The Good Life: We are Not the Weather

The Good Life: A Thousand Miles Apart

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

A Thousand Miles Apart

This summer, writer Sarah Mattison Buhl travels to see her family in Wisconsin. She embraces the differences, and vows to look deeply at the issues.

We’ve lived in Massachusetts for five good years. It is a sensible fit for my family, and a culturally rich place to set root. I’ve appreciated the hard-working, New England sensibility. I share the long-standing social liberalism of the state. The rural quiet resonates with me, having relocated from Wisconsin. In fact, my adopted city reminds me a lot of the city from where I came. We are back visiting the Badger State this summer as we do every year, but I am noticing differences between Wisconsin and Massachusetts more vividly now than any visit in recent years. My east coast beliefs and my core midwestern values feel out of sync for the first time. I feel fortunate to be fluent in both languages. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons

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

Truth Through Action:  Seeing Beyond the Chaff

We learned the basics of living a thoughtful life in Mrs. Hansen’s kindergarten class in 1974. She taught us to listen when someone else was speaking. She impressed kindness on us and admonished us not to call anyone a nasty name. She urged us to work together by taking turns and sharing what we had. She warned us sternly to keep our hands to ourselves. She told us to tell the truth. Kids needed to be reminded of those basics in order to grow up to be thoughtful adults. Some adults never learned. It is the action we take that speaks volumes, and informs others who we really are. Poet Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”   Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: It’s Not About the Shopping

The Good Life: Reaching Makes a Bridge

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

Reaching Makes a Bridge

With the end of the academic year, I’ve been thinking a lot about groups.  Classrooms, mom’s groups, political organizations, workplaces, committees…. (to name a few).  Some groups work well.  There is a positive, respectful dynamic between individuals, which allows space for everyone to have a voice.  They reach out, they include, they embrace.  They seek input and value learning from others experiences.  I work with some fellow teachers who are masterful at creating equitable classroom environments.    Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Optimism is a Gift, But Resilience is Home Grown

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

Growing Resilience

My son is 15. He will likely move away to attend college in three short years. I stayed home to watch him grow for 12 years before returning to work. I hope I told him I loved him every day. At five he was the kind of boy who sprang out of bed in the morning saying, “It’s my lucky day!” Today he is the kind of guy who considers everyone a friend and is a perennial optimist. It turns out every day really is his lucky day. Many things will go right for him in life, but some things will go wrong. What then? Optimism will certainly help, but resilience is what he will need when simple optimism isn’t enough.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: The Importance of the Journey

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

Preparedness Meets Opportunity

My dad arrived at the Hartford airport five days ago from Wisconsin. This is no small thing for a man who abhors spending money and relishes the well-worn comfort of his only home of the past 46 years. Dad is 76, and a true gentle-man from a bygone era. He wears a black fedora when he goes to church or a funeral. He looks a little like Frank Sinatra. What makes his 1,000 mile trip even more herculean is that he cannot speak. A stroke wiped out his ability to write or communicate his thoughts with any of his former eloquence seven years ago, shortly after my mom died. His fate is both lucky and cruel; His intellect is intact, and he still has a head for numbers, but his words are locked in a room for which the key has been lost.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: We are Not the Weather

The Good Life: Summertime Downtime

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

Becoming Ourselves

“Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky.”  I wish I had said this, but it was written in an essay by the always amazing Anna Quindlan. She has captured all that summer was meant to be in a single phrase.  I love this idea, but do I have the mettle to allow this to happen in my own family this summer?  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Characters Locked in a Cell

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

Reluctant

So done with winter!“Spring seems most reluctant this year…” my husband’s grandmother wrote in a letter to us almost twenty years ago. Personal email was just starting up, and Grandma was close to 90, so the technology revolution entirely missed her generation. Her phrasing stayed with me all these years later, because what she said was certainly true, but there was no frustration in her words, only grace. A similar text today might read, “So done with winter!,” also true, but delivered with a crass directness and blistering internet speed never before seen. I love social media and texting for the very way it keeps us connected in a casual, immediate manner, but with the intoxicating rush of 21st century communication, and insatiable quest for immediate information, I have lost something.

