Cold Saturday

This morning we awoke to -4F.   Saturday family breakfast, layered up and skied loop with dogs, fed and watered chickens, and cleaned kitchen, all before our friends came visiting. Four kids inside all afternoon was super fun and full of action. Moms chatted, talked about marketing and business, and wiped snotty noses. Working with friends brings balance to my shortage of hang time with girlfriends while accomplishing goals. Berkshire Livin' is the finest. 01.31.15 photo 2

01.31.15 photo 301.31.15 photo 4 01.31.15 photo 5 01.31.15 photo 6


The Day of the Dead

day of Dead 2By Lorne Holden When I was a little girl growing up in Cleveland, the last day in October always meant two things: costumes and candy. Absurd amounts of candy. And given that the costumes were often purchased at a large chain store, Halloween became a yearly glut of consumer consumption. Buy a costume that would be cast off and never used again! Gather more candy than anyone should be allowed to eat in a year! For a kid, this was heaven.

But as I grew older and became a parent, I found myself drawn to a festival on the same date that seemed to be more grounded in connection, history, beauty and respect. This festival is Mexico's Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead is actually three days: October 31, November 1 and 2nd. It is celebrated widely in Mexico as well as in other countries where there is a high Mexican population. The colorful costumes and painted faces that are inspired by Day of the Dead have become iconic worldwide. We know immediately when we are looking at a scene from Day of the Dead.

Day of Dead 2 good 2

While the American way of celebrating Halloween stems from a history of connection to the Celtic Harvests, the Day of the Dead has it's history in the ancient belief of celebrating the afterlife. Nowadays, the Day of the Dead reflects the original beliefs shaped by the pre-Hispanic indigenous population as well as Spanish Catholic ideas.


The Day of the Dead is Mexico's most important holiday and is a time of joy and celebration. It is literally a time when people stop to remember, talk about and cherish those they love who have died. Mexican people spend a lot of time in graveyards, cleaning gravestones of family members and leaving gifts. Also, people create ornate and colorful altars in their homes; they make and eat Pane del Muerta, a sweet bread, and create and decorate sugar skulls. It is all a wonderful and expansive celebration of taste, color and love.

day of daed altar 2


This year, consider grounding your family's Halloween celebration is an activity inspired by the Day of the Dead. Creating an altar in the home or taking time to simply remember a beloved, departed family member can offer up a sense of family history and continuity. Taking time to make bread, or create ornate costumes based on Day of the Dead images can remind kids that they have what it takes within them to make this Halloween special and their own. Start a discussion about the difference between creating and consuming. Talk about what it means to remember and respect those who have come before them. Let this years celebration be more than just sweet things to eat.

Skull 2


Lorne Holden is an artist and the author of  the bestsller "MAKE IT HAPPEN in Ten Minutes a Day/The Simple, Lifesaving Method for Getting Things Done." Learn more about her here:


Blog Theme - Halloween/Day of the Dead

Bat spider Sifting seems to be a lot of how I spend my parenting time. Trying my best to filter out exposure to the world’s atrocities while maintaining a gentle touch with current events and youth culture. When we stop and assess there are a lot of really great things happening in the world. This week we are featuring a ceremonial perspective of Halloween and The Day of the Dead. It is especially pertinent for my family this year, as it seems that FINALLY after nearly FIVE years, the artist creating my parents’ headstone will have the work complete. We will certainly participate in the obligatory mischief and candy hording of trick or treating. We will also spend an evening lauding Primm and John who we all miss.

I took my 7 and 8 year old daughters to the fabric store the other day to get fabric for making Halloween costumes. Violet, 7 wants to be Spider Girl and Lucy, 8, chose Bat Girl. I am pretty out of the super-hero-loop so went to Google to get some images. Holy CRAP! Female super heros are just so slutty! Seriously today’s cartoon world’s depiction of women is abysmal. After sifting through literally hundreds of images I was able to find one for each of my sweet littles that seemed safe to me.

If everything goes as planned, Spider Girl, Bat Girl, a Sugar Skullled Momma and various other ghouls will have high-jinx in the cemetery as October passes into November for mischief, candy, and oh so much more~


Are you interested in playing along?  Leave a comment below about how how you plan to celebrate Halloween or The Day of the Dead.  We welcome your participation in this blog by sending in an image that speaks to the theme of the week.  Just email it to by Wednesday evening for inclusion in One Thousand Words, our Friday column - a gallery of pictures submitted by our readership.  Captions include the photographers name and business name (if applicable).


Freak of the Week - Kyla Ryman

Kyla Ryman of Home Grown Books

Every week I feature a friend, family member or acquaintance doing remarkable work for human betterment that somehow ties to our weekly theme.  This week we are looking at children's books.  I have two notable friends doing work that needs mention with Children's books.  You might have read about James Owens and The World is Just a Book Away, earlier this week.  Now, let me introduce you to  Kyla Ryman.  She has brought some well researched, artistic, forward thinking kids' books to market with her business partner Jessica.  Read on and learn a bit more about Kyla and her company Home Grown Books.

1.  Tell our readers a little about you, and your history, your passion, your work.

That’s a big question. I guess that if I boiled down my focus, it would be to rethink what learning and education can be for kids. I went to an alternative high school in NYC, studied at Bank Street College of Education, and taught for many years in progressive schools as a reading specialist. Then I attended an Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference about 5 years ago, and it blew my mind. I had to spread the word that the world of education can play out in so many different ways. I’ve started a company that works with artists to make engaging books for kids who are learning to read. I am really into promoting a more organic style of education. I liken it to the slow food movement- diversifying choices and starting with basics. Play is such an important part of learning, as is pulling back and thinking about what the kids need and supporting and scaffolding their learning in natural ways.


  1. Tell a story, have we met? When?  Where?  Who introduced us? Oh, maybe you are my niece, well, just give a little history here.  People love a setting.

I am friends with your cousin, Blaise, from my teenage years! I think we met at some parties- you were part of that interesting, artistic family related to Blaise that had wild names. I  also always salivate about the Dolphin Studio calendars. More recently you and I connected when I was trying to figure out how to make some plush cats modeled from one of my books. I finally found a place in Cochabamba, Bolivia that is a fair trade women’s collective to make them- they are great.

Cats made in in Cochabamba, Bolivia at a fair trade women’s collective


  1. Imagine a story.  It is 2030 and we have brought the environment into balance.  How did we do it?

We took back our power from the biggest players, started living more locally and cleaning up our mess. We valued beauty, nature and community over profits, and we support each other, so that we are free to make choices that are not out of fear. That’s how we did it. This Sunday, I hope everyone is showing up for the climate march in NYC!!!


  1. If you had the power to make one change in the world what would it be?

Everyone needs to stop blaming each other for the past and move on to figure out how we can make things work for the future- really we need to end violence of all kinds!!!!


5.  What is your current passion?

Having big conversations about what we really need to think about in education. What kind of adults do we need in the world? Can we get them by pushing curriculum down to younger and younger kids?  Does a business model work in schools? Are we creating a product or are we raising people? I think there is a deeper level of learning and thoughtfulness when children are studying something that they are interested in and feel in control of their learning. It’s emotionally healthier, and you must have a greater sense of community for all of that. The community is key. We also have all of these divisions- separating children from the world, separating aging people, people with physical and mental issues.  Everything is so polarized right now. Then we get scared and don’t learn from each other because we never see each other. The whole system is out of balance and wacky.

  1. How did your passion come to be?

Being a teacher in very different settings and being a parent to two very different children transformed my ideas around schools and learning and the possibilities of what could be.


  1. Who/What has been most influential in your work?

I learned a lot about supporting kids organically from Bank Street, but AERO allowed me to pull back and look at the bigger picture, like structures around power and kids and education. That organization is doing great work promoting the thinking of John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Zoe Weil, Grace Llewelyn, Wendy Priesnitz and so many more!

Some Home Grown Books

8.  Where do you find your inspiration/motivation?

 Man, kids are so present. When they are in a supportive environment,  without an arbitrary curriculum being shoved down their throats, they are so happy and joyful. That gives me hope.

9.  Aside from working, how do you spend your time?

I bike, I read, I hang out with friends, dance and I enjoy being around art.  I enjoy cocktail hour too. Sometimes all at the same time.

Grover Book10. Tell about a transforming memory.

