Winter Solstice in the Hilltowns

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

That looks EXACTLY like Elmer’s on Solstice!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Nan’s Post-Hurricane Irene Report

Post-Hurricane Irene Report

So I went down to Shelburne Falls to see all the looters. Big shopping baskets full of well-made crafts being pushed up the hills, disappearing into random houses – but there weren’t any. And I thought, “BOY, these people DO NOT know ANYTHING about hurricanes!”

The only person I saw get in trouble was a guy who walked across the iron bridge when it was blocked off. The cop kind of acted like he had stolen the bridge – he was darn sarcastic in his questioning about why the man thought he was better than anyone else and could walk across the roped-off bridge, but even then the mocked pedestrian was quiet and respectful in his answers. He didn’t shoot anyone, didn’t scream or do anything that would actually get him arrested. I don’t know about this place. Before the next hurricane I’m going to have to whip you guys into hurricane shape!

And so you can now add to your list of things not to trust:

  1. Creeks
  2. Hurricane forecasters who tell you EXACTLY what is going to happen! Because THEY DON’T KNOW! Hurricanes are capricious as creeks and, when you are looking for wind, they’ll turn a creek into a bulldozer. When a cataclysm is forecast for New York City, they’ll tiptoe past that and move an innocent quilt shop that never hurt anyone to the brink of a dam just for fun.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nan’s Hurricane Irene Report Update

Hurricane Irene Report Update

You know how much I love going overboard, well, you know this Cajun music festival we’re having on Thursday, September 1st with Joel Savoy and David Greely? Well, I just wanted you to get the full effect of the whole Louisiana atmosphere in late August, so we’re bringing this hurricane up to flavor the experience!

But I would also like to say that if a hurricane takes out this house over August 28th and 29th, then I am just going to avoid August 28ths and 9ths from here on out.

So I’m still not whooped up, but I am paying attention and you know, the great thing about hurricanes is that you don’t freeze to death when the power goes out, unlike in an ice storm.

Doug Field of the Ashfield Select Board just called a meeting to talk about what he knows and here’s what he got today in a 12:30pm conference call with FEMA and MEMA: (And remember, it’s their job to prepare you for the worst scenario, so here that is.)

  • Where: The whole state will be affected. The eye is expected to fall between Worcester and Boston. We’re on the west side, which is always the worst side of a hurricane. (We try to always do things right!)
  • When: Beginning late Saturday night, lasting all day Sunday.
  • Rain: They expect 5 – 12 inches of rain. Possibility of flooding, but Doug and Tom Poissant opened the dam on Ashfield Lake so that it could go down and be ready to refill.
  • Wind: with winds 60 – 80 mph. After the eye passes over the winds could go from 70 – 90 mph. A possibility of tornados.
  • How big: It should land in Connecticut as a Category 2 hurricane, and by the time it reaches here it should weaken to a Category 1 or a Tropical Storm.
  • And so: Gov. Patrick has already declared the state in a State of Emergency as of 1pm today, and has requested people not travel after 6pm on Saturday night. And that’s a good idea, since we don’t have to evacuate.

The Ashfield Fire Station will be open as a command center and they are looking to have Sanderson Academy open as a shelter, if need be.

But the thing you really might have to worry about is flying stuff – big stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

When Raccoons Come a Ringin’

Why It’s Comforting to Live in the Country

We have three people from Goshen, MA who come to Elmer’s every Sunday for breakfast. They are a family: a brother (Dana), a sister and the brother’s wife. There used to be another brother, but he died recently and we miss him. He always ordered hot chocolate with two and a half inches of whipped cream on top.

While I always hate it when younger people tell me I’m an inspiration to them in the world of growing older, these people really are a sure sign of enjoyable living to me when I get to be their age, and I believe they are a fair bit older than I am. But they have so dang much fun, and they dress well, so I enjoy them tremendously when they come in.

Last Sunday they were telling me that their late brother Henry had long complained that someone was ringing his doorbell in the middle of the night. “Did you ever see anyone ring your doorbell?”

