk so many places, my main enjoyment of flowers comes in motion. I loop around the Smith campus often, near the greenhouse and that’s like a living bouquet or very still performance art along a fence (hat tip to Jeff, the gardener there). Many neighbors have lovely gardens. It’s fun to see the first snowdrops and to make up haiku about irises and those floozies the peonies (I love when flowers bring words to mind like that, floozies.). Over the years, I’ve gotten more attuned to the way colors move in waves, the whites, yellows and purples bleed into the pinks and magentas to the orange and red tiger lilies and on, the black eyed Susans and sunflowers with their hearty rays and dark centers. Textures shift. The flowers’ march across spring and summer and fall evoke memories of visits to San Francisco and Berkeley and Oakland with their microclimates. Change is dramatic and subtle all at once. It’s so distinguishable.

As a person who prefers the temperate seasons—and truthfully, a more temperate climate—I am surprised again and again that I actually notice these flowers with such attentiveness and that I adore them so much. Grateful to gardeners and wildflowers, grateful to a part of the world that holds so much fullness each year—the rounds from first flowers to last, I guess I wouldn’t trade this. Except, perhaps in January or February, when I’d give almost anything for a balmy breeze.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Pick-Your-Own Spots in Western Massachusetts

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 15, Pick-Your-Own Spots

Berry picking with the family. (Photo credit: Sarah Buttenwieser)

I wrote a little post for Momfilter, (fun site—I especially adore the pretty pictures!) about the joys of pick-your-own. For people who live in a city, I realize that the chance to go berry or apple picking—or even pluck a few cherry tomatoes from an outdoor plant, potted or in a garden plot—requires some planning (vacation activity, anyone?). And so writing that post made me think about another Mash Notable reality of life in this corner of New England: there are ample pick-you-own opportunities.

What’s more, from the pumpkin patch or apple orchard field trip that’s a staple in our preschools and early elementary years to the family outings for fill-in-the-blank favorite harvest-able, it turns out that the experience of picking food from where it grows is usual around here. This is a good thing for those of us hoping our kids understand the farm-to-table connection or at least the food doesn’t grow on supermarket shelves. This is a promising thing for the farmers’ markets, which span from Springfield to the Berkshires and pretty much all points in between. Appreciation for the most local food is, I think we can all agree, a sign of progress, even if it hits your ear as retro (my neighbors with the veggie garden in front of their house, I always equate with some read-about and heard-about tale of victory gardens).

❥ And this is a good moment to share this tip: you can find out about picking and farmers’ marketing and CSA sharing through CISA’s site. If you’re Berkshire bound, you can learn more through Berkshire Grown.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Signs ❥ Finding Your Way in Western MA

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 14, There Aren’t Many Signs

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The other night at a potluck for the preschool class, a few people discussed the overwhelming number of billboards in Houston, Texas. One said, “There were so many signs there, I just felt bombarded.” She added, “Here, no billboards.” Another person added, “In fact, here, there aren’t even any signs. People say things like you’ll find that street because it’s one after where the old Texaco station used to be. Old Texaco station, I ask? Because I never saw a Texaco station here; the Texaco station predated me.”

This may be a progressive, hip, famously artsy and famously lesbian town. There may be loads of colleges and that many more carpenters with masters’ degrees. But for all the hipness or quirkiness or whatever, let’s remember this is New England, a land of reserve and understatement, a not-frilly place that seems to believe signs are not exactly necessary.

Ever gotten lost on a country road around here?

❥ I forget these things, sometimes, how this stoic, old-time, live-and-let-live vein runs through the Pioneer Valley. All the way back to my early days in the Valley, as a student at Hampshire College, I would run on West Street early in the morning and then loop around toward the South Amherst Common and there were a couple of places I passed on cold, even frosty autumn mornings where the scent of wild grapes wafted across me, diaphanous, sharp, and juicy. I was always surprised by the grapes, and always grateful that I had landed in a place where farming mingled with new construction (not that I loved all the new construction) and that the college itself was situated on a former orchard.

