The Power of One: A Mother’s Journey with an Only Child

The Power of One: My One and Only Daisy
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

I knew it would happen someday, I just didn’t expect it so soon. Returning home from a boisterous sledding adventure with our next-door-neighbor’s children, my five-year-old daughter Daisy bursts into tears. “Why don’t I have a playmate at home?” she wonders. “Why does everyone else have a playmate at home, and I only have you. You’re boring. You’re BORING!”

Okay, deep breath. Hurt feelings aside (I know I’m not a world-class clown, but I still wouldn’t classify myself as boring…) I ask, “Are you jealous of Kira, because she has her big brother?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to come home. There’s nothing to do here.” She crosses her arms, puffs our her lips, and pouts.

“Sweetheart, I know it doesn’t seem fair. Kira and Evan certainly have a lot of fun together, and we have a lot of fun with them, but I can assure you, they don’t always get along. And he’s older, there are probably things he wants to do on his own, without his little sister always tagging along.”

“I want a playmate, too.” She sniffles.

“And even if we had a baby tomorrow, you would have to wait two or three years before you could play together, anyway,” I continue. I feel like I’m flailing, grasping at straws. It’s so hard and I’m trying to keep it together, resisting the urge to crumple and cry myself.

“I don’t want a baby sister, I want a big sister!” she yells, sobbing again.

I pull her to me, then lift her up onto the kitchen counter, so we are face-to-face. “I love you sweetheart, and it hurts to see you so upset. But right now, you are our only kid, and we love you so very much!”

“But you’re still boring. I don’t want to play with you anymore.”

Where to go from here? Read the rest of this entry »

Herbal Medicine is the People’s Medicine

Herbs On My Mind. Snow On the Ground.
By HF Contributing Writer, Tony(a) Lemos

Pussy Willow (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Pussy Willow (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The excitement of Pussy Willows this time of year is an exciting one for many New Englander’s (and transplants too), and even more so for herbalists. The seed catalogs are all dog eared. Lists upon lists have been made. Plans of new gardens have been drawn. Books have been referenced… will this be the year I install my chamomile coated napping bed in the garden?

The maple syrup sap is running, the snow is melting, and there’s mud on our boots. Instead of being stuck in the snow, our tires are spinning in the mud.  Most of the local folks here in Ashfield, MA know about the local food movement and are pretty savvy when it comes to eating local.  Some Ashfield families are members of CSA’s, or personally know the farmers who grows their food (Maribeth and Derek from Sangha Farm; Anna and David from Natural Roots). Many of us shop at farmers’ market’s (Honey from Dan, Blackcurrants from Kate, Peaches from Donna), and are even getting savvy about buying other products locally at the farmers market (Gourds from Liz, Yarn from Roberta) and we support our kids by shopping at the Kids Market in front of the General Store in the summer. Not bad for a small town.  Well on our way to sustainabilty.

Now that we grow our food how about growing our families medicine and becoming self sufficient in one more area.  Why go to the drug store for medicine when you can grow and craft your remedies from a wide variety of ailments in your own back yard? It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s relatively cheap. And I can tell you that you don’t have to be a master gardener to do it!

Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine.  The earth’s medicine. Herbs have been an integral part of medicine from the beginning of civilization. Over 80% of the worlds population still uses herbs as their primary means of health care. Medicinal herb gardening is easy, very enjoyable and rewarding both in the beauty of your gardens, and medicines that can be made for free. It is also a great family activity.

From a young age my daughter has always wanted to know from which plant medicines come from and how each formula is made. Her imaginative play often includes concocting plants into medicine for her dolls. If you are interested in teaching kids about herbs I have written a 100+ page curriculum called “An Herbal Summer.” Email me at for more information.

Photo Credit: Tony(a) Lemos

Photo Credit: Tony(a) Lemos

Making Herbal Medicines

Medicinal herbs can be used in many ways.  Sometimes steeped in water to make a mineral rich herbal tea,  in honey to make an herbal honey,  in apple cider vinegar to make a calcium rich brew, or you can mix with other ingredients to make natural home remedy such as cremes, salves and oils. There is nothing quite as empowering as knowing how to make your own medicines. Herbs are magical but preparing and using them doesn’t have to be mystical.

To start with chose a few of your favorite herbs to grow. Common herbs to chose if you are just starting out are:  Read the rest of this entry »

V-log: Conway Festival of the Hills

V-log: Conway Festival of the Hills
by Tom Adams (Hilltown Families Contributing Writer)

Join the Adams’ on another family trip … this time to the Conway Festival of the Hills … 10 minutes of quintessential Hilltown Family fun: maple cotton candy, bunnies, dunking booths, a parade and a helicopter ride (well sorta). Perfect thing to do on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon! If you weren’t able to make it, after watching this video you’ll feel like you were right there! Enjoy.

V-log: Robots in Springfield!

V-log: Dances with Robots
by Tom Adams (Hilltown Families Contributing Writer)

Come along as my family and I journey to Springfield MA’s Symphony Hall (after a little detour) to see “Dances with Robots” a presentation by James McLurkin.  My apologies for sub-par audio/video quality- I guess I won’t be using my still-camera’s video settings anymore.

Stay tuned for the next ‘vlog’ from ReelifeProductions. Never know where we’re headed next…

Tom Adams

Tom lives and works in Williamsburg, MA with his wife, two kids, dog maggie & cat charlie. He is a graduate of UMASS, Amherst and has over 15 years of experience in the fields of educational, commercial and corporate video production. In 1996, he founded Reelife Documentary Productions (1997 & 2008 Telly Award recipient). He is an active member of Hidden-Tech, the Chair of the Williamsburg Technology Committee and Chair of The Williamsburg Cultural Arts Committee. Read the rest of this entry »

V-log: Reel Blues Festival in Northampton

V-log: Reel Blues Festival
by Tom Adams (Hilltown Families Contributing Writer)

It figures my first contribution to this fine website should be a little video I put together late last night (and early this morning) after the excitement of the night had simmered down.  Ya’ see, I won some tix from Monty on WRSI (93.9 the River) to the Reel Blues Festival at The Academy of Music and since I’m a ‘video guy’, instead of delving too far into the world of blogging and journalistic writing, I figured I stick to what I know best and send out a a little “V-log” of my night out on the town with my buddy Max.  Just one of the many great events happening in and around the Hilltowns on a fine mid-September eve- one of the things that make living in this area so fantastic.  Enjoy!

Tom Adams

Tom lives and works in Williamsburg, MA with his wife, two kids, dog maggie & cat charlie. He is a graduate of UMASS, Amherst and has over 15 years of experience in the fields of educational, commercial and corporate video production. In 1996, he founded Reelife Documentary Productions (1997 & 2008 Telly Award recipient). He is an active member of Hidden-Tech, the Chair of the Williamsburg Technology Committee and Chair of The Williamsburg Cultural Arts Committee. Read the rest of this entry »

Tree Books Worth Discovering

By HF Contributing Writer, Tony(a) Lemos

Sienna’s Arbor Day Episode on HFVS inspired me to compile a list of some of our favorite tree books I thought readers might find useful this time of year. One of my favorite things to do is to take my daughter Zoe on a hike with the intention of finding a new tree friend. We will hike until she finds one, then we’ll stop and spend some time with “her” doing a bark rubbing, tracing/ drawing the leaves, photographing, hugging, identifying and finally sitting up against her quietly to see if she has a message for us. Often we will end our time together by me reading or telling Zoe a story. Our favorites for our tree walks are nature tales by Thornton Burgess.

There are so many kids books about trees. Some fiction and some not. I am drawn to them all. There are the typical early science ones by Gail Gibbon or Bobbie Kalman, but here are a few of our favorites:


  • The Tree Farmer – By Leavell & Cravotta
  • The Old Tree – By Ruth Brown (A fun nature story with a great surprise at the end!)
  • An Elm Tree and Three Sisters – By Norma Sommerdorf
  • Sarah’s Willow – By Friedrich Recknagel
  • Spirit of the Forest: Tree Tales From Around the World – By Eric Madde


  • Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art – Illustrated by Thomas Locker & written by Candace Christiansen (Beautiful Illustrations as we all expect from Thomas Locker.)
  • The Tree in the Ancient Forest – By Carol Reed-Jones (Beautiful lyrical story of life around an old-growth fir tree


  • Around the Oak – By Gerda Muller
  • My Favorite Tree: Terrific Trees of North America – By Diane Iverson (Kids share their special tree. Somewhat of a field guide)
  • A Logs Life – By Wendy Pfeffer (Decomposition for kids.)
  • Exploring the Forest with Grandforest Tree – By Joanne & Hand (Great homeschooling book! Like no other.

Guide Books:

  • Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide) – By Diane Burn

I have to stop. Oh don’t forget the story the Man Who Planted Trees and Hope, another classic! I’ll have to gather up some of my favorites from my adult collection and share a list one of these days!

After a couple of season of doing these tree walks I have found that Zoe notices trees where ever we are, ” Oh that would be a great tree house tree” or “look mama that tree needs a hug”.

About the Author: Tony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA and maintains an herbal practice in Northampton, MA. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She is the vice president of the North East Herbal Association, and has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering and the Women’s Herbal Conference.

Celebrating the Seasons with Your Family

Nature Tables & Seasonal Literature
By Tony(a) Lemos, HF Contributing Writer

Photo credit: Tony(a) Lemos


Creating simple rituals and seasonal celebrations have always felt important to me. The seasons are an important part of our lives here on earth, and living here in New England we get to experience the beauty of all four seasons. In our home, creating a seasonal Nature Table display is a part of that experience, keeping us aware of the changing cycle of the year.

Our Nature Table dioramas are always evolving throughout a season. For instance, in the early Spring we may include something that reminds of the maple syrup season, and in later Spring may include seedlings bursting forth.

While many of us value nature, it can be difficult to find the time enjoy a deep connection with it. By keeping a Nature Table we have created a constant connection in our home, forming a communion from the inside to the outside. For us it is especially important in the Winter. New England winters can feel endless at times. Experiencing the small changes of the season we bring to our Nature Table brings us hope that Spring will indeed come.

Photo credit: Tony(a) Lemos

Read the rest of this entry »

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

One mother’s journey with teaching, music and the care of her son.

Connie & her son JacksonI met Connie Gillies of Constant Wonder this summer when she and Alice Weiser performed at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA, and we became instant friends. (Click here to read the review) As we’ve gotten to know one another I’ve discovered that not only is Connie a musician, but she is also a kindergarten teacher, starting a new position as a teacher for a Kindergarten Enrichment Program in Northport, NY. We’ve discussed sharing her adventures and projects with her new class here on Hilltown Families and we’re both very excited about the possibilities. Since classes began last fall, Connie’s sent me music they’ve composed, and images of art work and projects. But before we start to share her inspiring projects, I’ve asked Connie to give us an introduction to herself. As I’ve gotten to know Connie she’s also shared with me her struggles and journey as a mother of a young son with Juvenile Diabetes. To follow is her story of that journey. It’s a mother’s journey. An artists journey. An teachers journey. A journey that passes through doors of experience and possibility. Meet my friend Connie…


She’s Back! An Introduction to Me
by HF Contributing Writer, Connie Gillies of Constant Wonder

Frederick the Mouse (c) Connie GilliesNothing to me is as heartwarming as young children singing a song that I have written. It is the highest compliment and I thoroughly enjoy it when they add their own personality to the song. (Click here to listen to them sing The Frederick Song.) As I looked into each of the faces of my new Kindergarten Enrichment students, I was captivated for a moment. Scanning the group from right to left, appreciating each of their pantomimed movements. They were singing one of my favorite yet less elaborate compositions, swinging their little arms in an upward motion in order to outline large imaginary mouse ears. The song they were singing is a short little tune, yet conveys a very important message about our classroom pet, a sweet little field mouse. His name is Frederick, named after the main character in Leo Lionni’s book, Frederick, and he is a poet with the magical ability to leave the children a new poem in his pocket each day.

As the song ends and the children curl their imaginary paws and poise with a enthusiastic “squeak, squeak,” I stand before them as their new teacher in my new classroom (decorated with the utmost of care!) and for a moment I feel like Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. Unlike Ms. Keaton catching herself in a corporate office bathroom mirror and verbally confirming to her reflection “She’s back!” I was making my confirmation by diving into the faces and souls of twelve adorable kindergartners. I was back! I was a classroom teacher again! Read the rest of this entry »

Have Lovie, Will Travel

On Traveling with a Small Child: How One Hilltown Mom Manages Traveling
By Tony(a) Lemos, HF Contributing Writer

CCL (c) thaths
At 3 ½ my daughter Zoe is an experienced traveler. During our most recent trip to Greece we had a six hour lay-over in Amsterdam. “Mama there’s gate E6. E7 must be next,” she says to me during our layover, as she walked ahead wheeling her little suitcase. I didn’t even know she could read!

I’ve traveled abroad extensively since my mid-twenties. I’ve included my daughter in my travels since she was 4 months old. She’s traveled by boat, train, bus and has spent many long hours in the car. And she has always traveled well (with the exception of one 10-hour flight at 18 months when she had just started to walk…). And I, as a single mother, am able to reach our destination calm and collected.

If you have plans to travel this holiday season, ask yourself if are you relaxed when traveling? Kids pick up on any anxiety and unease. If you feel a little stressed or unsure about an upcoming trip, pack some Rescue Remedy, anti stress aromatherapy patches, tea bags…. Why not pack yourself a little goodie bag too? With a little foresight and planning, traveling can be a fun experience for the whole family. (Click here to recommend a favorite family vacation destination).

To follow are a few travel ideas that have worked for us. Give some a try and see if they will help your travel experiences flow:

Read the rest of this entry »

Make Your Own Natural Itch Relief Spray Using Wildcrafted Herbs

From the Apothacary: Families Can Find Some Itch Relief!
By Tony(a) Lemos, HF Contributing Writer

To follow are a couple herbal recipes to relieve the summer itch of bug bites or poison ivy. Take the kids and wildcraft what’s abundantly local in a clean area in your area. Take what you’ve gathered and head into the kitchen to make a few batches. Give extras to your child’s mom or dad, along with the recipes below. Both recipes are for external use only.


Equal parts:

  • Comfrey Leaf
  • Plantain Leaf
  • Violet Leaf
  • Mugwort Leaf
  • Jewelweed Leaf (whole plant)
  • (If Sweet Fern Leaf is local to you this can also be added)

Make a decoction of Comfrey, Plantain. Violet, Mugwort and Jewelweed Leaf, add Witchhazel 30% of the total liquid, add 1 teaspoon per ounce of Grindelia extract, add alcohol to equal 15% of total liquid (this is the preservative). Decant into a glass jar and store ina cool area. Keep out of reach from your children.


Blenderize the following fresh plants, adding rubbing alcohol and distilled water as needed. Do not strain.

Succous (plant juice preserved in alcohol) of the following wildcrafted plants:

  • Comfrey Leaf
  • Plantain Leaf
  • Violet Leaf
  • Mugwort Leaf
  • Grindelia Leaf
  • Jewelweed Leaf

Decant into a glass jar and store in a cool area. Keep out of reach from your children.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rusty Teapot

In the Tree House

I empty the rusty teapot
of blue water, mud and leaves,
retrieve pink tea cups
from the sand box, play food
strewn through the woods.
I put cups back on their hooks,
arrange ham beside pepper,
cabbage and egg.
I would live here forever

but as I sweep
sand from the burners
on the painted toy stove,
sand my six year-old calls fire—
why can’t you just leave it?
I remember this house is hers,
and I have to give it back, leave
a little fire on the stove,
the sink, fire even on the floor.

By HF Contributing Writer, Amy Dryansky

Read the rest of this entry »

Music DVDs That Won’t Rot Your Children’s Brains (Much)

Music DVDs That Won’t Rot Your Children’s Brains (Much)
By Bill Childs, HF Contributing Writer

I know, I know: You don’t watch television, and your kids are utterly puzzled when they even catch a glimpse of a television screen, so unfamiliar are they with the evils of the Box O’ Idiots. If they’ve ever seen any TV, it’s been ludicrously educational – sedate documentaries about free-range chickens with Mozart gently playing in the background, perhaps. You would never, ever dream of using the TV to keep the kids under control while you cook (or, ahem, write a column about kids’ music.)

But just in case you, er, know someone who might not be quite so good at avoiding screen time with the kids, you’ll be glad to learn that a lot of the talented musicians making great music for kids are also making great DVDs for kids. Below, some of the best:

Read the rest of this entry »

Make Your Own Natural Bug Repellent Using Essential Oils

Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me!


Click here to subscribe to the Hilltown Families weekly eNewsletter! Have it delivered to your email in box once a week for free!

It is easy to make your own non-toxic bug spray by using store bought essential oils. Essential oils are steam-distilled pure concentrates of the natural oils present in plants, flowers, roots, and trees and can be purchased at your local health food store.

The high amounts of essential oils that are so often found in store bought natural bug sprays are unnecessary, and can be made at home using less.To make your own insect repellent, combine rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, vodka, or olive oil with one of the essential oils listed below. Read the rest of this entry »

Spring into Art at CAM in Shelburne Falls

Art-ful Eggs: Batiked, Wooden & Collage
By Victoria Worth, for Hilltown Families

(c) Victoria Worth - Egg Art at the Children's Art Museum
This past Saturday morning at The Children’s Art Museum (CAM) in Shelburne Falls, my family joined several hilltown families to decorate eggs in celebration of Spring & Easter. CAM offered several ways to create and decorate, creating a festive and rich atmosphere to explore art with my daughter.

One method we were shown was batik egg art, using wax to draw patterns and words, then dipping into colors for a reverse affect. On wooden eggs we used stickers to decorate, an easier project for the very young kids. But my favorite was placing strips of colored tissue paper around an egg, creating a blended collage look.

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Kids’ Music Goes Global

What In The World?
Kids’ Music Goes Global
by Bill Childs

(c) Hilltown Families - Robbi K at Brooklyn HootenannyDan Zanes caused a stir a few months ago by noting the overwhelming whiteness of a particular national parenting magazine. (I won’t mention which magazine, because the criticism is pretty fairly addressed to almost any of them.) His point, which is a sound one, is that a “healthy, inclusive, celebratory society is, I think, where the music flourishes.” Well said, Mr. Zanes.

With that in mind, think for a moment about your local record store’s kids’ section. (First, pretend that you still have a local record store, and in the unlikely event that you do, pretend that it has a kids’ section with more than four copies of The Hamster Dance.) What does this record section look like?

I bet your imaginary local record store’s imaginary kids’ section is filled mostly with white musicians. They’re playing tremendously diverse styles of music, no doubt, but they’re not from particularly diverse backgrounds. There are some exceptions, and many of the stars of kids’ music have worked with amazing artists of color (notably Zanes, but also AudraRox and many others), but a disproportionate number look a lot like, well, me. Which is to say: white (particularly after a long, dark winter).

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