Internet access makes me feel as though there is constantly something I should be doing, every minute of every day, right up until I fall into bed at night. I could be registering for retirement benefits, paying for school lunches, researching my ancestry, or confirming dentist appointments (there are 5 of us, and one with braces). My cell phone was a generous gift given to me by my generous family. Texting makes communication with them flow freely and easily. Help at school pick up time is now just a text away, and for that I am truly grateful. That cell phone has truly made my life easier in that respect. However, I feel the burden of expectation that comes with that portable, yet powerful device.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: The Judgement (Re)call

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

Winter is the Cruelest Season

A friend recently told me that March is “Non-judgement Month.” She went on to explain that a colleague was having a rough time last March and declared the entire month judgement-free.

It started me thinking about judgement, and while I certainly support non-judgement as I understand it, I recognize that as humans we make judgements every day: “The roads look slippery, so I will go home early.” “ You look great in black.” “The kids have had a tiring week. Rollerskating Friday night is too much.”  – These are all judgement statements, but they aren’t objectionable (with the exception of not rollerskating). So what is it about judgement that makes us cringe? Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: The Tradition of Girl Scout Cookies & Personal Growth

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

It’s Not About the Cookies

This month in “The Good Life,” Sarah shares her experience as a Girl Scout leader as to the motivations and inspirations of young girls selling Girl Scout cookies.

The winter days seem longer than ever this time of year, and hope remains distant with all the ice and darkness.  However, I don’t have to look very far to find inspiration, and you don’t, either.   The Girls Scouts are coming your way, fueled by goal-setting websites and friendly competition.  It is Cookie Time, and I am a Girl Scout leader.

I was not a Girl Scout as a child, but I wish I had been.  I didn’t know much about it, but knowing what I know now makes me a believer.   These girls are smart, achievement-oriented women-to-be, and I now understand that the Cookie Sale isn’t about the cookies.    The girls set personal goals, and order the number of cookies they think they can sell months in advance.  There are incentive prizes for the  youngest girls, and they pour over the brochures, dazzled by the enviable stuffed animal they can earn by selling 125 boxes.  This year it is a “plush cheetah,” and  it is the object of  every ten-year-old’s intense desire.

However, something happens as the girls grow over the years, and they seem to love the challenge more than the prizes (well, almost more) as time goes on…  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Grounded. Disconnected. But Grateful.

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

Sweetness of Strangers Gives Strength In A Crisis

A helping hand is so poignant and strength-giving when it comes from a stranger.

I was in Florida just after Christmas visiting my dad. It wasn’t an expected trip, but the emergency sort filled with last minute searches for one-way plane tickets, and feverish texting with family. At the time I was sick with worry, exhausted from lack of sleep and answers, and restless from endless hours spent waiting for doctors to share the tiniest crumb of news from this test result or that scan. Dad had been on vacation, but was ready to call it quits. He wanted to go home, and so did I. We wanted the comfort of our own beds, the warmth of our own coffee pots, and the familiar light from our own kitchen windows. We wanted to be exactly where we were before all of this discomfort and uncertainty happened. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Every Act of Generosity & Kindness Counts!

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

 One Makes a Difference

Every act of generosity and kindness counts, no matter how big or small! Support Hilltown Families  with a tax-deductible donation, and watch your gift of generosity keep on giving!

I think of December as the time to donate to charitable causes. It isn’t logical, it’s emotional. In truth, July may be a better time to give because everyone is feeling generous and benevolent in December. July on the other hand, is like a desert in the philanthropic landscape. But I will stick with December, because like many of you, my heart is softer, and my compassion for others is somehow boundless this time of year. But is my heart softer because I give? Maybe one day I will give in July, too…and maybe April. Maybe through giving my compassion grows?

Philanthropic thinking is something which develops over time, and is often inspired by someone else. As a child my dad purchased a red poppy without fail on Memorial Day. He would give it to me. At the time I didn’t know what Memorial Day was about, and to me that poppy was just further proof that my dad loved me a whole lot. I also didn’t know that he was teaching me something. I remember watching the Jerry Lewis Telethon where Jerry, on the brink of exhaustion, would plead for pledges for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. My ten-year-old self called and pledged the ten dollars my grandma had recently sent for my birthday…and immediately regretted it. Ten dollars was a lot of money to a kid then, and Jerry influenced me with his dramatic sweat and tears while I ate my Count Chocula that morning. What had I done? I immediately went to my dad, and told him I was saving that money for something special. He never wavered. When the envelope arrived in the mail, I signed over the check. He taught me something.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: A Parent As Sports Spectator

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

Will They Be Okay?

Watching your child enter the world of contact sports can rankle the nerves.