The beauty of this place and the way there aren’t signs wafts across our lives almost daily, like the grapes often a complete surprise we enjoy along with all the amenities in our hip little outpost city.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Affirming What’s Essential ❥ Love in Western MA

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 13, Civil Rights in Lesbianville

The other day I was at our co-op and listening in at the checkout on a conversation between friends about exercise classes. The two women were lesbians and here, where we live in the town that earned its Lesbianville moniker long ago, that’s unremarkable. It struck me that I really like lesbians. Considering where I live, this is a good thing, right?

For 18 months, my dear hubby and I lived in London. It wasn’t until I began to fabricate lesbian status for a couple of fellow gym-goers that I realized I’d attempted to fill a quota I understood as true ratio of lesbians in the population, period, rather than true ratio of lesbians in the population, Northampton, Massachusetts. I missed my lesbians.

❥ No question, our little corner of the earth cheered when President Obama uttered these simple words: “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

No question, we have many stories (I shared some in a recent Mash Note) about the ways our kids already demonstrate full embrace for love-makes-a-family.

No question there will be more great photographs and memories from Northampton Pride 2012.

Sometimes, I think to myself that I’ve opted for such a gentle, little (read, unreal) spot to live. I have to remind myself that for all the ways we feel relatively safe here and cushioned by the lush green landscape and the earnest students and the even more earnest longtime lefty activists (and by the way, my kids’ school has someone they’ve dubbed “resident hippie” in the building, with a car he painstakingly continues to paint a psychedelic design), we have this amazing ahead-of-the-country’s-curve understanding here, too. We get it: to love whom you love and to be who you want to be is truly, deeply essential.

Eventually, we’ll look back upon all the questions about gay marriage or transgender identity and realize civil rights are just that. Our jaws will (and won’t) drop, much as they do when we realize black and white heterosexuals could not always take marriage for granted. And again, I’ll be very glad to have lived here, with the lefties and the hippies and the lesbians and the F to M’s and the M to F’s and the not checking the gender box folks and the farmers and the professors and the artists, lawyers and therapists and bicycle trash service workers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

A Year And Today in Paradise ❥ Comfort Spots in Northampton

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 12, There’s No Place Like Home

Sushi at Osaka

Sushi at Osaka. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The twelfth Mash Note to Paradise! Really? Over this past year in these notes I’ve loved our bike paths and our college town-y-ness, our farms and our farmers’ markets, our give back mentality and our reverence for all sorts of families and our indie vibes. Much as I don’t love winter, I even embrace the weather. If you were to read these Mash Note to Paradise in a pile and you didn’t already live here you’d probably want to move here, right? You would. So, I find it unsurprising that I know quite a few wonderful realtors.

In honor of this year of Mash Note to Paradise, I want to share a few handy links that might make life (or a visit to) in Paradise that much more enchanting.

I think I’d have to say River Valley Market (the co-op!) is the friendliest store I know. Like Cheers, everyone seems to know my daughter, Saskia (and ask after her if she’s not with me).

Most people find a few comfortable spots to frequent. I’m sharing mine not because they are the very best ones, but because they are the ones I know and love. I am at the moment crazy for the half-and-half ice tea at Woodstar Café—half black tea, half herbal lemon honey ginger, all yum—and I will trump up excuses to go there and happen upon a glass of it. To my surprise I have become devoted to yoga at Yoga Sanctuary. As my friend (met at yoga) notes on her blog: “There is no photo available to show you how the individuals doing downward dog in the photo above would be facing a gigantic window looking across the street to old brick buildings and blue sky.” After class I love the quick GoBerry stop. If I’m with Saskia and following her lead we will end up in the frozen treat Mecca of Herrell’s. While I’m a half-and-half drinker, my writing group meets at Sip, and I love hanging there (and my eldest texted me a tantalizing find—their macaroons are delicious and gluten-free). I may not go out much, but my restaurant of choice is most certainly Osaka, except I have begun a lunch date tradition with a friend at Moshi Moshi and it, too, is terrific. You get the idea, yes?

