The Art of Letter Writing

The Art of Letter Writing

While in the summertime it seems easy to explore a multitude of activities, the wintertime provides the space for quieter activities, new hobbies, or creative outlets that encourage reflection. The intense winter storms and their impact on travel keep us inside to discover new activities or pastimes. Winter days feel quiet and reflective as our time indoors beckons us to think more about how to spend our time intentionally.

When was the last time you wrote a handwritten letter to someone? In the age of quick text messaging, instant emails and continuous communication, letter writing is beginning to feel like a lost art.  Take paper (maybe made locally by Crane & Co.) and pen, and set time aside to write a letter to a friend, family member, or neighbor.  Particularly when the weather is ferocious outside and a Nor’easter is upon us, seize the opportunity to sit down with pen, paper, and the backdrop of falling snow to compose a multi-page letter.  Unlike computer keyboards, there is no backspace key or delete function.  It’s the chance to move slowly, choosing words carefully and with care; to meditate on what you want to want to communicate.  Letter writing connects people and lets the recipient hold onto the letter as a keepsake. The art of letter writing can preserve a fond memory or anecdote. It can be  a record of friendship.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Silence of Snow: Meditation & Mindfulness

Silence of Snow: Peaceful Places

Snow can make you feel as though the world has stopped around you.  During snowstorms, travel is suspended, and, for a day or two, the quiet of the outdoors reminds us to simply enjoy the moment and to be mindful.

Meditation is a practice in which awareness is focused on the present moment.  There are many different ways to meditate and be mindful of the present moment.   It’s something you can practice in any space and at any time.  The rhythm of snow falling and the slower pace of winter provide a contemplative setting for the practice of slowing down in order to focus on the moment.

Additionally, as the season of giving thanks has ended, wintertime is now an occasion to set the year’s intentions and reflect.  Traditionally, intentions are set on New Year’s Eve; however, the pensive nature and silent voice of winter provide the atmosphere to connect with your inner self and meditate on personal intentions.

Curious to explore mindfulness and meditation? In Western Massachusetts there are many community-based resources and spaces for people to learn about and practice mindfulness: Read the rest of this entry »

Local Literary Musings: A Winter Piece

Local Literary Musings:
William Cullen Bryant’s A Winter Piece

Remember Cummington native William Cullen Bryant, who was featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead? After a career in New York, Bryant returned to his childhood home in Cummington when he was 71. Bryant’s early poetry is very much influenced by the landscape of the Western Massachusetts Hilltowns of his youth. In fact, Bryant’s A Winter Piece is a reflection on this time of year.  Even though the summer is gone, Bryant notes in his poem how winter has an unexpected beauty that is still marvelous to behold.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Winter Stillness

Think about this:

What activities or hobbies are you interested in pursuing during the winter months? Have these interests changed over the years? Why?

How can you incorporate a mindful practice into your daily winter routine? How does the stillness of winter support a meditation practice?

What types of skill sharing do you think happened in early New England during the winter months?  What pastimes or skills were passed down from generation to generation?

When was cursive handwriting first developed? Is it still taught in school?

How much was the first postage stamp in the United States? What is the origin and history behind the postage stamp?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

 

Winter Farmers’ Markets & Seasonal Food: Intersection of Culture, Tradition and Creativity

Cooking Seasonally

The beauty of New England living is that each season offers a new way to learn and engage our communities. Locally grown and produced food is a community-base resource that can help us understand how to connect to local agriculture, even in the winter.

For winter cooking, it’s time to utilize the heat of the oven, something often avoided during the heat of the summer months.  This is the season to bake, roast, and stew.  It’s the time of year when the preserved and canned foods from the summer and fall harvests can be taken out of storage to enjoy.  It’s a different way of eating – one that is intended to be hearty and warming – perfect for greeting the cold weather.

Winter is a time for gathering with friends – and what better way than with a home-cooked meal to be enjoyed together using locally produced ingredients? Preparing a meal together is an opportunity for intergenerational exchange (passing down recipes from older family members or neighbors) as well as for skill-sharing (what cooking technique are you interested in learning from a friend?). Start by visiting the local winter markets for inspiration and then gather friends and family for a warming meal shared together!

