Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Evergreens as a Catalyst for Learning

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal:
Evergreens as a Catalyst for Learning

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, community-based education specialist and Hilltown Families’ Founder, Sienna Wildfield, joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, November 26th with Sienna and Danny talking about explore the changing seasons through the lens of evergreens

Click on the video below to view.

Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).

Sienna’s next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be Monday, December 31st, 2018!

Decorating Wildlife in Honor of St. Knut’s Day!

Time to Loot the Tree!

St. Knut’s Day happens mid-January, a time to let the kids loot the Christmas tree! Traditionally in Sweden, Christmas trees might have been decorated with edible decorations, including gingerbread ornaments, candy canes, crackers, and sweets. On St. Knut’s Day (the 13th day of January), kids were allowed to loot the tree and munch on all the edible (albeit stale) ornaments.

So some contemporary families, the holiday gives a cultural nudge to take down the Christmas tree, otherwise “O Tannenbaum” might be left standing through Valentine’s Day!

But then what do we do with our Christmas tree once we’ve taken down the ornaments? Years ago one of our readers shared her family tradition where they take their Christmas tree outside in their backyard and prop it up in the snow. They then decorate the tree with stale bread, popcorn, birdseed pine cones, and cranberries, thus creating a holiday tree for the birds and other wildlife… What a great idea!

Want to do the same?  Create a new tradition with your family that brings closure to the holiday season. Here are some posts to inspire your family to create edible ornaments for the wildlife in your backyard to help get you started:  Read the rest of this entry »

A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

A Charlie Brown Christmas at the McIlquhams

(Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

Three little figures resembling the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man’s offspring weave in and out of the maze of spruce, firs and pines in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Immune to cold fingers and dripping noses, the threesome separates and soon their voices, muffled by the wind, are heard shouting through the dense man-made forest, staking claim on a tree.

As their parents who have been carefully watching this ritual from a distance approach, they overhear the protests.

“No, that one’s too short,” one sibling tells the other.

“Your tree is too fat,” another comments.

The parents call for a vote. Everyone carefully mulls over the pros and cons of each tree and places their vote carefully. “This one?” the father asks when it’s all done and said. The family stands by their decision.  The child whose tree has been chosen rejoices. Once again, we have found the perfect tree.

In our family it has become a long-honored tradition to trek to various tree farms throughout Berkshire County in search of the perfect tree. From the top of Windsor Mountain to the back roads of Washington to one of our favorite little tree farms on Barker Road in Pittsfield, no farm is too far for the McIlquham family as long as the trip produces the picture-perfect Christmas tree — not too short or too tall, nor too fat or too skinny, with soft, evergreen needles releasing their pungent pine scent — and each of us gets a chance at the saw.

Last year we forewent the car ride and the trek to distances far and wide and ventured into our backyard, which just so happens to be 100-acres of forested land. During a hiking expedition earlier in the fall, McKenna and Mark had found our tree tucked neatly between another mammoth pine and a barricade of pricker bushes; but nevertheless — it was perfect.

This year, we strayed from tradition and our children were none too happy. With basketball games and practices seemingly on the schedule 24/7 and feeling a bit overloaded by the impending holidays and early deadlines at work, my husband and I were struggling to find a day, hour or second to squeeze in a trip to a tree farm or even the nearby woods. And then fate stepped in.

My husband appeared at the front door, tree in hand, cut down from our friends’ yard.

“What do you think of this one?” he asked proudly admiring the tree and himself for finding a solution to our Christmas tree woes.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him how “Charlie Brownish” his trophy tree was looking and besides, he pulled out the “Green Mama” card.

“It’s a recycled tree, honey. How much greener can you get than that?”

But our children weren’t convinced and had no problem at all telling us what they really thought.

It was too bare, too prickly, too skinny, too nontraditional, too short, too sticky and on and on they went.

“What?” Shea asked through an exasperated sigh. “We aren’t going to cut down our own tree?”

Yikes! What were we doing to Christmas? Had our stressed-out, overworked, overtired selves turned my husband and I into Grinches? I wasn’t so sure, but continued to sell the tree to my children.

After unconvincingly assuring Shea and our other two children that although we were breaking tradition we would still have the “perfect tree,” and with a promise (that we have yet to keep) that we would head into the woods at a later date to gather material for a homemade wreathe, their protests finally quieted and they half-heartedly accepted that this scraggly specimen of pine needles and wood would grace our living for the next few weeks.

Now it was time to make it ours.

My husband somehow managed to get the tree into its stand by himself and called for my help getting it into the house. As I ventured outside he tossed me a glove. “You’re going to need this,” he warned.

Let’s just say the pricker barricade in the woods last year had nothing on this tree. The razor-sharp needles grabbed at my arms and threatened to breach the leather barrier between my fingers and its assaulting branches.

We managed to wrangle it into the houses (no stitches were required) and then spent the next hour trying to find our tree’s “best angle.” Placing it in a corner helped, but the sickly looking thing must have been crowded betweens its siblings on the edge of our friends’ driveway where it previously stood because its growth had seriously been stunted on one entire side and then some. But we made due … then it was time to send my husband in for the lights.

Another hour passed, and the battle wounds my husband incurred had us questioning whether this tree would have faired better on the top of our burn pile, but our quest to turn this deadly barbed porcupine disguised as a tree into the perfect tree could not be deterred.

After the first couple of scratches and periodic “ouches” my kids quickly learned how to manipulate the branches and their ornaments (and their gloved hands) in a way that produced the least amount of blood and displayed their decorations in the best light.

With each new ornament placed on the branches of our recycled tree, it began to resemble our perfect trees from the past and soon the jagged arms that had rendered us bruised and bloodied earlier, seemed to relax and soften before our eyes. As the kids shared each ornament’s story — who’s it was, when it was received and how it ended up on our— their eyes began to sparkle as brightly as the multicolored lights on the tree and their frowns of disappointment were replaced with smiles of a tradition not forgotten.

And when the kids were done hanging the last decoration and everyone took a step back to admire the finished project, just as Linus’ decorated tree had been unveiled to his friends, so too was our perfect Christmas tree.


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com


St. Knut’s Day

by Sienna Wildfield

ccl (c) furryscalySt. Knut’s Day is fast approaching (Tuesday), which means it’s time to let the kids loot the Christmas Tree! Traditionally in Sweden, Christmas Trees might have been decorated with edible decorations, including gingerbread ornaments, candy canes, crackers and sweets. On St. Knut’s Day (the 13th day of January), kids were allowed to loot the tree and munch on all the edible (albeit stale) ornaments. In our case, the only sweet we have left hanging on our tree is one lonely candy cane.

CCL (C) salladI’m fond of this holiday not because I’m of Swedish descent (because I’m not), but because it gives me a cultural nudge to take down my tree, otherwise “O Tannenbaum” would be left standing through Valentine’s Day! So on Tuesday our daughter gets to gorge on ONE WHOLE candy cane!

But then what do we do with our Christmas Tree once we’ve taken down the ornaments? I like Kara’s idea… her family takes their tree outside in the yard and props it up in the snow. Then she and her twin boys decorate the tree with stale bread, popcorn, birdseed pine cones and cranberries, thus creating a holiday tree for the birds and other wildlife. Clever!

Originally published 2008

Suggested Events 12/01/07 – 12/07/07

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, Wie treu sind deine Blätter

CCL (c) RcktManIL When I was growing up, we always put our Christmas tree up the weekend following Thanksgiving. A family tradition I’ve stayed true to with our daughter. The only difference is we don’t unpack our tree from a box we keep in the attic the way my folks did (nor do we have a cat to knock the tree down six or seven times like we did when I was a kid).

Growing up I had longed for a real Christmas tree… that smell of pine and fallen needles dusting the packages underneath. Between my childhood and my daughter’s, I forewent putting up a tree, artificial or real. Largely because I was living out of a backpack or in a tiny apartment, but I still longed for that real tree experience. So on our daughter’s first Christmas, we put HER in the backpack and went out on Christmas Eve and cut down our first ever REAL CHRISTMAS TREE! Never-mind that it was Christmas Eve and all the “good” ones were gone. It was REAL! It smelled of pine and needles fell to the ground, which were chewed on by the baby … and we kept it up long past all social graces, because it was REAL! And we had pine needles all over the house to prove it. Now we have a new family tradition that we take part in every year, the debate over colored lights vs. white lights. (Out of all the issues in the world to tackle, this one comes up same time, every year.)


This will be our 6th Christmas Tree, a full seven-foot Balsam Fir. Standing on stools, our daughter and her best friend hung the ornaments. They even created a little hammock out of ribbon for an angel missing a loop for hanging. We’re fortunate to have an abundance of local tree farms in our area to take our kids to for choosing the perfect Christmas tree. Click here to find a local tree farm near you.


Elmer's Store, Ashfield, MA

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    • Submit an Event

    If you have a family-friendly event or educational program happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, or would like to submit your event to the Hilltown Families calendar of Suggested Events, email Sienna at swildfield@juno.com. Comments are warmly welcomed!

    Local forecast | Get directions | Free Museum Passes

    Events Happening in the Hilltowns

    Saturday – 12/01

    8am – FAMILY RADIO – While traveling around town, tune-in to WXOJ 103.3 FM in Northampton, MA, from 8-10am to hear fabulous family-friendly music on Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. Tune in this week for a live interview with DAN ZANES! [All ages] (Free)

    10am-5pm – CRAFTED IN THE VILLAGE – Enjoy an old-fashioned kid of Christmas with the family in Ashfield, MA. Elmer’s Store has information and maps on where to go. Click here for details. 413.628.4003 [Families] (Free/$$)

    10am – FAMILY BOOK CLUB – A family book club will be forming at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, MA. Click here for more info. [Ages 9-12] (Free)

    10am-4pm – FAMILY CRAFT FAIR – The Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School will be having their 4th Annual Family Winter Craft & Book Fair at the Brassworks Building in Haydenville, MA. click here for more info. [Families] (Free/$)

    10am-4pm – HOLIDAY SHOW – The Hilltown Artisans Guild will sponsor their annual Holiday Show & Sale at Worthington Town Hall in Worthington, MA. Music and refreshments. [Families] (Free/$)

    2pm – ART WORKSHOP FOR KIDS – Turkish Printmaking at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield, MA. 413.499.9348 [Ages 5 & up] ($$)

    2pm-3pm – FAMILY CONCERT – The Pop Rockets will be performing in South Deerfield, MA, at Yankee Candle. Click here for more info. [Families] (Free)

    5pm-8pm -FAMILY MUSEUM NIGHT – It’s family night at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, featuring Yo-Yo People and the Silver Swimmers. 413.443.7171 [Families] ($)

    5pm-8pm – HOLIDAY HAYRIDES – Look Park in Florence, MA, is offering a tour of their holiday lights display on a horse drawn hayride. [Families] (>$)

    Read the rest of this entry »

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