Giving the Gift of Mindful Presence to Yourself and Others

The Gift of Mindful Presence

This holiday season, families can achieve the sharing of kindness and meaningful gift giving by exploring mindfulness meditation in order to give the gift of mindful presence. Not only does the gift of mindful presence benefit those around you, it benefits the gift givers themselves by granting feelings of calmness and deeper awareness of the world around them.

Read more in our post, The Gift of a Mindful Presence.

[Photo credit: (cc) Abbey Hendrickson]


Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Non-Commercial Gift Giving

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Holiday Segment
Non-Commercial Gift Giving

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, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, 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 21, 2016. In this segment, Sienna and Lauren talked about non-commercial gift-giving ideas and the value of making your own gifts to give for the holidays.

Click on image to view video.

Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA for Nov/Dec. (38 page PDF) for the holiday season.

Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be December 26th, 2016!


Non-Commercial Gift Giving: The Art of Sharing

Non-Commercial Gift Giving: The Art of Sharing

Craft fairs and open studios happen across the region during the holiday season. [Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

During the holiday season, gift-giving is considered a traditional aspect of our seasonal celebrations.  Instead of purchasing a gift, gift givers can also look to the domestic arts, crafts, and visual arts for inspiration in making handmade gifts that encourage originality and thought. This week in Learning Ahead we are featuring ways to give gifts that are value-base (non-commerical & creative-free play), support learning and accessible through community-based events, resources and opportunities!

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.


Traditional Crafts & Artisan Skills: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Shop Local: Craft Fairs & Open Studios

Take the challenge this year by shopping local and non-commercial during the holiday season. The abundance of craft fairs and open studios happening in the area featuring handmade products by local artists and artisans make it easy to find that special something when looking for a gift of any kind. Handmade wood or glass ornaments, hand-knitted scarves, upcycled accessories, one-of-a-kind prints and stationery… our region is filled with a strong creative economy filled with amazing artisans!

While browsing an artisans studio or booth, take the time to stop and talk with them. Be curious and ask them questions. Discover how they learned their craft skill, what the history is behind their craft, how long they have been making their art, and where they find their inspiration. A purchase not only supports the artist and artisan, but your gift now comes with a story to share with the person with you will give your gift.  Read the rest of this entry »

Language Arts & Creativity: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Handmade: Write a Zine or Make a Journal

Zines (short for magazine or fanzine) are self-published books that include different media forms: collage, illustrations, comic strips, and words.  A zine can be a book of poetry or a story, it can be a guide book or a collection of fairy tales – the sky’s the limit!  Zines can also be photocopied and bound so that you can produce multiple copies.  Here’s a short documentary on Zines…

Making a zine is a rewarding, creative process and can certainly be a part of your gift giving plans for the holidays. Need some inspiration for your zine-making adventures? Check out the Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA.  The Flywheel Arts Collective has a community Zine library and cafe with over 3,000 zines, featuring many from Western Massachusetts!  Flywheel is a collective of art and poetry that allows people to share their work with others in their local community.  It’s a great community resource for those looking to feel inspired through grassroots art and literature that aims to inspire, provoke thought and engage the community.  Read the rest of this entry »

Science & Art: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Go to a Makerspace!

Makerspaces inspire creativity!  These community places provide the space to combine science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM!) in order to make and create.  They are like an artist’s studio but also include digital making as well as physical making.  Activities include woodworking, electronics, computers, 3D printing, knitting, screen printing, sewing, and more!  Western Massachusetts has a number of community maker spaces to start brainstorming your do-it-yourself gift giving ideas.  Read the rest of this entry »

Fiber Arts, Math & Mindfulness: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Knit Something!

Remember the knitted items you saw during the Agricultural Fairs towards the end of the summer? Get ready for next September’s aggie fairs while working on gifts for others this season! At, you to search for free knitting patterns that can help you come up with your next project gift idea.  Perhaps a one-skein hat? A pair of mittens?  Or a hand-knitted cowl?  Knitting is not only a fun activity and great way to hand-make a gift, but it’s also a wonderful way to get together with fellow knitters of all ages and knit together!  Who knows what new stitches you’ll learn and the new friends you’ll meet!  Read the rest of this entry »

Culinary and Pastry Arts: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

The Gift of Food!

Bûche de Noël from Bread Euphoria in Haydenville, MA. [Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

Tis the season to pay special attention to spreading kindness to those around us! Families can spread kindness by sharing homemade foods with neighbors, and can expand this activity to include studies of world cultures by baking foods enjoyed internationally!

We explored food preservation earlier this month – now it’s time to put those skills to use!  Pumpkin or apple butter make great holiday gifts and are something the recipient can enjoy for the entire season! Jams and jellies are also a nice gift idea! Want to help the gift recipient get ready for sugaring season in the late winter?  How about preparing a ready to go pancake mix in a jar? Finally, freshly baked cookies and pies are always a great gift idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A: Holiday Gifts to Teachers


 A personalized note or a small gift card to a bookstore make nice holiday/end of the year gifts for teachers/school staff, as do classroom supplies. – Check out what our readers have to say about holiday gift giving, and add your 2-cents to the conversation too.

Diane Hinze Kanzler writes, “So, last year I was considered a huge dork because, apparently, one is expected to give Christmas gifts to our child’s teacher/teacher’s aide. And I didn’t know this, being of a much older generation where those things didn’t happen. What’s the skinny? Is this now mandatory? And what does one do if the teacher in question is Jewish?”

Claire Lobdell responds, “My mother-in-law, an elementary school teacher, has said that she much prefers a heartfelt thank you note to a tchotchke. If giving “something” seems mandatory in your school around the holidays, maybe a small gift card to a bookstore (my MIL also really appreciates those, especially since she, like many teachers, has to buy the books she uses in her classroom herself).”

Meagheanne Donahue responds, “We make donations to Heifer International or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital  in the teacher’s name and just tuck the donation card in with the Holiday cards we send out. We do the same for the Principal and teacher’s aide (TA is Jewish).”

Swansea Benham Bleicher responds, “I’m all in favor of end of the school year gifts for teachers. Holidays are celebrated so differently from family to family.  If it’s part of your culture to give to the teacher at holiday time, then fine, but it shouldn’t be a stress or pressure…”

Carrie St John responds, “Our school suggests giving the teacher things she needs for the classroom—they generally all have a wish list posted or offering some volunteer time in class or with prep work. This comes in very handy in Public Schools where the budgets are tight. They prefer that you don’t give personal gifts because this can lead to some families feeling left out if it is not in the family budget or any sense of favorites, etc…”

Sienna Wildfield responds, “Some schools have traditions or may offer suggestions when it comes to expressing gratitude to their teachers/staff. For example, my daughter’s school has a tradition that happens at the end of the year rather than during the holiday season. — During the holiday season, the Amherst Regional High School suggests making a gift to the Amherst Education Foundation in honor of a teacher or school staff member… I would recommend checking in with a school administer to see what the school’s tradition/suggestion is on gift giving.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) sweetjessie]

The Giving Box at Home

Dina Raymond of Goshen, MA writes:

I’ve been speaking to my kids about how fortunate we are and how much we have … so I set up a “donation” box for them to put toys into that they would like to pass along to children who may not get any this Holiday season, be it Christmas, Hanukah, Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa. They are filling up the box!

Times have changed, as we all know, and for children I believe it’s important to raise their awareness in particular, simplistic ways about the world they /we live in. Try this at home, and then along with your children go to a shelter/service network in Northampton, Holyoke, Pittsfield, or your local church or temple, to pass a long the richness that we are so lucky to have.

Thanks and good blessings to all,
Dina & Family

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