Off the Mat: The Rainbow Within

The Rainbow Within

When I was growing up, church was the center of my family’s social network. Sundays were music, crafts, and familiar stories, potlucks, and community. We sang Morning Has Broken alongside How Great Thou Art – it was the 70s, after all.

Beyond church, my parents helped host Christian encounter retreats a few times each year. These weekends were adults only, but the closing worship services were open to everyone, including kids. For my single-digit self, these services were late and long and often hot, but I enjoyed them. Even now, I can close my eyes and be resting my head in my mom’s lap in the pew of some church for some closing celebration, sensing the warm glow of the light and the love and the music. Lots of music. Lots of rainbows.

Rainbows became my thing. I decorated my new room in a new town with a rainbow bedspread and sheets and the two pillowcases that, if propped just right, made the full arch of the rainbow. (Want a visual for this trip down memory lane? Google “tomorrow’s rainbow pillowcases.”) Rainbows symbolized hope and spiritual connection that carried me through the storm clouds of adolescence. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: Cell Phone Contract with My Teenager

Dear Readers,

I get so many questions and concerns from parents about their teenagers’ use of cellphones that I decided, for my column this month, to share the contract that my co-parent and I use for our 15 year old daughter.  We still have our challenges, and it is a work in progress, but it helps to avoid many of the problems that I hear about in my practice. Feel free to use, change or ignore any parts of it.



Contract for Use of a Cellphone

We agree to:

  • Allow you to have a cellphone, and contribute to its cost and monthly plan, so long as you use it in accordance with this contract.
  • Offer support and education about how to be a good online citizen.
  • Listen without judgment or punishment when you need help, make mistakes, or have concerns.
  • Respect your privacy except when we feel we need to protect or educate you.

You agree to take responsibility for following our rules:

  • Contribute $100 toward the cost of the phone and $5/month to the cost of your plan, assuming more of the cost of it over the next few years.
  • Use your phone only during screen time and follow screen time rules.
  • Understand that if you are using anything that has a screen, it is screen time. This includes handheld devices, desktops, laptops, tvs and anything else that has a screen.
  • Respect our rule about no social media and use your devices only for texting, face timing, calling, and approved games (games that don’t include sharing photos, videos or any personal information with people that you don’t know in person or inviting people to rate/judge you or your work).  
  • Understand that the phone does not go to school except on transition days or by special arrangement with a parent.  
  • Put your phone in the agreed upon, public location at both houses, as soon as you get home, in between use, and at bedtime.

You agree to take responsibility for your health/safety:

  • Never use your phone to communicate with people who are unknown to you in person and never agree to meet someone that you have met online.
  • Share the password with us and not change it until you have given us the new one.
  • Keep it on airplane mode, in an agreed upon location, when not in use.  
  • When you are carrying your phone with you, have it on airplane mode, except when you are using it or waiting for a call.
  • Have the phone as far away from your head as possible when using it.
  • Do not provide your personal information – address, real name, birthdate, SS number, names of family members to sites or to even anyone known to you since these routes are not secure and that info can be hacked and used to steal your identity. You can create a fake birthday, etc if you wish.
  • To turn off the device and tell a trusted adult (preferably us!) immediately if you come across porn, bullying, someone using a damaging picture of you online, or anything else that is concerning/confusing/not age-appropriate.

You agree to take responsibility for your words and actions:

  • Not say anything to someone, or about someone, that you would not say to their face.
  • Not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.  Be a leader and a positive influence, or stay out of the conversation.
  • Never send pictures of yourself that you would not want the entire world to see.
  • Send only pictures of others that you have their permission to send.

You agree to take responsibility for protecting your future:

  • Tell friends not to post, share or forward photos of you or your messages without your knowledge and consent.
  • To always remember that once you send a picture or message, you have lost control over it. It can be forwarded to people that you never intended it for. Assume this is always a possibility before you hit the send button. In other words, if you wouldn’t say/wear/do it in front of your entire class, don’t say/wear/do it online.
  • To remember that once you put something online, it creates a “digital footprint” that never completely goes away. It can be found in the future by college admissions officers, prospective employers, and law enforcement. In other words, if you aren’t totally proud of it, don’t document it online.
  • Understand that college admissions officers and potential employers are now checking who potential candidates follow on twitter and other social media aps. They will use this information to judge whether you are a “good fit” for their organization.

You agree to :

  • Be honest with us if/when you mess up and break any of the above agreements. We expect you to make mistakes. That’s ok. Mistakes are how you learn. Above all, be honest about your mistakes so we can help you learn. We are on your team. We are all in this together.
  • Understand that we may, at times, take breaks from these technologies in order to give us all a chance to “reset”. This will happen if you are not respecting the terms of this contract or if the use of the phone is creating undue conflict or stress in our homes/relationships with you.