❥ Maybe though the main point isn’t this series of Mash Note to Paradise to this one place but the Glinda magic invoked in the writing of these loving missives. Tap your heels together and say, “There’s no place like home.” The more you take note in what makes where you live a real home, the more you can revere that home. Tap-tap-tap.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Gender, Family and Love in the Pioneer Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 11, Openness About Gender, Family & Love

(Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

Although Northampton Pride is a ways away, there’s an admirable flexibility about how we think of families and love and gender and identity in these parts that I can’t take for granted. Every single time my preschooler is playing family and says something like, “I’ll be the mom. And you can be the mom,” I know I should be counting lucky stars.

Overheard: one friend’s preschooler asked, “When am I getting another mom?”

Another friend’s child was preparing to study Billie Holiday for a school project. Child asked whether Billie Holiday is a man or a woman. Parent replied, “She was a woman.” Child followed up, “So, she used to be a man?”

Having created a family tradition of attending Northampton’s Pride event each May, in the elementary school years, each of my boys has asked some version of this question: “Why is there a march about this anyway?” The sense that standing up for LGBT rights is necessary didn’t even register. Acceptance is a beautiful thing, even if, in truth in terms of LGBT rights, we still have quite a ways to go.

❥ But here we do have dads staying home while moms work (and vice versa and other combinations, as well). We fill a book with images of families formed at least in part by adoption (and then some; it could be books, plural). Family Diversity Projects began in this part of the world and spreads the simple truth that love makes a family way beyond this charmed spot. We have a whole community supporting families with kids who have lived in foster care. We have an organization supporting children with different needs to participate in activities, which their families thought might remain beyond reach. We come together in the thousands to run and walk on behalf of a women’s shelter (in December, no less).

That is not to paint an idyllic picture and say there’s nothing more to be done, not at all. It is a pretty amazing foundation, though, what’s going on here—and how much more committed we seem to be to the notion of love and family getting to be love and family than many other places. My fondest hope for my kids—and yours, too—is that they carry these beliefs with them and spread this celebration of love and this dedication to supporting families to enjoy that—love—above all else.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Valley Famous Residents Give a Little Love Back to Paradise

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 10, Our Famous People are Cool (& Give Back)

John Hodgman at the Amherst Cinema on March 11th, 2012. (Courtesy Photo)

There’s little question that Rachel Maddow’s rise is something many Valley folk feel a kind of personal cheerlead-y excitement over. I mean, she’s smart and funny and we loved her first. She brings some of our real politics into the mainstream (by real, let’s say progressive and a little wonky, the National Priorities Project and Free Press angles of seeing the issues writ less about political parties and more about issues of access and spending and information sharing). Her love story is pretty quintessentially a Valley one; she met Susan when she knocked on the door to fix something and you know, lesbians in love, happens all the time (around here).

She’s even been Tumblr’ed to better that oft-memed Ryan Gosling—what’s not to like?

Part of what makes it that much more fun to live here is that the people who somehow collide with fame and Paradise or its environs, before, after or during really do give back.

Case in point: Rachel Maddow helped raise money this summer for the Cummington Creamery (also, she and her partner are generous more generally around here).

❥ Next month, John Hodgman will offer his witty brand o’expertise to a Movie Trivia Bee for our (fabulous) independent movie theaters, Pleasant Street Cinema and Amherst Cinema. The event will be at Smith College (Weinstein Auditorium) on Sunday, March 11th at 3 PM. Bill Dwight, formerly the world’s oldest video clerk and now City Council President in Northampton (that’s how Northampton rolls) is emcee. Rather than glitz, we have cool, sharp and funny going—and gracious and loyal. Love of place and community, baby, that’s the bomb diggity.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Work Places in the Happy Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 9, There Are No Office Buildings

❥ At some point during his early elementary years, Lucien, my second boy, wanted to visit an office. You know, a real office, the kind of place that has an elevator and desks and chairs that spin and maybe free pens or little bowls of candy. Offices, like that, in big buildings, places where people—not just one or two, but the people—dress up for work, what about those places? We could not think of one.