Read the rest of this entry »

Explore History & Culture through Food

Explore History & Culture through Food

One way to get some inspiration for your next winter culinary adventure is to visit living history museums such as Historic Deerfield and Old Sturbridge Village.  Both institutions offer hearth cooking classes.  Additionally, a stroll through Old Sturbridge Village during the winter time offers you a peek into New Englanders’ daily living routines and food preparations from the 19th century.  Visitors can see firsthand what types of recipes 19th century Americans were preparing during the cold months of the year.

Sample dishes that were prepared during the winter season include chicken pie, broiled sweet potatoes, stewed beets, soup, hot cakes, Indian Pudding, and breads.  Be sure to remember hot chocolate and coffee too! 19th century New Englanders roasted and brewed coffee at home. It was a season for lots of baking, hearty soups/stews and meats.

Don’t forget to revisit Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife. Her section on vegetables explains how vegetables should be stored during different seasons.  To read an excerpt, download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts.

In addition to learning about history through the lens of food, food can also be a great catalyst for learning about other cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Winter Farmers’ Markets & Seasonal Food

Think about this:

Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us, spent one month on a diet that consisted of foods that originated no further than 10 miles from her home. It radically changed her perception of eating local and cooking. How do you think your food consumption would change if you were to eat only foods from within 10 miles of your home? What foods would you not have access to and how would it impact your diet seasonally?

What similar recipes did 19th century New Englanders prepare that are still made in our kitchens? Are there recipes you prepare today contemporary versions of a traditional diet?

How does mass production and transportation impact our consumption of food and our sense of place? Are there foods you consume about which you do not know how they grow or how they are produced?

How could a farmers’ market support your interest in local food, sustainability and the culinary arts? Are there skills you could learn? Questions that could be answered? Recipes that could be shared?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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Presidents’ Day as a Reflection on the Four Freedoms and Democracy

The Four Freedoms

Presidents’ Day celebrates the life and work of George Washington. It comes every year on the third Monday of February. Although Washington’s birthday is on February 22nd, the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday to allow us to enjoy a three day weekend.

Presidents’ Day is also a chance to explore the tenets of democracy and civil freedoms. As mentioned in the November/December Seasons edition of Learning Ahead, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, as outlined in his 1941 State of the Union address, emphasize the importance of the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Remember that you can visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge to see Rockwell’s four paintings based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech from 1941.

Throughout the January/February Seasons edition of Learning Ahead, the power of voice has been a strong and present theme. Democracy, as FDR emphasizes in his four freedoms speech, rests on the freedom of speech, the ability to voice your thoughts and speak your mind. At the heart of the freedom of speech and expression is the freedom to use words, story, narrative and voice to share ideas. Some of the greatest literature has been used as a vehicle to voice an ethical philosophy or to act on behalf of social justice. The shared dialogue between author and reader through the written word also depends on the freedom to read. Literature and the power of voice is a shared exchange in which ideas are spoken or written to be heard and read.


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

Exercise the Freedom to Read

The Right to Read

Interestingly, the freedom to read has not always been seen as a freedom. Citing the freedom to read as a part of our Constitution’s First Amendment, the American Library Association hosts a Banned Books Week every year to celebrate the freedom to read. As they write on their website, “Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Here is a list from The American Library Association of the top 20 American novels that have been challenged. Have you read any of them?  Read the rest of this entry »

Local Presidential History: Calvin Coolidge

Local Presidential History

“The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum collects, preserves and makes available for research materials documenting the public and private life of Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933). Manuscripts, artifacts and exhibits cover his political career from Northampton to Boston to the White House and his post-presidential years as a Northampton resident.”

Ever cross the bridge over the Connecticut River that connects Hadley to Northampton? That’s the Calvin Coolidge Bridge named after President Calvin Coolidge who attended Amherst College and later moved to Northampton.  The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at the Forbes Library is also named for the U.S.’s 30th President.   This museum houses a collection of materials related to Calvin Coolidge’s life and are available to historians and researchers interested in the public and private life of Calvin Coolidge.