“No, I got up and looked outside, and there was never anyone there.”

Henry had also had dementia for a while, so, since they live out in the middle of nowhere, they blessed his heart and kept on going. And then Henry died and they kind of forgot about the midnight doorbell ringer.

Last week, Dana heard someone honking the horn of his car. Faintly at first, but then, unmistakably his car. Middle of the night. A guy afraid of nothing, Dana got up to look and then saw that his headlights were flashing.

“Pretty stupid car thief!” he thought, as he stormed outside to see what in the Sam Hill was going on.

. . . and found that a raccoon had climbed in through the open window of his car and was honking the horn. And then he had turned the flashers on. When he saw Dana coming, he jumped out of the car and ran off toward Henry’s old house.

Rolling up his window, Dana thought about Henry’s mystery night visitor and thought about how the doorbell was located just above the porch railing and how the doorbell was lit up at night and Dana thought, “A haaaa!”


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Secret World of Rob

The Wonderful World of Rob

Yesterday I got to experience the full and secret world of Rob.

In the Usual World, Rob and I work together, but generally separately on just about everything we do. I do my part, he does his part, we bring it all together and make it all happen, but without any real long-term hang time together. But yesterday he and I had to go to Greenfield together to do some Research and Development on a larger project we’re working on, and on that trip, as a side-bar, we went to the bank to make the Elmer’s deposit. This is a job Rob usually does on Thursdays when he goes into town for supplies we need for the weekend. Other people do it other days; I do it myself and have always found the tellers at any branch I go to very nice and very pleasant. They know me, I kind of know them, they ask about Elmer’s, it’s all quite small-town civilized.

We walked into the bank, I slightly behind Rob, not really paying attention, when all of a sudden everything shifted. The last customer was leaving a teller’s window and Rob suddenly grew another four feet taller (I’m not sure how that worked) took on a glow and said, “It’s a special Monday edition of the Thursday Deposit.” ALL of the tellers were focused on him and were laughing and reacting as if their favorite uncle had come to town. “And I’ve brought a very special guest with me today; this is Nan.”

Now all those tellers know me, but all of a sudden I had Special Guest Appearance status and I felt as though I were on the Johnny Carson show. I waved shyly and said, “Hi!” Rob then actually Made the Deposit, but not before deciding whose window he was going to shine his light on, and I am not making this up. Everyone wanted Rob at his window.

Now this may seem as though I’m making them out to be silly girls, but I’m not! The Rob World, without the presence of the rest of us at Elmer’s who tell him what to and make his life pretty much Hell, is a grand world! He shines out there and it was very much fun to watch!

I, too had to make a deposit and I felt like the first runner up, “Yes, she got Johnny Carson at your window and I am just Ed McMahon and I’m sorry for that.” (They were of course very nice, but I just wasn’t Rob and I felt that.)

Then, gesturing to the table where the bank displays a local company’s offerings each month, Rob said, “See that table? Elmer’s has that table for the month of July. We can put anything we want to on it.” Seeing as how it was 6 days into June, I was glad he told me about it, and I need to figure out what we’re going to put there. I’m thinking Rob should just stand there all month and make Lattes, but I’m not sure how to do that.

Rob once told me that he had seen Bill Cosby at that branch when he went in. Truly, I don’t think Mr. Cosby could have made a bigger and more welcome entrance there than Rob does. I was impressed and I remain so even now.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

The Great Cheerwine Mystery SOLVED!

Mystery Solved

In our last chapter, I came home from being away for two months to find Cheerwine sprayed across my drier, with no visible origination point...

Okaaaaay! Now isn’t this better?