Sure, we know lawyers and insurance people, doctors and dentists. Sure, his papa has an office. But his office is in an old mill building and he sells antiquarian books. There is no dress code at his workplace and while he’s got an alarm and there is an elevator that goes two floors in the building, it’s not the bustling work world a book might describe. It’s a quirky, somewhat esoteric office in a quirky, somewhat esoteric building. It’s a lovely place to work. When I visit, I get office envy. But it’s not “office,” the way the then-seven year-old wished to see.

I remember tucking away that notion: I live in a place where there are no actual offices of the housed in tall buildings variety. I remember thinking that I was extremely fortunate to live in a place like this, a place where old mill buildings house artists and artisans, movement studios and therapists, a place where lawyers and doctors can opt for niches rather than big, boxy buildings. I am fortunate to live near a passel of colleges, which do provide employment—much of it quite flexible, or flexible in comparison to many other kinds of places of employment—to so many. I’m fortunate to live three minutes by car to a hospital and just a few minutes by foot to a wonderful museum. I remember thinking that I live in the oddest little place.

I certainly think that the number of slashes between my friends’ work duties is rather astonishing. I have a therapist pal who arranges flowers on the side. I know a personal trainer turned housepainter, two woodworkers turned body workers. Psychologist, body worker, consultant or dancer slash yoga teacher is more common than simply yoga teacher. I know people who were social workers and now are other things and people who were other things and became social workers. Teachers morph to tutors. Ballet dancers become ballet instructors. A former lawyer recently opened a café with his wife. You get the idea. Even me: for no ostensible reason at all, I’m a writer who also marries people.

❥ It’s no surprise then that back when my big kids were young, I realized the stay-at-home dad phenomenon fits rather seamlessly into a community without a dominant corporate culture and where striking a balance between work and the rest of life is considered laudable. Even our new mayor took on the primary caregiver role for a number of years.

While I’m not sure how the “real world” looks to kids raised in a place that is so unconventional, given that the workplace and workforce seem to be changing in ways that require entrepreneurship, flexibility and creativity, I guess, perhaps, our odd little conglomeration of workplaces and the workforce that fills them is as good a launching pad as any.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Nifty Living in Paradise ❥ Sharing the Love!

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 8, Friends Who Also Love Paradise

When 5,500 come out early on a Saturday morning to run and walk in support of women who have experienced domestic violence, you know you're in a pretty unique spot on earth! (8th Annual Hot Chocolate Run. Photo credit: Ellen Carter)

Amongst the nifty things about living in a nifty place is this one: you are not alone in your love of the place and its people.

No question that when I first saw the slick jewel tones on the trees (it was pouring) during my first visit to Hampshire College, I thought this was a very pretty place. I don’t remember much more than that. But pretty quickly after turning on Robert J. Lurtsema early in the morning during that first semester, as directed by my mother’s dear friend who was at the time living in Hartford, I began to appreciate that I’d moved to a charmed area.

Way back then, I liked the bus system between the colleges, the Yellow Sun Co-op in Amherst and the fact that I could partake in a volunteer task force endeavoring to secure free after school care for children in the town of Amherst. I could not tell you how I found my way into that group, now; I was perhaps the only college student amongst the adults. But they were extremely welcoming. I went on to do plenty more organizing on campus and off over my decades here (I still do). What hasn’t changed for me is that this is a place where getting involved is truly a matter of course.

As recently as this last election, I was out there with my family holding signs for our mayoral candidate of choice.

❥ These days, my middle kids use the PVTA bus and I’m more likely to rave about my pal Monte’s morning radio (or on Saturdays, Bill Childs’ Spare the Rock Spoil the Child) and we heart our co-op, River Valley Market.

But I digress: the sense that we live in a special place for all sorts of reasons (including the high level of community engagement) is one I regularly know others feel, too. It’s nice to share.