I am not athletic. I am not competitive. I do not have a favorite sport. I married a man who duped me into believing he was a moderate baseball fan. He was boycotting major league baseball during their strike close to 20 years ago when we met. It turned out that when the strike was over he was not a moderate fan. He was a fanatic. It was too late for me to run the other way; He had me at “hello.”

We made a family of three, then four, then five. As our kids started choosing activities, my husband was very clear that he didn’t want them to feel like they had to play his sport, or any sport for that matter. He offered them the freedom to explore, and I wholly supported and appreciated his efforts.

In sports, our eldest, Sam, tried wrestling, soccer, and t-ball before coming to football. We knew that every sport came with risks, and the one that we were the most afraid of was head trauma. My husband played football in high school, and was taken off more than once and diagnosed with serious concussions. We watched the documentaries on football and head injury, and the sobering interviews with broken ex-NFL players and their families. We knew football was risky, and successfully avoided it until Sam was in the 7th grade. He wanted to join the team. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: “Time is the Longest Distance Between Two Places”

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

Where Has the Time Gone?

I’m not sure exactly what I did with my time when I was, say, 22. I know I was living with my BFF in an apartment in Milwaukee, WI, and working in an art gallery downtown. I did not have a computer, a smartphone, or a Facebook account. I think I read. I think I read the mail, read magazines, read books. I remember going to an upscale hotel where I had a gym membership and I exercised. I went out, I had people over. There was no reality TV, but I had plenty of time to watch it if there had been. But, where has the time gone? Really. Where has it gone? Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Connecting on the Last Days of Summer

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

Summer’s Sweet Relief

This way for a welcome diversion!

Last weekend, I went with my littlest kids to the Tri-County Fair in Northampton, MA.  It turns out that there have been close to 200 of them, and it is the oldest “agricultural fair” in the Nation.  Being at the fair is a throwback.  Not to a gentler age, but to the inescapable grittiness that has always been part of fairs everywhere.  Sure, some things are different.  In 1816, a person might have eaten beans and ham with corn bread on the midway.  Now people eat fried cheese cake and chocolate covered bacon.  Decades ago, a new showcase food might have been the now blasé ice cream cone. Last weekend I saw caffeinated peanut butter.

We spent money on slushies in swirly cups, “won” 50-cent stuffed animals after spending ten dollars, and saw an arctic fox.  It was hot. We had a terrific time.  You see, we were celebrating the beginning of a new school year.  The earlier part of the day was spent trying frantically to connect with friends and make last minute plans for the final day of summer.  Tensions and anxieties were running high as the kids feverishly recognized that summer was coming to an end.  When it dawned on me that the real reason for their irritation and frustration was time, or really, lack of it, I changed my course.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: The Loving Power of an Auntie

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

A Legacy of Love

My Aunt Janine was a teacher who had pop-up books and a knack for telling stories…

This August, we’re having a baby! Well, it’s not exactly our baby. In truth, my brother and sister-in-law are having their first child, and we are all over the moon. It is a guilty pleasure to watch this little life unfolding from afar, because I know sleepless nights are coming their way. I know that they may argue about the best way to get their cranky cherub to sleep, and they may wonder who else in the world is awake, rocking their own newborn at 3 am; I know I did. But now, having nursed my last baby five years ago, I see this tiny girl’s arrival with fresh eyes, and with an entirely different perspective: I get to be her aunt. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Small Hardships Swept Away by Joyous Enthusiasm

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

For the Kids: Summer Travel

The RV: Liberation for some. Captivity for others.

Like some families, I am traveling with mine this month for summer vacation. We started in Albuquerque with the five of us, my father-in-law, and an RV.  This is not a trip I would have imagined taking prior to my married life.  The mere suggestion of such a hideous vacation would have sent my snobbish idealism into overdrive. A lot has changed since then. When my kids were little, my friend Kristie wisely advised me to plan our trips around them.  She said, “When they’re happy, you’re happy.” She also told me to wear elastic pants so I could go to the bathroom one handed while holding an infant in the other (Namaste, my dear friend.  Namaste).  On day eleven of our 23-day trip, I’ve decided to write about hardship. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Making a Wish Trains Us to Think Positively

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

I Still Wish

This month, I will wish on my birthday candles like I always do every year. But this year I finally realize I am not the only one wishing!