We believe that these are not just online skills, but life skills. We know that technology is a fun and novel way to connect with others. We also know that the best way to connect with others is to be with them, real and in person, giving each other your loving and undivided attention.

We love you more than anything in the whole world!

Signature __________________________________ Date ________________

Signature __________________________________ Date ________________

Signature __________________________________ Date ________________


Sarah Getoff has over 20 years of experience as a parenting consultant/psychotherapist and has a private practice in Northampton, MA.  She offers parenting consultations, couples counseling and individual therapy. Sarah also offers a Parenting Support Group and a Get Unstuck with EFT Tapping Group.

Ask questions for the column or sample parenting workshops at

Reiki Positive: Gently Taking Care of Your Anger

Energy is constantly changing. I honor the energy. It’s all around us. There are three types of invisible forces dancing inside us….emotions, thoughts, and life force energy. When we stuff down our emotions, we are creating blocks in our physical bodies, which make us more susceptible to illness. Life experiences trigger our emotions. All of us, kids and parents, need to express those emotions as they rise and fall away. But what do we do with all the people who quickly and shockingly aim their anger at us when we least expect it? How do we stop the “Grinches,” the “crazy makers,” the antagonists from knocking us over with their anger, hate, resentment, negativity? We don’t is the short answer.

We can’t control what other people do and say. And we can’t keep people away. Our daily lives are filled with interactions with other people. We can’t live on an island alone, although some people try it. Isolation is not the answer. Relationships are the connections and meanings on which we create our experiences. But how do we deal with friends, family, caretakers, employers, strangers who are mean to us, who hurt us, who keep bumping into our ethics and triggering our fear or anger?

You imagine yourself completely safe and strong and then genuinely ask if you can help them. Then you simply listen, without defensive responses. You can hear angry people, without allowing them to affect your own emotions. You can also ask them not to yell. And ask them to talk about their anger or pain. Anger is an emotion that is best dealt with intimately, not thrown at one another like daggers, not used as an outward, emotional hot-potato.

When I lose my temper, my friend used to say, “She’s pushing your buttons again. Get rid of your buttons, so she can’t push them.” Thich Nhat Hanh agrees. He says in his book called Anger – to eliminate your buttons, you must take very gentle and deliberate care of your emotions. Hold your anger close and give it love and attention. “Anger is your baby,” he writes. We often push our emotions aside, but that just makes them grow and feel worse, like a crying baby. Cradle and love your baby. So now, I sit quietly, visualize myself younger and I tenderly ask her questions like…

  • Why are you so angry?
  • Were you hurt in the past by something or someone?
  • Can I do something to douse the flames or tame the fire of anger inside you?
  • Tell me how to help, because your anger needs my attention and most of all my love and understanding.

When someone else is making you crazy, then look inside yourself. When someone else is taking up too
many of your thoughts, then look inside yourself. Your anger is crying for you to listen. Self-compassion
is the key.

If you’re looking for guidance and support in raising your little ones, Alison would like to help! Send your questions to:


Alison Vale

Alison was born and raised deep in the woods of Pennsylvania, where her childhood imagination ran wild and free. As a scabby-kneed tomboy she seemed fearless, yet as she grew older, her fears and anxieties clearly got worse. She attained her Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. As a clinical researcher and biostatistician at a university medical center for 18 years, Alison co-authored many medical articles and observed first-hand the short-comings of conventional medicine. She left clinical academia to become a Reiki Master Teacher and author. Her goal is to forge energy medicine into conventional medicine and share more intriguing stories and workshops. She has an 8-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, and is still learning every hour of every day how to parent.

Off the Mat: Caught Stealing

Off the Mat: Caught Stealing

Been caught stealing
Once when I was 5
I enjoy stealing
It’s just as simple as that.

-Jane’s Addiction

My son went through a sticky fingers phase a few years back. Office supplies went missing from my desk. Quarters vanished from my dashboard bin, too often stranding me at a meter. His actions included a bit of Robin Hood-esque passing on quarters to friends. In exchange for what? I still don’t know. Perhaps simply to curry favor. Perhaps out of genuine generosity. I imposed natural consequences when possible; no you can’t have a quarter for the gumball machine because you’ve taken all of the ones I keep in the car.

Then he “borrowed” a friend’s new marker set without permission. After returning the set with an apology and amends, we speculated on potential social consequences of stealing, how if people don’t trust you, they won’t want you to come back to play at their house. His mind spun all sorts of ethical questions, focused mainly on getting away with it. He argued that there’d be times when you don’t get caught stealing, so it would be ok. I countered with practicalities like security cameras, but also about the deeper importance of self-integrity. You’d know. You’d know you took something that isn’t yours.


Yoga philosophy identifies asteya, or not-stealing, as one of the fundamental ways to engage in the world without adding to its suffering, or our own. The lessons of asteya are obvious in these concrete examples from my kiddo and from my own childhood. It’s been a long time since I had to return the $1 bill taken from the church donation box of my youth! My shame was lesson enough for me to still remember the experience, forty plus years later. Sanskrit scholar Nicolai Bachman says “the choice (not to steal) is obvious if you are to develop inner and outer happiness.”

So where in my life can I do better about not taking from others?

“You interrupted, Mama.” The setting is Thanksgiving Saturday morning kitchen conversation. I jumped into the conversational fray. My kiddo called me on it. I didn’t say excuse me or wait my turn. I interjected.

Ah, here’s my asteya growing edge: I steal air time. I talk over people. It’s a longstanding habit born of the need to get a word in edgewise in my chatty family and to claim space in my male dominated previous career.

Those may be my reasons, but they are no excuse.

I’m impatient. I hear where someone’s train of thought is going – or think I do, let’s be honest – and don’t want to wait for them to get there. I like my ideas and want to share them. Many times, with the best intentions.  I find it easy to speak in public, easier than many. How do I step back and let others claim space? Not speak for – or over – those younger, less privileged in race or economics or education, less comfortable speaking, less verbally pushy than I am? How do I not steal their air time?

It’s easy to resort to punishing myself internally for such failures to live up to my ideals. Thankfully, it’s growing easier to recognize the unproductive nature of such self-criticism. Self-shaming becomes a way I steal from myself, my own peace of mind, my chance to change.

Reading commentaries by my favorite teachers, I’m reminded of the many aspects of not taking: honesty, trust, generosity, receptivity. These are ideals, yes. And they are also tools. Both Bachman and yoga master Nichala Joy Devi take asteya beyond “thou shalt not steal”, flipping it into proactive generosity and receptivity. “Living with generosity and honesty brings material and spiritual prosperity,” Devi writes.

As gift giving season swings into high gear, I’m looking for day to day opportunities to expand my generosity and practice asteya. How can I give, not just material things, but give of my time, my attention? How can I give others space as well, rather than claiming it for myself? When am I giving too much, depleting my energy, stealing my own health? When can a snag a moment of self-acceptance? That’s one I’d welcome to be caught stealing.


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.

Learning Landscape: November 2018

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. Download this month’s Learning Landscape to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves.

The November Landscape

It’s dark outside these days, and the hills all seem a little less tall now that they’re devoid of the leafy fluff that extends their reach a little closer to the clouds. While it may seem that the change in seasons signals to the natural world that it should slow to a stop, there are beginnings amongst all of the ending.

This past week, my classroom hung the first few in a collection of bird feeders outside our windows. We’ve tracked goldfinches, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and some small woodpeckers outside of our window, and the bird journal is quickly filling up with sightings. The buffet of thistle and sunflower seeds has attracted a wide variety of feathered folks, and we’re proud to feed them suet from a local farm. An outdoor snack time afforded us the opportunity to inspect our feeder-holding crabapple, allowing us to discover the many perfectly round holes pecked into its bark. We’re looking forward to continuing to learn how to identify the bird species found locally, and are planning to participate in some feeder-related citizen science this winter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: Helping Our Teens Take Responsibility

Reiki Positive: Steps to Generate Positivity

Steps to Generate Positivity

Photo courtesy of BK

Break the trance of fear, then shrink the fear with positive energy with these 7 tactics.

  • Name your fear so it cannot ambush you – All of us are afraid of something, but rather than run away or freeze, fear can open you to opportunity and growth. It’s a useful negative emotion to study and gain more knowledge about yourself. Always lock eyes with the fear, name it, and thank it for teaching you, BUT it is not in charge of your life – you are!
  • Listen to your intuition – Practice getting quiet in a deep trance style, with a drum, or guided, or silent, or walking, or in any way you can coax your “brain chatter” to quiet down. Intuition comes to each of us differently, keep listening for it. I hear my intuition when I write or when I listen to moving water. Search for your inner voice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Passionate Energy

Passionate Energy

Photo courtesy of wishful photog

Winter vacation during a cold snap. 3 kindergarten boys + 2 moms + 1 little sister + local indoor playground = a sanity break for everyone. Climbing structure, water play, firefighter dress up, lunch break. The boys, used to eating together in the school cafeteria, plow through lunchbox contents and are ready to play far more quickly than we are. We suggest they go run around the open space nearby, farther from the tables but still within sight. There’s grabbing and take downs, but all three are smiling and well matched – rules I learned from another mom of boys.

Soon, little sis joins the boys. Big bro pretty quickly knocks her down and piles on top. Her expression shows she’s not hurt, but not happy. Their mom calls him off and running resumes. Then big bro tackles little sis again. This time, brother’s friend piles on top too. And I watch my bright eyed boy run gleefully to join the fun and hop on the pile.

Three boys, each twice her size.

One little girl underneath. Not smiling.

Walking the line between not my place and not OK, I call my own child off with the sharp tone he knows to heed immediately.

Not OK.

You guys are all the same size, so if you want to wrestle and everyone’s having fun, that’s ok. But the rule in our family is it’s not ok for bigger kids to pile up on a littler one.

During a visit to Grammy and Poppy’s, a gleeful tickle game turns to tears. Escaping my father’s grasp, he announces his intent, I’m gonna teww on you to Mama.

He’d said stop. Poppy didn’t listen.

Later that night, my dad and hubby get an earful from me.

You are the most important men in his life. His biggest examples. He needs to learn from YOU that when a person sets a rule about their body, a good man listens. He stops. This isn’t about tickling. This is teaching him about respecting rules for other people’s bodies.

Both understood. Both know my story.

When my parents talked about sex, they always wrapped the details in an unwavering abstinence message. We were good (read Christian) girls; we would of course wait until we were married. I remember vividly one conversation when I was 16 about my attraction to my on again/off again boyfriend, the boy who would later feature prominently in my most egregious #metoo narrative.

What did I see in him?

The phrase I’d use now is vibrant life force. Intensity. The word I knew then was passion.

Mom, trying to bridge the gap, tentatively ventured, you mean, sex?

No! I stomped. That’s exactly what I don’t mean. I knew that’s what you’d think!

Passion, joie de vivre, intensity, vibrancy. We tie them all to sex. Those qualities are certainly sexy, attractive. And so much more.

Yoga philosophy names brahmacarya as one of the ethical tenets of yoga. Brahmacarya. The sex one. Brahmacarya is commonly translated as celibacy. (What?! Yoga philosophy teaches celibacy?!?) This view singles out sex as separate, something to suppress. I find wisdom – and healing – from teachers who define brahmacarya as responsible sexual behavior along with the conservation or moderation of life force energy beyond sex.

It helps me to acknowledge the other ethical pillars brahmacarya stands on: nonviolence, truthfulness, and not taking from others. Like remembering to breathe deeply and taking time to stretch my muscles, working with these interwoven ethical practices improves my quality of life. Hopefully too, my quality of parenting.

So with my son, we are not pushing an abstinence message. We focus on consent. We try to use proper names for body parts and sex acts and answer the questions he asks, which are getting more and more explicit – gotta love sleepover camp! He’s still in the eeew stage (thankfully). But we know that will change, even if he can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that?!

Last weekend, we attended a small birthday party which featured abundant candy and caffeine in addition to cake. Their sugar high was exponentially frenzied. Five boys running and wrestling, tackling and tickling. Close to chaos, yet never spun out of control. And when the birthday boy’s little sis joined the fray, I was heartened to see my son slow down, pretend wrestling with her – half his age & size, moderating his energy to play appropriately with her smaller, younger body.

Maybe some of our teaching is getting through.


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.

The Good Life: The Not Quite Empty Nest

Let Them Grow: Apple Love

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Apple Love

After a trip to Pine Hill Orchard and taste testing several kinds of apples, strolling the quaint hills and admiring the artwork, my kids were obsessed with apples. It just so happen to be Apple Week at the daycare. I was on a mission to make apples even more exciting this year and so were the teachers at the daycare!

We vowed to focus more activities on sensory play and that meant more messy fun. We can up with these go-to fall apple activities that are easy, engaging and beautiful!

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Homework Time

Homework Time

We’ve made it through another September. Once again, I successfully avoided the back to school shopping circus with my kid. Not yet fashion conscious, his drawer full of t-shirts proved sufficient. Still Minecraft obsessed, he made no request for a new backpack. And wondrously, our district provides the essentials: loose-leaf, composition books, and a stocked pencil box. I was shocked to discover this during Kindergarten orientation years back;  teachers, not parents provide school supplies?! Really??! Really. In our well-resourced town, the system provides the necessary study tools.

School came easily for me as a child. I did well without much effort. Until college. I finished eventually, but not without a little extra time and a lot of extra angst. Twenty years later – and a decade ago now – I began pursuing my current profession and line of study, yoga, mindfulness and healing modalities. The first week of yoga teacher training included an anatomy intensive. I was amazed at how quickly and easily my mind absorbed information about muscle mechanics while I was moving my body instead of staring at a lecture screen. My body provided the necessary study tools.

Last school year, I (finally!) completed my body work and Reiki teaching certifications. Briefly, I considered pursuing the next level of yoga teacher training or another in-depth healing course. But I paused. Instead, I committed to step back from course work and instead to go deeper with the tools I have.

One month into this school year, I regularly have to remind myself of this intention. How do I keep this commitment to study with no external assignment holding me to it? In theory, I can study on my own. I can read the masters – women like Devi, ChodronKemptonJudith – and apply their teachings to my life and work. Practically, the moments for reading and introspection get quickly filled with laundry and lunch making, and the myriad of other external commitments populating my to-do list. When I enroll in (and let’s be honest, pay for) a course, I make the time. Now that my commitment is wholly internal, qualms arise. Self-study feels self-centered. Self-indulgent.

And yet.

And yet I strive to live my life from a place of mindful awareness. I know yoga to be more than physical stretches, to be a practice that keeps me connected, mind body and spirit. Lately, my racing mind and sluggish body and…spirit? Oh yes, don’t forget spirit. Well, such signs point to the need to fulfill my internal commitment. To do my homework.

Yoga philosophy names svadyaya, or self-study, as one of the ten pillars for authentic living.  Originally, svadyaya referred to chanting sacred texts or mantras. Modern scholars have expanded this, for better or worse, tying svadyaya into the self-help culture.

Modern shaman Alberto Villodo encourages “study to know your own nature and cultivate wisdom.” Yoga Master Nischala Joy Devi defines svadyaya as the study of scripture, nature and introspection, then quotes Rabbi Hillel, “Study brings us wisdom. Wisdom brings us life.”  Sanskrit scholar Nicholai Bachman advises reading, listening, observing ourselves in action. “We may or may not like what we discover,” he cautions. Yet when we can look at ourselves insightfully, we are better able to grow our strengths and address our shortcomings.

While my habit of procrastinating by cleaning may have appealing outcomes, it is worth observing. My inner critic demanding professional “should” before exercise deserves curious attention. My interactions with challenging community members provide opportunities to find compassion.

My homework becomes applying the pillars of yoga philosophy – nonviolence, cleanliness, truthfulness, gratitude – to whatever life sets before me. At work. With my family and myself, my body, my home. This human experience provides the necessary study tools.


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.

Reiki Positive: Love Is a Verb

Love is a Verb

Reiki means life force energy. Many of us refer to Reiki as Love, but love can be a tricky word. Love is multi-complex. To some, love means romantic love or adoration or a form of affection. I prefer using the term Reiki because it simplifies these complex ideas into simply offering positive energy to one another.

In Reiki, intentions are extremely powerful. Sending loving wishes to others is not unlike a prayer. In practicing loving-kindness meditations, it trains us to send love and kindness to ourselves, our friends, our family, our neighbors, and even our rivals. That is an act of love, opening the heart. To truly wish people well, even though you may not understand a word they speak or a belief they hold. That is love in action. Can you love the child that calls your son names? Can you love the child that teases your daughter? Can you love the parents that think you are a subpar parent? Love is accepting them regardless of those judgments. Someday it may be your kids doing those things or you being the subpar parent. No one said love was effortless. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Three Edible Creative Free-Play Recipes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Eat What You Play!

Now that my newborn is becoming a toddler overnight, I have begun to include her in toddler–esque art projects. This is exciting in so many ways. As all kids, she explores, experiments and creates every waking moment. Like every one-year-old she loves sensory exposure at its best- mostly by mouth. So, the question became how do I include her without poisoning her, letting her choke, or dumbing down toddler activities? Because she mouths everything and taste it just the same, I decided to create a few sensory activities that would be safe and fun for both infants and toddlers. And what do they both love? Food! Read the rest of this entry »

Reiki Positive: Waves


Joy is never gone, it is simply forgotten.

Energy is everywhere, even in the waves. I believe in our human potential. I believe our natural disposition is JOYFUL and WHOLE.

I want balance. I don’t want to have my guard up anymore. As my kids grow, I get more and more worried for their safety. But what is safety? Are we ever really safe? How can I know if being on the highway is safer than sitting in a movie theater, is safer than flying in a plane, is safer than swimming in the ocean? Faith.

We went swimming with my kids at the ocean, and watching them was killing me. There were no lifeguards. It was cold. The breakers were hitting me in the crotch. The sun was burning my epidermis. So I decided to join them. Yee! Ha! It was fun to boogie board and enjoy the waves as they knocked into us. It takes your breath away. My kids couldn’t believe I was having fun with them. They were so incredibly happy that I was playing in the water.

On my last day of vacation, I watched from the beach around 7 PM as another family arrived to feel the ocean water. Mom and Dad watched their two kids, who were the same age and gender as mine (8 and 13). The four kids soaked in the positive energy. The parents worrying their eyeballs out on the beach. The father kept yelling from the rocky shore at his son to come back closer. He was clearly stressed out about how deep his son was wading in to the surf. He kept suddenly exploding in an anxious voice, “Christian!” His son diligently responded and walked back to lower water. After the tenth, “Christian!!” the boy rolled his eyes and finally said back to his Dad, “WHAT!?!?!?!”  Then he called his son all the way back in and told him all about riptides and their unpredictability. “You just don’t know,” he explained. “You can’t predict it.” Luckily, the boy went back in the salty surf anyway. That explains why Dad wasn’t swimming.

I hope in your life, you stop worrying about all the risks of waves and just ride them, and know both sides, the worrier and the warrior. I’m happy to report, Christian’s mom put on her suit and was soon screaming with joy in the icy waves with her son and daughter, while Dad stood on the edge!

Photo credit: Valerie

If you’re looking for guidance and support in raising your little ones, Alison would like to help! Send your questions to:


Alison Vale

Alison was born and raised deep in the woods of Pennsylvania, where her childhood imagination ran wild and free. As a scabby-kneed tomboy she seemed fearless, yet as she grew older, her fears and anxieties clearly got worse. She attained her Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. As a clinical researcher and biostatistician at a university medical center for 18 years, Alison co-authored many medical articles and observed first-hand the short-comings of conventional medicine. She left clinical academia to become a Reiki Master Teacher and author. Her goal is to forge energy medicine into conventional medicine and share more intriguing stories and workshops. She has an 8-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, and is still learning every hour of every day how to parent.

Off the Mat: Lessons in Unconditional Love from Piggett

Things that Fly

My boy is at school. Kindergarten. A whole new world. He’s only a mile away, much closer than the preschool over-the-river-and-through-the-woods. Still, it feels farther. Distant. I was in and out of his preschool room. Most days we said goodbye at his cubby-hole, but there were regular opportunities to come in and play, read a book, or just cuddle until he was settled.

Now, we say goodbye as he sprints out to the bus. If he remembers to say goodbye. He goes into a big building and hangs his new big backpack in a cubby I have never seen. May never see.

Apparently, stuffies don’t go to kindergarten.

I remember him that very first day, all wrinkled and noisy. Read the rest of this entry »

The Family Plant Nursery: Homestead-Scale Propagation Projects

The Family Plant Nursery: Homestead-Scale Propagation Projects

I started learning about propagation because I wanted edible and medicinal perennial plants for my budding homestead and I quickly realized that buying them in any kind of quantity would cost more than I was prepared to pay. So my adventure in plant propagation began. I set up a little nursery of desirable species by sourcing cuttings from friends, grafting onto the wild crab apples on my land, and planting seeds. It took way more time than the nursery-bought alternative, and it was not always tidy or efficient, but I learned a ton. Helping plants to grow and reproduce uplifts the spirit, induces a reverence for nature, and can even nourish the body. I hope you will seek the magic out for yourself and share the joy with your family.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Water & Color

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Water & Color

It is still summer and that means it is still time for toddlers and preschoolers to play with water. Water has been the theme of our lives over the last six weeks and I love it. I love watching children mesmerized by water play. Pouring and measuring, filling and carrying and dumping – the only thing that makes it more fun is adding color! Here are some easy and fun water based art projects to keep your little one engaged in sensory and science play. Read the rest of this entry »

Plantastic! A Horticultural Journey

On the Pursuit of Plant Wisdom

I grew up barely able to tell the difference between a maple leaf and an oak leaf. I perceived, somewhat dimly, that the crunchy green things I put into my mouth when I ate a salad were plant-related. And now I work with plants for a living. I still have so much to learn in my journey toward plant literacy, but I’ve certainly come a long way. I’m taking my family along for the ride, too. If I’m patient enough, and lucky enough, my kids will not only know the names, biology, and uses of plants in our area, they’ll have a deep and long-lasting reverence for the magic of the natural world. What follows are some of the best tools I’ve made use of along the way:

Credit: Emma Frisch

Learn about (and eat) wild edibles. What better way to learn about plants than to digest them? As we know, an experience that engages all five senses will stick in the mind far longer than a paragraph read on the internet. You’ll feel the texture and taste of the plant on your tongue, and feel the way it sits in your stomach. Go on a wild edible walk with a knowledgeable guide to learn what’s safe and good to eat. Taste the surprising sweetness of black locust flowers, crack open your first shagbark hickory nut, bring home a sack of fiddleheads and sauté them up (as my wife has done the past few springs) for your loved ones. There is a world of gastronomic delight right outside your door. Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer is the most enjoyable book on the subject I’ve encountered. Though I haven’t personally taken any, I hear Earthwork Wilderness Survival Training School offers informative classes all through the summer and fall.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Age of Contentment

The Age of Contentment

Contentment is a nine year-old in summer. He runs like fluid water, swift and effortless and fresh. We can’t keep up anymore. I don’t even try. His unconscious skip-hop step betrays the simple excitement of moving. He devours chapter books, curled on the sofa with one of the warrior cats’ adventures, then bikes to the library to get more. He makes his own sandwich (though clean up skills are still lacking.)

He’s aware of his appearance, but not yet in a self-conscious way. “I like my hair like this” he says of his flattened-on-one-side bedhead. His simple self-confident acceptance is irritating at times, until I realize my irritation is jealousy. To be so content!

He considers his life far from perfect. I am the meanest Mama in the universe because he doesn’t have his own phone, unlimited Minecraft time, or ice cream with every meal. Even so, he sings himself into unbroken sleep. He smiles with his whole body.

By contrast, too many adults I know, myself included, are largely malcontent. I scowl at my never ending to do list, dust under the couch, spider veins and cellulite. Begrudge the beauty outside as I hunch over laptop indoors. Resent the bright moonlight for interrupting elusive sleep, and then lie awake cataloguing all I’ve left undone – personally, professionally, spiritually. How much energy do I put into being aggravated?  Read the rest of this entry »

Reiki Positive: Let It Be

Let It Be

I believe in energy and unseen entities. There was a time I thought I might be clairvoyant and intuitive. My inner guidance was strong. I was confident I was making decisions that were ideal for me. Being a Reiki Master and Teacher, I felt aligned, but then doubt came back – a dark, familiar figure. I was meditating one day and I saw only darkness and shadows behind my eyelids. I was looking and searching and trying to find answers. As I struggled and sat more to meditate for guidance, I grew more and more frustrated by my opposition. Was the universe ignoring me? I thought I must be useless or forgotten. I was lost.

I began to get stuck in this negative cycle of trying to meditate then feeling so incredibly alone. I sought professional help because my friends were telling me I seemed depressed. I criticized myself for everything I might be doing wrong. I had been so joyous for two or three years of my life, but now I felt like a failure and I kept telling myself I was a failure. In the cold, dark days of winter, I told myself I wasn’t earning enough money. I told myself I wasn’t looking attractive anymore. I told myself I wasn’t a happy person and my kids were cursed with me in their lives. I told myself I wasn’t successful. I felt like the failure I had feared all along. Sadness descended upon me. I cried for myself. I cried for the loss of my connection with Spirit. I thought I was doomed to sit in suffering, isolated. Was I being punished? Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Garden Chores Galore

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Garden Chores Galore

At three, rounding four years old, my daughter is still a menace in the garden. With her little friends, they terrorize the green tomatoes, eat green blue berries and rip up entire strawberry plants with ease. They trample over the kale and the hearty cabbage is still no match for the preschoolers size tens. In response, I have come up with the Four W’s for our visit to the farm, picking, and home gardening. They are watering, washing, weeding, and wondering. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: Lying

Moving, Sending, and Settling Energy: Family Exercises

Moving, Sending, and Settling Family Energy

Have you ever noticed that some individuals are grumpy and some are joyful? Is it mood or energy? Energy is ever-present, all around us, but the question is: how do we direct it? That’s what matters most. Pouring our attention into positive thoughts and actions creates powerfully important increases in energy and lifts many people around us. Charismatic people are enthusiastic and energetic. Enthusiasm is contagious and powerful, plus it heals! Our words and actions impact one another. What we do and what we say is where our control and magic lie.

That’s not to say we all have to be perfect, but rather to raise our awareness and pour our attention into positive thoughts and actions. None of my suggestions in this column are meant to replace medicine, therapy, or basic science. Energy medicine is a complementary method intended to enhance other approaches. My personal goal is to show all people the value of their hearts, and raise their awareness about what they already have to offer of themselves in the form energy, touch, compassion, and positivity. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Fear Itself

Fear Itself

He’s hit 54 inches, or close enough for Six Flags safety standards. With his extra effort to stand tall – viola! – he’s cleared to ride Superman. As the train climbs and climbs that first hill, I gaze down at the beautiful, absolutely unobstructed view of the river 200 feet far below.

My stomach clenches. Hands clamp. Breath catches. Until I reminded myself – this is supposed to be fun. We pay for this fear! I exhale and enjoy the ride. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: Chores


Dear Sarah,

What do you think is a good age at which to start giving children chores? Should chores be a requirement for getting an allowance?


Uncertain in Belchertown

Dear Uncertain,

Ah, chores! This is a hot topic among many of the parents in my practice and one that I have struggled with myself, over the years. I am a big fan of chores for several reasons:

  1. Chores teach children to be contributing members of their families, which is the beginning of learning to contribute to their teams, workplaces, and communities.
  2. Chores provide an opportunity to teach children to do a task on time, thoroughly, and without complaining. These are important skills for holding down a job someday.
  3. Requiring our children to help in meaningful ways protects them from the overwhelm, exhaustion and resentment that their parents feel when parents try to do it all alone.
  4. Learning new tasks and mastering challenging jobs help children to build confidence and competence.

If you ask three different parenting consultants you will probably get three different answers, but I will share with you what works for me at my house. My 14 year old daughter, who is not a big fan of chores, might not agree that my approach “works” for her! As I say to her, “That’s ok, I don’t like all of my chores either. You don’t have to like them, you just have to do them.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire


Willpower. Intense discipline. These concepts call to mind early memories of my dad smoking a pipe. He was about 38 and had smoked for 20 years when he quit. Just quit. His dentist, concerned about palate irritation from the pipe stem, suggested he switch to cigarettes (no joke). Dad decided to go cold turkey. No drama or public declarations or program. He just did it. As a result, my expectations of willpower are perhaps a tad bit unrealistic.

In my 20s, I worked a series of campaign jobs, promoting a particular local candidate or political cause. These jobs were intense: long hours for little pay demanding deep passion and youthful vigor. One included collecting boycott pledges in busy public spaces and recruiting teams of local volunteers to do the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: An Advice Column Addressing Everything from Toddler Tantrums to Teenager Troubles


Dear Sarah,

The #MeToo movement has me wondering – how we can raise daughters who will speak out about harassment and abuse, and know that it is not their fault? Can you share your thoughts about this?

Concerned Mama


Dear CM,

I am raising a daughter too, and I share your concerns. I congratulate you for broaching this important topic. As parents, we are the earliest and best teachers of our children regarding their bodies and their rights. We can empower them from very young ages in a wide variety of ways.

Here are just a few of my thoughts for parenting all children – our daughters and sons:

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Early Spring Garden Prep Activities for Little Hands

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Fun Gardening Activities for Little Hands!

Garden starts like tomatoes, pea shoots and other delicate plants are not something a toddler can easily handle without destroying. However, there are some really great garden prep activities that even the littlest of the little ones can help with. Watering, raking, and weeding may be the obvious places to start, but here are a few more fun early spring garden prep activities for the younger green thumbs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Tell it Slant

Off the Mat: Tell it Slant

Photo credit: Whitney H

In my 20s, a girlfriend introduced me to May baskets. She purchased old baskets from Goodwill or wove paper ones and gathered small treasures like stickers, maybe candy. Then, early on a weekend morning, the two of us would drive around town snipping blossoms to fill the baskets. We only took flowers from public places (we decided campuses counted as public) in ways that were respectful of the plant’s growth, never too much from one spot. Flower glutton that I am, the back seat soon filled with apple blossoms, rhododendron, plum, pear, and if lucky, a few remaining sprigs of forsythia. Baskets overflowing, we’d drive to our friends’ houses, still very early on a weekend morning, sneak a basket onto the stoop. Ring. And RUN!

Don’t be seen. Don’t get caught. And don’t tell. Even when asked, lie through your teeth. I think I still have friends these 20+ years later who – believing my dishonest denial – still wonder who delivered those baskets.

I don’t remember now how many years we did this, maybe five? More? As the friendship shifted more into our 30s, I stepped out of the tradition.

Until the year my kiddo turned seven. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: May is the Perfect Time…

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

May is the Perfect Time…

34936077296_53780f7eb8_nAccording to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the month of May is significant. The Celts traditionally celebrated Beltane on the first of May, later known as May Day: a day half-way between spring and summer which welcomed the return of earthly fertility in the form of flowers. Modern pagans still believe that it is a day when the veil separating them from the spiritual world thins, making May 1st powerful for enchantments, similar to Samhain or Halloween. Northern Europeans still celebrate Walpurgisnacht (also known as Vappu or Walpurgis depending on what country you are from) with dancing, bonfires, and sprigs of tender flowers to ward off “evil” and welcome the sun’s return. Read the rest of this entry »

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