 I remember when I learned to read. I loved this silly book: “The Monster at the End of this Book: Starring Lovable, Furry, Old Grover” and I remember my dad used to read it to me in a very funny and dramatic way. So, I decided I wanted to learn to read it. I practiced reading that one book over and over until I made no mistakes. I also had a fourth grade teacher who did a quiet reading time everyday- the first teacher who did that- and I really started to become a serious reader, then. After I read a book over a 100 pages, I realized I was a reader for the first time. I started reading at night before going to sleep, and I haven’t stopped since.

Night Sky

Friend of the Week - James J. Owens

One of the magical things about staying put, and living in proximity to where I grew up is the fact that most people who grew up here return to visit on occasion. One morning at the coffee shop, a few years back, I had the pleasure to stumble across James’ path. We reconnected and have stayed in touch since. He actually inspired this week’s theme with the work he will tell you about in our cyber interview. Noble Humble and Selfless – now read on:

  1. James J Owens

    Tell our readers a little about you, and your history, your passion, your work.


I grew up in the Berkshires and, although I have traveled all over the world, and live in California, it is still my favorite place…the place I go to really unwind. After graduating from Monument Mountain (Regional High School) in 1983, I received a BA from Bates College in Maine. I then worked for about 6 years in France, England, Germany, and Africa for companies including Louis Vuitton, Coca-Cola and Agfa-Gaevaert, before returning to the US to get my MBA at Columbia University in New York. At that time, I interned for, and later worked for, Bain Consulting in Paris, before changing the direction of my life and working in film. The first film I worked on was “Before and After” filmed in the Berkshires in 1995—and I still have three very good friends from that movie, who have played seminal roles in my current charitable work. After several years of working on film and in film production in New York and Los Angeles, I began working at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, in the MBA Career Center. After finishing my MA in Writing from USC in 2003, I transitioned to a full-time faculty position with the university and I have been teaching in the USC Marshall School of Business since that time. I am currently finishing my fourth (and definitely final) degree, a doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from USC.

In October of 2008, based upon a book I have been working on for more than 10 years, I launched a charity to promote children’s literacy through providing books, building libraries, and teaching educational programs in developing countries. The charity is called The World is Just a Book Away (WIJABA); you can visit our website at We built our first library for children affected by the world’s worst mudflow disaster in Sidoarjo, Indonesia in June of 2009. And, thanks to the hard work and generosity of so many people, including our Board, Advisory Board, Ambassadors and donors, on August 25, 2014, we opened our 63rd library.

We have now reached more than 32,000 children in Indonesia and Mexico with more than 37,000 books. We have also facilitated five programs that have, thus far, reached more than 1,500 children.

Chihuahua library opening


I am truly passionate about WIJABA. As a professor of communication, as a writer, and as a bibliophile, teaching, writing, and books are cornerstones of my life. It breaks my heart to see children without books, because I cannot imagine my world without books. I have now traveled to more than 50 countries on 4 continents, but I didn’t take my first airplane until I was 14 (when my Aunt Claire took us to Disney World in Florida). However, long before that time, I traveled through time, space, and millennia through the pages of books. I have always been a dreamer, I have always believed that the impossible is only impossible until someone does it. My earliest childhood memory is of my mother reading to me and my mother always encouraged me to dream and work hard, because I could achieve whatever I wanted with those two ingredients.

This early childhood memory was continuously reinforced for me through books and now I see my life as forming a circle through which I am blessed to dedicate myself to providing hope for children who have so little and deserve so much in the form of books, libraries, and educational programs, which allow them to learn, dream, achieve their potential and—eventually—affect real change in their own communities.


  1. Tell a story, have we met? When? Where? Who introduced us? Oh, maybe you are my niece, well, just give a little history here. People love a setting.

I remember meeting, you, Crispina ffrench in middle school, when Stockbridge and Great Barrington schools merged. Although this was quite a while ago, I remember it clearly for several reasons. First of all, I had never met anyone named Crispina or even heard the name. Second, I had never met anyone whose name started with two lowercase letters. Third you were very creative—I even had that impression back then and you came from a family of artists, which intrigued me. And, finally, we both shared the connection to Ireland, you through your parents and me through my paternal grandmother (since that time, I have become a dual citizen, thanks to my grandmother’s birth in Ireland and this allowed me to work in the EU).