I still make wishes. June is my birthday month, and on the 19th I will make a cake with my kids, light the candles, blow them out and make a silent wish. Why? Because although I will be 45 this month, I still lean toward optimism and occasionally towards magical thinking. I have never, and will never squander a wish because in a time when we are on the precipice of the 6th Mass Extinction, I need to be a believer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about wishes, and did a little research. A few years ago new age spiritualists and self-help gurus were tripping over themselves to promote an old idea made new again in a book called The Secret. The idea is that like attracts like, meaning if you think negative thoughts, those negative things will happen to you. If you think positively, your thoughts will become reality. This is also known as the Law of Attraction. Supporters of the Law suggest that life has a catalog, and that you can order exactly what you want, and it will be provided for you. So for example, my friend Jen has always admired a stately brick Colonial home in town. She should “ask” the Universe for it, then believe it can be hers- maybe even take a tour and plan where her furniture will go. The best part is that she doesn’t have to figure out how to make it happen. The Universe takes care of that for her. The house is Jen’s for the asking. She will be really happy when I tell her. But what if she isn’t the only one wishing? What if someone else likes that house (like the people who live there), and they wish to stay FOREVER? What if her husband really likes their current house and hopes to stay there with her until they can’t get to the second floor without a Stair Chair? Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Memories That Make a Life

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

The Only Memory That Matters

May is the essence of all my lovely childhood springs…

May is the essence of all my lovely childhood springs. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know at the time that the month was actually May but, in hindsight, it must have been, because the high school band could be heard practicing their marching music in the distance for the Norwegian Syttende Mai parade—a major annual event in my small, Midwestern hometown. My mother opened all the windows and let the warmish springtime breeze drift in along with the band. I remember the sheer, white curtains billowing around her as my mom took down the heavier winter drapes. I remember our enormous crabapple tree heavy with pink blossoms. I remember eating my Chef Boyardee Ravioli out of an orange plastic bowl, while sunning my newly rediscovered knees on the back steps. In my memory, I often ate my lunch on those back steps, but did I? Am I recalling one day in May that somehow got changed in my memory to a lifetime of May days focused on my knees? One thing I know for sure is that apple tree has grown a lot from then until now. Maybe my memory of May has grown in proportion to that tree. Details lost in remembering? Read on

Awaken to the Moments

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

Grace Uncommon

I hope we can all awaken to the moments when we are in the presence of such gifts, and better still, to recognize the potential for it in ourselves. The good news is that grace will come, even when you are too busy to roll down the window and wake up.

Spring comes as a miraculous surprise to me every year.  The fresh air arrives out of nowhere and makes me giddy.  The branches are bare and the ground is muddy, but I am intoxicated by the scent of the wind.  In the bustle of my life I often overlook graceful simplicity, because I can’t seem to slow myself down to see it.  Like many parents, I spend most of my time in a minivan.  But when I happen to roll the window down, the unexpected, graceful spring air wafts in and I am blessed; I stop feeling sorry for myself and I step back into my body.  Persephone has returned, and so have I, fully awakened by the uncommon grace of spring.

Two weeks ago I accompanied my daughter to the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton.  She was performing in the ballet Beauty and the Beast with the Pioneer Valley Ballet (PVB).  As I waited to drop off my darling dancer along with the other parents, a little boy not more than four exclaimed, “Look!  The fust- flowah-a-spring!”  All of us swung our heads to view this improbability, and lo and behold, he was right.  There it was, poking its dainty purple crown purposefully out of the mud.  The spell was broken when the same sweet cherub jabbed his umbrella within a hair of this purple miracle and announced, “I’ne- gonna-deeg-et-up.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Spring Comes in April

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

March Revelation

March is the worst of its kind. After traveling through the inky darkness of  winter, we arrive, weary, on the doorstep of March.  March tells us, wide-eyed, that he is the official herald of spring, a time when daffodils shine in abundance.  The most desperate among us will crack the bedroom window allowing March to sneak in. I’ve known March a long time, and while I still want to believe he is the real deal, I finally know better.  Spring comes in April… Read the rest of this entry »

A Love Letter to My Children

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

A Love Letter

My daughter is curious about love. She is ten going on 25, and wants my dirt. “Who was your first kiss?” Tim Rikkers. “Were you in love with someone in high school?” Yes. “Did you ever curl up and cry really hard over someone?” Gulp. The last response gets stuck in my throat like a long-forgotten bone. Yes, I answer honestly, wanting her to know the truth about me and inevitably, herself. I explain that it was a really long time ago, and that the morning he left, I felt as though my heart walked away from my body. “Did you tell your mom?” No, I admitted, I hadn’t. My mom wasn’t the touchy-feely type, and had little time for foolishness. But if someone could have told me a few things about love ahead of time, I would have listened hard. There are lots of articles on the general topic, but most are written with the finger pointing squarely at the other person, and what they are sorely lacking. They have titles like, “11 Signs you are Dating A Boy, Not a Man,” and “30 Signs you are Dating a Jerk.” But everyone knows, or has at least heard, that you can’t change people, you can only change yourself. So assuming that my young adult children will not associate with complete sociopaths, there are some things I want them to know before I miss the opportunity. A “love letter” to them would read something like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Lead the Way Magic Google 8-Ball!

