In Appreciation: Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is always with us, though we are elaborately and profoundly adept at masking it under layers of practices and to-do lists to keep the uncomfortable, frightening feelings that come with uncertainty at bay. But for me, this past month shattered many of the illusions of certainty to which I was clinging. I was suddenly cast into a deep discomfort and fear of the unknown that I had never before felt so strongly or across so many aspects of my life, as well as the lives of many people whom I love.

When I first began to study mindfulness and Buddhism years ago, it was because on an impulse, I purchased the book Comfortable with Uncertainty by the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. I really liked the title, because I was young, insecure, and totally not comfortable with anything. Since in the immediate days after the election, I have been googling how to move to Canada, compulsively cleaning my house, and spending hours composing long, eviscerating responses to comments on Facebook that I would never actually post. I was clearly once again not comfortable with uncertainty. I pulled Chodron’s book back off the shelf for a refresher course on mindfulness when dealing with uncertainty.

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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.

Make a What-I’m-Thankful-For Placemat

Make a What-I’m-Thankful-For Placemat
by Danielle Wood

With a table laden with turkey, gravy, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, it’s easy to come up with reasons to give thanks this holiday season. But Thanksgiving is a great excuse to pause and give thanks for more than what’s sitting on the table. This activity gives kids a chance to make a cute collage of things that make them happy, and it’s perfect décor for holiday dinnertime, or any day of the year!

READ MORE:  Make a What-I’m-Thankful-For Placemat

DIY: Mexican Sugar Skulls

A Culinary Folk Art for Day of the Dead
By Sienna Wildfield

Making Mexican Sugar Skulls-52.JPG

In the studio with Hilltown Families Guest Artist Marie Westburg of ArtStar in Williamsburg, MA making Mexican Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead.  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

What better avenue for children to explore and discover different cultures than FOOD?!  Right? … We all eat.  And whether it’s a yearly birthday cake, fish on Friday, pancakes on Sunday, or a couple of loaves of challah on a Friday night, most of us routinely and joyfully participate in different food traditions.  The culinary experience of exploring food customs from around the world can bring families an integrated course of study on cultural traditions and arts.

This time of year in Central and Southern Mexico, in preparation for the Mexican holiday El Diá de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), mounds of Sugar Skulls are sold in open air markets.  The Day of the Dead is on November 2nd and we’ve explored this Mexican holiday in a previous post: El Diá de los Muertos (Video & Resources).  Making Mexican Sugar Skulls with your kids is a creative hands-on project that can aid in the exploration of this traditional Mexican Folk Art while affording an opportunity to discuss and participate in one of the various customs of this Mexican celebration.

Hilltown Families Guest Artist Marie Westburg of ArtStar, an art enrichment studio in Williamsburg, MA, recently invited us over to make this sweet Mexican culinary folk art.  In her cozy studio our kids got together and crafted skulls out of sugar and meringue powder and decorated them with bags of colorful icings, beads and sequins.  It’s a fun project to make with a group of friends, but give yourself enough time.  The skulls take 12-24 hours to harden before they can be decorated. To follow is a DIY for this fun seasonal activity:  Read the rest of this entry »

Discovering Gingerbread Houses

by Sienna Wildfield

Hartsbrook Winter Fair 2007-8

Gingerbread houses at the Hartsbrook Fair in Hadley, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Every year I send my parents a gingerbread house for their solstice dessert party, complete with their last name iced on the front door. The door with their name is left for the host and hostess, but by the end of the evening, their guests have demolished the rest of the house, leaving behind little red hots and coconut snow. It’s become a fun tradition. If you’re looking to make a gingerbread house for the holidays, check out A Charming Candy Cottage over at where Kari von Wening, the owner of Takes the Cake Bakery in Pasadena, CA, gives instruction on how to make your very own. Included in the instructions are a shopping list, template and an illustrated tutorial.

Gingerbread House Auctions at Hartsbrook (c) Hilltown Families

Gingerbread houses at the Hartsbrook Fair in Hadley, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

At the Hartsbrook Winter Fair in Hadley, MA, they always have an auction of gingerbread houses (and libraries, castles, churches, windmills …) that the families have made (photos featured with this post are from the auction). Structures that can be made out of gingerbread are only limited by your imagination. Over at they give directions and a template on how to make a gingerbread sleigh. On they give instructions on how to make an A-Frame, Colonial, Saltbox, and Side Gable houses. And if you really want to get inspired, on there are over 400 photos posted to the Gingerbread House Showcase.


Another option to making a gingerbread house is to make a miniature graham cracker house. Every one in the family can make and decorate their very own. offers instructions on how to make this miniature version, as does with a few photo images.

Gingerbread houses at the Hartsbrook Fair in Hadley, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)


If you or your kids have allergies and want to make a gingerbread house, check out Only Sometimes Clever’s gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and peanut-free gingerbread house recipe, or you can buy an allergy-free gingerbread kit from


I’ve put together a list of cookbooks for families interested in making their own gingerbread creations at home. If you do make one, take a photo and send it our way to share with our readers:

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Making Homemade Playdough

Salamander Crossing Guards & Vernal Pools

2008 Annual Amphibian Migration
By HF Contributing Writer, Sheri Rosenblum

After a winter of indoor activities, this is a great time of year to get outside and explore the local woods, especially if you are interested in the lives of amphibians. The snow is melting and vernal pools are appearing all over the Hilltowns. Frogs and salamanders are still in the woods, thawing out from their winter spent frozen under the snow. They are waiting for the first warm, rainy night of Spring to tell them it’s time to move to their breeding habitat, the vernal pools. Unfortunately, this first activity of Spring often requires crossing roads where most drivers are completely unaware they even exist. This recipe for disaster results in millions of deaths every year, with so many of them completely preventable. To follow is a look at what vernal pools are and how your family can help participate in protecting the amphibians that migrate from the every year.


A vernal pool is body of water found in upland hardwood forests in places that were previously glaciated (Ten thousand years ago these Hilltowns were covered up to 2 miles deep in ice!). In summer and fall, vernal pools appear simply as depressions in the forest floor, some as diffrent sized puddle, others as large as a couple of acres. But in the late winter, due to snow melt, spring rains and a high water table beneath them, they fill up like ponds and maintain their water generally into summer. The key feature about their formation is that since they are not associated with any running water system and because they dry out periodically, they cannot support fish. Hence, they have become a safe habitat for a variety of wildlife species that rely on these pools for breeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Video Review: Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

It’s a Wrap!

Web Review: Eco-Friendly Kwanzaa & The Official Kwanzaa Site

Craft ideas for making your own Kwanzaa celebration supplies. Includes instructions for making a Kwanzaa candle holder and mat. Also describes how to create other Kwanzaa symbols. From Care2, an activist organization.
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“The Official Kwanzaa Web Site” focuses on the philosophy of Dr. Maulana Karenga, the African-American professor who created the holiday in 1966. It describes in detail the African roots of the holiday, the seven principles, and the seven basic symbols. Includes a comprehensive guide for those celebrating Kwanzaa for the first time. [] (

Hilltown Families Gets Crafty with Kids Craft Weekly


Kids Craft WeeklyOver at Kids Craft Weekly Hilltown Families (that’s us!) is featured in their Holiday Favourites Issue. Editor Amber Caravan has selected our DIY: Christmas Spider Holiday Cards project which includes a video of Persephone (age 5) demonstrating how to draw a Christmas Spider – and we’re thrilled! And we’re in good company too. Other featured projects for this issue include Gwyn from My Kids Art’s Paper Plate Holiday Decoration, Meg McElwee from Montessori by Hand’s Holiday Accordion Cut-Out, and Jessica Wilson from scrumdilly-do!’s Paper Sack Holiday Cards. All fun projects to do with the kids this holiday season, and great web sites worth checking out if you’re looking for some inspiration.

If you like doing craft projects with your kids, definitely check out Kids Craft Weekly. Amber Caravan, a mother of two who lives in Australia, is the heart and soul behind KCW. She does an excellent job of putting together ideas and projects for inspiring both parents and young artists to create. Each project is illustrated in a pictorial “How to” style with a list of supplies and directions. She writes:

Each issue of Kids Craft Weekly outlines a selection of activities for young kids. The ideas are intended to be cheap, educational and fun and can be used as suggested, or simply as a starting point from which you can develop your own plan of attack. Every issue draws inspiration from a particular theme because I’ve found that my kids seem to love the focus and sense of continuity that it provides. Also, from a learning perspective it reinforces key ideas and helps little minds to put two and two together.

The Holiday Favourites newsletter is Issue 46. Click here to see all her archived issues.

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DIY: Christmas Spider Holiday Cards

How To Draw a Christmas Spider
By Sienna Wildfield

For the Kids-Made Holiday Bazaar, my daughter (age 5) drew Christmas Spiders for her holiday cards to be sold during the event. Here she gives a video tutorial on how to draw the Christmas Spider:


Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).

  • 3″ x 3″ squares of white card stock
  • black (non-toxic) ink pad
  • Thin black Sharpie (or something comparable)
  • Red marker


Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).Step 1

Take your thumb and press it onto a non-toxic black ink pad. Then press your thumb into the middle of a piece of paper, making the body of the spider. (Try to get your kids to wipe off their thumb before proceeding or smudges will most certainly happen).

Christmas Spider design by Persephone (age 5).Step 2

Take a thin black Sharpie and draw four dots down each side of the spiders body. Then draw “L’s” or “7’s” out from each dot to create eight legs.

Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).Step 3

Draw a triangle just above the spiders body as a hat, then add a circle to the top for a pom-pom.

Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).Step 4

Color the triangle in with a red marker, leaving the pom pom white.

TAD-DA!!! You now have a picture of the Christmas Spider that can be tacked onto a blank greeting card. But before adding it to the card, a holiday greeting can be written (by hand or with your printer) on the bottom of the front. We wrote “Holiday Greetings from the Christmas Spider.” On the backside of the card we printed the legend of the Christmas Spider. There are several variations that can be found on-line, including here and here.

Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield


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DIY: Halloween Paper-Maché Piñatas

In the studio with Hilltown Families Guest Artist, Kara Kitchen

Halloween Pinata (c) Hilltown Families

Halloween Pinata (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The history of piñatas is rich, with historical traditions found in China, Europe, and Mexico, and are made out of a variety of materials, including clay pots, tissue paper, ribbons and paper-maché. In Mexico, piñatas were originally clay pots filled with sweets and treasures, later transformed into a seven-point star with religious symbolism. In today’s modern world, piñatas come in a menagerie of traditional and commercial characters and icons.

Families from the Hilltown Families Listserv gathered two Sunday afternoons in a row to make paper-maché piñatas with balloons for Halloween (click here to see more photos). In this two-day workshop kids made paper-maché piñatas the shape of traditional Halloween icons, including a carved pumpkin, a skull and cross-bones, and a black bat. And one child made a kangaroo piñata to use at her birthday next summer.


Making a paper-mache pinata. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Making a paper-maché piñata is a two-step process. The first is to create a hollow paper-maché animal or shape and then allow it to dry. The second is to glue, paint and tie it all together.


Gather your supplies. You’ll need:

  • White flour and water (wheatpaste)
  • Large plastic bowl
  • Newspaper strips
  • Balloon
  • Large drinking glass
  • Tape
  • String

  1. First make your wheatpaste. The recipe is simple: Combine one part white flour with two parts water in a large plastic container, adjusting amounts to get the right paste-like consistency. Mix well until all the lumps of flour are gone. If you store the paste, add a few tablespoons of salt. We discovered later, after the lid blew-off, that wheatpaste doesn’t keep for a week otherwise.
  2. Prepare newspaper strips by folding a newspaper in half and tear into strips. Then, unfold the strips and tear in half. Make enough strips to cover the surface of your balloon twice, at least.
  3. Blow up a large balloon. Place the tied end into the opening of a large drinking glass to hold it up-right while adding paper-maché strips.
  4. To add paper-maché strips of newspaper to your balloon, dip strips into the paste and then squeeze off the excess with your fingers. Add enough layers of paper-maché strips so the color of the balloon is not visible through the newspaper.
  5. Tie string to the top of the balloon and hang until completely dry.


Halloween Pinata (c) Hilltown Families

Making a kangaroo paper-mache pinata. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Gather your supplies. Depending on what you’re making, your supplies may vary. To make any of the designs we chose, you will need the following:

  • Paper & pencil
  • Tempera paint
  • Small sponge brushes
  • Glue gun
  • Old button down
  • Hair dryer
  • Cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Twine
  • Matte finish spray

  1. Halloween Pinata (c) Hilltown FamiliesFirst draw out your design to determine the cardboard cut-outs needed. For a kangaroo we needed to cut out legs, a tail, face and ears. The bat needed a pair of wings and the skull and cross-bones needed two bone cut-outs. The classic Halloween Jack-O-Lantern was the simplest of the four designs.
  2. Once you have your design, use the edge of your balloon to trace the curve of the balloon into your cut-out template, then cut out your pieces.
  3. Cover your surface with newspaper and warm up your hot glue gun. Glueing the card board pieces to the balloon is for adults to manage. The glue is way too hot to let the young ones use. Ask any of the adults who got hot glue on their hands during this process. Ouch!
  4. The glue dries pretty quickly, so just hold steady with your cut-out while waiting for it to adhere. Add any extra glue if needed. Note: The glue will not adhere to a wet paint surface, so make sure everything is well glued on during this step to avoid ears or wings falling off during the painting process.
  5. Halloween Pinata (c) Hilltown FamiliesNow the fun begins. Get your vats of paint ready with small sponge paint brushes for each color and put those old button-down shirts on the kids, backwards. They make great smocks. Once your child has put a base coat on, go over again to smooth out the paint and patch up and missed spots.
  6. Use the hair dryer to speed up the drying process. Paint and glue on any details. Use pipe cleaners for eyes, leaves, ears or even a pouch.


Halloween Pinata (c) Hilltown FamiliesAnother decorative option is to cover your unpainted paper-maché piñata with fringed tissue paper as illustrated in the pictures below. We used recycled tissue paper saved from last year’s holiday season. These fringed piñatas look like colorful eggs and would make great Springtime decorations.

  1. Fold strips of tissue paper in half and seal with a line of paper glue.
  2. Cut fringe just 1/2-inch shy of glue line.
  3. Place another line of glue on your strip of tissue paper.
  4. Adhere to your paper-maché piñata, repeating with another layer just above, slightly overlapping. 

[Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield]

Kara KitchenKara Kitchen is a public high school art teacher with a BFA from Mass Art and MEd from Lesley University, currently offering art workshops and individual instructions at her barn art studio. She is a mother of twins and lives with her husband in Plainfield, MA.

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