I also remember the feeling that you viewed the world differently from most people and, since I had always felt like a giraffe, this really resonated with me. I don’t mean that it’s bad to feel like a giraffe—in fact, I now consider it as a blessing. And, I don’t mean this as a judgment of myself or others—but, rather a statement that I, personally, never really felt like I completely fit in with the environment. Growing up, I didn’t seem to clearly fit any of the societal norms and expectations—real or perceived. I felt like I was watching a different movie from many other people (although I couldn’t have articulated it that way at the time). Perhaps most people feel this way, or perhaps many people do feel like they “belong.”

I still feel like a giraffe, but I now tend to have a wider circle of friends and acquaintances who also articulate that they feel this way. At any rate, this is how I felt growing up and, in meeting you, I recall feeling that—although we came from very different backgrounds and although no one would ever accuse me of being overburdened with artistic talent—you were a kindred spirit in viewing the world and dealing with the world as a bit of a maverick.


  1. Imagine a story. It is 2030 and we have brought the environment into balance. How did we do it?

WIJABA has recently partnered with Dr. Jane Goodall (Over the past decade I have developed a friendship with Dr. Jane that started with my interviewing her for my book) in opening a library in her honor for orphans in Indonesia. Dr. Jane, one of the world’s leading environmentalist and UN Messenger of Peace, is a true hero of mine. We have committed to launching her Roots & Shoots environmental program for children at 80 schools in Indonesia by the end of 2015.   I am so honored and proud of our work with Dr. Jane and by the following statement she made on the occasion of launching the orphanage library:

“The WIJABA library is very obviously making a huge difference to hundreds of children. Just watching the way the children pick up the books and read them, and the expression in their eyes and their excitement, makes everything worthwhile.”

In answer to your question, I adhere to Dr. Jane’s philosophy of children planting roots that launch shoots. I really believe that we can only bring the environment back into balance through educating children (and we must keep in mind that there are nearly 1 billion illiterate or functionally illiterate people on the planet). I believe that children, in their own local environment—which can be viewed as one piece of a world map puzzle at a time—can initiate programs and take actions that will rescue our environment. This is why both WIJABA as an organization and I personally committed to partnering with Dr. Jane Goodall and her amazing programs.

Bali orphanage library opening with Dr. Jane Goodall.


  1. If you had the power to make one change in the world what would it be?

To ensure that all children have access to books and education. This should be a universal right and not a privilege. I will never forget the first library we opened. I asked my interpreter what a little boy had just said to me in Indonesian. He replied, “the boy said he had never seen a book.” I remember how puzzled I was and I said to him, “you mean he has never owned a book.” The interpreter is very fluent in both languages and asked for clarification from the little boy. Then, he said, “he has seen school books with a lot of text. But he has never seen or held an actual book for pleasure…a story book or a book with pictures.” I found it difficult to digest that I was with a children who had never held books they could enjoy and I knew, at that moment, that I was doing what I was meant to do.

James kissing book in Bali

At the most recent library opening I attended in Bali, a four-year old boy found a small book about a panda. He touched the book to his forehead in Bali (a sign of respect) and kissed it three times. He then held it up to me to kiss. I will forever treasure the picture taken at that moment.

People often wonder if they need a lot of money to make a difference and the answer is “no.” I believe that if each of us, from where we stand takes whatever action we can, we will change the world. In the case of WIJABA as little as $1 can buy a book, $5,000 builds an entire library at a school or orphanage in Indonesia and $10,000 builds a library in Mexico.

And, to summarize my answer to your question, I will continue to do my part from where I stand to promote the cause of children’s literacy, because I believe that all children deserve the right to dream, educate themselves, and craft their futures. Books, literacy, and education are the true fishing poles in breaking the cycle of poverty for mankind.


  1. What is your current passion?

I have many passions ranging from collecting tribal art, to travel, reading, writing, yoga, skiing (I love skiing and don’t do it enough) and learning to play the piano. However, I would say my driving passions are that of being the best father I can be, being the best teacher that I can be, and being of the most possible service to others from where I stand today and in the future.


  1. How did your passion come to be?

My mother was always surrounded by books. I will never forget that she read “Gone with the Wind” in a day. I was 9 when she died. She was studying to be a teacher at North Adams State College, which has since been renamed Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA. My earliest memory is of looking at a picture of the pyramids in Egypt with her and of my asking her if we could go there one day and she said that if we could dream it and if we were willing to work hard, we could do it. My mother never made it to Egypt, interestingly both my sister and I have. In 1994, I traveled for three weeks in Egypt. I arrived at the pyramids before dawn and received permission to climb to the top of the “smallest” of the three (which if I recall correctly, is still about 18 stories tall and I am petrified of heights). I climbed gingerly to the top and arrived in time for sunrise. And, almost as if a miracle unfolded in front of me a man on a camel approached from the distance, which is exactly what appeared in that photograph, in the book I had looked at in my mother’s lap as a child. It was as if the picture in my brain from early childhood had manifested in reality—it had. I looked out into the horizon—I gazed at the pyramids and at the vast Sahara beyond and I said out loud “I made it.” I think that story, better than any other, summarizes what has driven my passion to provide at-risk and disadvantaged children with access to books and educational programs.


  1. Who/What has been most influential in your work?

My mother, because she gave me my love of the written word and books. And, then there have been so many others who have helped me on my journey—WIJABA alone has 14 board members, 11 Advisory Board Members, 12 Ambassadors, our Presidents in Mexico and Indonesia, our Director, our team in Indonesia, and hundreds of friends and donors. Without the work of so many amazing people, WIJABA and I would not be able to carry out this work. It is truly a team effort. However, I would like to mention two people, one of whom some of your readers may know, because she was first my teacher when I was 14, then my mentor for so many years, then my friend, and now also a WIJABA Advisory Board Member. That person is Dr. Roselle Chartock, who taught at Monument, lives in Great Barrington, and who is a teacher, educator, author, and artist all rolled into one. Roselle has been (and continues to be) a true inspiration to me for 35 years. The second person is Emilio Diez Barroso, who is my dear friend and also the Founding Chariman of WIJABA. I feel very blessed to have Emilio’s friendship in my life and also for the role he plays for WIJABA as a visionary in business and as the person I lean on when I don’t know which direction to take when some new opportunity or challenge presents itself.

WIJABA Ambassadors & Jenny Ming (CEO & President of Charlotte Russe)


  1. Where do you find your inspiration/motivation?

 In one way it is simple—in another way complicated. I think of the role books and education play in my life. I think of what my life would be without books. I think of my mother who dreamt of becoming a teacher and I think of my son, who is so passionate about reading that he sometimes walks and reads at the same time.   Then, I think of all the children without access to books and education and I realize that books and education are not a choice to me, they are part of me. So, I set the intention to be the best role model and father I can be for my son, the best teacher I can be for my students, and the best possible CEO of the WIJABA to serve others.


  1. Aside from working, how do you spend your time?

If we were texting I could write “LOL.” I really don’t have a lot of free time, and that is, in large part, because of how I have structured my life. But, I am very blessed in that I truly love what I do. Other than spending time with my son, I enjoy yoga, going to the gym, reading, and spending time with family and friends. And, I am going to ski more this year.

James & son, Alexander with Cher


  1. Do you have a prized possession? What is it?

I am extremely sentimental and I treasure many things, although I do not consider myself particularly materialistic. Most of what I treasure is linked in some way to my family. Beside my bed I keep two objects: one is a key, the other is a bell. The key is to my paternal grandmother’s ancestral 3-roomed cottage in Ireland, where 10 children were raised under very hard conditions. My grandmother, or “Nana” as we called her, came to America and worked as a maid and created an amazing life for herself. I often think of the incredibly bravery required to do what she did, and she was a wonderful grandmother. I wrote a story her journey that was published in a book titled “Leitrim Treasure” last year—both the book’s publication and giving a copy to Mason Library in Great Barrington were very proud moments for me. The bell belonged to my maternal great-grandmother, of whom I have vague memories. It is shaped like a maid in a large hoop skirt. My great-grandmother used this bell so often to summon the staff in her house that the face is worn down.   These two objects—a key and a bell—remind me of different parts of myself and that we all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.


  1. Tell about a magical moment that comes to mind when you look back on your life experience.

There are many. But, there is nothing more magical than witnessing the birth of my son.


  1. If you were able to spend an afternoon with anyone – dead or alive, who would it be? What plans would you make for your outing?

There are so many people I have been blessed to meet and so many people I would like to meet. I would love to have a picnic with His Holiness the Dali Lama, whom I briefly met, but never had a conversation with. Since this is the realm of fantasy, I would also like to invite my children and my grandchildren to this picnic under a huge weeping willow tree.


  1. What is your favorite place and/or way to spend time?

I love spending time with my son. In terms of places—Paris, New York, Ireland, Bali, the Berkshires…there are many places I love. In particular, my favorite walk in the world is down the dirt road at the Old Covered Bridge in Sheffield, close to my step-mother’s house. I love dirt roads (and in my opinion we don’t have enough of them any more). I love walking on this road and I find it incredibly peaceful. When I am in the Berkshires, I walk there almost every day.


  1. What is your goal or main focus for your next 12 months?

It is my intention to continue to expand WIJABA’s reach to more children in Indonesia and Mexico, particularly through the expansion of our educational programs and mobile libraries. I also want to—finally—finish the book I began writing in 2003 that prompted me to launch the charity. The book is also called “The World is Just a Book Away.”


  1. Do you have an upcoming event or significant happening that you would like to promote with your blog posting? When? Where? Details and contact information please.

Yes, I would love to encourage your readers to visit our website, Please consider liking us on Facebook (The World is Just a Book Away). And, if the cause speaks to you, please consider donating as little as $1, which truly makes a difference by buying a book in Indonesia, or as much as you can.


Finally, Crispina, thank you for asking me to participate in your blog—I am truly honored and also proud to call you my friend.

Mexico Library Opening

Blog Theme - Children's Books

n-KIDS-BOOKS-large570Each week there is a blog theme that usually has something to do with what is going on in my world.  This week we feature Children's Books as my daughters fly headlong into their ability find the fantasy world outlined in the piles of books they have been devouring with their developing skill.  Do you have a favorite children's book?  We are moving from picture books to chapter books and would love recommendations. You can leave a comment below AND participate by sending along an image that speaks to the theme of the week.  Just email it to by Wednesday evening for inclusion in One Thousand Words.  One Thousand Words is my Friday column - a gallery of pictures submitted by our readership featuring images that speak in some way to our theme.  Captions include the photographers name and business name (if applicable).  Join in and send over images from your life!


Tutorial - Food Packages

This week our theme is Harvest/Food Preservation. Well this year I have not gotten to my traditional ‘Load the Pantry and Freezer for Winter” duties as things have been changing for me in the food consumption area of my life. Some of you have likely gotten wind of my Ulcerative Colitis diagnosis last year and my week-long Kushi Institute workshop last week where I was immersed in the healing power of Macrobiotics.   More on that another time but for now, let me just show you a little tutorial I put together for making plastic drink jugs into cute and functional food packages for the lunchboxes in your life. Milk/Juice Jugs Clean and Ready to Recycle


With a permanent marker draw a line all the way around the jug.  Start with a shape as shown above.


Continue drawing on second side of jug coming half way up the side and making points between as shown.


Side Three


And the fourth side (should match the second side for even flaps)


Cut along marked line.


Cut jug


Fold flaps down as shown and mark a dot on either side of the narrow 'neck' of the tab.  Cut a 1/4" slot out between your dots slightly wider than you have marked.


There you have it!  Pop the tab through the slot to keep closed.


Gallon sized jugs work perfectly for sandwiches while half gallon size make great snack boxes.

Note:  Any permanent marker will work fine.  Images show the first one I put my hand on in the studio.  Have a wonderful lunch!

Blog Theme - County/Agricultural Fairs

Berkshire County 4H Fair 2014 Each week there is a blog theme that usually has something to do with what is going on in my world.  This week we will be delving into all aspects of County/Agricultural Fairs.  My family has visited three Agricultural Fairs in the last three weeks.  Most of these events have been happening for over 100 years in our neck of the woods.  Steeped in history and local culture, Agricultural Fairs celebrate old school hard work and commitment that is not common in many other aspects of today's Unites States culture.  My daughters Lucy and Violet are sweet little care givers to all sorts of animals and recently showed their bunnies for the first time at our local 4H fair.  Each kid took home a ribbon and look forward to the next opportunity they will have to participate.  I am particularly smitten with 4H.  Got a bumper sticker to prove it.  It says, Join the Revolution of Responsibility 4H.  I'm in.  Revolution - Yes, Responsibility - Yes!

Oh and then there are the Oxen and Workhorse Pulls, my all time favorite aspect of the County fairs.  A old time tradition, a show of strength and connection between beast and person.  Nothing cyber about it - at all - REFRESHING!

Fran Mason's Ox 'Stone' weighs over 3000 lbs.


Have you been to an agricultural or county fair?  Let me recommend it.  Take along pretty much anyone of any age and be prepared for fun.  You might want to bring your own healthy food snacks (especially if you have any sort of dietary limitation).

Did you know our One Thousand Words column is featured right here on Fridays? One Thousand Words is a photo gallery of selected from our readership’s images. Each week, you are invited to submit an image that speaks to our theme. There are no words, just an image with caption including the photographer’s name and business name (if applicable). You know, a picture speaks One Thousand Words. Show us what you got! Images should be emailed to me at by Wednesday night for possible inclusion. Fun, Right?!

Middlefield MA August 2014


Freaks of the Week ~ John and Primm ffrench

John and Primm ffrench c. 2009 Linnane's, New Quay, Co Clare This week my theme is Teachers/School/Mentors so my freak of the week will actually be FREAKS of the Week and will feature my parents, who were teachers. They are both gone now. So I will improvise, sharing some fun with a little history in their memory.

John and Primm ffrench were The Art Teachers at the local regional high school, and I was The Art Teachers’ daughter for the first 18 years of life.

My mother started teaching in 1950 at the age of 20 in Virginia, where she grew up. She taught in all black schools and worked hard to keep things comfortable for her students and co-workers. There was a story of her bringing in her own chair so at lunchtime when everyone sat on benches that lined the hallways she could sit down without making everyone else stand-up. She loved her job and kept in touch with some of her first year students her whole life. Every Christmas she made (and we still make) Gingerbread Men from a recipe from someone named Dickie Vass, who was in that school her first year.

My dad began teaching after marrying my mother. They lived in Ireland where my father was raised, and my sisters and I were born. My family moved to Stockbridge MA when my older sister, Felicitas, was ready to start school. Irish schools were not known for their kudos at the time and there was a brand new regional high school looking for two art teachers. This shift began my fathers teaching career. His focus was Ceramics but also taught Creative Wood Shop, Introduction to Art, and Batik. So together they taught multiple generations of Berkshire County residents leaving a long legacy of students who went on to professions in the visual arts.

My parents were my high school art teachers.

At each of their funerals, we were hugged, for literally hours, by people from every walk of life who came to pay homage to their favorite teachers. To this day we continue to be reminded of what a difference they made in so many lives.

They encouraged, believed in, nurtured, and loved their students and kids alike. Primm and John were well-traveled, active artists in many media, and conjured up creative lives balancing adventure and stability.

If my mother could have had lunch with anyone, she might have chosen Paul Newman, or maybe Bill Clinton. She just loved Paul Newman for his acting, charitable giving, and good looks. Bill Clinton and Primm both had childhood homes in the south and worked toward racial equality. She called them both (and other foxy gentlemen) ‘Muums Filly Baba!’. Not sure from what language that phrase originates but it means something like ‘Wowsers That is One Beautiful Piece on Man!”

My father was a bit more of an activist. He would have had a really hard time choosing one person for lunch. The short list of possibilities might have included Nelson Mandela, Mohatma Ghandi, Hugo Chavez, Frida Khalo, Isadora Duncan, Alexander Calder, and Angela Davis. He would have loved to have shared tea in a Moroccan tea room with all of them.

My parents were proponents for racial justice, gender and class equality, and artist recognition. My mother was my father’s boss which I never realized was unusual until I was an adult. They were fair, honest, hard working, and creative. They were happily married for nearly 50 years and lived in the house where we were raised til they died.

My dad is the person who actually gave me the idea to create using shrunk wool sweaters for raw material back in 1987.

I was raised by geniuses.   Blessed, for real.

Today, in addition to our regular jobs, my sister, Sofia Hughes and I run The Dolphin Studio, a hand silkscreen printing business that our parents founded in 1971.