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

Signs Point to Yes

When I look back on the dimming horizon of 2013, I marvel at the abundance of the year. We bought a house, we made new friends, we realigned our thinking, transitioning from moving trucks, packing tape and uncertainty, to a minivan, a tire swing, and this old place- -our new home. My family traveled thousands of miles to get here, the five of us taking a leap of faith toward Northampton, MA. It had the right ingredients: a progressive college town, good opportunities, good schools, and family near-ish. We considered other places, trying to piece together a new life after a year abroad, but like so many situations, we chose our path based on what we knew, and took small steps until this place, this opportunity, revealed itself as the best choice out of many good ones. It wasn’t luck. We did our research. We thought about the kind of life we wanted, and I Googled endless conversation threads on City-Data. I’ve come to think of Google as a sort of Magic 8-Ball for the 2000’s. Is Northampton the right place for us? Signs point to yes…

Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Traditions: Old & New

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

Something For Your Pocket

My mother was a Christmas magician. She made every holiday candy and cookie known to humankind. She did not shy away from butter, or a good laugh. She wrapped what seemed like mountains of gifts in sparkling paper, and every package had a bow. Sometimes the bows were made by hand. During my mother’s most seriously invested Christmases, she prayed over a candle-lit Advent wreath. Every year my dad located and cut down the perfect tree for her. This was not an easy task (the perfection nor the cutting), and my father took his appointment seriously. He laid old-fashioned tinsel on the tree, branch by painstaking branch. It was a labor of love. A ball of mistletoe hung over their entry door. They forgot to pack it away one year, and it is still up twenty years later never having moved. Maybe the best tradition is to just leave the mistletoe up? My brother Charlie and I kept advent calendars, left rough-looking cookies for Santa, and even left carrots for his reindeer. We read the beautifully illustrated book “Jolly Old Santa Claus” together every Christmas Eve until we were nearly grown-ups.

There is a sadness that sometimes comes with the holidays. Maybe it is the onset of winter, the end of a difficult year, or an unnamed longing that hangs in the air near the rafters. It seems nocturnal, though there is no scientific evidence. This sadness didn’t make its first visit to me until I was seventeen, when by brother Charlie missed his first Christmas home… Read the rest of this entry »

Serving up Gratitude & Kindness for Thanksgiving

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

Growing Beyond Thankful

Expressions of gratitude often happen as a result of some small gesture of kindness… By offering our best, kindest selves, the people we encounter will find themselves profoundly grateful, though it is unlikely we will ever fully realize the power of our gestures…

This Thanksgiving, like many other families, we will travel to spend time with close family. We’ll load the van too full, then ease southward toward the Hudson River Valley to gather at my husband’s childhood home. It is lovely there. The fireplaces are inviting, the beds are generous, and the company is good. I am thankful for so much comfort and good fortune, but beyond that, I am grateful for the enduring love and generosity of this family.

On the surface, thankfulness and gratitude seem interchangeable, but the more I think about the words, the more sure I am that there is a difference between them. Thankfulness is cool, polite and controlled. Many of us celebrate Thanksgiving in the tradition of our New England founding fathers and mothers. They were Puritans. They were polite…and controlled. Gratitude is different. It is bigger. Gratitude is deep, abiding, personal, and emotional. Gratitude is lasting and humbling…

Read the rest of this entry »

Passing the Torch: From SAHM to Working Mom

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

The Good Life:  A Year of Thoughtful Seasons

Instead of strong coffee and PBS, my new tradition is strong coffee and a quiet car conversation with my 12-year-old son in the front seat…

This past August, when summer camp was over and the library reading program ended, I began to notice how different the morning light had become.  It’s the late summer morning light that always gives me advance notice of school starting, and the way I have long-known that endless summer days will be replaced by front porch lights and wood smoke in the evening.

Normally I would have picked local peaches, and now apples with my children, but this fall heralds another change…

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: