PARENTS’ NIGHT OUT: Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco in the Hilltowns!

Winklepicker Festival
Mardi Gras Ball w/ Buckwheat Zydeco
& After-Party w/ The Primate Fiasco
Saturday, Feb 18th @ 7pm in Ashfield, MA

Winklepicker Festival's Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco at the Ashfield Town Hall (412 Main Street), followed by an after-party with The Primate Fiasco, happens on Feb 18th! Deadline to enter to win: 2/15. Details below.

Continuing our Parents’ Night Out promotions, Hilltown Families has a pair of tickets to giveaway to one very lucky couple to the Winklepicker Festival Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco at the Ashfield Town Hall (412 Main Street), followed by an after-party with The Primate Fiasco next door at Elmer’s, in Ashfield, MA on Saturday, February 18th at 7pm. Deadline to enter to win: 2/15. Details below.


Italy has Carnivale, Brazil has the same. Germany has Fasching, New Orleans has Mardi Gras… Ashfield has Winklepicker! – And while those other festivals are all tied to the last possible blow-out moments before the contemplative days of Lent, out here in the Protestant hinterlands, Winklepicker is tied to the hardest part of the year – when the novelty of winter has worn off, warmth is still half a globe-turn away and you’d like something to do besides plow snow and rake roofs.

Winklepicker stirs all the warmth of music, dancing, community, eating and drinking up together in one big, roiling pot. Winklepicker celebrates warmth and fun in the coldest, plainest days of the year. This inaugural year, the third weekend of February also turned out to be the weekend that precedes the above celebrated festivals, and the theme of Mardi Gras in New Orleans was picked as the inaugural theme for the weekend.

This year’s festival includes: Creole Cooking Workshop; Exhibit of Mardi Gras costumes; Mardi Gras Kids Music Camp; Concert with Chris Smither; Gospel Brunch; and a Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco (after-party with The Primate Fiasco). Find out more at


Grammy Award-winning American musical legend, Louisiana vocalist, and accordion and organ master Buckwheat Zydeco is the preeminent ambassador of Louisiana zydeco music. The New York Times says, “Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Dural leads one of the best bands in America. A down-home and high-powered celebration, meaty and muscular with a fine-tuned sense of dynamics…propulsive rhythms, incendiary performances.” This high-energy band will lead a night of dancing and Mardi Gras revelry that you won’t want to miss, so put on your dancing shoes and join Buckwheat Zydeco as he heats up Ashfield Town Hall. Then stay for the After Party with The Primate Fiasco. The Ball begins at 7pm; after party at 9:30pm. – Not familiar with Buckwheat Zydeco, sample his music here… but be sure to put on your dancing shoes first!


Your chance to win a pair of tickets to the WinklePicker Festival Mardi Gras Ball with Buckwheat Zydeco at the Ashfield Town Hall (412 Main Street),  followed by an after-party with The Primate Fiasco next door in Ashfield, MA, on Saturday, February 18th at 7pm is easy & simple!  To enter to win simply:

  • CONSIDER SHARING ON FACEBOOK by selecting “Like” below
  • TELL US HOW HILLTOWN FAMILIES HELPS YOUR FAMILY SHAKE OFF THE WINTER BLUES below (one entry per household) and be sure to tell us your
  • FULL NAME (first/last) and where you
  • LIVE (TOWN/STATE) must include your town to be eligible.
  • ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address).
  • We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline to enter to win is Wednesday, 02/15/12 @ 7pm (EST)

Tickets at Turn It Up!, World Eye Books, Boswell’s Books, Elmer’s Store & online at For more info call 413-628-4003.

Textile Material Swap in the Hilltowns

Ashfield Needles and Threads Material Swap
Sunday, January 22nd at 1pm

Ashfield Needles and Threads (ANTS) is hosting a free materials swap on Sunday, Jan. 22nd at 1pm. The swap is an opportunity for families to recycle and be inspired!

Do you have bits and pieces of textiles left over from holiday craft projects that you’ll likely not use anytime soon, or tattered and torn clothes your kids have outgrown and you don’t want to see them thrown out?  Or are you a crafter in search of inspiration (or perhaps some new yarn or fabric) for your next project?  Ashfield Needles and Threads (ANTS) is hosting a free materials swap!

On Sunday, January 22nd at 1pm, ANTS’ swap will take place at the Ashfield Congregational Church.  Sewers, knitters, and crafters of all sorts can bring their yarn, patterns, needles, fabric, buttons, thread, and all other bits and pieces (including great ideas to share!) to the swap in order to thin out your collection or bulk up your supplies (or perhaps do a little of both).

Sharing supplies is a totally green way to start a new project- you’ll be preventing waste and will preserve resources by not buying something new!  Kids who are just beginning to venture into the world of knitting or sewing can especially benefit from the swap- they’ll get to peruse the collections of other more experienced crafters and will gain both great materials and project ideas!

All items leftover after the swap will be either taken home by their contributors or will be donated to ANTS for future projects.  The Ashfield Congregational Church is located on Main Street in Ashfield, across from the town green.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Laura Bell]

Winter Solstice in the Hilltowns

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Peasant Wedding" (1568).

It’s the Winter Solstice! This year on December 22nd. The actual blessed event is three minutes after midnight on the 22nd, so we are celebrating it like the purists we are!

The evening begins at Elmer’s in Ashfield, MA with dinner starting at 5pm, if you’d like to come to that part. We line up all the tables in a long, family style line. Enter the Morris Dancers and there is much singing and eating together. Then, go outside to the Town Common at 6:30pm with community singing and a bonfire – you bring the songs and sing. You are welcome to bring a log for the fire too.

7:00pmish starts the event with a Horn (real caribou horns on their heads) Dance by the Juggler Meadow Morris Men followed by songs and stories by community members including our own professional storyteller Rona Leventhal and members of Welcome Yule.

Upon completion of the outdoor activities warm up at Elmer’s and enjoy more community fun when the Morris Dancers come back to Elmer’s, get good and likkered up and dance!

If you ever wondered what it might be like to live in a painting by Brughel (the elder,) this is your time.

That looks EXACTLY like Elmer’s on Solstice!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South following Hurricane Katrina, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

41st Annual Ashfield Fall Festival 2011

Apples and Pumpkins and Maple Products, Oh My!
The 41st annual Ashfield Fall Festival on Columbus Day Weekend

41st Annual Ashfield Fall Festival happens this Columbus Day Weekend! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

One of the most popular small-town festivals in western Massachusetts, the Ashfield Fall Festival runs from 10am-5pm on Saturday, October 8th & Sunday, October 9th in Ashfield town center. There will be over 55 arts and crafts exhibits, live music, a wide variety of local agricultural products and prepared foods, book and tag sales, fundraising raffles, and many activities for children. Admission is free and parking is available in lots east of town center.

Saturday morning kicks off with the Agricultural Commission’s 4th annual Tallest Sunflower and Heaviest Pumpkin contests. Entries need to be submitted by 9:00 a.m. At noon Saturday, join a team of new or old friends and play in the annual “Pumpkingames.” The young and old alike can compete in pumpkin bowling, the pumpkin relay race, and musical pumpkins.

Enter the 4th annual Tallest Sunflower and Heaviest Pumpkin contests. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

After a brief absence last year, the “fidget ladder” is returning, so children will again have a chance for one of the “I rang the bell” stickers. There will be a mini-golf game, marble runs, bean bag and coin toss games, the “Storm the Castle” catapult game and more—all low-cost fun for kids attending the festival. Ashfield Community Preschool sponsors face painting and temporary tattoos as well.

Visitors will be able to get a jump-start on their holiday shopping, finding everything from fiber and textile arts, woodwork and blown glass to pottery, jewelry, kid’s clothing and more in several venues along Main Street (route 116). Private homes as well as local organizations host tag and book sales, including the big book sale at Belding Memorial Library and Skalski’s Gigantic Tag Sale.

The iconic Fidget Ladder returns to the festival this year. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The town common, with its hill overlooking the festival booths, is a great place to relax, listen to music, and enjoy a sampling from the many food vendors. Whether your taste runs sweet or savory, bring your appetite to fit in all the festival favorites— from Gray’s Sugarhouse’s iconic fried dough with maple cream and the Boy Scouts’ fresh pumpkin-spice donuts to Elmer’s pulled-pork sandwiches and baked potatoes with all the toppings offered by the Mohawk Music Association. There are plenty of kid- and vegetarian-friendly options.

The 2011 musical entertainment line up, with sponsorship support from Greenfield Savings Bank is as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

Photography Exhibit Travels to Ashfield

Photography Exhibit Travels to Ashfield
Opening Reception on Sunday, Oct 2nd, from 3-5pm

There will be an opening reception today, Sunday, October 2nd from 3-5pm for “Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit” at Elmer’s Gallery in Ashfield. All are invited!

The exhibit will be on display at Elmer’s for the month of October feature images by Hilltown Families’ founder and director, Sienna Wildfield. The photos tell stories of life in the Hilltowns and illustrate the culture and values of the area. Entitled, Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit of Life and Landscape in Western MA, the show features images of life in the Hilltowns (and how it changes) throughout the seasons.

Come see images of life and landscape from around Western MA while enjoying the company of friends and neighbors. Sales of images from the exhibit benefit Hilltown Families, so bring your checkbooks!

Hilltown Families: A Traveling Photography Exhibit” is supported in part by grants from local Cultural Councils in Ashfield, Buckland, Chesterfield and Cummington — all local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Rally for the Highland Communities in Ashfield

Rally for the Highland Communities:
A Call to Action with Tom Wessels in Ashfield

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Mark Wamsley of the Highland Communities Initiative writes:

Generations of residents have shaped the Highlands– stone by stone, farm by farm, and trail by trail. What role can you and your family play in its future? The Highland Communities Initiative invites you to rally for our region at the Bullitt Reservation (332 Bullitt Rd.) in Ashfield on Saturday, September 17th from 9AM to 2PM. Come and celebrate the towns we call home, deepen your community connections, learn new ways of protecting the special places that you care about…and have fun doing it!

We’re calling the rally  “a really fun conference, or a country fair with an important purpose.”  We’ll kick things off with a keynote speech by ecologist Tom Wessels.  Already noted for his keen eye on New England’s rural past, this time Tom will offer insights on the road ahead, illuminating lessons the natural world holds for creating resilient communities and economies.

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Afterward, those looking to lend a hand can connect with the many local groups showcasing their work at the rally (including Hilltown Families), hear inspiring stories of communities uniting together, or learn more about the positive steps you can take on their own property.  Free consultations with home energy or land conservation experts will be available, but sign up early!  If you’re just looking to revel in the sun on a beautiful (hopefully!) fall day, fun, family-friendly activities and demonstrations will abound as you explore the vibrant farm landscape at the Bullitt Reservation.

Activities perfect for families include:

  • 10:30-12:30—Planting For Fall in the Demonstration Kitchen Garden (Kid Friendly)
    Join School Sprouts, an educational gardening organization in harvesting the Bullitt garden’s crops and preparing the beds for fall.  We’ll harvest our heritage wheat grains, build a hoop house, plant frost-tolerant plants, and mulch the beds for the winter.
  • 10:45 and 11:30—Find the Invader!  (Kid Friendly)
    This fun treasure hunt will teach kids how to identify troublesome plant and insect invader in their local landscapes.
  • (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

    Anytime—Pebble Discovery Hike (Kid Friendly)
    Take a moderate, ¾ mile hike to the giant  “Pebble.”  Sit on the bench at the top of the field and enjoy the view of Mount Owen.  Or, take the self-guided Discovery Hike and find signs of ancient glaciers and recent wildlife.

  • For the complete rally schedule, click HERE.

Guests may bring their own lunches or purchase one at the rally offered by Elmer’s General Store, Pre-registration is encouraged and some consultations have limited space. For more information and to pre-register call 413-628-4485 or email We hope to see you there!

– Mark Wamsley, Program & Outreach Coordinator, Highland Communities Initiative, The Trustees of Reservations

Saturday, September 17, 2011 | 9AM-2PM | TTOR Members and Children under 12: FREE. Nonmembers: Adult $5. Bullitt Reservation, 332 Bullitt Rd. Ashfield, MA 413-628-4485

Hilltown Resident Works Towards a Community-Based Democratic Economic System

The Revolution with a Bank

Common Good Finance launched a grassroots membership campaign to finance the chartering of a bank, which will offer community members full local control and a true voice in their financial future. Presentations are scheduled in three western Massachusetts towns: Amherst, Northampton, and Pittsfield. (Courtesy Photo: Common Good Finance Founder William Spademan making a presentation in the Common Good Festival Money Tent.)

Becky Meier writes:

With the threat of the U.S. government defaulting on its debts, a rising unemployment rate, and continuing foreclosures, there’s very little good news about the economy. The non-profit organization, Common Good Finance, has a plan to turn that around.

Founded by William Spademan of Ashfield, Massachusetts, Common Good Finance has launched a grassroots membership campaign to finance the chartering of a bank, which will provide a full range of conventional FDIC-insured banking services to area residents and business owners. Unlike other banks, however, the Common Good Bank will offer community members full local control and a true voice in their financial future: every member will have an equal vote in setting policy. Community members will gather to decide for themselves what their funding priorities should be — for sustainable agriculture and energy systems, for local self-reliance, for ensuring that everyone has healthy food, a home, healthcare, satisfying work, and a livable world. Read the rest of this entry »

Big Dance Party Tonight in the Hilltowns for All Ages!

Big Dance Party Tonight for All Ages!

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Last night I dreamed that we were all set up at Elmer’s for a huge and gorgeous birthday party for one of our customers. (I think it was for Nancy Dunne, but I can’t remember for sure.) Gretchen had made a bee-youtiful birthday cake—large and white with pink roses that said, “Happy Birthday!” and it sat among the festoons as we got ready.

Suddenly I looked up and saw someone eating a piece of cake. I ran back to the birthday cake and saw that indeed, a huge—AND SLOPPILY CUT!—piece was missing from the cake and the customer was sitting down eating their big-ass piece of somebody else’s birthday cake!

I was so mad that I was yelling myself hoarse that “THIS IS SOMEONE’S BIRTHDAY CAKE! YOU CAN’T JUST EAT IT! ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND???!!!”

And no one cared.

What does this mean?


Hey! Tonight (Tuesday, 2/22/11) is Elissa and Brian’s Happy Dance Party at Elmer’s from 7-9pm (396 Main St. in Ashfield, MA). Open to everyone! Tall people! Short people! Really short little tiny people who can barely dance yet! People who can dance really well! People who can’t dance but just like to go out and move around where no one cares about their dancing ability! People who just want to go someplace and have dessert! People who want to work up a sweat! People who like music! (I guess you would have to want to hear music to come.) But if you just wanted to hang out and have dessert, you could sit with your friends in the side room while everybody else danced!

It’s free to come and dance! Desserts, coffee, beer and stuff costs money, but you don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to. It’s for everyone! Whole families to singles! All are invited!

7 pm – 9pm



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

Chocolate in the Hilltowns

Night of Love and Chocolate!


I just got friended by my dad on Facebook. Me, I got nothing to hide that I would show on Facebook anyway, but then I thought about the nieces who may. I know that one of my nieces told me not to judge her when I friended her, and so I don’t; the stuff she’s doing is way less dangerous than what I was doing at her age!

So then I started thinking that all grandparents should sign up for Facebook and friend all of their grandchildren. I’m thinking that if every kid had their grandpa as a filter for everything they thought about posting, they would probably keep themselves out of trouble later on when they apply for jobs and wish they hadn’t put those stupid naked pictures of themselves at the last office party on their page. So that’s my thought; I’m still trying to find goodness in Facebook.


Welcome to the Land of Tiny Streets! The more it snows the less space there is for the snow to go and the streets get narrower and narrower up here! My own street in Ashfield, I believe, only passable by one and a half cars at a time. Fortunately we don’t have many cars on this street so we haven’t had a stand-off yet. But even Main Street is down to the two lanes, only, no room for swerving. The other snow-wonder is how icicles know what to do—which way to do. You’ll have all these icicles going straight down and then, all of a sudden you get three snaggle-tooth ones that jut out from the building. Why did they do that? Are they just making a statement? I have one outside my door that suddenly has a curvaceous twist to it. It didn’t have that day before yesterday; what is it up to?


Update on Mr. Christmas Tree who I threw out last week: So, he was lying there in the snow at the back door, trying to get back in, looking sad and desperate, when all of a sudden a roof-alanche slid off and buried him! He just has a few plaintive little branches grasping at the air, frozen in time. Poor guy, this whole thing is my fault: I brought him inside, I made him the toast of the living room, I took him out of his natural habitat and warmed him up with lights, made him feel safe and warm and then I PUSHED him out into the snow! Just PUSHED him! I feel bad.


Okay! It’s almost Valentine’s Day! And we’re celebrating it this Friday night (2/11/11) with Elmer’s Night of Love and Chocolate (there are so few events that we actually do more than one year that you know if we’re bring it back it’s because it was so good the first time!)!

And this just in: Chef Jim Dion is coming back to make the dinner portion of our evening! Mary will be out of town this weekend, and so our old buddy Jim is coming back to make the dinner hors d’hoeuvres! (I have no idea how to spell that word and neither does Spellcheck. If you do, let me know before it drives you crazy.)

Elmer’s Second Annual Night of Love and Chocolate this Friday, Feb 11th beginning at 5pm at the Inn: hors d’houvres and tapas-sized dinners; whatever you want, as much as you want – made by Chef Jim Dion!  Then, Chocolate: Chocolate Mousse Roullade Cake; Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake; Raspberry Ganache Tort; Espresso Ganache Tort; Vanilla Ginger Ganache Tort; Strawberry fondue; Pretzels & cookies fondues; Dark Chocolate Truffles; Habanero Truffles; and Hot Pepper Toffee Popcorn. ($$) – You don’t have to be in love to enjoy this-you can just love chocolate and good company. Call 628-4003 for reservations.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

PARENTS’ NIGHT OUT: Chris Smither in Ashfield

Chris Smither in Concert
Ashfield Town Hall in Ashfield, MA
Saturday, January 15th @ 8pm

Concert & dinner in the hilltowns this Saturday! Enter to win a pair of tickets to the concert. Deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 12th by 7pm (EST).

Continuing our Parents’ Night Out promotions, Hilltown Families has two pairs of tickets to giveaway to two lucky couples to see Chris Smither in concert, at Ashfield Town Hall in Ashfield on Saturday, January 15th at 8pm – right in the heart of the Hilltowns!

Win a pair of tickets and take your spouse, partner or good friend for a night out. Deadline to enter to win: Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 at 7pm (EST). More details below.


Chris is an acclaimed acoustic roots singer-songwriter whose music draws deeply from the blues, modern poets & philosophers. His most recent CD is Time Stands Still (Signature Sounds). He has released 13 albums and 3 DVDs and tours clubs, concert halls, and festivals across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. His songs have appeared in films & TV and have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris & Diana Krall.


Enjoy a full night out with a pre-concert dinner cooked up by Elmer’s from 5-6:15pm.  On the menu, BBQ Pulled Pork Po’ Boys from Skippy & Wanda Walker of New Orleans. This pulled pork po’ boy was named one of the top sandwiches in America by Esquire Magazine in 2008 and their daughter, Shayne Walker, will be at Elmer’s doing all the roasting and cooking. (There will be a vegetarian option as well.) Nan Parati of Elmer’s points out, “We served the Walkers’ po’ boy last summer at our bluegrass festival and at Fall Festival and people were literally fighting over the food (and I’m not making that up).” Dinner includes dessert and coffee which will be served at the Ashfield Town Hall. Dinner reservations are highly recommended, call Elmer’s at 628-4003.


Your chance to win a pair of tickets to see Chris Smither in concert, at Ashfield Town Hall in Ashfield on Saturday, January 15th at 8pm is as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!  To win simply:


  2. RECOMMEND A SONG FOR OUR COMMUNITY PLAYLIST and be sure to tell us your
  3. FULL NAME (first/last) and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) must include your town to be eligible.
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address)
  6. We’ll randomly draw two winners and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline to enter to win: Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 at 7pm (EST).

If you don’t win you should still go! This will be a great night out in the hilltowns!  Tickets for adults are $18 in advance or $20 day of show.  Tickets are also available at Elmer’s in Ashfield (628-4003) or online.

Hilltown Families Isn’t the Only One Turning 5!

Happy New Year & Happy Birthday

Now we are in the hammock week of the year. You start out the year in January and, well, the year is like an egg. You start out January first on the top of the egg, just off center, and you slide down it. June is at the bottom of the egg, and then you kind of climb back up it until you get to Christmas, back up at the top. Then you have one week that’s shaped like a hammock between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. That’s the hammock you sleep in for that week, resting in the quiet, dark, wind-howling, snowy days of that week. Then you get to January first again and start a-skiing downhill again!

You know, this January begins Elmer’s fifth year in bidness after I came along. We have a lighting display in the side café room to commemorate it—it is a string of lights with cows, flamingos and palm trees. The cows, see, they represent Ashfield. The palm trees, they represent me coming from New Orleans, where we actually have palm trees, and the flamingos, they represent the flamboyant stuff I do here that makes people look at me sideways.

So happy five years to us!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

The Further Adventures of Mr. Justin Jones

Back to Our Story…

And now it’s time to tell the further adventures of Mr. Justin Jones!

As you may recall, last year at this time, Justin was fourteen years old and living in a homeless shelter with his mother, Regina Jones, in New Orleans. I wrote of his plight and a very good many of you responded with deep-hearted wishes of a good life for him, and brought me money with which to aid him in having a good Christmas, and a level playing field upon which to build his life.

I opened a bank account for him and from it, bought him clothing, personal care items (very important to a fourteen year old in a homeless shelter) and some white folks’ Christmas food and sent him several packages, with which he had a very, very nice Christmas, and for which he was extremely grateful.

Then, in the late spring, when I was in New Orleans for my annual Jazz Fest job, I saw him and Regina, invited them to the Jazz Fest, and visited them at their shelter. Spent more of your money on them and we had a good and funny time. (Life with Regina is always filled with a lot of laughter, even in the worst times.)

The update on Regina and Justin is that they are no longer living in the homeless shelter; they got themselves a two bedroom house in Mid-City of New Orleans. Their house is very close to my old neighborhood there, and so I know that they are in a very good neighborhood! (Not a fancy neighborhood, but definitely a safe one.) I’m not sure how the house came about, but it seems to have come through some low-income housing program in New Orleans. I don’t think it’s Section 8 housing, though it may be.

Justin is going to school and doing well, recently had his fifteenth birthday and seems very well adjusted and happy. Regina isn’t doing as well with her health, as she has had blood clots in her legs and has a difficult time standing up for very long.

My plan with the money was to keep it and use it as necessary. I’ll send Justin and Regina gifts this year again, and help them out when ever they need it. They are grateful and happy people and I hope you get to meet them one day, although I doubt it, as the idea of a world where it’s cold and there is no public transportation is a repugnant one to Regina. “Huh uh, Baby,” she says. “I’m stayin’ RIGHT HERE! You come visit US!”

And so, I will.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

Big Name in a Small Room Concert Series Continues in the Hilltowns

Strange Coincidences

I have a friend named Dave Taylor who I worked with in New Orleans. Dave now lives in New York.  His best friend is named Seth Bernard. Seth lives in Michigan and his girlfriend is named May Erlewine. Dave Taylor’s mom was in the hospital having surgery in Florida. While she was recovering from surgery, a young woman came in to sing to her as part of the hospital’s new recovery through music program.  The young woman sang a gorgeous and uplifting song that she said was written by a friend of hers named May.  Dave’s grandmother, who was there visiting her daughter said, “I know a May.  She lives in Michigan. Her name is May Erlewine.”  The young woman said, “That’s the same May who wrote the song!”  And the young singing woman?  That was Rani Arbo of Ashfield!

The only part of the story I don’t know is why Rani was singing in a hospital in Florida.  But I don’t really care—I love the story!

Not this last summer, but the previous August we had a concert by May and Seth across the street in the backyard of the inn and it was beautiful!  May wrote the Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem favorites, “Shine On” and “Rise up Singing.” (Remember that concert?  It rained all the way through it, but it was such beautiful music that no one left!)

This Saturday Elmer’s in Ashfield, MA is going to bring them back and inside as part of our Big Name in a Small Room Concert Series continues with May Erlewine and Seth Bernard! This Saturday, November 20th. Dinner will begin at 5pm and the concert begins at 7pm. Tickets for this are required so that we don’t go over room capacity. Git ‘em now! (413) 628-4003



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

Scary Trees in Ashfield

Just in Case You Were Wondering …

Scarier things were seen on Halloween night in Ashfield! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

One day a few weeks ago, while walking down the sidewalk towards Elmer’s, I thought, “It’s almost Halloween! I should make bark-like faces to put on the trees on the Common!” I could use the same technique many of the float-builders use at Mardi Gras in their Papier Mache—same words, completely different process from what others think of as Papier Mache.

I proposed it to the Select Board, they approved, Tom Poissant the Tree Warden approved, I called the only place in the country I know to get the kind of glue one needs for this kind of stuff (New Orleans) and ordered it, got my paper all ready along with all the other accoutrements I would need for the project and waited for the glue to arrive. We had some glorious days before Halloween, but the glue never arrived until the evening of the last of the glorious days.

This particular glue needs a temperature of 65 degrees or higher in order to Act Right and so, since all the days after it arrived had top temperatures of only 55 degrees even while standing on their tippy toes, it was not possible for me to make the trees scary.

Upon the Eve of Halloween, however, some one or ones decided to enhance the trees of the Common (and all the trees up South Street) with their own form of decoration using Scott toilet paper. (I found the balled-up wrapper in my yard.) JUST IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING, that was not I. I would have made the toilet paper look like something other than toilet paper hanging in the breeze. Not at all to disparage anyone else’s craft, I just didn’t want to take away from their art and have you think it was mine.

I plan to keep my glue until next summer when we have a stretch of days above 65 degrees. I will make my faces at that time and then hold on to them until October, when I will ask the Select Board if I may put them up for the week before Halloween. I’m sorry for my lack of display this year, but wait indeed, until next year!



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

Bullitt Reservation Grand Opening in Ashfield

The Trustees Encourage Visitors to Dream Big about Making Small Impacts on Local Land

Farm that Once Swirled Near the Center of History Returns to Community as The Trustees of Reservations’ Newest Property in Ashfield, MA.

When globe-trotting Ambassador William Bullitt needed a place to ponder the world and relax with family, he retreated to the woods and fields of his farm in Western Massachusetts on the Ashfield-Conway border. Now, visitors can enjoy those same pursuits on a property that once hosted diplomats and dignitaries, as The Trustees of Reservations welcomes the public to the grand opening of its new Bullitt Reservation on Saturday, October 23rd. Festivities begin at 3PM.

One of 13 Trustees properties located in the Pioneer Valley, the Bullitt Reservation encompasses 262 acres donated to The Trustees in March of 2009. Although most recently part of the estate of Ambassador William C. Bullitt, Jr. —best known for his role as the first U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and for his service as the Ambassador to France at the dawn of World War II— the land has deep community roots. The farm even served as Ashfield’s town poor farm from 1839 to 1874.

One of 13 Trustees properties located in the Pioneer Valley, the Bullitt Reservation encompasses 262 acres donated to The Trustees in March of 2009.

Today, the Bullitt Reservation looks largely as it did in centuries past. A quintessential New England agricultural landscape, it abounds with a mix of forests, fields and streams, which provide natural habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and a diversity of species. It was the wish of Ambassador Bullitt’s daughter, Anne Bullitt, that the property be conserved and the legacy of her father be carried on at the site for the community and future generations to enjoy.

After guidance from local residents and a year of planning, the Bullitt Reservation will now offer a place for the community and visitors to meet, hike, stargaze, and connect with family and friends, providing opportunities for both people and wildlife to interact with and be enriched by the land. In keeping with Ambassador Bullitts’ legacy of looking outward, the Bullitt Reservation will also serve as a resource for learning about ways to lighten our individual and collective impact on land, and to significantly reduce our contribution to the indelible marks that a warming climate will etch on the nature and culture of our local hills and valleys.

The 18th century farmhouse on the property receives a complete renovation and "deep energy retrofit."

At the center of those efforts, The Trustees have nearly completed renovation and a “deep energy retrofit” of the 18th century farmhouse on the property, thanks to a gift from the Bullitt Foundation and a recent $100,000 stimulus grant received from the Patrick Administration’s Department of Energy Resources. Slated as the future offices of the Highland Communities Initiative and the Hilltown Land Trust, the renovated farmhouse will combine readily-available electric heat pump technology (with plans to add solar power as funds are available) and super-insulation to increase energy efficiency, cutting energy consumption by more than 50%. Thanks to the creative energy of general contractor Mary Quigley of Quigley Builders in Ashfield, nearly all of the materials from the farmhouse deconstruction have also been recycled or reused.

Nearly all of the materials from the farmhouse deconstruction have also been recycled or reused.

When complete, The Trustees hope the new Bullitt structure will have earned Gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a building rating system established by the United States Green Building Council to measure the “greenness” of buildings), and showcase a viable selection of energy conservation strategies for area homeowners and businesses.

The grand opening of the Bullitt Reservation will be on Saturday, October 23rd with family activities, pumpkin decorating, cider pressing, live music and potluck. Festivities begin at 3PM.

Guests are welcome to attend the grand opening of the new Bullitt Reservation on October 23rd and explore The Trustees of Reservations’ newest special place, take a tour, and enjoy the views over a potluck dinner with friends and neighbors. The day will begin at 3PM with tours of the ongoing green transformation of the old farmhouse, a guided hike on the new scenic Pebble Trail (moderately difficult), leisurely strolls through the wildlife meadow, and family activities including pumpkin decorating and cider-making demonstrations. At 4:30PM there will be live music, a potluck dinner, and toasts to the new reservation. The Trustees will provide hot soup and fresh bread. Guests are asked to bring a dish, snack, or beverage to share. The event is free and open to the public and will take place rain or shine.

For more information and to RSVP, please call 413.268.8219 or email

More About The Trustees in Ashfield

In addition to owning 262 acres of conservation land, The Trustees hold a conservation restriction on the majority of the remaining Bullitt estate land, comprising approximately 103 acres on the northern side of Bullitt Road, which was sold with the main Bullitt house and barn to a private buyer late last year. Together, these complete an important missing piece in a large puzzle of connected conservation land in the area. The Trustees also own and manage two other properties in Ashfield – Bear Swamp and Chapel Brook Reservations – both popular community recreational sites and important ecological habitats. The new reservation will add to The Trustees’ diversity of program and property offerings in this corner of the Pioneer Valley.

New Orleans Meets New England at the Ashfield Fall Festival

Ashfield Fall Festival!

Crawfish Pasta and Pulled Pork Po-Boys will be sold by Elmer's at the Ashfield Fall Festival. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Wait—Last Sunday in the middle of the 183 people coming in for breakfast, someone said to me, “Do you have those little individually wrapped butters?” And I said, “yes, we do.” And that’s all I remember about the conversation. I don’t remember who it was who asked, but if you are reading this now, did you get what you wanted? Did I just walk away? Did I complete the transaction? Are you a satisfied customer? Can I help you now?


(Those are the things you think about in the middle of the night.)

I just dropped a huge sunflower seed into the keyboard of this computer and I can’t get it out. We’ll see what happens next.

You know what this weekend is — it’s Fall Festival at Elmer’s! (Well, it’s not just at Elmer’s, but here’s what is happening during Fall Festival in Ashfield at Elmer’s):

I remember that someone told me, “You know, you can’t do chili or hamburgers for Fall Festival because people are already doing those.” So I tried to think of something that no one in Ashfield would be doing and I thought of crawfish pasta! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

For breakfast Saturday and Sunday we’ll be serving pancakes and breakfast burritos from 7am to 10:30am (only pancakes and burritos—we figure that covers a number of desired food groups). At 11:00 we’ll start serving Crawfish Pasta and Pulled Pork Po-Boys made by Shayne Walker Brunet—the daughter of Skippy and Wanda Walker, who made them for our Bluegrass Festival! (If you missed them there, Skippy and Wanda are the people who have the Cochon-de-Lait booth at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Their “Cochon-de-Lait” (pulled pork) is the sandwich Esquire Magazine listed as one of the top sandwiches in America. And we got it right here!) We will not run out! We have a butt-load of pork-butts for this!


We actually got the recipe for the Crawfish Pasta from Skippy and Wanda, as well, the first year we did Fall Festival. I remember that someone told me, “You know, you can’t do chili or hamburgers for Fall Festival because people are already doing those.”

So I tried to think of something that no one in Ashfield would be doing and I thought of crawfish pasta! I called Wanda, because she made the best crawfish pasta anywhere around, and she gave me the recipe and here we are to this day. And now her daughter’s coming to make Cochon-de-Lait po-boys for us!



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

13 Years in the Life of Sonya Kitchell

The Years of Becoming
An Interview with Sonya Kitchell

Hilltown-native singer/songwriter Sonya Kitchell has been singing since she was in elementary school, knowing in 2nd grade that she wanted to be a singer. Thirteen years later at the age of twenty-one, Sonya has traveled the world and performed with an impressive list of accomplished musicians, including jazz legend Herbie Hancock.  She has released three recordings.  Her latest release, Convict of Conviction, is a six-song EP of gorgeously rendered chamber pop, including the song, “Lighthouse”.  Recently featured at the Ashfield FilmFest, the music video to “Lighthouse” was awarded the music video prize:

We caught up with Sonya recently asking her about her experiences as a talented, young person: What was it like growing up in the rural hills of Western MA;  Where did she find support that both recognized and nurtured her talent; How would she recommend parents support the creative muse in their children?


Hilltown Families: On October 10th, 2010 you have a show at Memorial Hall in Shelbunre Falls, MA with the Brooklyn String Quartet. You played there for the first time when you were just 9 years old. What do you remember about that show?

Sonya Kitchell: I remember that it was very exciting to be on such a large stage. I remember singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” My grandmother played piano and accompanied me. I remember that I loved it and couldn’t wait to do it again…

Hilltown Families: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a singer?

Sonya Kitchell: I was seven years old.

Hilltown Families: Were your parents supportive?

Sonya Kitchell: Extremely.

Hilltown Families: The Hilltowns can be a wonderful place to grown up, but it can also have its limitations. Because of the rural enviroment, friends aren’t always close by, there’s limited access to TV and radio, the nearest cultural center can be half an hour away … how did the rural environemnt of Ashfield have an influence on your development?

Sonya Kitchell: It was simply frustrating because my parents had to drive me, if I wanted to go anywhere, and of course, sometimes they didn’t feel like it. Aside from that, I loved it, and I wouldn’t trade where I grew up for anything in the world. My heart and soul is in that land, and I believe it’s a huge part of why I am who I am. I had a lot of time to be alone in the woods and let my imagination run wild. I was a free child…. and I got my license as soon as I legally could, remedying the only detriment.

Hilltown Families: You’re a graduate of the Hilltown Charter Cooperative Public School (HCCPS) in Haydenville, MA and attended the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), in Hadley, MA for a portion of High School. During these years, in addition to having a very supportive family, did you have any local mentors or teachers that were a big influence on you as a singer and a songwriter?  Read the rest of this entry »

GIVEAWAY: Herbal Medicine for Children and Babies

Herbal Medicine for Children and Babies
Four Fall Classes at Blazing Star Herbal School

Herbal Medicine for Children and Babies is a series of four classes that will be offered on Fridays this fall in Ashfield, MA at Blazing Star Herbal School by herbalist, Tony(a) Lemos. Deadline to enter for a chance to win is Oct. 13th, 2010.

Hilltown Families and Blazing Star Herbal School (BSHS) in Ashfield, MA have partnered up to offer one lucky participant free registration for Herbal Medicine for Children and Babies, a series of four classes being offered this fall.  Participants will learn how to raise healthy children, how to prevent compromised immune systems, and discuss both common and and some less common childhood diseases. Find out how to win a free registration to this series of four classes below. Deadline to enter to win is Wednesday, 10/13/10 @ 7pm (EST)


Herbal Medicine for Children and Babies will run for four Fridays, October 16th & 23rd and November 5th & 19th, from 9:30am-1 pm in Ashfield, MA.  The class will begin with pre-conceptive health care and continue throughout childhood, covering pathologies and common and uncommon states. The class will discuss methods to help prevent compromised immune systems and ways to strengthen the terrain. Cultures around the world will be compared and contrasted. Clarity will be given on appropriate dosage for children and methods of administration. Participants in the class will explore creative medicine making and making nourishing condiments. Students will leave with a complete Materia Medica for Children’s Health.  For more information contact Tony(a) Lemos at, or call (413) 625-2030.


Dedicated to teaching traditional herbal medicine in a way that supports a more sustainable future and shows respect for the integrity of nature, BSHS offers a unique perspective on herbalism, weaving social and political aspects of health and healing through the study of medicinal herbs and food practices. Serving as a local and national resource for education and networking, BSHS has been in Ashfield for over 25 years on 26 wooded acres of pine trees, rushing brooks, wildflower meadows and gardens. Right here in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, the school offers unique and exciting programs in herbal studies to give both the student and professional an opportunity to delve deeper into the art and science of herbalism. Their courses have been highly acclaimed for inspiring students to find their unique healing path through personal relationship with the plant world. For more information about BSHS visit them on line at


Your chance to win a free registration for Herbal Medicine for Children and Babies, a series of four classes this fall at Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!  To win simply:

  1. POST WHY YOU WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THIS CLASS BELOW (one entry per household) and be sure to tell us your
  2. FULL NAME and where you
  3. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) You must include your town and state to be eligible.
  4. ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address).
  5. We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline is Wednesday, 10/13/10 @ 7pm (EST)


National Talk Like a Pirate Day in Ashfield

Pirates ho!

Meet local hilltown artist Greg Ruth, illustrator of the new children's book: "A Pirate's Guide to First Grade," at Elmer's Store in Ashfield on Sunday, September 19th from 10am-1pm.

That’s right—we will be celebrating National Talk Like a Pirate Day with Greg Ruth, the book’s illustrator, at Elmer’s. He will be reading and signing his book from 10am – 1pm on Sunday. All pirates are invited to come in native pirate costume—little pirates and big pirates—all come dressed for the occasion! I should have the sail and jolly roger hoisted by then. We will be pirates one and all! (Free breakfast to anyone who can correctly sing, “I am the very model of a modern major general” from the Pirates of Penzance in its entirety on the spot! –At tempo!

Further speaking of pirates:

Mike Skalski came by the other day and said, “Hey, you wanna go someplace cool?” When Mike Skalski asks that, go. When he adds, “You’ll be home by 10:00!” don’t believe him. But otherwise, it’s worth going along.

Accompanying Mike, I ended up in the “Pit” area of the Demolition Derby at the Franklin County Fair. That was kind like being with a herd of pirates—guys and some kick-ass girls ready to kick some scurvey butt in some bombed-out cars. (At one point I looked around at the crowd of Derby drivers and thought, “If I were trying to cast a Civil War film, I would put out a call for Demolition Derby drivers, and when they arrived I would say, ‘Okay! You all got the job! You are now soldiers in the Union army!’” They looked perfect—revved up for some rowdy action. The longer I watched, the more I thought, these guys have the temperament of modern-day pirates! Swashbuckling, swaggering, spitting pirates! Good that they had no cutlasses to swing about; only 2000-pound automobiles, instead. I had a short conversation with a young guy who engages in Ultimate Fighting—fighting in which, he says, the only rule is that you can’t hit someone in the groin area. (I just looked it up on Wikipedia and found that there are, indeed rules, but nothing that would keep someone from really getting hurt.) I asked him if women liked watching Ultimate Fighting and he said, “Chicks fight too! Big burly chicks!” I had more questions, but he finally walked away from me. I think he thought I was weird. And, in the pit area of the Demolition Derby, I did indeed, stand out as weird. But I had a good time any way. (And I didn’t get home until after midnight.)


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

2010 Ashfield FilmFest

Ashfield FilmFest Gala Screening
September 25th at 7pm in the Ashfield Town Hall

It’s that time of year again for the 4th Annual Ashfield FilmFest. Last year all 450 tickets sold out, so be sure to get your tickets early! Details below.

Here on Hilltown Families we’ve featured a couple of films entered into the festival, including 2009 First Prize, Adult & Audience Choice Award winner Dancing Queens produced by Nancy Hoff, and 2007 Grand Prize winner Three Seasons of Winter produced by David Fessenden.

Last year’s Grand Prize winner, The Great Ashfield Pancaper, produced by Gayle Kabaker,  a story about Secret Agents trying to steal Elmer’s award winning pancake recipe, is featured below. Abe Loomis, Janice Sorensen, Sonya Kitchell, Erica Wheeler & Erin McKeown contribute their vocal and song writing talents.

Nan Parati, proprietress of Elmer’s writes:

When Gayle Kabaker came to me in early summer to say she wanted to make a film about Elmer’s pancakes, I backed away saying, “I don’t think I want to be involved with this,” a project I feared was somehow going to be a five-minute infomercial on our pancakes. I do love our pancakes, but I couldn’t see myself standing there pitching them or standing proudly by while someone else did. I wasn’t sure what she had in mind and did everything I could to dissuade her from the idea.

Then she brought me the script and it was SO goofy and downright funny—AND I would get to wield a gun and smoke a cigar; the casting was very well-thought out, and it featured three of my favorite people in cameo roles, so I agreed and even did my own hair and makeup for the shoot.

Be sure to get your tickets early for the Fourth Annual Ashfield Filmfest. The event was sold out last year. The gala screening will take place at Ashfield Town Hall on Saturday, September 25th at 7 pm. Tickets are $5. Kids are free but they must have tickets. You can purchase tickets at the Ashfield Farmers Market Saturday mornings or at Belding Memorial Library during regular library hours. Tickets are also be available at Elmer’s and at Ashfield Hardware Store. This year a Technical Achievement Award and a Music Award have been added to the list of prizes. Belding Memorial Library will receive a share of this year’s proceeds. All the five minute film entries are in. Be sure to be there for the screening and to vote for the popular Audience Award. For more information visit our website at

Asleep at the Cummington Fair

My Day at the Fair

I was very tired at the Cummington Fair because we had a booth where we sold pulled pork, spare ribs and BBQ Chicken Sandwiches. I decided to take a nap in my truck. So I did. I was deeply, deeply asleep when a trailer full of cows pulled up beside me. The cows were all looking at me. (I did not know it because I was asleep., but here is what I think happened.) The cows all looked at each other. They snickered and said, “Watch this.” Then one of them said, “One, two . .. three!” And then they all bellowed together at the same time. Right in the window of my truck. I jumped to the ceiling of my truck. Then I went back to work

As some of you know, Elmer’s has taken a break from dinner for now while we get our vision together. However, seeing as how it’s coming up on Labor Day and all, we did stock up on ribs, smoked ‘em in Brolin’s big old smoker and have them for sale in our to-go cooler. Come and get them; heat them up in the oven or on the grill (or eat them cold) and have yourself a fine send-off of summer!

Hey! We need your old, raggely dishtowels again! Remember how you used to save them for us and bring them to us? Well, we actually used them all up until they were just little threads held together by hems and labels and we need some more! For those of you who are new to my column, you can re-purpose all of your old coffee mugs,ink-pens (did people in the rest of the country call pens “ink-pens” or was that just in the south, where pen and pin were the same word?) and dishtowels at Elmer’s. We are glad to take them all and give them a good and useful life in our café!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

A Day at Chapel Brook

Welcoming Autumn

Pony Mountain's Ledge Trail. 5 out of 5 Bayne's recommend the Summit Trail. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne

I was a city girl.  We lived in Manhattan when I was child, but my parents were not from there. They were city mice in their own way. They had picked cities to live in most of their adult lives, but had childhoods that included fields, farms, woods as well as the start of sprawling sidewalks. It was the change of seasons that my mother missed the most. Annually in the fall she would take us for a drive, to see leaves, to find a pumpkin, to drink the cider and get apples from a farm in a paper tote.

The heat wave that was the summer of 2010 has given way to cool autumn breezes. On the first crisp morning with leaves blowing down our street, my children brought up the S-word … Santa. My mind was more on school. Each of us are ready, in our own way, to go with the season’s change, to say goodbye to summer and welcome autumn.  I find I still need to wear the boys out, but now I’m worn out from a long summer of being mommy the cruise director. I wanted an adventure that was not too far from home, sure to be a hit and relatively low out put for the parents.

Clambering on the rocks, my youngest child as a blur not touching the earth. He looks like that in person too. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

We’ve been wanting to visit Chapel Brook Falls in Ashfield all summer. With our local drought, we knew the falls would not be rushing in late August. but we heard the scenery was lovely in any weather. The boys love climbing on furniture and scaling walls. I try to replace the furniture with rocks, mountains and streams as often as I can.

Chapel Brook Falls has three potential attractions. It was a cool day, everyone had been a bit under the weather, so we decided to come back another day to actually climb Pony Mountain, or perhaps enter through the DAR trail in Goshen, which would connect to the falls around the base of Pony Mountain.  Saturday’s adventure simply was a small hike down to falls and enjoying the cool air, watching individual leaves float down to the forest floor and rocking hopping over the falls. On a hot day, we will return; late September is sure to bring us a streak of a few hot days. We could see where people might use the rock formations as launching points to enter the cool pools.

The boys scrambled from rock to rock. The place was very quiet on such a cool day so we let them practice skipping rocks in the pools and we followed the path downstream quite a ways until we, of course, got hungry and had to reverse course. The sun peaking through the trees made for the magical sort of light that you always picture deep in the forest – not a bad effect for a three minute walk from the parking lot.

If you are new to the area like me, it might help you to know that the walk to the falls is behind the designated parking area. As you park, you are on a roadway bridge. Crossing back over this bridge to the unmarked road on the other side brings the entrance of the falls into view. This may be more apparent when the falls are roaring, but less so when they are a quiet dribble at the tail end of a very dry New England summer. We walked up Pony Mountain to collect our trail maps. The two routes both advertise a short distance, but the ledge trail – in our effort to wear them out, we walked up the mountain a short ways, requires belay equipment. Should you take this hike with your family, you will want to follow the summit trail, and I plan to do just that in the next few weeks. I want to soak in every moment of the slow transition to Autumn.



Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Dating in the Hilltowns

Like This!

Sex in the City Village

I was in New York City on Wednesday! They have lots of well-dressed people there and lots of windows for you to look into while you’re walking so you can see if what you put on that morning looks like what you thought it was going to. It doesn’t look as cool as you thought it was going to in the first window you pass, but they have all these other windows for you to look at yourself in and see if your outfit got any better!

You don’t get that so much in Ashfield. You’d have to jump up and down to see the reflection of your clothing in the windows of Country Pie or Elmer’s or the Hardware Store. You might be able to do it at Neighbors, but you probably don’t care as much about it as you would in New York.

One day we (at Elmer’s) were talking about what the Sex in the Village television show would be like. Three women would sit around at the Lakehouse and say to the fourth:

♦ You went out?
♦ Really?
♦ With a guy who wasn’t married or anything?
♦ Where did you find him?
♦ How old was he??
♦ Do I know him?
♦ Oh right. That guy.
♦ Yeah, I know him, too.
♦ Wait—which guy?
♦ You know, that one with the hair.
♦ Oh wait, with the—that guy? Yeah. I know him.
♦ Yeah, me too.
♦ Yeah, okay.
♦ So, we done here? Wanna go swimming?
♦ Naw, I’m gonna go take a nap.

And then the show would be over!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.”

Kids’ Market in the Hilltowns

Tony(a) Lemos of Ashfield, MA writes:

Kids' Market happens every Wednesday in the Summer in the parking lot outside of the Ashfield Hardware Store. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

I would like to remind everyone about the Wednesday Kids’ Market that happens in Ashfield Center every Wednesday in the Summer from 4-6pm in the parking lot of the Ashfield Hardware Store. Kids can have a venue to sell their creations. Can be as simple as lemonade and popcorn, picked flowers, their favorite craft, a budding talent or even a service – Face Painting? Fortune Telling … It is a fun weekly event!

Best of all there is no fee and no long term commitment. Come every Wednesday or just once. Let the kids run their own businesses for a few hours and watch them buy, trade and barter from each other.

You’ll have to provide a little table for your childrens wares and a chair if they’d like to sit down.

Hope you’ll join the market. We love it and are so grateful that Nancy and Laura (the fabulous owners of the Ashfield Hardware Store) will host this fun market again this summer.

And Crown Thy Good with Neighborhood From Sea to Shining Sea!

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The Quirks of Northern Gentlemen

Last week I told you about Jim’s leaving and Donna then announced her retirement from the grocery and produce departments, as well. Happily, I am the sort of entrepreneur who believes that everyone should do what they wanna in life and they move to the next place that makes them happiest.

I really, really appreciate both Jim and Donna for bringing Elmer’s to where it is today—much more professional and a lot sturdier as a result of their being here. Donna has also kindly agreed to stay on during the transition, especially in the area of local produce. She really got that department going and neither of us wants to see it falter! So she is with us until we get a new grocery and produce manager. So keep on coming, all is well and we’ll announce the next manager when we get her or him!

Thank you to all the people who have told me they appreciate my endowed shape! I think it will be a grand day that completely destroys the sociologists when they hap upon this quaint old town in Western Massachusetts where all the old New England farmers nod and say, “Yo, Babe! Look at you! You done turned voluptuous on us! Look at that junk in your trunk! Mmm hmmm! You could set a cold drink AND a clock radio on that fine behind, yes indeed!”

Which will be the contrast to the other group in Ashfield that made me laugh (in a good way) by singing at the Memorial Day gathering,

America!  America!
God shed her grace on thee!
And crown thy good with neighborhood (instead of brotherhood)
From sea to shining sea!

See, they wouldn’t sing that in New Orleans.  In New Orleans they’d say,  “Huh uh!  That ain’t the song!  God ain’t no girl!  I mean, I guess he could be a girl, I guess, but that ain’t how the song go!” Read the rest of this entry »

When One Chef Closes, Another Chef Opens

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Notes from Nan: Jim, Oh Jim done gone.
By HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

One of the problems of having a tiny restaurant with an outstanding certified chef is that he is constantly being recruited by larger restaurants that can pay him infinitely better than I can. Happily (and surprisingly!) for me, Jim turned the marauders down for 3 years, but while I was in New Orleans recently, one of them finally convinced him to go. It makes sense now that he has a family (wife and new baby) to support and all, so I wasn’t surprised, just sad to see him go and glad he stayed so long. Jim will still be with us, snapping out breakfasts with Mary on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but he’ll be cooking with the high rollers all the other days of the week. Thanks Jim, for all the excellent food.

So now we welcome our new dinner cook, Brolin! You’ve enjoyed his breakfasts and to-go lunches for a few months now; he came to us back in January—and here’s how Baby Jesus works: he (Brolin, not Baby Jesus) told me the other day that when he came back to this area he applied to a number of restaurants, but got no real interest. He was just starting to get discouraged when he applied to Elmer’s. We liked him as soon as we saw him and snapped him right up. And this is exactly where he’s supposed to be because we love him! He grew up in Amherst and sought his fortune in San Francisco where he had his own catering company, Instant Luau. He moved back to the area last winter and that’s when we got him.

Besides cooking, he has his own record label, 442 Records, preserving hip-hop, R & B and jazz for all time. He likes candlepin bowling, fly-fishing and lives to barbecue. He’s also cute as the dickens, which I can say because I am way older than he is.

I asked him what his culinary philosophy was and he shrugged, smiled and said, “I like to make good food that people will like.” So, okay! – He’s cooking Thursday and Friday dinners now!

Elmer’s Store | 396 Main St. | Ashfield, MA 01330 | (413) 628-4003


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm every week in her column, “Notes from Nan.” Share dinner with her every Friday at Elmer’s. Menu’s are posted with her column.

Ashfield Community Preschool Summer Survey

The Ashfield Community Preschool is located on Baptist Corner Road in Ashfield, MA (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

David Kulp of Ashfield, MA writes:

The Ashfield Community Preschool is collecting information about our community needs for preschoolers through an online survey and we hope you can participate. All are welcome to complete the survey. Read on…

Ashfield Community Preschool anticipates offering an eight-week theme-based summer program running from June 28-August 20, with flexible enrollment including weekly, or full and half- day. Themes for the summer program might include weeks focused on nature, gardening, and arts and crafts. Additionally, our program is considering hosting special guest artist days during which community experts would come to teach, for example, watercolor painting, knitting, or music and we also anticipate offering designated days for swim time at the lake. In an effort to serve and assess the childcare needs of our hilltown communities more fully we ask that you complete this brief survey.

To entice you to take a few moments to fill out this survey, your returned survey will enter you into a drawing for a family four-pack of tickets for our May Fair featuring a performance by the Double Edge Theater.

Wanted: Quintessential Willie Gray Stories

Notes from Nan: And now, Spring.

BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

You know what I like about snow? It piles up. You know you’re getting somewhere with it. Unless rain gets totally out of control, it just goes into the ground and maybe runs down the street a little bit, but you never get the full sense of what you’ve got there in a rainstorm unless you’re Steve Sauter or Russell Fessenden or somebody. But with snow! In 1993 I passed through Ashfield on my way to New Orleans from Minnesota on the train. (I was going the circuitous route, having ALL the time in the world in those carefree days!) and I remember that the snow in Ashfield was up to my butt and I thought, “Now this is one place I would like to live!” And here I is! Up to my butt in snow again! (Well I would be if it hadn’t rained that one day. I thought that was an unfair waste of a good snow day, but Rob the Snow Removal Guy seemed glad for the respite.)

But you know what else I like? I like that it’s 39 degrees this morning and the sun is out, melting the glacier on my truck windshield. (I backed it up in the driveway so that the sun could get a better shot at it) and outside Harry is tapping trees in our front yards for sap. People say, “It’s spring! Spring’s coming, you can feel it!” and it is! At least for now. Sugaring season is kind of like New England’s Carnival Season—it’s happy and people dress like Willie Gray in their plaid shirts, ear-flap caps and over-sized boots, out drilling holes in trees, happy for what’s to come next.

Hey guess what! Tom McCrumm’s Southface Sugarhouse opens this weekend!

Speaking of Willie, yesterday morning I was talking to Marian Gray and her daughter Doris and we were telling Willie Gray stories and we thought we should collect them before they get forgotten. Collecting stories is nearly always my idea, but I asked Marian if she thought that would be okay and she laughed and said she thought it would be good.

If you have any quintessential Willie Gray stories, email them to me and I’ll collect them all together. I’m not sure yet what we’ll do with them next, but at least we’ll have a pretty good compendium of them.

I was talking to Norm Nye yesterday afternoon and he said, “Willie’s always seen going to bed as nothing but an interruption of work.”

My personal favorite Willie story took place when I first moved to town and needed someone to help me paint the interior of Elmer’s. Anna Fessenden told me to call Willie, and so I did, even though I had only met him once. That evening I found him home and asked if he might be available for hire. He thought for a moment and said, “Well, I got a lot of chores to do in a day, but after I finish ‘em I’ll call and see if you still need help.”

The next morning at 7:30a.m. the phone rang. Being a regular person, I was still asleep but I answered the phone anyway.

“This is William Gray,” the voice said, “I finished my chores. You still got any paintin’ left to do over there?”


Thursday 03/03/10: By the way, we’ve expanded our delivery borders. We don’t exactly know where they end anymore, so give us a call and we’ll let you know if you live inside them. – Coconut Thai beef Curry with potatoes, tomatoes, chick peas, green peas, peppers, onions, Thai eggplant, cilantro, peanuts, mushrooms & fresh basil; Vegetarian: Vegetarian Coconut Thai Curry with potatoes, tomatoes, chick peas, green peas, peppers, onions, Thai eggplant, cilantro, peanuts, mushrooms & fresh basil. Pick up or Free Delivery. 628-4003

Friday 03/05/10: Grilled Jerk Chicken with Caribbean Lime Rice, Braised Greens & Cornbread with Maple Butter; Vegetarian: Jerk Tofu with Caribbean Lime Rice, Braised Greens & Cornbread with Maple Butter. Pick up, Free Delivery or Eat at Elmer’s.

Elmer’s Store | 396 Main St. | Ashfield, MA 01330 | (413) 628-4003


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm every week in her column, “Notes from Nan.” Share dinner with her every Friday at Elmer’s. Menu’s are posted with her column.

“Bless Your Heart” Rates at The Inn at Norton Hill

Notes from Nan: The Weather
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

I was just writing to my friends in New Orleans, telling them that day before yesterday it was 40 degrees and we were all dancing around, happy that spring was evident in the air.  What a difference 1500 miles, makes, huh?  They’re all complaining today that it’s in the 40s and so cold.  They say they’re tired of it being cold.  Bless their hearts.

By the way, I realize that if you don’t have internet you can’t see this, but if anyone without power decides they can’t take it anymore, we have special “bless your heart” rates for people who would like to stay at the inn while they wait for power.  We actually go down in price in emergencies instead of going up.  Call us at 628-4003 if you know someone who might need to get out.  This rate does not apply to any cold people in New Orleans.

If they want to stay home but would like a shower, those are free at the inn.  Call us for that, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Overheard Conversations in Ashfield

Notes from Nan: Happy Mardi Gras!
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

My Favorite Overheard Conversations of the Past Week:

The first, on the Dangers of Winning the Superbowl and Having Mardi Gras all in the same two weeks:

Last week I was part of a conference call that was taking place in New Orleans. I was calling in on speaker phone and six or seven New Orleanians were all together. While we were waiting for the last person to show up for the meeting, I heard one person say, “I cannot WAIT for Lent!” “I know!” exclaimed another, “Ash Wednesday can’t get here early enough for me! I’m worn out with all this partying!”

The Second: on One Thing Women are Good For:

Two guys were talking to each other, unaware that I was in the vicinity. I heard one say, “He told me what he was doing and I was like, “Dude! You need a woman in your life! No woman would listen to that kind of plan and let you even attempt that! It’s a stupid idea!”

My new favorite name:

The vice-president and acting president of Nigeria is named Goodluck Jonathan. That’s his real name, Jonathan being his last name. It makes me re-think my plan not to have children. The naming possibilities are endless!

My favorite thing to do today:

Stream on the computer. It’s the local, community-supported radio station in New Orleans and they’re playing Mardi Gras music all day long today. It makes you happy!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

Nan is the proprietor of Elmer’s Store in Ashfield, MA. A New England transplant from the Deep South, Nan shares her southern wit, wisdom and charm in her column, “Notes from Nan.” Share dinner with her every Friday at Elmer’s. Menu’s are posted with her column.

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