I’ve been meeting somewhat regularly recently with three other writer types—idea sharing and cheerleading and holding one another accountable. It so happens we are all four of us besotted with this place.

  1. My friend Amy wrote an essay about a roundabout search for an oven to bake a loaf of Mark Bittman’s No Knead Bread during the snowstorm and power outage event of October in which her love for this little spot she recently began to call home (again) shines through. Note: my kids are the Baskinettes.
  2. My friend Naomi shares her small town amour on her blog.
  3. My friend Megan’s blog is entitled Life in the Little City. Her focus is essentially to highlight her particular fondness for Paradise.

❥ Heck, when over 5,500 people participate in a run and walk to support women, who have been experiencing domestic violence, you have to know you’re in a pretty unique spot on earth, right?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Local & Independent ❥ Shopping in Western MA

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 7, Buying Local, Fairs, Markets, Stores

Artisans selling their locally made products at the Hilltown Spring Festival. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

❥ By the time this goes up, the fall’s Twist Fair will have taken place. Don’t worry, though, you can still buy local crafts. If it seems like this is a valley teeming with artisans (okay, and therapists and cafés), I do believe it’s been proven true in the census or something, that our general lofty crafty factor is not just a figment of your imagination.

Peruse this wonderful Hilltown Families resource to see that you can buy local all year round—and certainly in the coming weeks.

Both the Arts and Industries building in Florence and Easthampton’s One Cottage Street have long had open studios. Eastworks got into the act, too. In fact, there are so many I can’t list them, the open studios, the crafts fairs and such. I love RED, though. I have hosted a little home craft show that seemed to mushroom over time into an actual thing. And of course there are two pottery tours each year that feature amazing work, Asparagus Valley and Hilltown 6.

Then, in Northampton, things like the Cup and Mug Invitational at the Artisan Gallery always makes my ceramic-loving self start to swoon.

Plus, having become a Hilltown Charter school family, I learned last year how totally fun the winter craft show there is: it’s really a hands-on for kids (and their grown-ups) event. About sixty-hundred-and-ten other schools have wondrous fairs, too (see listings on Hilltown Families why don’t you?).

❥ I remember when a friend first moved here from Manhattan years ago. She said, “The good thing about living here is there’s no shopping. The bad thing is there’s no shopping.”

There is shopping, local shopping. There is less shopping perhaps than one might find a Gap and Abercrombie-lined street. I fall on the good thing side of this lack of abundant goods to purchase, sure. I love so many of the local businesses here and I feel so good buying local. From River Valley Market to farmers’ markets to Impish and Jackson and Connor (not so many mums can peruse the racks at both stores for their kids!), I prefer fewer options and knowing the owners to an anonymous stampede of consumerism. Even if I’m wearing both an Old Navy skirt and an Old Friends Farm t-shirt while I’m writing this.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Northampton ❥ Life in a College Town

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 6, Living in a College Town

As a neighbor to Smith College, such things as its museum, botanical gardens and the rarely crowded post office in its campus center are features I benefit from in daily life.

In the mornings, I drop my kids off and walk a loop around the Smith College Campus, passing Paradise Pond and continuing up the hill toward the chapel. One morning last year, I realized that amongst the things I’m grateful for living here is this one: I will always know what an 18-year-old looks like.

❥  The rhythms of Campus Life—how every school year includes a big reminder of newness in the form of orientations and parents dropping kids off for the very first time and new Smithies navigating their way downtown like schools of fish and signs of welcome on bed sheets and flash mob traffic—define everyone in proximity to the campuses. Even if the terrifying jaywalking tendencies of otherwise smart college students are vexing, so much about living in a college-rich area delights me. I have become accustomed to things that might have otherwise caught me off-guard like visible piercings, tattoos and any color hair (or none).

In this college-rich area, there are always more lectures, concerts and controversies than I can possible keep track of, let alone attend. I love that. I feel as if living here boredom isn’t an option. You can just go learn something new. I love knowing that some of my retired friends take classes and I love that Northampton High School Students have that opportunity. Case in point: my tenth grader anxiously awaited Mountain Day this fall. I live close enough to Smith College’s Helen Hills Hills Chapel to hear the bells at seven on Mountain Day morning. I have always loved how that campus ritual spills into the ‘hood.

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Western MA ❥ Weather

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 5, Weather

(Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

❥ I wrote myself a note about the next Mash Note a few weeks ago. I put down one word: weather. My thought process went I should write about my reverence for the seasons while the weather’s still nice. Because frankly, I can’t really abide by winter, since I don’t enjoy feeling cold. And still…

Having lived around here for the bulk of 30 years (!) I realize that while I really don’t live here for the weather, I do appreciate it. Why? The way seasons wrap themselves around the year marks time. It’s rings around trees in plain sight and stored into sensory memory. It’s the pleasure of being surprised each and every autumn by the leaves’ gem colors. It’s tastes and smells and even (sigh) the sense of relief when the snow melts and the sidewalks widen again.

Seasons bring the bittersweet and the sweet of life to the fore. While I’m not sure I’d miss them if I lived in a more monolithic climate, I have used them to train myself to appreciate what is. I am told that being happy in the moment, any moment, is really a good thing.

❥ Now I had this thought before the wild weather week that marked the tail end of August and beginning of September this year. Who would like a deadly, damaging tropical storm? No one could, obviously. And in a way, that’s why I decided to stick to my original idea; I wanted to add that climate change threatens these basic cycles and throws in more quote-unquote natural disasters and with every storm of the century, we should redouble our efforts to push for greater accountability to environment from our leaders, our corporations, and our communities.

From Green Teams in our schools to kids learning about recycling from toddlerhood to groups like Grow Food Northampton working to ensure 120 acres of farmland remain farmland to organizations like CISA supporting the local farm movement and local farmers to staunch protests against Vermont Yankee on out, this bit of paradise lives its values. And that’s another reason I love it here.

When the storm submerged a field at our CSA it was another lesson in how important weather—and the climate change holding steadier rather than progressing—really is. The farmers’ lessons are by extension the shareholders’ lessons and another call to activism and rethinking our ways in the world.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Voices in the Valley ❥ Local Radio

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 4, Local Radio

When I go back to Philadelphia, my hometown, there are only a few things that make me the least bit wistful for the place (besides some people, of course): the Wissahickon woods’ walking path, the vegan chili at Jonathan’s, those generous stone houses fronted by neon stands of forsythia, and WXPN’s World Café.

I may have every Live at the World Café CD ever made. I’m a very longtime member (also of WFCR and WAMC, worry not).

WXPN love is a big deal for me. I listen to the station when I’m driving around Philly and I wish it were mine, in person, in the car, not streamed. How funny since I’m so entirely delighted by my radio here at home. I mean we’ve got NPR in spades. We’ve got our own college station, where my friend, Fern, plays great music. And we’ve got WRSI.

❥ One of the crowning moments in my adult life was the day I stopped automatically turning to Morning Edition or All Things Considered if I got into the car when those shows were on. It wasn’t that long ago. I listen to the news, sure, however these days, I tend to stay with music. I am a much happier driver, now.

❥ The River—in that old-school-Valley way I still think of as RSI—has had all sorts of great folks sharing their voices over its airwaves. Its mixture: catchy songs, older songs, homegrown songs—and if you listen at the right time—you can even learn a little bit about birds.

Unlike many stations, I am glad to happen upon the radio on Saturday morning for Spare the Rock Spoil the Child’s whimsy-through-kindie music or Sunday morning’s acoustic and homey Back Porch.

During farmers’ market season, you can go say hi to Joan Holliday in the WRSI tent on Tuesdays. Year-round, there are all sorts of fun live broadcasts. The ridiculous wealth of local talent, from locals who play on the street to locals who play in small clubs, to locals that are whispered about when spotted in cities far from here, all contribute to our local radio’s awesomeness.

Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Camp ❥ Valley Gems

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser Banner

Note 3: Summer Camps ‘Round the Valley

Biocitizen of Westhampton, MA takes day campers around the Pioneer Valley to explore the five ecoregions of the Nonotuck biome.

I can most certainly argue that one of the best things summer has to offer both kids and adults is time to do nothing much at all (even get, gasp, bored). Without a smidgen of contradiction, I can also argue in favor of the summer camp experience.

Around here, there are some gems.

Around now—July, in its ripe berry fullness—I am feeling the love for those gems, even if I don’t have current campers in every one of them. This is a short, entirely empirical list of some favorites.

❥ From for the youngest to for the oldest, I have an abundant number of warm (also, sticky) memories of picking my eldest boys up at the Montessori School’s summer preschool program with its expansive yard, toys on neat trays in the classrooms, and muddy grass by the wading pools. That new people adored my small kids (when I was a relatively new parent) gave me warm (not sticky) feelings.

This summer, none of my kids is attending Marion Abrams’ Summer Art in Hatfield—known to many as the Art Barn. Think chatty knitting circle punctuated by chase games at snack or lunchtime, the chance to make art all the day long with more emphasis on process than product. And tuck this story into your back pocket: one afternoon my second guy came home and I asked, Lucien, did you cut your hair? “Yes,” he answered, “to use as a paintbrush. Erin didn’t think her mom would like her to cut her hair so I cut some for me and some for her, too.” There’s a retro sense of freedom here few camps can claim.

Click on the banner to discover more summer camps & programs happening throughout the region!

Remy spent a week as a Biocitizen, a tiny camp in which the cohort goes exploring—high in the hills, low in the Meadows, off to the Peace Pagoda, or on the river—and while scampering across rocks (and other things like that some parents would rather not think about too much) learn about the local terrain. Once home and rehydrated, Remy would ask, “Did you know…?” every single afternoon.

For the tween-to-teen set there is DASAC (or, Deerfield Academy Summer Arts Camp), which is a friendly, creative community for young people and as close to overnight camp as day camp gets. Three weeks long, with ideas and hugs up the yin-yang and songs and inside jokes and just… bliss. That this camp was dreamed up in a Hampshire College dorm room makes it only the sweeter and that kids from all over the Valley meet here, well, icing on the cake. People started to tell us our eldest would love DASAC starting when he was still in preschool. Indeed, he did (now the second one is loving it).

❥ The chance to change it up offers unexpected discoveries. Remy, playing tennis with the Northampton recreation department befriended a boy (similar level player, similar age) from Europe. Quoting my eight year-old: “We both love devil sticks.” I’m so glad the school year is still a ways off.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Pedaling About ❥ Valley Bike Paths

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Note 2, Bike Paths

❥ Relatively early in my pregnancy with my second child, I began to get just the littlest bit hooked on riding my bicycle on what we called the bike path. Back then, you’d have known what I meant, the one to Belchertown from Northampton. It felt shiny new and exciting. I was enthralled rolling along.

Somehow, rides like that seemed to fall by the wayside (mostly, time without kids like that fell by the wayside).

I’ve used my bike since then, and done some bike path riding, even, but not all that much. Still, I heart—big heart—the whole bike path movement. As a still-timid-around-cars biker, the bike paths seem exceedingly smart, in large part for the safety factor. But there’s more—on the bike paths, you can get places. You can get places and the route there is a pretty one and a cleaner one (free of exhaust). And by riding a bicycle when you are actually going somewhere (beyond a ride in order to ride, which is awesome on its own merits), you’re not polluting the area by one car less. However you look at it, biking is one of those win-win-wins.

A few weeks ago, my eight year-old and I took the bike path—for the sake of testing his brand-new bike (pictured in parking lot, thus no helmet)—almost to the center of Easthampton (it was dusk and we felt compelled to be sure to get home by dark or we’d have gone that much further).

I was reminded of this: biking with someone you enjoy talking to can be really pleasant on a bike path. There was a way that we’d removed ourselves from the constraints of everyday obligations—and the road.

The next weekend, we biked to Hadley—smack into the town’s Memorial Day festivities. That ride, for my eight year-old, was all about crossing the Connecticut River. We feasted with our eyes on the view as we made our way across (and back). Then, we detoured from the bike path just far enough to enjoy a feast of a different sort—at GoBerry in Northampton (author’s note: I could write an entire essay about my love of GoBerry and its delightful owners Molly and Alex).

❥ My practical goals this year include equipping my bike to haul a bit more (including possibly a three year-old) and then to ride that much more than I used to (I might even get comfortable on the road this year). I anticipate using the bikes paths frequently.

My fantasy has to do with a short spin I boldly invited myself to take on an incredibly fun machine: a tandem recumbent bicycle. Its owners bicycled cross-country on it last summer (and kept a blog). This summer, they are having twins, a far longer journey. Although we just met, I’ve offered up my baby-holding skills. I have no fantasies of a newborn pair over here. My dream after the tandem recumbent bike is a tag-a-long once the littlest gal is big enough for one (on my bike, not a recumbent tandem). At that point, I imagine you’ll find a good portion of my crew on those paths a good portion of the time.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Think Globally, Hug Locally ❥ Tuesday Market

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 1, Tuesday Market

Here’s my one-time awkward greeting: I’m a local writer (and blogger) and community-minded do-gooder besotted by so many things about this place I call home. For Hilltown Families, I’ll write a monthly series of mash notes (love letters) focused upon this groovy spot on earth. Here’s mash note numb-ah one.

(Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

❥ I got an email today from an old friend and this was his sign-off—Think globally, hug locally.

When the global scene—wars, oil spills, religious standoffs, poverty… okay, you get where I’m going—is one that overwhelms, it’s no surprise the sweetest and most tangible victories are just that: so close they are palpable. One of the places I feel most certain hope is the place to dwell is sandwiched between the back of Thornes Market and the parking garage on Tuesdays from May through October.

That’s when Tuesday Market brings its tents and vegetables, bike trailers and musicians out to transform an underutilized bit of not-quite park-like space into a pop-up festival week after week. See the baby goat. Hear the music. Test a broom. Taste some maple cream. Buy berries, greens, jam, cucumbers, and all types of squashes. Cool off with shaved ice. Drink in the flowers’ colors. Ogle the pastel shells of eggs, the shapes of local mushrooms, or the spectacle of chocolate goat cheese truffles. Smile at your friends and neighbors. Be waved at by a small child.

Ben James, old friend and my farmer (we have a CSA share at Town Farm, which he and his wife, Oona Coy, own and run) is the beaming engine behind this swath of lively Tuesday activity. His express goals include creating exactly what I describe—a thriving community—and to make fresh, local food accessible. To that end, Tuesday Market not only accepts SNAP benefits, in conjunction with Grow Food Northampton (another tangible victory to talk about another day) an effort is underway to raise $12,000 so that SNAP benefits at Tuesday Market can be doubled. That’s all good, right?

Maybe because Ben and Oona have young kids—Wiley spent a good deal of last spring and summer and fall’s Tuesdays in a carrier on his papa’s back, there’s a real attentiveness to ensuring that Tuesday afternoons could be fine with small children if your sole “plan” were to be Tuesday Market.

(Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

❥ I’ve got four kids—15, 12 (almost 13!), eight and three—and sometimes Tuesdays are a family affair. This first week, there was a nap (phew), a playground hang afterschool and the bus ride home to keep three of my kids from the inaugural visit. My eldest and I walked downtown, though, obtained asparagus grown right in town, plus leeks, and burdock root (for stock made by the aspiring tweenage chef) and arugula (for me). I managed to conduct a little interview for a forthcoming story I’m writing (that is some satisfying multitasking), greet friends including farmers I’d missed seeing, snap photos and return to the playground to fetch the second grader.

The tween grilled asparagus and leeks for supper.

No question, Tuesday Market and me, we’re on hugging terms.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

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