The Coolidge Collection was established in 1920 when Calvin Coolidge was Governor of Massachusetts. Coolidge began giving documents and memorabilia to the Forbes Library. This collection also includes two portraits, one of Coolidge and one of his wife Grace created by painter Howard Chandler Christy. The museum is available during the library’s open hours and by appointment.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Presidents’ Day & Freedom to Read

Think about this:

  • What books have you read that were once banned or on a challenged list?
  • What does the freedom to read mean to you?
  • What was the literacy rate among women in the United States in the 18th century? What was it later in the 19th century?
  • How can literacy, the right to read, and the value of reading literature help shape an ethical and compassionate democracy?

Valentine’s Day Through the Lens of Art & History

The Art, History & Paper of Valentines

The American valentine industry was started during the mid-19th century by Esther Howland, a Mt. Holyoke graduate and Worcester native. Often called “The Mother of the Valentine,” Howland was inspired by the beautiful, ornate valentines imported from England and suspected that there might be a market for them in the United States, as well. Through her father’s paper company, she sold her first valentines in 1848 and within a few years was able to begin her own business, the New England Valentine Company.

Mt. Holyoke College graduate, Esther Howland, started the American valentine industry with her beautiful paper valentines sourced through her father’s paper company in the mid-19th century.  Howland, also a Worcester native, began her own business 5 years later in 1848: The New England Valentine Company.

Howland’s valentines featured lacy, cut paper with ornate and decorative images. At Mt. Holyoke College’s Archives and Special Collections there are many examples of Howland’s valentines with designs heavily influenced by Victorian style. By the 1860’s, Esther was selling $100,000 worth of valentines a year.  (That’s over 2 million dollars today!)

In honor of this Mt. Holyoke alumna’s success and contribution to the history of paper goods and Valentine’s Day, the college’s Archives and Special Collections displays a student-curated exhibit case of valentines in the Library’s courtyard. Curious to see some of the collection’s valentines?  Take a look online at the Pinterest board, From MHC With Love.

Esther relied on her father’s local paper company to start the business.  In the mid-19th century these types of mills were more common. Which paper mill is the oldest?  That would be Crane & Co. in Dalton, MA!  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Valentine’s Day

Think about this:


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

In 19th century New England, the winter season was a time for gathering and socializing with family, friends, and neighbors. As the fields lay dormant in anticipation off the agricultural season, rural New Englanders used the cold season as a time for meeting friends, having conversations, and visiting with one another. Before the telephone or telegraph, visiting a friend’s home was a way to share news, gossip, and stories.

Besides visiting a friend’s home, other common gathering places were the general store, taverns, and town meetings. Home visits, encounters with neighbors and local businesses allowed New Englanders to strengthen their community ties and reconnect during a time of year that was generally quiet.

Read the rest of this entry »

6 Winter Festivals in Western MA

Northampton Ice Arts Festival

This annual festival has brought temporary ice sculptures to the streets of  Northampton since 2010. Offered as a part of the Northampton Center for the Arts’  February installment of Arts Night Out, the Ice Arts Festival offers the chance to  explore the art of ice carving. Artists work away while passersby can check out the different techniques and tools of the trade. Spectators can watch the participants throughout the day and then enjoy the glistening sculptures at night Visit nohoarts.org to find out this year’s date, time and  sculpture locations.

Easthampton WinterFest

Since 2013, Easthampton has been bringing together wintry celebrations that explore local history and the local landscape such as ice harvesting on Nashawannuck Pond, nature walks with community partners, wildlife talks and demonstrations, and other festivities such as dance parties, horse-drawn wagon rides and more!  To learn about the latest program information for this year, check out:  www.nashawannuckpond.org/winterfest.

Holyoke Canal District Winter Festival

Holyoke’s Canal District Winter Festival offers a weekend of activities to bring to life the city’s historic Canal District neighborhood.  Visitors can explore this interesting part of the city where the canals are evidence of Holyoke’s once thriving industry. Usually in collaboration with Gateway City Arts, past activities have included a Luminaria Parade, dog show, artisan market, musical performances and the annual firefighters vs. police officers rivalry hockey game! www.gatewaycityarts.com.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Winter Social Calls

Think about this:

What are the tools used in sculpting ice? What are the challenges ice sculptors face that other sculptors of different media don’t?

How would families and neighbors gather in the winter before the invention of automobiles and highways? How did the inability to travel far distances impact communities and relationships?

How do winter festivals gather communities together? What types of activities do they host in order to foster connection and togetherness during the colder months?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

The Power of Voice: Celebrating African American History

Celebrating African American History through Poetry

February is National African American History Month in the United States. It is a time to honor the work, achievements and contributions of African Americans. It is also a time to remember the struggle for civil rights and the importance of equality, civic action, social justice and solidarity.

In our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts we discussed the power of voice and words as illustrated by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Continuing this exploration of the inspirational power of words, let’s take a closer look at two poems by African Americans that illustrate the power of voice and words: Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde.  Read the rest of this entry »

African American History in Western Massachusetts

Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad

In addition to your literary explorations of African Americans’ creativity and contributions to U.S. literature, explore African American History Month in Western Massachusetts through the different cultural organizations and institutions that educate the public on the history of African Americans in our region.

One of the most significant pieces of New England history is the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes, stops, and places throughout 14 northern states that were established to help escaped slaves to freedom.

Read the rest of this entry »

Art and The Civil Rights Movement

Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With

Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, painted in 1963, is considered an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The painting depicts six year-old Ruby Bridges walking to school accompanied by four U.S. marshals. As part of desegregation, Ruby was the first African American student to attend the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Read the rest of this entry »

Local Learning Resources on The Underground Railroad

Sojourner Truth: Connecting Local Places with National History

The David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History & Underground Railroad in Florence, MA, features The Ross Homestead which is on both the National  Register of Historic Places and the National Park Services Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The center offers walking tours of Florence including the African-American history trail, Sojourner Truth’s house, and other abolitionist sites. Additionally, there is a memorial statue of Sojourner Truth in Florence, MA, to honor her life and work. A former slave, abolitionist and social activist, Truth lived in Florence from 1843-1856. The Sojourner Truth Memorial organization offers a free map on their website of a self-guided walking tour of Sojourner’s house and historic sites. Read more in our post, Sojourner Truth Memorial: American and Western MA History. Read the rest of this entry »

Ice Harvesting: Local History, Literature & Culture

Local Living History & Ice Harvesting

Filling the Ice House (1934) Harry Gottlieb. Oil on canvas, 40 3/8 x 60 3/8 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.19

Historically, living without refrigerators in New England required strategies for prolonged food storage and preservation. In the November/December Seasons edition of Learning Ahead, we looked at different forms of food preservation such as curing, salting, and canning. Early New Englanders didn’t have the luxury of refrigerators, but they did harvest ice from frozen lakes and ponds in order to keep food stored without spoiling. The frozen chunks of ice harvested were kept insulated by materials such as sawdust in a dark, cool place so that the ice would last beyond the winter months.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ice Harvesting: Community Events & Resource

Ice Harvesting: Community Events & Resource

Throughout the winter, check our list of Weekly Suggested Events for community events and demonstrations of ice harvesting. Here are three featured resources in Western MA to add to your itinerary:

Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge.

Fire & Ice Days is an annual celebration with ice harvesting demonstrations showing how 19th century Americans adapted their lifestyles to the cold New England winters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Explorations of Ice Harvesting

Henry David Thoreau & “The Pond in Winter”

Ice harvesting is embedded within the history and cultural traditions of New England. So much so, in fact, that it also influenced the literary reflections of  writers such as Henry David Thoreau who described the harvesting of ice in his chapter, “The Pond in Winter,” from Walden. As you explore ice harvesting through  living history demonstrations and artifacts from the past, read Thoreau’s chapter on  “The Pond in Winter” for historical understanding from a literary perspective.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Ice Harvesting

Think about this:

What were the challenges of ice harvesting that the modern refrigerator eliminates in terms of food preservation and food storage?

How did ice harvesting force New Englanders to think about their daily lives all year round? (Reread Thoreau’s passage for a hint!) How did harvesting ice connect people with the seasons and their natural environments?

Given early New Englanders’ dependency on natural resources, what challenges did New Englanders face that we no longer worry about given our modern technologies? What did they not worry about?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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Martin Luther King Jr. & The Power of Voice

Inspiration through Voice:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for an end to racism and the enacting of civil rights legislation (see the short documentary, The March). From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., King’s speech was delivered to an audience of over 250,000 people. The speech, now known as “I Have a Dream,” is considered one of the most important moments in the American Civil Rights Movement.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January), take a moment to read (or listen to!) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.” This speech is a defining example of the power of voice. It is a reminder of how words, voice, stories, ideas have the ability to inspire and enact positive social change to better our communities and make them more resilient and compassionate.

King’s speech speaks to the value and importance of kindness through civic engagement and community service. Finding ways to serve your local community also reveals opportunities to learn something new, meet neighbors and engage in intergenerational dialogue with others. Community service is an empowering action. Not only does it enrich our local communities, but it also enriches our own experience through the learning of new skills and activities.


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

Annual MLK Jr. Community Celebrations in Western MA

Annual MLK Jr. Celebrations in Western MA

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against civil injustice and fought for the civil rights of black Americans. His work to create a just and peaceful society is a reminder of how important civic engagement and service is in sparking positive social change and the formation of ethical communities that champion diversity, openness, compassion, and solidarity. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, many organizations and volunteers dedicate themselves to a day of community service in honor of his commitment to social justice.

On the 3rd Monday in January, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day offers families a three-day weekend – a treasure that can be used to engage in meaningful community-based learning opportunities. Families can take advantage of this special day honoring Dr. King’s work and lasting impact on our country by taking part in community celebrations, giving their time to be part of a day of service, or attending educational screenings and performances.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: The Power of Voice

Winter Explorations of Local Places: Winter Sports

Winter Sports in the Snow & on the Ice

https://c4.staticflickr.com/5/4049/4387341963_4c6626725e_o.jpgFor some, winter is greeted with a sense of reluctance – gone are the bright sunny days of summer filled with lush deciduous trees, rushing streams, colorful wildflowers, and easy temperatures. Instead, the natural landscape changes completely as do our routines and recreational activities. Whereas summer is boisterous and full, winter is quiet and still – similar to how snow quietly builds on the ground during a storm – it’s a part of what makes wintertime feel so magical.

How do we experience the outdoors during a time of year when we are often so inclined to stay indoors, looking at the outside world from the window?

https://c2.staticflickr.com/9/8357/8325168305_7e98014694_o.jpgThere are many ways to remain active and engaged with the outdoors during the winter season. Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing are a few examples of different activities that encourage New Englanders to get outside, stay fit, and maintain a healthy lifestyle while connecting them to local places during the cold winter months. Although the equipment for these winter sports has changed since their original inception due to advanced technology and contemporary materials, the basic principle has stayed the same Additionally, many of these winter activities have a history deeply rooted in New England’s past thereby connecting them to our local traditions and culture!


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for places to ski, skate and snowshoe in Western MA.

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Nordic Skiing in Western MA

Nordic Skiing in Western MA

Accessible to skiers of all ages and abilities, nordic skiing is a favorite winter activity locally. Skiers young, old, inexperienced, and expert can take advantage of local trail systems, equipment rentals, classes, and special community events in order to experience the magic that nordic skiing adds to a Western Massachusetts winter.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5257/5414246392_90480d98f1_o.jpg

Originating in snowy Scandinavia, nordic skiing has been a competitive sport since the 18th century. It provides access to nature during the winter as well as the chance to explore local outdoor places and trail systems in Western Massachusetts. Many of the nordic ski centers in our region offer lessons to beginners to help inexperienced skiers learn the basic techniques of cross-country skiing. In addition to being a fun winter sport that maintains physical fitness, it is also a way to connect with friends, neighbors and the local community whether out on the trails or warming up in the ski lodge! Read the rest of this entry »

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