I know that some of you are thinking it’s hot, but just remember some of the things I’ve said and with these you can really appreciate summer and not be afraid of it:

  • Naps: A 30 minute nap at the hottest part of the day. For optimum napping, find a hammock.
  • Moving air: You don’t need an air conditioner—especially around here—as long as you have a fan and two open windows (for a cross breeze.)
  • Watermelon: The quintessential snack all summer long. (Just not right before you go to bed because it’ll make you have to pee all night.) (Sorry for the graphic nature of this e-mail, but you have to know how to do this right.)
  • Lots of Water: Speaking of pee, you want it to be clear and copious!
  • Sweat: Just think of it as getting the toxins out and embrace it. (It’s also what keeps you cool in that cross breeze.) And, while you’re sweating you think about how great a shower is going to feel that night and it does!

Not that I am trying to be condescending here; people were very helpful in teaching me how to stay warm all winter, and I’m just returning the favor.

I figured out the Cheerwine mystery! I want to put it in a murder mystery, as the weapon is so seamlessly perfect!

In our last chapter, I came home from being away for two months to find Cheerwine sprayed across my drier, with no visible origination point. To be sure, it was below a shelf where I keep the soda in question, but no bottles were broken, no cans opened, exploded or turned over.

I cleaned it all up, but then, this week, there was more right where I had already cleaned it up! (Dut dut daaaaaaa!)

I got serious with my investigation, picked up all the bottles and cans of Cheerwine on the shelf above the drier and LO AND BEHOLD! One can that appeared to be completely intact was . . . . nearly . . . . empty!

Further exploration, dear reader, turned up the following: Read the rest of this entry »

When the Cat’s Away, The Mice will Play… or take a nap in your sink

The Great Cheerwine Mystery

So what I think is most interesting is what is happening when you’re not around. Allegedly, nature abhors a vacuum, right? So you have this house that’s just there empty of all the energy you throw into it when you’re home and then you’re gone for 2 months and all the energy just drains out of it and what happens then?

Weird stuff, I’m telling you.

Once when I was out of town for a week when I lived in New Orleans, I came back and found that someone had broken into my house every night while I was gone and had only stolen one thing in all that time: a gun that someone had given me right before I left. I hadn’t wanted the gun, said, “DO NOT LEAVE THAT HERE!” but he said I needed it for protection. As soon as he left I hid it up in a hole in the ceiling of the closet in the back room. No one in the world knew about that hole.

When I came back, the house was open (my neighbor Danny came and closed it up every morning after someone came in every night) and nothing of note was taken except that gun. (And I never got broken into again after that.)

Another time, in that same house, a few years later, I came back and found a dead mouse in the bathroom sink. But wait—the mouse was covered up with a paper towel, only his little head sticking out, as if he were asleep in his little bed. He was so cute. But no one else had a key to the house and it was locked up tight. So how did that mouse cover himself up like that and then die on his back like a little storybook character? I never found out and I still wonder to this very day.

And now!

I came back from New Orleans this time and in my laundry room, on the dryer was a spray of Cheerwine. Or blood, but I’m thinking it’s Cheerwine; it’s kind of translucent. (I did not taste it, and I probably won’t.) BUT! There is no source of the Cheerwine. I don’t see an exploded can or bottle or even a puddle of Cheerwine on the shelf above it. So what is up with that?

These are better than the Car Talk puzzler because they have no answer! But I always do wonder what’s going on inside my house when I’m not there and for good reason! But it’s always interesting to open up the door and see what I’m going to find there.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

A Day in the Life of Mardi Gras: Tucks on Napoleon Avenue

Fat Tuesday!

So, when you think, “Nan is down in New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” you are probably not thinking, “Babysitting!” But I am today! Nina and Lola and their friend Lily are all under my care today while their parents are down selling their leather Mardi Gras masks in the French Market. I had things to do today—finish sewing my costume in time for tonight’s Bal Masque, for example, so I volunteered to stay home and watch the little children.

Before the parents left I asked them for all the things the girls had to do. Here are the things they have to do:

  1. Eat
  2. Stay out of the street.

That seems to be it. That leaves a whole world of other things to do:

  1. Take the streetcar down to Napoleon Avenue
  2. Go to a Mardi Gras Parade, as long as (refer to 2 above) they stay out of the street!

So here were my little charges:

Lola, Lily and Nina, happily minding their own business, reading books like the respectable citizens they are.

Realizing that Tucks, the Mardi Gras parade Krewe that was originally organized by college boys was about to roll, we grabbed our shoes and tore off to catch the streetcar and head down to Napoleon Avenue. (But we stayed out of the street.)

Lesson learned: If you take a four-year-old out without a Kleenex in your pocket, you will end up with snot on your jeans.

We got on the streetcar and rode to Napoleon Avenue without incident (save for the runny nose incident.)

When we got there Tucks was on parade and beads were flying:

Then the last float of Tucks passed and it began to rain. We ran across Napoleon to the church where they just happened to be painting faces and selling candy! (Refer to Mandate 1 above—they must eat.)

The girls got painted up (note spoils of the parade around their necks, along with the bag-full of more stuff they caught.) and, with the rain increasing to drowning levels, we raced back to the streetcar, (out of the street) and waited in the pouring rain until the next streetcar came. Then the rain got really heavy so that we could barely see out the streetcar windows. The little girls struck up a conversation with a Tulane University girl, that ended with them all singing rousing songs in French. We reached our stop (I was the lookout) and, when the little girls got up to get off the streetcar, everyone burst into cheers for them and their French songs. We jumped off the street car into the mud (but not into the street) and raced into the Rite Aid store, to get out of the rain and into the freezing cold air conditioning.

Then the rain turned to flooding and, answering a phone call from the parents who said they had to come home due to torrential rain, flooding and the threat of tornadoes, we gave our position and they agreed to come and pick us up.

And then we came home and got to eat dinner.

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, the day itself and I am ready! And will thus be going to bed very soon in order to get up early enough to do the whole day properly.



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Big Dance Party Tonight in the Hilltowns for All Ages!

Big Dance Party Tonight for All Ages!

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

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

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

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

And no one cared.

What does this mean?


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

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

7 pm – 9pm



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Chocolate in the Hilltowns

Night of Love and Chocolate!


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

You Never Know What’s Going to Happen…

Things That Happen When You Think They’re Not Going To

My friend Nancy from Minnesota visited my friend Stuart in New York a couple of weeks ago for Christmas, and, Christmas evening they decided to go see a movie. Nancy called me on her cell phone on the way to the movie. My parents and I were just getting ready to sit down to dinner and so I said, “Call me on the way home.”

So they went to the movie and out to eat, and when they got home Stuart’s house was gone. They had left a perfectly good brownstone right there in the middle of the block, and when they came back there was only fire trucks and the Red Cross van and the house was pretty much gone.

It appears it started in the basement with bad wiring.

So then, some wealthy friends of theirs invited them to live at their gorgeous mansion for the week while Stuart figured out what to do. So they lived in the lap of luxury for a week, and Stuart found that since he lived in the ground-floor apartment, he had not lost as much stuff as those who lived above him had. So that was good, and Nancy did not lose her flute after all, as she thought she had.

And best of all, the Vermont sausage and the Bear Meadow honey I had sent them came out unharmed, as well, so that was very good.

And then Stuart and his landlord found a nice apartment near his wealthy friends’ house where they plan to stay until the house is rebuilt.

But they thought they were just going to see a movie, just as I thought I was just going on temporary vacation on July 10th, 2005 when I ended up here for life.

You just never know what’s going to happen when you decide to step out for a moment. There’s a thought for a new year, isn’t it?


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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


Hilltown Families Isn’t the Only One Turning 5!

Happy New Year & Happy Birthday

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

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

So happy five years to us!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

The Further Adventures of Mr. Justin Jones

Back to Our Story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, I will.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

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

Strange Coincidences

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

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

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

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



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Scary Trees in Ashfield

Just in Case You Were Wondering …

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

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

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

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

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

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



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

New Orleans Meets New England at the Ashfield Fall Festival

Ashfield Fall Festival!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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



Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

National Talk Like a Pirate Day in Ashfield

Pirates ho!

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

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

Further speaking of pirates:

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

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


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Asleep at the Cummington Fair

My Day at the Fair

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

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

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


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Dating in the Hilltowns

Like This!

Sex in the City Village

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

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

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

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

And then the show would be over!


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Lawd, It’s Hot!

Like This!

Oh Summer! (Second Verse)

Lawd, it’s hot! Now you see why southerners talk slower—it’s just hard to get up the energy to get worked up over having something to say.

While I, of course did not create the heat wave, I still feel a little guilty about it. You knew how much I wanted a real summer. While, certainly I am not the only Southerner to live in New England, I may be the only one who ever hated air conditioning.

When I was a kid growing up in North Carolina begging for air conditioning, my mom always said, “No, I like hearing the birds.” I, too began listening to the birds and enjoyed them as well, eschewing air conditioning as long as I could, even after moving to New Orleans. I did not live in a house with air conditioning until I moved to Mid-City eleven years ago (it came with the house) and even then I didn’t turn it on much.

So I’m just going to say this to you in hopes that it helps:

  • Cold water, both inside and out of your body.
  • Moving air: Fans all around. (Ceiling fans are the best!)
  • Take heart in the fact that when it’s this hot you don’t care to eat much.
  • When you do eat, eat watermelon.
  • Sit outside in the evening and appreciate how relatively cool it is.
  • And talk slow, even then.


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

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

Like This!

The Quirks of Northern Gentlemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

When One Chef Closes, Another Chef Opens

Like This!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Wanted: Quintessential Willie Gray Stories

Notes from Nan: And now, Spring.

BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overheard Conversations in Ashfield

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

My Favorite Overheard Conversations of the Past Week:

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

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

The Second: on One Thing Women are Good For:

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

My new favorite name:

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

My favorite thing to do today:

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


Nan Parati - Elmer's StoreNan Parati

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

Good Hilltown Folks Offer Nourishment & Encouragement to One Family Down South

God Bless Y’all Every One!

Oh, you are some generous people!

I called Regina Jones day before yesterday and said,  “Regina Jones!  I got a song to sing for you.”

She said, “What’s that, Baby?”
I said,  “You better not cry, you better not pout, you better not get in any fights, I’m telling you why—“
And she just started laughing and whooping and said,  “Santa Claus coming HERE?”

I said, yes indeed!  “I was telling some people about your situation and they gave me some money to get you a few things with.”

What I didn’t tell her (because I didn’t know it yet) was that these folks have so far given me over seven hundred dollars!

So here’s what I’m doing… Read the rest of this entry »

A Long Story in Short Space

Notes from Nan: Justin Jones

I have a long story to tell in a short space.

From 1985 to 1999 I lived in a low-income neighborhood in New Orleans.  One day I met a nine year-old boy named Brandon Jones who became my lifelong friend and I his.  He taught me what it is to be poor, what it’s like to be on the team with no power.  Not many people get that gift in life.  He gave me insight and understanding;  made me laugh until I cried and cry until I couldn’t any more.  He raised me up from a nice white girl to a woman with eyes in my heart that I couldn’t have gotten any other way.  He was my heart.

Me, I tried to give him a level playing ground to start from.  I gave him a place to live when there was no other and beat the truth into him:  That he was brilliant.  That he could be anyone he chose to be.  When he was eleven and had to go to the stricter school for bad kids, on his application under What do you want to be when you grow up? he wrote,  “Football coach and writer-director.”  I smiled at that, knowing he was listening.  When he was sixteen I used my power to get him a job at Whole Foods Market.  That was my contribution.  He used his own power to work his way up to head cashier.

Brandon’s mother Regina used to take care of me, in the old days, in the neighborhood.  Made sure people knew I was okay.  She saw me talking to the wrong person she’d say,  “Huh UH!  That’s MY white woman!  You hear me?  That’s Nan.  She’s MY white woman.  You can’t have her.”  And people in the neighborhood knew.  People in the neighborhood didn’t mess with no Regina Jones.

Later on, Regina had a second child named Justin Jones. One day, in my old house I heard a three year-old voice outside, shouting,  “Nan Parati!  I’m peein’ on your house!”

I looked out at the street.  “Justin Jones!  What in the world are you doing?”

“I’m peein’ on your house!”  he said proudly.  And indeed, he was.

“You’re not supposed to pee on people’s houses,” said I.

“You ain’t?”  Justin Jones was truly surprised.  But you know, that’s how you learn.

A year later, Regina and Justin and I were at dinner.  Justin Jones sat on my lap, looking at my hand while Regina and I talked.  “Nan Parati!”  he suddenly yelped.  “You white!

“Justin!”  admonished his mama,  “Don’t say that to Nan!  That ain’t nice!”

“It’s all right!”  I said to Justin Jones, “Indeed I am!”  There is something to be learned every day!

Read the rest of this entry »

Chocolate Doodle Doo! & the Case of the Missing Menus in the Hilltowns

Notes from Nan: Admonition of the Week
in Which You Learn a Whole Lot About the Restaurant Business
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

So, there it was: Sunday morning at 8:00 on the second morning of the Crafts Festival that we were producing. Sundays are always busy and this one portended to be busier than usual. It had snowed, and an unknown person from New Jersey had parked overnight in the Elmer’s side lot so that Mike couldn’t plow it. (Admonition inside the admonition of the week: No overnight parking at Elmer’s on plow nights.) And we had drawn lots of people through heavy advertising to come to Elmer’s and we couldn’t plow.

Then the phone rang and it was our dishwasher (on the morning of the potentially very busy Sunday) saying that she had just sliced her finger pretty badly and probably would not be able to wash dishes that morning, so we had to find another sixteen year-old happy to give up their Sunday to wash dishes the whole dang day since we were going to serve lunch until 4:00, as well. Then the hostess person who is never, never, never late, was and the message the Verizon lady was giving me was that her number had been disconnected with no further information.

So to recap: No plowing, no dishwasher, no hostess and lots of people. Are you with me? So THEN (now this is where you potentially come in) the people started coming in for their breakfast, we picked up the menus to seat them with and no fewer than ten menus (out of 25) had had the main pages stolen out of them so that all we had were the “Tea and Coffee” page on the back.

That was when I started swearing like a parrot. I was cool until the menus were gone because in the middle of all there was to do I had to go and print and assemble a pile of new menus. Richard from Cummington (who happened to be in the general direction I was swearing in) tried to cheer me up by saying I should be flattered that people wanted to take the menus. If we did not have a whole stack of “to go” menus for the asking, I might go for that. But I did not. So I think you know what the admonition of this week is, and so, if you have a purloined menu at your house, hang your head and feel bad.

But here’s something nice:

Sunday morning before all that happened, I got up at 5:30 to get ready for all I had to do. The individual panes of my windows were highlighted with that classic U-shaped frost that is in all storybook pictures and just beyond them was a brand new blanket of snow lit up yellow with the light from Anna’s window where I could see her baking bread to take to Elmer’s. The fir trees were laden with snow and it was blue all around where there wasn’t otherwise light and I thought to myself, “This looks just like an illustration!” which it did! The light from Anna’s was warm like the bread would be and I felt very happy and at home. So that was nice. And then I went to work where (see Admonition above.)

FANCY CHOCOLATE EVENT IN ASHFIELD: Friday, December 11th, 2009

Okay! So I thought of a name for the chocolate event! It’s called:

Chocolate Doodle Doo!
With Chocolate Chef Alan Crofut!

Heirloom Chocolate Cake
Photo credit: gelskitchen

We’re going to start with a quiet dinner at Elmer’s:

  • Pan-seared Salmon
  • With Sidehill Farm Riatta (a dill-cucumber yogurt sauce)
  • Herb-roasted potatoes
  • With Garlic Swiss Chard

Or Vegetarians:

  • Sidehill Farm Paneer with riatta
  • Herb-roasted potatoes
  • With Garlic Swiss Chard

at Elmer’s. And then you go across the street (with your little golden ticket) and where you will get to eat more chocolate than you’ve ever seen in your whole life:

  • Chocolate Mousse
    Creamy smooth, rich, flavorful & satisfying.
    Served over chocolate sponge cake with whipped cream and garnish.
  • Cayenne Mousse
    Mousse with Cayenne Pepper, compliments red wines nicely.
    Served in bowl, colored chocolate “taco chips” are used for dipping.
  • Chocolate Cheesecake
    Thick, heavy, rich, guaranteed to scare any diet away in one bite
  • Chocolate Ganache Cake
    Flourless cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Like eating a truffle.
  • Chocolate Ganache Torts
    Layers of dark chocolate can’t hide the layer of flavor in the middle – Cappuccino, Raspberry, Vanilla Ginger
  • There will be plates of chocolates as well. Mints, Caramel, Raspberry, Espresso, Toffee

Read the rest of this entry »

Grateful Harvest Dinner in the Hilltowns

Notes from Nan: Why I Never Invite You to My House for Dinner
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

Last week some people were coming to dinner at my house. Because the number of waking hours I spend at my house does not give me enough time to actually keep it tidy, I had a lot to do before they got there. The one belt that I own was draped over something and I remember grabbing it and thrusting it behind something because I didn’t have enough time to run upstairs with it.

Now the diners are gone, it’s four days later and I cannot find that belt anywhere. I know it’s behind something downstairs, and in a house this small there are only so many places with a behind behind them and I have looked into them all. I have even begun looking inside things, even though I know it is actually behind something.

I found a belt that belonged to Son behind some things in the laundry room and put that on, but he said he had been looking for that one himself and asked for it back. I found another belt that belonged to a little girl who once visited here behind some other things in the laundry room, but that one was a buckle and a tip short of fitting. I don’t want to buy a new belt because I already have one, and I only need one. So now I’m stuck with a pair of pants that I can’t wear because I don’t have a belt. I might have to just put a piece of rope around my pants like Ellie Mae Clampett, but that’s just not the style up here. I know that if it was a snake (which it would sort of resemble in form) it would have bit me by now, but otherwise I cannot find it.

So, if you were wondering why I never invite you to dinner at my house, that’s why.


Mary has gone out right now to collect all the food we will be serving in our Grateful Harvest Dinner this Thursday Friday Night (11/05/09 11/06/09).

On the Menu:  Read the rest of this entry »

School Fundraiser and Fall Festival in Ashfield

Notes from Nan: Locally Made Fundraiser & Ashfield Fall Festival
BY HF Contributing Writer, Nan Parati

Hey! You know what is one of the coolest ideas ever invented? Sanderson Academy coming up with their own catalogue of locally-made products to sell instead of Chinese-made stuff like most other schools sell to raise school money! Claire Mockler and Nancy Hoff came up with the idea, pitched it to local artists and businesses, Linda Taylor laid the catalogue out, the Mary Lyon Foundation printed it, and now Sanderson kids have a 24 page catalogue of things to sell that support local creators and vendors as well as Sanderson! Isn’t that brilliant?? If you don’t have a Sanderson kid near you, some of the local businesses have store copies that you can order from. (We do, Ashfield Hardware does, as does Mo’s Fudge Factor in Shelburne Falls. There may be more, but those are the places I know have them.) It has everything from soap to jewelry to Christmas trees, to yogurt, to holiday gift boxes to CDs to pizzas to syrup, to clothing and lots more—ALL of it produced right here in the Hilltowns! The deadline for ordering is October 18th. (The products still exist after that date, but if you’d like a part of the proceeds of your shopping to go to Sanderson you must order by that date.) Just a fabulous idea! I am very excited about it!

And now I’m excited about dinner this week and even more excited about Fall Festival! Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: