A Whole Book Approach to Reading Picture Books with Children

“Children, Children, What Do You See?”: A Whole Book Approach to Reading Picture Books with Children

By Megan Dowd Lambert

Earlier this month I attended the Merry Maple Celebration on the Amherst Town Common with my family. As we listened to the ARMS chorus sing holiday songs, I recognized several of the young singers and many faces in the assembled crowd. This wasn’t just because I’ve lived in Amherst for more than a decade, nor because my daughter attends the middle school; my familiarity with so many gathered together was born, in part, of my work at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where I led at least two storytimes per week for nearly a decade. My work there centered on my development and dissemination of a storytime model I call the Whole Book Approach, which is the subject of my book, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytimes and Get Kids Talking about What They See (Charlesbridge 2015).

That festive evening in Amherst, I stood watching a group of moms take photos of their sons, now lanky twelve-year-old instead of the small boys who used to clamor for space on the rug by the chair where I sat to read picture books with them at The Carle. “I should’ve brought something to read aloud tonight!” I quipped. Read the rest of this entry »

Seasons of Honeybees: Autumn

Seasons of Honeybees: Autumn

Jacob Ellinger is a local beekeeper living in the Hilltowns with his wife and three children. As a freshman apiarist, keeping bees since 2013, Jacob relishes in the joy of sharing this new hobby and what he learns with his family, friends and neighbors.  For the next four seasons, Jacob will be sharing what it’s like to keep honeybees, what he learned in the previous season, and what he expects as the season transitions into the next…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read the rest of this entry »

Homesick and Happy at Summer Camp

Homesick and Kidsick

I have a confession. I never liked the term “homesickness.” Missing your family and the comforts of home is normal. Our families are our safe haven. Of course being away from loved ones will feel different. It will never be “home.” Our children should learn that there will be many places in their lives that can feel “close to home” where there are friends and adults who will take care of them and respect them. This is so important to helping them become independent. So what does that mean for camp? How can you prepare your child and yourself?…

Read the rest of this entry »

5 Ways to Prepare Your Child For Summer Camp

Preparing Your Child For Summer Camp

Camp is just around the corner and there’s a lot to prepare. Whether it’s your 5 year old’s first time at day camp or your 14 year old’s 6th summer away, you want your child’s camp experience to be fun and successful. But you’re the parent and you’re not at camp, what can you do? The answer is lots!  Here are five ways you can help prepare your child(ren) for summer camp: Read the rest of this entry »

Food Allergies & Summer Camp

Can Your Child with Food Allergies Go to Summer Camp?

If you’re the parent of a child with food allergies, I’m betting that you prepare all of her meals. You do this so that you know her meals will be safe. Class trips, sleepovers and parties make you very nervous, right? And summer camp, well, that’s never been possible… But what if it was?!

Summer camp is an opportunity for independence and growth. Whether you go to a local day camp or an overnight program, it’s a time when kids can be carefree and indulge in laughs and friends. I promise that your child can have this too. Summer camps are in the business of keeping up with kids and supporting families. They are well aware that there are an increasing number of children with food allergies. You’ll find many places that will work hard to listen to your needs and to prepare your child’s food safely.

To ensure the program is right for you and your child, make a list of requirements and questions…  Read the rest of this entry »

Local Camp Director Gives Pointers on How to Select a Summer Camp

Thinking About Camp?
Questions for the Camp Director.

If you’re thinking about summer camp, there’s a wide range right here in Western MA to match everyone’s interests, schedules and budgets. As a seasoned Camp Director and parent, I believe that talking with the Camp Director is key to feeling comfortable with your decision. When first time parents call me, they often admit that they don’t know what to ask. So I wanted to give you questions that will help you make the best choice for your child…

Read the rest of this entry »

DIY: Repurposed Planters for Paperwhites For Giving

DIY Pictorial: Yarn Wrapped Tin Can Planters

By Amber Ladley

When Hilltown Families asked Knack: The Art of Clever Reuse to come up with a creative (and decorative) way to help families plant Paperwhite bulbs donated by Hadley Garden Center at the first ever Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night, we put our clever minds to work. Our goal was to have an activity that was easy enough for people of all ages, and messy wasn’t an option. Families would be traveling with their Community Passports to help out at a total of five volunteer stations, so we wanted to keep things simple yet creative. Our solution was yarn wrapped tin can planters… and it turned out to be quite a success!

Yarn wrapping tin cans is the perfect small group activity. After decorating the cans, families filled them with one-third gravel, set a Narcissus papyraceus bulb on top, and attached an eco-friendly gift tag & care instructions. Families got to take home lovely decorated tin can planters to donate to a community center or give to a person of their choice. Everyone really loved the activity and Macey and I enjoyed facilitating the Winter Blossom Station, answering questions and seeing all of the colorfully wrapped cans that went home with participating families.

If you don’t have any bulbs to plant, you could also make cans to be used as an organizer for the…kitchen (chopsticks)…office (pens, pencils)…kids’ creative space (crayons, markers)…craft space (buttons, corks, glue sticks, paint chips)….share any other thoughts or comments you may have below. Also, you don’t have to stick with yarn– try fabric scraps, twine, or ribbon!

DIY Tutorial: Yarn Wrapped Tin Cans

Here are the instructions, so you can do-it-yourself (DIY) or with your friends, family, or classroom. Enjoy!

Materials Needed

  • Clean & empty tin can*
  • Yarn (great project for leftovers!)
  • Double-sided tape
  • Scissors
  • Gift tags (optional)

*Be careful when handling can, edges may be sharp. It is helpful to grind down the inside rim with a grinding stone or dremel, or you can pinch the rim with needle-nose pliers, or cover it with duct tape. Adults should handle removing sharp edges before giving the can to a small child. Older children should be reminded not to stick their hand in the can to prevent getting cut.

Amber Ladley – Amber enjoys creating everything from food, to crafts, to websites. She is a mom of two young boys, Jack and William, who are currently being homeschooled by her husband, Tim. Amber and her friend, Macey, are co-founders of Knack: The Art of Clever Reuse, a new socially responsible for-profit business on a mission to open a creative reuse center for the Pioneer Valley.

Berkshire Lyric: 50 Years of Creating Culture in the Cold Months

Do You Want to Know a Secret?
1963 was Big for the Beatles … and Berkshire Lyric

By Jaclyn Stevenson

The Blafield Children’s Chorus. (Photo credit: Jaclyn Stevenson)

2013 will be a banner year for golden anniversaries. Among many other cultural milestones, the Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me will mark 50 years in existence. Recorded in one session, it seems the album struck a chord; three months after its release, the term ‘Beatlemania’ was coined…and the rest is history.

Also in 1963, Berkshire Lyric – one of the area’s longest running community arts organizations – was beginning its own musical legacy and creating a new resource for music education in western Massachusetts along the way. The multi-generational choral group is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a full season of performances, and will perform a wide array of musical selections by composers such as Handel, Mozart and Stravinsky – as well as Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr.

A Berkshire Lyric program from 1969 – then known as the Berkshire Lyric Theatre, the group performed musicals in various venues across the county.

In the last half-century, Berkshire Lyric has evolved from a lyric theater troupe staging musicals – Hansel and Gretel and The Most Happy Fella among them – into a choral performance powerhouse with four separate choruses and singers spanning five generations.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Jack Brown of Stockbridge, who serves as choral director at Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, the choruses present complex classical works such as Requiem by contemporary British composer Karl Jenkins and Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Music education programs including the Young Singers Competition, the Berkshire Lyric Choral Scholars Program, and the annual Blafield Summer Choral Camps named for Berkshire Lyric’s founder, Robert Blafield.  These programs complement performances throughout the year and are supervised by Brown and Telly award-winning pianist Joe Rose, music director for St. Charles Church in Pittsfield and the choruses’ accompanist.

Berkshire Lyric leaves no genre behind; its repertoire also offers well-timed slices of popular culture each season to lighten the mood. Concerts in the past have offered island-inspired performances and traditional Irish medleys, for instance, and that diverse, all-inclusive approach to music is one thing that has never changed. It grew, Brown says, from a need in the Berkshires to “create culture for the cold months,” and in turn to offer year-round residents opportunities to study or simply enjoy choral music.

Fifty years later, it seems that stalwart Yankee gumption has stayed strong. In the upcoming season, Berkshire Lyric’s ‘Kick the Winter Blues’ concert theme will be a nod to the year it all started with a 1963 Revival. As the Beatles cemented their place in international history, Berkshire Lyric was creating its own legacy in the woods – one that continues to grow.

Berkshire Lyric’s Upcoming Season

The Berkshire Singers, the teenage chorus of Berkshire Lyric, will be featured in a special concert at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, at 11am. The chorus is led by Joe Rose and will be performing as part of the museum’s annual Festival of Trees Family Day celebration. Admission is free with a paid admission to the museum.

Deck the Halls, The Christmas Concert takes place on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, at 3pm at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in downtown Pittsfield. Featuring the Monument Mountain High School Chorus and the Spartones, both directed by Julie Bickford, and Gaudeamus, a select a cappella chorus of 10 young men from Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington. Tickets are $20 for adults and free for students and children.

Berkshire Lyric will present Handel’s Messiah as a community sing on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, at 3pm at the First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield. The audience is invited to be the chorus and vocal scores will be sold at the door. The concert will be conducted by Jack Brown with accompaniment on the church’s great Austin organ by Joe Rose. A professional string quartet will be augmented by local young string players. Four past winners of Berkshire Lyric’s Young Singers Competition will be the vocal soloists: Felicia Coppola-Pavao, Elaina Pullano, Miles Herr, and Timothy Passetto. Admission is by donation. The free will offering will be sponsored by the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations, and all proceeds will directly benefit the Pittsfield Area Fuel Assistance Program.

The 50th Anniversary season will culminate in a gala concert at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall on June 9, 2013, with all of the choruses and special appearances by founder Robert Blafield and Berkshire Lyric protégé and world renowned soprano Maureen O’Flynn.

Event and season tickets may be purchased online at www.BerkshireLyricInfo.org

About the Author:

Jaclyn Stevenson

Jaclyn is a freelance writer and photographer and works in the field of public relations for a creative agency in the Berkshires. writerjax.net

An Inside Look at Hatfield’s Fall Festival

Ghost town, fiber arts, sauerkraut and more!
An Inside Look at Hatfield’s Fall Festival
by Kathie Gow

Outside of the Hatfield Farm Museum. (Photo credit: Kathie Gow)

If you’re looking for a traditional New England Fall Festival with bits of local history, antique cars, art and archaeology thrown in, then Hatfield’s Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 7 from 11am-3pm is the place. I’m biased, of course, because I’m curator of one of the two museums involved, but I’m also a frugal, busy soccer mom who works part-time, and this event meets my criteria: educational and fun for the kids, low-cost, easy to find, and has some intriguing things for me.


Monica and Pat from the Weavers Guild of Springfield lead youth in hands-on weaving demos. (Photo credit: Kathie Gow)

Our family has attended for the last four years, and my daughter (who’s now 10), still likes getting her face painted and turning the apple cider press, though she now leaves Balloon Man to the younger kids. She’s into knitting and other kinds of needlework, so she always checks out the fiber arts demos toward the back of the Farm Museum (housed in a converted tobacco barn). The Weavers Guild of Springfield comes and demonstrates every year and often gives out samples to the kids. (The samples are beautiful – sometimes it pays to have a kid in your group.). Other fiber arts demos include knitting with Elinor Bell, rug making with Avis Fusek, and hand quilting with Marsha Molloy. What’s nice is that you can get up close and ask them questions while they work.


Speaking of questions, I encourage you and your family to ask questions about the items you see in the Farm Museum. With so much to look at, it makes all the difference. Ask to see the six-at-once mousetrap. Or the broom-making machine from when broom sales were big in Hatfield, MA. Or the Native American-styled dugout canoe made by a Northampton scholar. And don’t miss the recreated tobacco shop, where workers sorted the leaves.


My son, who just started high school, now prefers to wander around and see what interests him. It might be a vintage Corvette or Indian motorcycle, an antique tractor, or a corn shelling machine (It might just be finding another teenager with a soccer ball and slipping behind the elementary school to play!).  Speaking of which, if your younger kids need a break, try the playground at the elementary school, just beyond the Farm Museum, and the school should be open for bathroom visits.


Around lunchtime, I’m sure my son’s interests will include a cheeseburger and fries, and I’ll probably ask him to bring me a plate, since I’ll be working in the Historical Museum down the road. What I love about the fries is that the Boy Scouts make them, using potatoes from Hatfield farmers, and the kids can watch them cutting and cooking the potatoes. Real food, tastes good, local.

Our family is into eating healthy and buying local produce whenever we can, so we always stock up at the Fall Festival and buy bags of Hatfield onions and potatoes and several large cabbages at the farmers market. I don’t know about this year’s crop, but last year’s cabbages were bigger than your head and mine put together! The cabbages will be particularly appropriate this year, because local farmer John Pease (grandson of Hatfield Polish immigrant Jan Waskiewicz) will be demonstrating making sauerkraut outside the Farm Museum. If you’re not already a fan of this Eastern European staple, look up some of the health benefits of fermented vegetables and you might become a convert.


After watching John’s demo, stroll back down the road to the library and head up to the second floor where you’ll find the Hatfield Historical Museum and an exhibit that shows what life was like for those Polish immigrants who arrived in Massachusetts in the early 1900s. One of those newcomers was Matt Klocko, who came to America on his own at age 14 (the same age as my wandering soccer player!), and arrived in Hatfield soon after. You can see a photo postcard of Matt with his father, just before he left home, never to return, and another as a 37-year-old groom, then a store owner and farmer, marrying the lovely 19-year-old Helen Kugler.


But while you’re at the Historical Museum, don’t miss the new exhibit opening that day on Hatfield’s “Ghost Town.” This site, discovered by archaeologist and UMASS PhD student Randy Daum, is the only preserved 17th century English village site EVER discovered in Southern New England – and it’s right in our own Connecticut River Valley! Come see what artifacts and foundation elements he found of the 10-house village abandoned in 1704, more than 300 years ago. The photos and artifacts do more than prove the village existed – they tell stories of the people who lived there and hint at what life was like at the turn of the 17th century.


Well, the abandoned village exhibit would be my first stop at the Festival (if I wasn’t already there) since I’m interested in archaeology and local history, but my next two stops would be the Friends of the Library book sale in the parking lot outside (since I’m a library book sale junkie – you can get such good deals), followed by the unveiling of the “Art of Farming” mural on the south side of the Farm Museum at 1:30. If you’ve ever driven through Hatfield before, you might have noticed these barn-sized, eye- popping murals celebrating farming. A joint project of the Smith Academy Art Dept. and Hatfield’s Agricultural Advisory Commission, this 6th year of the project traces the history of farming in Hatfield from Native American settlement to the present. It’s been on display at the back of the Mass. State House at the BigE, where my daughter and I saw it last week – it’s big and it’s beautiful!

Hope to see you Sunday. Stop by and say hi!

Fall Festival Details:
Sunday, Oct. 7, 11 am to 3 pm
Billings Way, Hatfield (corner of 39 Main St.)
If you’d like to participate in the antique & classic auto show, call Pat at 413-247-6193 to see if there’s still room. For photos from past years, more info or a question on the Festival, click here: www.hatfieldhistory.weebly.com.


Kathie Gow is curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum and writes the blog “Bird by Bird” hatfieldhistory.weebly.com/blog.html for the Hatfield Historical Society website. For her business producing audio memoirs, she also writes a periodic blog about the value of saving your family’s stories. Kathie lives in Hatfield with her husband and two children.

What Did Native Americans Once Call Connecticut River Clay Concretions?

Massachusetts Treasures:
Famous Formations: Clay Concretions
By HF Guest Blogger, Maria Sansalone

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club’s geology contest! To answer our last contest question, read the following carefully:

Clay Concretions are flat, usually round discs of clay and silt that formed underwater along the Connecticut River. These formations are not as old as some mineral occurrences in the area. Still, they are estimated to be over 10,000 years old. Native Americans who lived close to the Connecticut River in Hampshire County called them “puddle stones” and could very well have used them as money or as jewelry for ceremonies. No one is quite sure how these discs get their almost perfect round and layered shape, but some believe that the mud and clay were spun in a circular motion by moving water, building up layers of clay silt that, over thousands of years, have hardened them into the discs we find today. The Hadley and Hatfield areas of Massachusetts are known for having some of the nicest Concretions in the country. The discs can range in size from 1 inch to 4 or 5 inches across and are regularly sought by divers and collectors today.


Here is our third and final contest question, good for two free adult admissions to the “Western Mass. Mineral, Jewelry, and Fossil Show,” on March 26 and 27, 2011: What name did Native Americans once give to Connecticut River Clay Concretions?

Deadline to enter to win is Thursday, March 24th at 7pm (EST). Must include full name, town and an accurate email address in the comment fields below to be eligible to win. Name of winner will be posted below with directions on how to claim your tickets.


Unless you are a professional diver and collector, it would be impossible for you and me to take a collecting field trip for Concretions into the swift cold waters of the Connecticut River! The next time your family takes a trip to a lake or hikes the New England woods, be sure to search for pegmatite, a type of rock that often contains crystal formations, or look for splashes of color in rocks as you walk. And (carefully) check pockets around tree roots. Rocks and fossils and minerals gather in tree roots and are buried or washed away by water every day. Or, consider taking a “virtual” field trip! There are a number of western Massachusetts and global geological formations that are accessible online as “dynamic digital maps,” created by researchers from the University of Massachusetts. Your next field trip leaves now at this web link: ddm.geo.umass.edu.

For our last blog post, we’ve included an enlarged photo of a (very, very old) Clay Concretion from our Club’s Massachusetts Mineral School Display Kit.

Best wishes to all our contest participants! It’s a bit sad to think that this is our Club’s final post and contest question! But we hope it doesn’t mean the end to your interest in fossils, rocks, and minerals. There’s a whole world of adventure out there, just waiting for you to discover…

The Connecticut Valley Mineral Club promotes responsible rockhunting. Always ask permission to walk private lands and take only photographs, not samples, of protected geological formations. CVMC meets most months at the Springfield Science Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. For more information, feel free to visit our website: www.cvmineralclub.org.


Maria Sansalone

Maria works as the primary cross-reference editor for Merriam-Webster Inc., in Springfield, Massachusetts. She and her team have cross-reference checked every dictionary entry for the last two editions of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Her personal life revolves around the work that she does in memory of her son, William, for two family-oriented nonprofits in western Massachusetts: Griffin’s Friends Children’s Cancer Fund at Baystate Children’s Hospital, and the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club. It was the desire to learn from experienced collectors about New England’s minerals on behalf of kids on treatment that led her and her husband to join the CVMC community.

What is the Massachusetts Official State Gem Stone?

Massachusetts Treasures:
Official State Gem Stone of Massachusetts
By HF Guest Blogger, Maria Sansalone

Thanks so much to everyone who contributed entries for Week One of the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club’s geology contest, good for two free adult admissions to the “Western Mass. Mineral, Jewelry, and Fossil Show,” coming up March 26 and 27, 2011. We invite you to join in for Week Two. Are you ready for your next contest question?  Read the rest of this entry »

What is the Official State Fossil of Massachusetts?

Massachusetts Treasures:
Official State Fossil of Massachusetts
By HF Guest Blogger, Maria Sansalone

It’s an honor for me to be a guest blogger for Hilltown Families on behalf of the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club! The Club’s members love to talk rocks, fossils, minerals and mineral collecting—any topic related to the field of geology! If you have questions (post below), I’ll be happy to pass them along to our members.

Every March, the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club sponsors the “Western Mass. Mineral, Jewelry, and Fossil Show,” and as a result, five western Massachusetts schools benefit annually. Proceeds from the Club’s Show help us to provide Massachusetts Mineral School Display Kits, an attractive mineral collection that identifies official State rocks, minerals, and fossils—many representing western Massachusetts!

We’d like to offer students and homeschoolers who visit Hilltown Families the exclusive chance to win two free adult admissions to our 2011 Show coming up March 26 and 27, at the Holiday Inn at Ingleside, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. For the next three weeks, we’ll offer a contest question based on geology entries from the Club’s School Kit booklet, and Hilltown Families will randomly choose a weekly winner from comments submitted to each blog entry. Children 12 and under are admitted free for the Show, as well as Scouts in uniform. Winners will be contacted to provide names and addresses ahead of Show time for special complimentary admission at the door.


Our contest question for Week One is: What is the Official State Fossil of Massachusetts?

See if you can find the answer in this paragraph:

The Connecticut River Valley is world-famous for an abundance of the official state fossil of Massachusetts. In 1802, a young South Hadley farmer by the name of Pliny Moody was plowing his field and happened to turn over a rock, which had fossil tracks embedded in it. At the time he had no idea what he found, but later in 1833, Professor Hitchcock of Amherst College claimed an ancient bird made them. Years after, Pliny’s discovery was determined to be the first tracks found in North America left by dinosaurs! The Connecticut River Valley was actually once the location of large ancient lakes, which were visited by many different dinosaurs (Eubrontes, Grallator and Anchisaurus), walking in mud flats along the edges.

Deadline to enter to win is Monday, March 14th at 12pm (EST). Must include full name, town and an accurate email address in the comment fields below to be eligible to win. Name of winner will be posted below with directions on how to claim your tickets.


Amherst College has an extensive collection of Massachusetts’ official state fossils, many of which are from the western Massachusetts area. You can see them on display in the college’s Museum of Natural History.

In case you haven’t quite figured out what mystery fossil (or fossils) we mean, we’ve included an enlarged photo of a mounted specimen from our Club’s Massachusetts Mineral School Display Kit above.

Best of luck to all our contest participants! We’ll see you next week for our second blog post and contest question!

The Connecticut Valley Mineral Club promotes responsible rockhunting. Always ask permission to walk private lands and take only photographs, not samples, of protected geological formations. CVMC meets most months at the Springfield Science Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. For more information, feel free to visit our website: www.cvmineralclub.org.


Maria Sanslone

Maria works as the primary cross-reference editor for Merriam-Webster Inc., in Springfield, Massachusetts. She and her team have cross-reference checked every dictionary entry for the last two editions of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Her personal life revolves around the work that she does in memory of her son, William, for two family-oriented nonprofits in western Massachusetts: Griffin’s Friends Children’s Cancer Fund at Baystate Children’s Hospital, and the Connecticut Valley Mineral Club. It was the desire to learn from experienced collectors about New England’s minerals on behalf of kids on treatment that led her and her husband to join the CVMC community.

Tale of Twins, Career Ambition and Immigrant Rage

Having a Baby Changes Everything
By Saborna Roychowdhury, Hilltown Families Guest Writer

“You are having twins,” the OBGYN announced. For the longest moment I had stared back at her, my heart beating in my chest, in my throat, and then hammering inside my skull. “I am sorry,” the doctor sighed as if she had betrayed my trust. “You have to be brave now.”

“So you are not coming back next year?” asked the department head at the Winsor School in Boston. “That is indeed a pity. We were hoping you could teach some of our AP chemistry courses next year”.

“If it was one baby, I would still try to come back. But with two… things may get complicated. I don’t want the students to suffer.”

The department head nodded her head in sympathy. Twins, I could detect the Big fear in her eyes. This is the end of your teaching career, she wanted to say.

Her unspoken words made me wince inwardly. Suddenly, the world seemed so unfair. The words summoned images of undergraduate college life when I worked the whole day to pay for my room and board and studied the whole night to do well in my classes. There was an extra edge to my ambition that comes from coming from a poor country and knowing there is no safety net. I better do well or else…or else the ship is waiting.

So I was relentless in my pursuit of degrees and good grades. Fear and ambition burnt inside me like a rage, a rage that I liked to call “my immigrant rage.” Getting the teaching position at the prestigious Girls Preparatory School had been dream come true. Forty candidates, three rounds of interviews and I was the chosen one.

“You are having twins,” the OBGYN announced. For the longest moment I had stared back at her, my heart beating in my chest, in my throat, and then hammering inside my skull.  “I am sorry,” the doctor sighed as if she had betrayed my trust. “You have to be brave now.”

For the next few months, a battle waged in my head as I watched my body changing shape to accommodate two strange lives inside me. My stomach ballooned up, my spine ached, and my knees almost gave up.  Cocooned inside me like two pea pods, two heart beats started to grow stronger everyday almost determined to de-rail me from my straight path and throw my life in disarray.

“I am putting them in daycare and going back to teaching. I am an “A” student. I cannot waste time changing diapers and giving tub baths.”

“Don’t get so worked up,” advised my husband. “Take one day at a time and see what happens.”

Then came the day of my C-section and the doctors injected an epidural deftly into my spine. The room felt like an igloo cut out of ice and I could not stop shaking even though the doctors told me to calm down. My husband’s kind hand rested on my forehead and I could hear his nervous, uneven breathing. Then I felt pressure on my lower abdomen and the OBGYN’s voice announced, “Welcome sweetheart.”

I heard a baby cry and my head fell back from the exertion. I closed my eyes. There was more pressure, I heard the doctors talking about a second -baby, and a few minutes later I heard another cry. I kept my eyes tightly shut.

“You don’t want to miss this,” whispered my husband. “Open your eyes.”

As I slowly opened my eyes, I was greeted by two sets of bright beautiful eyes. Wrapped tightly in a pink swaddle, the nurses had brought me two exquisite dolls. I stared back at them in disbelief. “Are they real? Is it possible? How can I create something so beautiful?”

The twins came home and took over our lives. They smiled at us with their big chubby cheeks and reached out to hold our fingers.  One day, when I was happily changing their soiled diaper, my husband asked jokingly, “So where is your immigrant rage now?”

I smiled back at him and said. “Rage I have known. I have also experienced poverty with all its restrictions and helplessness. But this…this I have never known. I feel very complacent, very contented, completely at peace with the universe.”

Then bending down to kiss the twins, I said, “Having a baby changes everything.”


Saborna Roychowdhury

Born and raised in Calcutta, India, and moved to the U.S. for her undergraduate work in chemistry, Saborna lives in Massachusetts, and teaches at the Swampscott High School. Her short fiction has appeared in New York Stories and Quality Women’s Magazine U.K. and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Saborna is also the author of the novel The Distance, published in 2009 by Mindscape.

Food Allergies and Summer Camp

Food Allergies and Summer Camp
By Hilltown Families Guest Writer, Karen A. Jordan

Summer camp tip: Check EpiPen expiration dates, label each EpiPen with your child's name, and bring enough for each counselor and the nurse. (Photo credit: Stusic)

It’s that time of year again…the final countdown of school days, warmer weather, and plans for summer camp. As a parent with a child with a severe peanut allergy, I am quite familiar with the tension, nervousness, and tremendous preparation that come with preparing for summer camp.

Last year my daughter, who was 9 at the time, spent her first week at sleep away camp. The preparation began as soon as I registered her. I called and spoke with the camp director and food service director to talk about food options and ways to keep her safe. The drop off day for summer camp was crazy, to say the least. Lines of parents and children, talking to counselors that were young (according to my standards!). First up: cabin assignment. Walked over to her cabin and met with the counselor. She was a wonderful college-age girl who already had EpiPen training, but I reviewed with her the procedure. One EpiPen would stay with her, and one would stay with nurse. I went over with her the emergency action plan and the phone numbers to call if needed. Then off to the nurse’s station. Dropped off EpiPen with her along with another copy of the emergency action plan and phone numbers to call. Whew! I was emotionally and physically drained! Swim test, setting up her bunk and last goodbyes.

Some tips for parents who are sending their child to camp, whether it be day camp or overnight camp:

  • Check EpiPen expiration dates and make sure child’s name is labeled on each EpiPen, since the contents of a two-pack may be split up. And make sure you bring enough – find out how many counselors there will be, so each one can carry one, as cabin may be split up into smaller groups. And don’t forget the nurse! And, it may be wise if your child is old enough, to have him/her carry their own EpiPen with them from activity to activity.
  • Send in a hearty supply of “safe” snacks for camp store times. Even if some of the food there is safe for him/her to eat, it may be a bit hectic during these times, making it confusing for label reading. Also, there are the issues of children opening their snacks right in front of your child, immediately exposing them to allergens.
  • Dining Hall: Label reading is a must! One person in kitchen should be responsible for reading labels on the food and help make safe meals for your child. I had met with food service director the week before camp and went over menu with him to help reduce exposure to peanut products. We read labels on all products and determined what foods would be safe for her. We also followed the same plan as her school, where her table would be a peanut free table and no peanut butter would be served in the kitchen.
  • Reminded your child that she needs to read labels, wash her hands frequently, and to not eat food if she doesn’t know the ingredients.

The staff at these camps are all willing to work with you to help make your child’s visit to the camp a safe, happy experience. The best advice is to plan ahead as much as possible and to make sure that you have your cell phone with you at all times in case of an emergency or even if the staff has a question for you. I can’t tell you how many times I have received a call and my heart has skipped a beat to soon find out that they just wanted to read a label to me over the phone!

Like This!


Karen Schneyer Jordan

Karen lives in Lenox Dale, MA with her two children, Katie, age 10, and Christopher, age 6. She has severe allergies to several foods, including tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  Her daughter is allergic to peanuts. Her son was allergic to soy for 2 years and eventually outgrew it.  Karen started finding out more about food allergies when her daughter, who was two at the time, had her first anaphylactic reaction. Years of research and networking, as well as utilizing skills learned during her work experience in human resources and employee training, led Karen to branch out on her own as Berkshire Food Allergy Consulting Services. Now she spend most of her time working on training and development as well as support for those living with food allergies.

Winter Days at Red Gate Farm

Farmyard Tails: Dreaming of Green
By Jennifer Bennett, HF Contributing Writer

Young children are invited to explore and discover the wonders of the farm in winter right here in the hilltowns!

As we ring in the new year, on the farm we are busy preparing for the year to come. There are lots of things happening. There are monthly activities for kids and their families to prepare, warm eggs to collect, neighbors to catch up with, and thoughts of an amazing year to come.

Our first seed catalogs have arrived, our own seeds are undergoing their germination tests, and our minds are racing with veggies to come. But, we need not look far. This year we decided to try our hand at winter growing in our unheated greenhouse.

On Tuesday when it was six degrees outside with wind gusts up to 45 mph, our little greens were happy in their home at a balmy forty-seven degrees! So, when my bones are feeling frozen, I just hop on down to the greenhouse and thaw out a little while gazing at all the lively greens. Who needs a Caribbean vacation anyway!?!

We do indeed have a fabulously fun winter planned for our community. Join us every second Tuesday through April for Mornings on the Farm, a program geared toward the littlest farmers (ages 0-4). We also have our Family Farm Days happening on the last Saturday of every month. Both of these programs have a different theme for each class.

Our Annual Snowshoe Hike is planned for Sunday, February 7th. If you have come before, we’d love to see you again. And, if you have never come, now is your chance to try a new winter activity with a great group of people. We have many pairs of extra snowshoes to lend!

Not sure what to do for February Vacation? We offer Winter Farm Fun, a vacation camp for children ages 4 – 10. The age groups are split to ensure that each child has a wonderful time exploring the farm and forest. This is a great time for kids to explore winter in New England with new friends. Send them down, they’ll thank you.

SAVE THE DATE!!! Fire & Ice returns on Saturday night, February 20th. This is an event not to be missed. Come sledding under the lights, sit by the bonfire, and enjoy a winter barbeque. Don’t worry – S’Mores will be plentiful!

Don’t forget, every Saturday at 3:30 we welcome you to help us with the afternoon farm chores at our Young Farmers Program. So, if the kids are feeling antsy, come over and make them work! But realy, it is fun and you may learn a little something while you are here.

If you are out searching for local winter produce, be sure to check out the Northampton Winter Fare on January 9th, and the Greenfield Winter Fare on February 6th. While you are there stocking up on gorgeous winter squashes, succulent greens, and savory cheeses, be sure to stop by our booth to say hello!

Happy New Year! And, Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Dreams.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer BennettJen is the Program Coordinator at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. She lives in the woods with her husband, two teenage daughters, a trusty dog and a frisky cat. A gardener for much of her life, Jen enjoys cooking with her harvest, canning and preserving foods. She sees nature as her home and can be found outside during all manner of weather. A graduate of Goddard College (BA with an emphasis in Ecological Education), she is at her happiest when she is able to share her love of farming and nature with children and adults alike. Her column, Farmyard Tails, shares events and explorations that happen on the farm while educating children about farm life.

Summer Days at Red Gate Farm

Farmyard Tails: Lazy, Crazy Days of Summer
By Jennifer Bennett, HF Contributing Writer

Photo submitted by Jennifer Bennett

Ah, the lazy days of summer… WHAT? Did I miss the boat on that one? Summer seems to be the busiest time of the year. Here in the hilltowns at Red Gate Farm, we have so much going on. Are gardens are in full swing, which means lots of weeding, harvesting, canning and cooking.  Our animals are out on the pasture so, while we get a break from throwing hay bales, we pick up extra hours moving fencing and animals, not to mention gathering up escaped animals once in a while. All this, and all of our camps, field trips, and events keep us going all summer long.

The amazing amount of rain that we have seen this summer has failed to dampen the spirits of any of our campers, farmers, or animals. Our garden seems to have pulled through the soggy days, and we have already harvested many meals from the ground. Oh sure, we’ve had our challenges, but what year doesn’t? That’s the beauty of farming – there is never a dull moment!

Photo submitted by Jennifer Bennett

Photo submitted by Jennifer Bennett

Our summer camps were a blast this year. All of our weeks were either filled or just about filled to capacity. We had a great time with all of our ‘young farmers’. We learned about the honeybees, trained oxen, harvested from the garden, tended to all of the animals, and explored the woods and pond. It amazes me how patient our oxen are with the young teamsters, and how brave the kids are when working with the oxen who outweigh them by about 2,000 lbs!

This summer we added a new event to every week of camp. The young farmers hosted a “Family Picnic” every Friday afternoon. They worked hard all day to harvest vegetables and herbs from the garden for the meal that they would prepare. Our menu changed week to week, but some popular dishes were Quiche with Swiss Chard, Onions, and Parsley, Roasted Roots, and Honey Cake (from our bees on the farm!). The kids served their families the light meal and then took them on guided tours all around the farm and into the woods.

A highlight for me this summer was sharing the farm a group of kids visiting from Springfield, MA. Many of the kids haven’t had any experience with farms. We met the animals, harvested garlic, and nibbled in the garden. We nibbled on the last of the Sugar Snap Peas. Most of the kids had never eaten one before. The peas got mixed reviews, but every kid tried at least a bite. As we were nibbling, I thought to myself, ‘this is the life, being able to grow and share something so precious as fresh, good food with people who I like’.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer BennettJen is the Program Coordinator at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. She lives in the woods with her husband, two teenage daughters, a trusty dog and a frisky cat. A gardener for much of her life, Jen enjoys cooking with her harvest, canning and preserving foods. She sees nature as her home and can be found outside during all manner of weather. A graduate of Goddard College (BA with an emphasis in Ecological Education), she is at her happiest when she is able to share her love of farming and nature with children and adults alike. Her column, Farmyard Tails, shares events and explorations that happen on the farm while educating children about farm life.

What Does a Trebuchet Have to Do with a Farm?

Farmyard Tails: Feche la Vache!
By Jennifer Bennett, HF Contributing Writer

New spring lambs at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA.

Little lambs at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

As I sit at my desk, I find myself looking outside at all of the beautiful flowers and buds. I can hear the birds singing and the peepers peeping. And yet, I am still having a hard time realizing that all of the snow is really gone. I know it is crazy, but it is true!

The Spring has been quite a whirlwind of activity here on the farm. Our little lambs are growing fast. All of the animals are out on the pasture, and they just can’t seem to get enough of the good stuff. Our first set of chicks who arrived all fluffy and tiny on April 13 have more than doubled their size and grown nearly all of their true feathers!

All this and a summer camp to plan! This year summer camp sessions here at Red Gate Farm are almost all full! It looks to be a wonderfully fun summer of camp.

And, let us not forget the garden! All of the potatoes and brassicas (brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage and broccoli) are in the ground. There are some greens coming right along as well. The beloved tomatoes are looking wonderful and vigorous in the greenhouse along with their buddies – peppers, eggplant, and basil! We could not have done it without our wonderfully hard working volunteers and the great kids from our Sprouts program and the Tree of Life.

All winter and into the spring, we have welcomed many children during our day programs. The Farm Leaders, a group that I now teach, comes once a week. They are a great group of kids with wild imaginations. We have taken on some very cool projects, as well as some very useful ones. One recent activity consisted of learning about levers and catapults and building a model trebuchet.

‘Fire in the hole!’ was heard echoing through Apple Valley here in Buckland, MA, as students tested out their trebuchet that they named (in the historical tradition) ‘The Tre-Bu-Z.’ The whole group worked hard over the weeks days to learn about the physics of trebuchets, they ultimately modeled their design after an old French plan they learned about from the television series Nova.

The trebuchet worked beautifully and was able to throw objects such as a golf ball, matchbox car, and, of course, a ‘diseased’ toy pony ala 12th century castle siege! To all you Monty Python fans, I say, “feche la vache!”

One parent asked me, “What exactly does a trebuchet have to do with a farm?” Great question! In learning about the physics of catapults and trebuchets, we also learned about the different types of levers. This knowledge helps us understand how the big barn was built and assists us when we have jobs to do around the farm, such as repairing rock walls, moving big logs, and other challenges that may arise. Farm Leaders will be ready for the challenge!

Every day is full of pleasant surprises here on the farm. The other day, on a hike with a group of students, one energetic and animated boy got to the top of the hill well ahead of the group. When we arrived he was quietly gazing out over Apple Valley. We all tumbled into the clearing and he exclaimed, “Oh, you ruined it!”. Unbeknownst to us, this boy, who is normally always on the go, had been basking in the silent beauty of the place. It seems that everyone who spends any time here, can find themselves a special little bit of peace and tranquility.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer BennettJen is the Program Coordinator at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. She lives in the woods with her husband, two teenage daughters, a trusty dog and a frisky cat. A gardener for much of her life, Jen enjoys cooking with her harvest, canning and preserving foods. She sees nature as her home and can be found outside during all manner of weather. A graduate of Goddard College (BA with an emphasis in Ecological Education), she is at her happiest when she is able to share her love of farming and nature with children and adults alike. Her column, Farmyard Tails, shares events and explorations that happen on the farm while educating children about farm life.

Guest Blogger: Lynne Marie Wanamaker (An Open Letter to Rachel Maddow)

An Open Letter to Rachel Maddow
By Lynne Marie Wanamaker, HF Guest Blogger

Dear Rachel Maddow,

It’s been a few years now, and I know you’ve had a lot of exciting experiences in the intervening time. But you might remember me as the listener who brought her puking baby into the radio station way back in the day when you were a morning dj and I was a stay-at-home mom, hanging on your every witticism to get me through those early daylight hours. Whole Foods had sponsored a free breakfast buffet at the studio that morning; you know a little spit-up wasn’t going to keep this nursing mama from all the wheat-free vegan French toast she could swallow.

I also called in a few times; once I told you my birth story, saying childbirth was akin to sexual and religious ecstasy. You seemed shocked to hear that. I was a little surprised that I said it out loud, let alone on the radio, but the combination of prolonged sleep deprivation and the lactation hormone cocktail sure does a number on a person’s verbal inhibitions.

I misplaced the baby once when we were on the phone too. I put her down and then she crawled away and I had to run through the house looking for her while trying to answer the quiz questions. I won the coffee mug though. Right from the start of this parenting adventure I’ve been a mean multi-tasker. I’m sure you can relate.

Your meteoric—and completely well-deserved; I mean no disrespect— rise to fame has given me pause to consider what can happen in different human lives over the same span of time. For example, one person may experience tremendous professional success and find herself on the covers of magazines, while another may spend the same five years periodically drenched in disgusting bodily fluids. One person can enjoy frequent and stimulating conversations with the likes of Ted Coppell, Barack Obama and John Stewart, while another can go weeks without speaking to another rational adult.

Sometimes the mind just boggles at what can be accomplished within a five year span: Get your own TV show! Influence the political thoughts of an entire nation during an historic election! Become a Jeopardy question! My job, and I’m proud to call it that, is a little less quantifiable. But I can accurately conclude that I’ve done at least 1500 loads of laundry in the past five years, and washed dishes by hand for the equivalent of 22 straight days. Such diversity in the human experience, even among women of the same nation, region, generation and sexual orientation! It’s downright inspiring.

It’s not like I haven’t been doing something important, though. I’ve been nurturing the soul of the next generation! Enriching my child’s life with my motherly presence! I’ve had some set-backs, but I’m sure that’s true of anyone. I know it took you a while to get that MSNBC gig. So I’m not going to feel bad that I forgot to teach my kid how to hold a fork properly. There’s no reason she can’t learn now; someday she’ll be able to eat a whole meal with utensils without biting her own hands. I can feel proud of my contribution to society, especially if I choose to forget reading that study that said kids actually want to spend less time with their parents, and the other one that said kids who go to daycare do just as well as kids who have a stay-at-home mom. And also if I disregard the economic predictions that college tuitions, currently at a dollar figure curiously close to my household income, will continue to skyrocket throughout my daughter’s adolescence.

Fortunately forgetting is not challenging for me. I seem not to have recovered the brain cells lost in the first three months of my child’s life, a time that I fondly call baby boot-camp. Just this week I lost an entire basket of clean laundry, which inconveniently contained all my underpants. Right now I can’t find the pile of handkerchiefs I painstakingly ironed yesterday. I draw a direct connection between events like this and that long-ago night when I couldn’t remember how a person could possibly tell time if they were far from a clock, pinned in an armchair by a suckling parasite. I knew there must be a method; maybe I could invent something that would be helpful, a little later, when I was not so tired? (Hint: wrist-watch.)

Motherhood is indeed transformational, and it transformed me into the kind of person who can’t recall the basic technology of modern life or keep track of inanimate objects. It was a little rocky adjusting to this seismic life change in the beginning. The nights were long but they always ended, and then your show came on the radio! You were there for me in those first days of stunning stupidity, and I’ll always be grateful.

Things are a little different now that my kid is more of a person than a parasite. Sometimes I can even form a thought, although she usually makes sure that I lose track of it with a well-timed interruption. I’ve read that you use earplugs at work so you can focus your brilliance on what you are reading and writing. If you ask me, your staff is a bunch of light-weights if they are bested by the equivilent of cotton-balls; a champion interrupter like my little darling could easily bypass a technicality like that. Have they tried climbing on your lap or breaking things around the studio? Jumping up and down right next to you is another tried and true strategy. I’m just saying.

I know you’re awfully busy now with all those radio and television shows, not to mention the book you’re writing. And I read in the New York Times that you still take the trash to the dump yourself. That’s nice. I still take out the compost most of the time, but sometimes my daughter helps now. She says it smells bad but I make her do it anyway. How many bad smells have I endured for her sake, I ask you? But I do have all that laundry waiting for me, and the disappearing handkerchiefs.

Thanks for this trip down memory lane. We should touch base again sometime, maybe five years from now? I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

Warmest regards,
Your friend and loyal fan,

Lynne Marie

About the Author

Lynne Marie Wanamaker is a karate black belt, a certified personal trainer and a feminist mama. She holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies and American Literature from the City University of New York. Lynne Marie blogs at www.mindbodymama.com, where you can also learn more about her personal training practice. She lives in a dilapidated house in western Massachusetts with her wife and daughter.

Vernal Pools: When Will The Spotted Salamander Eggs Hatch?

Sean Chapel writes:

How do we know when a good night will be to see salamanders hatching at a vernal pool?

Sheri Rosenblum of Plainfield, MA replies:

Trying to guess what night spotted salamanders eggs will hatch would be similar to guessing the day of a first snowfall or when that last pile of snow behind the house might melt.  Many factors will influence the timing of this event.

While the date of the spring migration is typically in early April in the Hilltowns, the range is late March to late April, depending on snow melt, temperature and rainfall.  Once the salamanders are safely in their ponds and eggs deposited, hatch will occur within 4 to 8 weeks, a range that is influenced by water temperature, water level and water chemistry and probably many  other factors that we don’t understand.

The whole process of migration to the ponds, mating, egg-laying, egg development and hatching is fascinating to observe.  If you know the location of a vernal pond, daily or even weekly visits that start on a migration night will introduce you to the magnificent and ethereal world of the short-lived vernal pond and its many inhabitants.

After the initial migration at night, make your visits to the pond during daylight hours.  Bring a field guide to amphibians and one for insects. You will see multiple egg masses, larvae developing within the eggs, predation, birth, death and everything in between. Since the egg masses will be of slightly differing ages within the pond, in time you will probably catch some eggs hatching.  If you aren’t sure where to find a vernal pond, get out there during the migration and start following a salamander.

Be careful in the woods, bring a flashlight (with a red filter so the salamanders will be minimally disturbed) and notice how much better adapted they are then us to moving through the forest (and no raincoat required!).  Find a pond close to home so observations can be done on foot or by bicycle.  They are quite common in these parts.

Happy Spring!

Related articles:

Guest Blogger: Ellen Doyle

Rodents?  What rodents?
By Ellen Doyle, HF Guest Blogger

Scrabble tiles are a delicacy. (Photo Credit: Ellen Doyle)

Living in an old house in the hilltowns, we’ve had mice flock in each fall only to journey back out into the world each spring. We’ve learned the hard way not to store birdseed or cracked corn inside the house lest we find little piles of it hidden in some warm dresser drawer. We now keep baking chocolate sealed up tight because mice don’t care if it’s sweet or not. We’ve often labeled one jar of peanut butter for human consumption and the other for Havahart trap baiting. Oh, and the scrubbing! I’ve scoured entire contents of kitchen drawers and spice cabinets after discovering one tiny dropping. I’ve even given in and called an exterminator when the epidemiologist in me concluded that health risks to family (Salmonella) outweighed any concerns about karmic justice. I mean, we really tried. Usually, we could get the mice under control.

Last fall I got my first inkling that the rodent situation might be a little bit worse in the coming cold season. The chilly October temps brought a slew of little creatures in from the elements. Chipmunks scurried around the wood pile. Red squirrel footprints led right up to the house and disappeared. And, a few of the mice who were supposed to have made their own way in the world during the summer months decided they liked hanging out in our cool basement.

I’ve heard that the rodent population has exploded in recent years, not just in the hilltowns, but all over. Perhaps global warming is to blame. In any case, the furry little foragers got the better of me. Let me tell you what happened…

My husband and son were playing Scrabble on the floor recently when their game got interrupted. They left the tiles in place thinking they’d be coming back to finish up. After a couple of days, I really needed to vacuum and decided to put the game away. Curiously, I could only locate seven Scrabble tiles. After a cursory glance around the living room, I decided to quiz my family. No one had any idea where the tiles had gone. Suspecting that some of them may have been hidden on purpose, I offered a free ice cream cone to anyone who could locate them. We searched behind furniture, under rugs and in the wood pile. Finally, when I saw my son looking up at the smoke detector as a possible location, I knew we had a true mystery on our hands.

A few evenings later I was rearranging the bookshelf near the woodstove when I hit the mother lode in the binding of a photo album. Not only did I find numerous Scrabble tiles socked away, but I was also happy to discover a missing chocolate chip, some macaroni noodles from a kindergarten art project and few grains of dried rice. Leaping into disease-ridding mode I trashed the old food and commenced a frenzy of hole-plugging and caulking every crack thicker than a whisker. I dumped the Scrabble tiles into a big bowl of hot, soapy water. After they had a good soak, I spread them on a towel on the kitchen counter to dry overnight.

The next morning: Sleepily wandering into the kitchen in search of coffee, I spotted the tile towel on the counter, COMPLETELY DEVOID OF TILES. I ran upstairs to question my husband, who swore he had not touched the tiles.  My son  had been tucked into bed happily asleep during the whole tile-drying time. Fearing a ghost (perhaps one attempting to spell a message?), I returned downstairs quaking. Had to have that coffee.

The next night: A brilliant idea! I would conduct an experiment. I furiously searched for the Scrabble game I’d cleaned up a few days before and located the 7 remaining tiles tucked into the box. I would tempt the creature to take the last 7 and then would know for sure that Scrabble tiles are a delicacy. I carefully arranged the tiles on the kitchen floor to avoid little footprints on the counter and went to bed.

Morning #2: I anxiously peered into the kitchen to see what results my experiment had yielded. Drum roll, please… Ta Da! The tiles were still there, just as I had left them. A little disappointed not to have lured the creature out of hiding, I set about trying to figure out what had happened.

Conclusion: Some friends and family went so far as to use the “R” word, causing me to shudder, imagining a pack rat in our house! Luckily, we don’t possess much in the way of expensive, shiny jewel-type objects them might temp such a creature. However, after an exhaustive web search, my husband came up with what I think is the most plausible explanation for Scrabble tile hoarding. Check out this little creature.

I doubt if gerbils have found their way into our home, but I wouldn’t put it past a little red squirrel… Oh, as for those remaining tiles, I suspect they don’t have the same delicious varnish on them that the stolen ones did. Our Scrabble set was inherited from the neighbors and has probably traveled through about 10 families and had countless replacement tiles before making it into our living room. We’ll need a new Scrabble game. And a cat.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Their Beginning I See My End

In their Beginning I see my end
By Saborna Roychowdhury, HF Guest Writer

I have a strange relationship with my twin daughters. They are only ten months old and beautiful… big brown eyes full of mischief, chubby rounded cheeks and mouse like front teeth. When they smile, my heart melts. How did I create something so beautiful? I stare at my own creation day and night. Their skin glows, their hair shines, their teeth and nails grow stronger everyday.

My skin is losing its luster. My hair is no longer thick and shiny, darker shades circle my eyes. The pregnancy fatigue is visible all over my body… the skin folds and bulges, my knees ache and threaten to crumble and heavy breathing follows every exertion. In their beautiful beginning I am starting to see my end.

The twins flash their teeth at me… tiny, inviting, endlessly mischievous. They are crawling these days; their curiosity grows with every step. They want to grab things and make them their own. They lick, they touch, and they feel. Their enthusiasm for life grows everyday. My twins are hungry, they like their world, and they want to own their own world.

My enthusiasm is waning. To me everything looks the same as if I have seen them a thousand times. I know I am not winning a Pulitzer for writing my book or going to Hollywood to be an actress. Human behavior in general has disappointed me and I know that there will always be war and inequality. The sunrise and sunset, the long walks and the beautiful poems all look and sound the same. The novelty is dead. In their beautiful beginning I am starting to see my end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression

A Lonely Road: My Story and On-line Resources
By Lauren Hale, HF Guest Writer

Motherhood. What a powerful word and concept. To some mothers, there is nothing wrong with that word. For others, it dredges up painful memories, feelings of inadequacy, flashbacks of a delivery gone horribly wrong or the opposite of the expected outcome. For those Mothers, instead of feeling more connected to the world, they feel even more isolated and alone, blaming themselves for their failures and confused about why they are not happy like the Mothers in all the baby commercials on TV. However, they are not alone, not to blame, and they will be well. We need to reach out to them, give them our shoulders, our strength, and our hands as they travel the lonely road full of potholes called Postpartum Mood Disorders.

My entire life I wanted nothing more than to be a mommy, just like my mom. As a girl, I would place pillows under my shirt and pretend to give birth, lovingly caring for my infant pillow as gently as I could. Once it came time to birth a real baby however, I was strongly reminded by a line from Gone With the Wind, spoken by Prissy, Scarlett’s maid: “I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin no babies!”

My first labor was started with my water breaking the evening prior to an appointment at which we were to discuss induction as I was a week overdue. The following labor was intense and poorly managed by the hospital staff. The anesthesiologist attempted to place the epidural seven times during transitional labor and Pitocin administered without any staff offering any explanation. Once the epidural was placed, it quickly became apparent that my epidural was one sided and I repeatedly asked for an ice pack or heating pad to help with the pain but never received any assistance. At 8cm dilated, I felt the urge to push and started doing so quite involuntarily, again, with no assistance from staff. Once completely dilated, I pushed for nearly an hour and a half and nearly kicked the doctor in the head (yes, on purpose) during the birthing process.

My second labor was much easier and did not become traumatic until post-delivery when the Lactation Consultant discovered our daughter had a cleft palate and everyone piled out of the delivery room, leaving me exhausted and numb from the waist down and wondering where they had taken my daughter and if I would see her again. I sat alone for what seemed like ages with no communication from any staff. My husband finally returned to the room an hour later, able to update me on our daughter’s condition. This episode of PP OCD eventually landed me a weekend stay at a mental facility for observation. A negative reaction to the anti-depressant I had been on had caused me to spiral down even further. Once my meds were changed and after I stopped Exclusively Pumping for her at seven months postpartum, I began to improve and this is when I became involved in helping other woman through Postnatal Mood Disorders, which can strike 15-20% of all new mothers, with Military moms being at higher risk than most of the general population (Banas).

During my first year of sharing my story and building support for new moms in the same boat I had recently departed, I became unexpectedly pregnant. After reading Karen Kleiman’s book, What am I thinking? Having a Baby after Postpartum Depression, I started to blog (www.unexpectedblessing.wordpress.com) in an attempt to reframe the pregnancy in a positive light as well as share my journey for those who had boarded the same boat of being pregnant after experiencing a Postpartum Mood Disorder.

One of the more harmful side effects of Postpartum Disorders is the silence that goes along with the experience. Women are afraid to speak up to let anyone know they are not happy at a time when we are conditioned to be our happiest. They are also fearful of admitting any negative thoughts because someone may take their children or people will think they are a horrible mother. At my worst, I hated to go outside. I felt like a fish in a bowl at a pet store – everyone stared and knew my deep dark secrets and terrible thoughts that zoomed in and out of my head at any given moment. Repulsed by myself, I retreated even further into my dark world and built walls so no one else could see inside.

My third delivery went well until the time came to push and the epidural wore off. I found myself flashing back to my first delivery and completely lost control. My doctor was able to refocus my attention and I made it through. I am happy to report that this time around I have had a normal postpartum experience, something I am certainly not taking for granted.


The most important resource for a new mother is family and friends who take the time to educate themselves and be supportive if the mother is experiencing problems adjusting.

Two websites that are wonderful for postpartum families are: www.postpartum.net or www.postpartumstress.com.

The first is Postpartum Support International. They have caring and knowledgeable Coordinators all around the world as well as a warm line you can phone and speak with a volunteer about how you are feeling.

The second link is Karen Kleiman’s site. Karen has developed a wonderful site full of wonderful suggestions and facts. She has truly dedicated herself to helping families in need. Please remember that you are not alone, not to blame, and you will be well with help. If you have a loved one or friend suffering with PPD, the best thing you can do is listen without judging. Sometimes they may not want to hear it but just keep listening, even if she is quiet.

Last, but certainly not least, here are some links regarding PTSD specifically:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth: www.angelfire.com/moon2/jkluchar1995/

SOLACE: www.solace-southbay.org/

In closing, I urge all women to support one another for it is in supporting each other we will find our greatest strengths and virtues, sharpening our skills for motherhood and setting a wonderful example for generations to come.

Lauren Hale

A Yankee living in enemy territory, Lauren transplanted from NJ to VA and somehow ended up even further south in Georgia, marrying a good ol’ Georgia boy. Together they have three children age four and under. Any spare time Lauren has, she dedicates to supporting women and their families as they experience Postpartum Mood Disorders. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from LaGrange College (even further south than she is now!) and hopes for acceptance to UGA’s Social Work Graduate program for fall of 2009.

Starla and Pointy the Impaler

From the Palace: Ye and Ye Pets!
By Princess Katie (of Princess Katie & Racer Steve), HF Guest Writer

For the most part, Kingdom life is great. There’s not much that we don’t have here. Sure, it’s beyond damp, there’s always some kind of incurable disease going around and you can’t exactly be sure if you’re going to be sitting on the throne from one day to the next, but generally, we’ve got a pretty decent set up here and there’s little left to be desired… except for maybe one thing, a normal pet relationship.

“A normal pet relationship?” you ask, “Why, pray tell!” Well, I bet you take it for granted that you can nuzzle your cat or dog, or that they’ll run and lovingly jump into your arms when you call them. You should know that not every owner/pet relationship is like that. The mere thought of being able to have one of my pets sleep at the foot of my bed or jump into my arms after a short sprint is both thrilling and highly unlikely. If I have my pet jump into my arms I’m at risk of having a 2-foot gold spike implanted in my forehead.

I own a rare winged unicorn. His name is Pointy.

Yeah, yeah, lucky me, I’ve heard it all before, but it’s not what you think. You’re thinking of the winged unicorn as a white horse with wings who flies towards rainbows and has a big beautiful glistening golden horn proudly mounted in the middle of its forehead; a mythical creature who gives off the sound of a bell tree when it opens its wings. Well, some of that is indeed true, but mainly, this creature is absolutely insane. Although Pointy has a nose and mouth, he, for whatever reason, chooses to use his incredibly sharp horn as an antenna of sorts. So, whenever he’s curious about anything, he’ll take a running start, head pointed downward, spike ready to investigate. I always know when he’s gotten out of his stable because the piercing screams of “Run! Pointy the Impaler is out!” usually give it away. Ah, yes, no one can clear a town quite like Pointy.

I’m stating the obvious when I say that Pointy has got about as much of a chance of sleeping at the foot of my bed in this lifetime as a snowball has on a hot plate.

My other pet’s name is Starla. She’s the “pet o’ choice” for princesses. In fact, unless you own one of these little critters, you’re not really considered to have “arrived” as a princess. Snow White has one, Cinderella has one and even cooler-than-thou Princess Fiona has one.

Starla is what we call a “Fairy Tale Tweeter.” That’s the name of the company that every princess you’ve ever known has ordered from.

Fairy Tale Tweeters is a company that sells those little birds that casually fly over and perch themselves on the index finger of a princess as she begins to sing. They gaze lovingly at the princess and whistle in perfect tune along with her. Read the rest of this entry »

Modern Inventions in Medieval Life

From the Palace: Day in the Life of a Medieval Princess
By Princess Katie (of Princess Katie & Racer Steve), HF Guest Writer

Well met, Lords and Ladies!

Whenever I return to medieval society after my performances in New York City, I am completely bombarded by queries from the townsfolk, “What do they dress like?” “What are they eating?” “Has J Lo given birth?” Okay, so maybe not the last one, but they are very curious about life outside of medieval life.

So desperate are they to modernize and be like you, that in their haste, they often fall short. Take for instance Henry Brickenden, the newly appointed 16 year-old Town Crier. The main reason we hire youth is because quite frankly, who else but a 16-year old boy has the energy to scream their lungs out all over town reciting such banal “news” as “Lady Baker’s gate is broken, so enter ‘round the back”?

Read the rest of this entry »

Shameless Princess Katie Brags of Being Guest Flogger for Unsuspecting Families Living on Hilltop!

From the Palace: Day in the Life of a Medieval Princess
By Princess Katie (of Princess Katie & Racer Steve), HF Contributing Writer

Good morrow! Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday, although it wasn’t. Mother to Princess Persephone, Queen Mum Sienna asked me if I would accept the great honor of being a guest blogger for Hilltown Families! “Would I?” I thought to myself, “and how!” Up to my tiara in excitement and unable to fully contain myself, I proceeded to run screaming down to the Town Octagon (Town Squares are pretty passé here) “I’m going to be a guest blogger! I’m going to be a guest blogger for Hilltown Families!”

I couldn’t understand why I was getting dirty looks from all the townspeople, “Eh,” I thought to myself, “they must be jealous.”

The next morning, everything made sense as I read the cover of the Ye Weekly, “Shameless Princess Katie Brags of Being Guest Flogger for Unsuspecting Families Living on Hilltop!”

Read the rest of this entry »

Mother’s Circle in NOHO

The Struggle to Raise Jewish Children
by Shoshana Zonderman, Hilltown Families Guest Writer

When I became a Jewish mother in 1981, I had many questions about the “best” way to raise a child with a strong Jewish identity. I read the popular parenting books that were suggested by my friends, but there was nothing available about Jewish values for parenting. I lived a highly engaged Jewish life and I took my Jewish identity for granted. I never thought about how to best transmit that identity to a child, assuming that it would just happen by osmosis.

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Your Favorite Family Vacation Destination?

Where do we go now?
By Steve Weeks, HF Guest Writer


My wife's family in Little Compton in the early 70's.For decades, my wife’s family has been vacationing in Rhode Island during the summer. Her parents would rent a house in Little Compton just across the Sakonnet river from Newport on Warren’s Point, a beautiful section of rugged coastline that has been preserved much the way it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.

When my wife and her three sisters were kids, these vacations lasted several weeks so that Little Compton became more of a summer home than a vacation destination for them. Although all the girls are grown now and have children of their own, they have returned every year without fail to Warren’s Point with husbands and kids in tow, but now carefully lining up their week-long stays to overlap so everyone can see one another.

(c) CCL - elisfanclubOur family summer tradition has included this Little Compton stop for several years now. It’s the chance for our two children to spend time with their cousins and for everyone to catch up with one another for the year. The kids spend their days hunting for crabs on the rocky shoreline, building drip castles in the sand, diving into the cold New England water from the high pink granite bluffs, or playing spontaneous games in the wide grassy lawns. The adults use the time socializing reading, enjoying seafood, and just soaking in the quiet beauty of the point.

In recent years we’ve used Little Compton as a base camp, venturing out to take in a Pawtucket Red Sox game, visit nearby fishing villages, dine in Newport or spend a few days in Martha’s Vineyard or Boston. — The reason I mention the details of our Rhode Island summers, is because I’m about to ask for your advice and you’ll need to have a good idea of how we like to spend our time.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: