Starry, Starry Night

 Shorter days of autumn provide more time for stargazing at observatories or with the naked eye.By Laurie D. Morrissey

If you like stargazing, you’re in the right place. The Upper Valley has little light pollution, making it one of the best places to observe the night sky. On a clear night, you usually have a good view of the heavens simply by looking up.

If you want to get a better look at the stars and planets — and learn more about the solar system we live in — head to an astronomical observatory or planetarium. With the benefit of powerful telescopes and your own guide through the cosmos, you can expect to see the moons of Jupiter, Saturn’s rings, star clusters and distant galaxies.

New Hampshire and Vermont have a wealth of resources for amateur astronomers. In addition to two public planetariums (Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vt., and McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H.), there are several observatories and numerous astronomy clubs that welcome members and hold events such as public stargazing nights.

Local Luminary

Vermont has a special claim to astronomical fame: the Stellafane Observatory in Springfield. It is the home of the Springfield Telescope Makers, founded by polar explorer and astronomer Russell Porter in 1921. The clubhouse and observatory on Breezy Hill Road are designated as a National Historic Landmark and hundreds of amateur telescope makers and astronomers attend Stellafane’s annual convention every August.

Every September, Stellafane sets up solar telescopes on the grounds of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H., to co-host the park’s annual star party. In October, Stellafane hosts a Star Party on its home turf, drawing astronomers of all levels and backgrounds, including curious parents and kids. Amateur astronomers share their telescopes and their knowledge and visitors can climb a ladder to enter the reflecting telescope mounted on a rotating pedestal.

“It’s very cool,” says 12-year-old Felix Davis of Temple, N.H., who attends the party every year with his father and brothers. Austin Davis, 15, says, “It’s nice to learn about the different telescopes people make, and see the stars through them.” Nine-year-old Paul Davis says, “You think you’re looking at one star twinkling, but when you look through the telescope you see there are really thousands of them.”

To Paul Davis, their dad, the view through the powerful telescopes is “just jaw dropping” and he likes the star party camaraderie, “There are people there with every level of experience from utter ignorance to top innovators and everyone in between. Anyone will talk to you on whatever level you need.”

Satisfy Their Stellar Curiosity

Some of the most high-tech astronomical equipment in the area is at the Northern Skies Observatory in Peacham, Vt., where a 17-inch PlaneWave reflecting telescope is housed in an automated, rotating dome. The observatory offers daytime tours, star parties and other events.

At the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, presentations for visitors age 6 and older are offered daily in the Lyman Spitzer Jr. Planetarium. Guests may also get a firsthand look at a 17-pound meteorite that fell to Earth about 5,000 years ago.

New Hampshire’s McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center offers planetarium shows and children’s programs for kids as young as five. During the day, you can observe sunspots and other solar activity.

Many schools and colleges also have observatories, including Pomfret School, Middlebury College, Bennington College and Dartmouth College. Middlebury and Dartmouth have free public viewing nights and welcome families with children. The schedule is subject to change depending on the academic calendar, season and weather, so check their websites before planning a visit.

Reading books together is a great way to prepare kids and parents for a visit to an observatory. Classics include two by Curious George author H.A. Rey: The Stars and Find the Constellations. Although written in the 1950s, The Stars is updated to include the latest information, such as Pluto’s dwarf planet status. Another good choice is Michael Driscoll’s A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations — and How You Can Find Them in the Sky.

Young astronomers and future astronauts can attend astronomy camp led by Brad Vietje of the Northern Skies Observatory each summer. Kids build and launch their own telescopes — and maybe, who knows — take the first steps to a lifelong interest or career.

If you cannot visit an observatory, one event to put on your calendar for low-tech, naked-eye sky watching is the Orionid meteor shower. Clear skies permitting, you may see up to 25 meteors per hour during the nights between Oct. 16 and 30. Maximum density of meteors will be on Oct. 21. Whether you are interested in the science of astronomy or simply the beauty of the night sky, it’s a great celestial (and free) show.

Laurie D. Morrissey’s starry skies are in Hopkinton, N.H., where she writes nonfiction articles and poetry.

Astronomy Clubs
Observatories and Planetariums

Feature: If the Shoe Fits

By Matt Golec

Melanie Michel of Norwich, Vt., misses The Shoetorium.

The venerable full-service shoe store in Lebanon, N.H., was where Michel used to take her two kids — Winston, 9, and Lily, 4 — to be fitted for shoes. But the Shoetorium closed last November after 45 years in the business, leaving parents like Michel searching for a footwear alternative.

There are other places to buy children’s shoes in the Upper Valley. But, as Michel found, “the customer service is not like the Shoetorium. The shoe fitting was like a science, and you always felt like they knew what they were doing.”

Many stores sell shoes, but not all of them ‘measure up’ in ensuring kids get a proper fit. Wearing the right shoes is important for healthy feet, experts agree, though parents can struggle to find the right fit. “I don’t have any background in sizing kids’ shoes, so I just kind of wing it and hope for the best,” says Michel.

Border Assistance

One place in the Upper Valley where parents don’t have to wing it is Stateline Sports in West Lebanon, N.H., which specializes in athletic footwear. There, customers can have their feet professionally measured, a practice that used to be commonplace. “In a lot of stores, there is a fend-for-yourself atmosphere,” says Stateline’s footwear buyer Dave Dupree. “Stores like the Shoetorium, stores like us, are becoming fewer and far between.”

Dupree recognizes that the vast majority of shoes are bought without assistance and, even at Stateline, customers are free to fit themselves and their kids. But a badly fit shoe can cause trouble.

Stumbling Blocks

Dupree says his store has seen “an awful lot” of kids with foot problems: shin pain or flat feet from shoes without enough support. Bruised heels from a lack of cushioning. Sprains and other injuries from inadequate traction.

Shoes that are too big can cause blisters. Shoes that are too small can cramp the toes and force the foot into unnatural positions, leading to muscle or tendon issues. Shoes bought online might not fit, as sizes vary from one brand to another, or even within a brand.

And not all shoes are created equal. Dupree calls out Asics, New Balance and Saucony as brands that make quality shoes for kids, with good support that mimics their adult counterparts.

“It’s a tricky thing,” Dupree says. “You just don’t know what you’re getting without the help.” But even with all the expertise in the world, fashion can sometimes trump function. “A lot of times with kids it comes down to color more than anything else.”

Changing Times

Mike Blickarz understands. The former Shoetorium manager spent 44 years getting to know kids as he fit them (and their parents) for shoes at the Lebanon shop before it closed in 2015.

Blickarz recognizes the draw of a cool-looking shoe that all the other kids are wearing, but he also remembers the classes he took from Stride Rite, a longtime player in children’s shoes.

“The number one thing they taught us is that you need to measure a child’s feet,” he says. Which is how most stores operated, back in the 1970s. “People’s feet got measured.” Blickarz now works part-time at Feetniks Footwear in West Lebanon.

Blickarz cites a number of possible reasons for why shoe stores have changed, including younger generations leaving family businesses, the rise of big box stores and online shopping.

“It’s a lost art,” Blickarz says of fitting shoes. Even when you find a good-fitting shoe, kids keep growing, and their shoe sizes become moving targets. From his experience, Blickarz estimates that kids change a half size every four months or so, but kids might grow faster or slower, depending on growth spurts.

Need for Speed

Gina Surgenor of Meriden, N.H., knows all about growth spurts. The mom of four athletic kids age 8 to 18 says her family goes through shoes “like mad.”

Surgenor took her kids to the Shoetorium when they were young to get their Stride Rites, though visits fell off as they grew older. “As a busy mom, I wasn’t always keeping up with that,” Surgenor says.

Sometimes she goes to chain stores for the speed and selection or for an inexpensive pair of shoes that won’t be worn much. Her older kids have begun buying shoes online for the sales.

Surgenor trusts Stateline Sports, especially when she has questions about fit, but she hasn’t found many other retailers that offer shoe expertise.

“That’s just the sense you get,” she says. “You’re on your own.”

Shoe Box

The Shoetorium may be gone, but here are some places to find kids’ shoes in the Upper Valley:

  • Farm-Way in Bradford, Vt., and Hubert’s Family Outfitters, in West Lebanon, N.H., have a nice selection of athletic shoes, sandals and boots.
  • Stateline Sports in West Lebanon, N.H., has sneakers and specialty athletic footwear, plus a well-trained staff.
  • Country Kids Clothing in West Lebanon, N.H., has sporty shoes for babies and toddlers.
  • Olympia Sports in West Lebanon, N.H., has a big selection of athletic shoes.
  • Feetniks Footwear in West Lebanon, N.H., offers fashionable shoes to fit older kids and teens.
How to Get a Good Fit
  • At a shoe store, ask if anyone there is knowledgeable about fitting children’s shoes. There’s a lot less training these days, but the store might have someone on staff that could help.
  • Make sure your child has on the socks he or she will wear with that shoe.
  • Measure both feet and fit for the larger one to give it the proper growth room. (“The smaller foot will kind of take care of itself,” Blickarz says).
  • Have the child stand up in the shoes. There should be 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of room between the toes and the front of the shoe.
  • For width, crease the material on top of the shoe between your thumb and finger. If you can pick up the shoe by that crease, it may be too wide for the foot.
  • Finally, have the child walk around the store. Make sure the laces or Velcro are properly tightened, and watch for heels flopping out or feet sliding around.

Matt Golec lives in Norwich, Vt., where he does some writing, game design and light child care. Matt, his wife and son have lived in the Upper Valley for 10 years, though it doesn’t feel nearly that long. For more, visit

Ask the Expert: What to Do If Your Child “Hates” School

Promptly identify the cause and nip it in the bud
By Susan Cowan Morse

It is autumn in New England, where we enjoy the happy return of crisp morning air, the honks of departing geese, the landscape’s changing colors — and a new school year. For many, a new school year is exciting and marked with new clothes and school supplies and eager anticipation.

For some children (and their parents), school is not a relished endeavor. A young child cries and begs to stay home. Older children are grouchy, negative bears every school morning. The teenager is impossible to wake up and then just drags through the day. As a parent, it is incredibly painful to watch your child have such difficulty with an endeavor that defines an entire childhood and adolescence: school. For a parent who enjoyed school, it can be quite puzzling to understand why one’s child “hates” school.

An Early Struggle

A child’s passionate distaste for school usually begins early on. Many parents can recall an event or moment in childhood that marks the turning point from like to dislike. A struggle of some sort develops but goes unidentified and unaddressed — for months or even years. If not addressed as early as possible, it will get worse year by year. The source of the struggle lies in one of four areas: social challenges, learning disabilities, sensory issues or lack of meaningfulness.

Social Challenges

Positive relationships are crucial to school success. Learning is a social endeavor and occurs in the context of interactions. When a child is struggling and failing to make positive connections with peers and/or teachers, then school becomes a source of pain in that child’s life. Addressing these social difficulties is imperative. Schools often offer support through the guidance department in the form of direct teaching of social skills, buddy programs for young children and support groups for older students.

If you see that your child is not developing positive peer relations, contact your child’s teacher to discuss options within the school setting. Outside of school, consider your options as a parent for helping your child engage in positive peer relations through age-appropriate opportunities such as play dates, team building experiences or community involvement.

Learning Disabilities

Academic difficulties are often obvious early on in a child’s schooling. The difficulties lie in the primary areas of communication (reading and writing), computation (mathematics) and concentration (attention and focus). In some children, the difficulty is subtle and grows to be more debilitating as the years pass. In others, the struggle is obvious and draws the attention of a special education team. Diagnoses range from learning disabilities to AD/HD to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and others.

If you suspect that your child is struggling with communication, calculation and/or concentration contact the school and request a team meeting and an evaluation. Then, if you think that the evaluation misses something, seek outside professional advice to delve deeper. Though it may cost money, it is worth every dime to arrest the issue before it grows out of control.

Sensory Issues

More than ever before, we see children with significant sensory issues. These are the students who find school a difficult place to be because of the sensory overload. Some children can be super sensitive to fluorescent lights, carpet and furnishings, perfumes and environmental contaminants common in offices and in old buildings. Schools are noisy, boisterous places filled with active children. This noise can be overwhelming to some. And many children are overwhelmed by being in and around so many other people all day. They are sponges for other people’s emotions and energy and find it exhausting to be in a school building with hundreds of people every day. The child who experiences sensory overload often leaves school at the end of the day feeling utterly exhausted or intensely wired, reporting a headache and/or stomachache, and may report ringing in their ears and other physical ailments.

These children need to have their sensory issues addressed in order to be able to tolerate the school environment. This may mean a perfume free classroom, quiet time in a cocoon swing, ambient lighting instead of overhead lighting, and/or strategic placement with teacher(s) who can help them buffer the impact of stronger personalities.

Lack of Meaning

The child who struggles to find meaningfulness in school is the least understood. Often, this is the student who has no apparent social, academic or sensory struggles. Parents and teachers often repeat phrases such as “He can do it but he just refuses to do the work,” and “She can memorize the lyrics to her favorite song but she chooses not to study for her tests.” Sound familiar? This can be common for a teenager in a rebellious phase. However, when it shows up in your third grader you know you have a long road ahead.

These children crave meaningfulness in their life’s activities. They are often quite bright and see little use for activities that do not challenge their intellect. These students will engage in assignments that show obvious benefit. They often place high value on their connection to the person in the teaching role. They can be extreme examples of children for whom learning happens only in the context of a positive relationship. These students will gladly work for a teacher whom they admire even when they see no use for the topic or activity at hand. The deep relationship with the teacher offers the meaningfulness that they need.

If your child fits this description, an effective strategy is to do your best to request input into teacher selection. Do your homework about the teachers in your child’s school and figure out the best matches. If your child attends in conventional school (public or private), look into other options (like Montessori or Waldorf) or consider homeschooling. Make sure your child has opportunities outside of school to pursue activities that he finds meaningful (hobbies, sports.) Help your child relate the work she is doing in school to her personal interests.

Strategies and Support

The child who “hates” school rarely grows out of it without support and help to identify the struggle. A child’s reason for hating school is often straightforward and can be dealt with promptly when appropriate strategies are pursued. It is important to remember that placing blame is not productive. A school may work well for many children and a teacher may be effective for lots of students. However, that does not mean the teacher is right for every student or the school the best setting for every child. Childhood is a crucial time of life and there are many options for education.

Susan Cowan Morse is an educational coach and consultant in Wilmot, N.H. She may be reached at

Poison Ivy Dermatitis

Poison Ivy Dermatitis

Prevention and treatment of exposure to the dreaded “leaves of three”

By Angela Toms, M.D.

In our part of the world, after the mud dries up and the temperature rises, we are elated to see the sun shine and the grass turn green. To treat our cabin fever, we venture outside into the fields and woods. Our children might be hiking at camp, retrieving an overthrown ball from the edge of the field, wrestling with buddies by the edge of the stream, or helping us clean up brush around the house, when days later they start to itch.

What is it?

While there are lots of summer rashes that itch, one of the most common summer rashes is poison ivy dermatitis. This very itchy and red rash is caused by an allergic reaction after contact with plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, members of the Toxicodendrum genus which appropriately means “poisonous tree.” These plants contain an allergic compound called uroshiol. When this colorless oil touches the skin it causes a reaction in about 85 percent of people. Any contact with the roots, leaves, stem (even a vine with no leaves), or sap of this plant can cause the rash.

Spot it before it “spots” you

Many know the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be.” This rhyme is helpful because the plant’s leaves grow in clusters of three. Being able to visually recognize poison ivy is the first step in avoiding it. This can get tricky, though, because the same plant may look different depending on the season and geographical region. In the east, the plant is vine; in the west, it’s a shrub. Young poison ivy leaves are green, then turn red or brown and eventually fall off. It tends to grow at elevations below 4000 feet, so lying in the grass at the top of Mount Moosilauke is probably okay. Already know you’re at risk of a severe reaction? Ask your doctor about a product called bentoquatam (Ivy Block).

Soap and water — on the double!

So, what if you don’t notice the shiny leaves of three and end up in contact with poison ivy? As soon as possible, remove any clothing around the exposed area and then gently wash the skin and fingernails with soap and water. There’s no need to scrub. A study once showed that washing 10 minutes after exposure removed 50 percent of the uroshiol, after 30 minutes removed 10 percent, and after an hour removed none of it. Still, washing helps reduce the severity of the reaction even 2 hours after exposure. Remember to wash all clothing, tools, and pets, too!

What to expect

The rash will be very itchy and red in areas where oil made contact with skin. Bumps and blisters may form (often in lines or streaks if the plant brushed the skin) and may develop over time rather than all at once — usually within 14 days after exposure. Poison ivy dermatitis usually lasts 1 to 3 weeks and most of the time does not require a visit to the doctor. Sometimes, after a week or so, the rash will spread to areas that definitely did not touch the oil. When this happens, it’s called a generalized dermatitis, or an “id” reaction.” Note that touching the rash or the blister fluid cannot spread poison ivy, as long as all of the uroshiol oil is washed off initially.

In some situations, you should call your doctor. These include: if the rash is severe, very swollen or covers a large part of the body; the face or genitals are involved; you’re not sure the rash really is poison ivy dermatitis; the rash appears infected — is oozing pus, is very red and hot, and/or is accompanied by a fever; or the rash does not get better after 2 to 3 weeks.

Knowledge is the Best Prevention

Since we want our families to have lots of fun outdoors without suffering the itchy rash of poison ivy dermatitis, take some time to learn what poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak look like, and then teach your kids how to avoid these plants. My family enjoys reading Fancy Nancy: Poison Ivy Expert, by Jane O’Conner. Fancy Nancy helps remind us that even experts can get poison ivy dermatitis, but we’d much rather avoid the rather itchy and unpleasant experience if possible!


Never burn a poison ivy plant. Burning releases chemicals into the air that can damage the lungs if breathed.

Parent Tips

  • Try not to scratch!
  • Take oatmeal baths and place cool, wet washcloths or towels on the skin.
  • Use calamine lotion.
  • Use products that have aluminum acetate in them (like Burrow’s Solution or Domeboro) if the rash is wet and weepy.
  • Oral antihistamines (like Benadryl) are commonly used for itching, but may not be that helpful.
  • Over-the-counter topical steroids may make a difference before blisters develop and help with itching after blisters form, but are not as helpful as their prescription-strength counterparts.

Angela Toms, M.D., is a family physician at White River Family Practice. She lives on a small farm with her husband and four children as well as cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and dogs.


Kid Stuff Summer


Pixels & Bricks

Pixels & Bricks

Congenial Randolph, Vt., venue draws kids inside for everyday fun

By Kim J. Gifford

If “rainy day fun” used to mean time spent indoors playing Monopoly™, Bingo™, or Chutes and Ladders™, then it’s a brand new day. While traditional board games can still be a lot of fun, today’s game has been raised, so to speak, with the growth in popularity of trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering (MTG or Magic) and new multiplayer board games such as The Settlers of Catan. Gaming no longer has to take place around a kitchen table; today’s youth have the option of participating in events at gaming stores such as Randolph, Vt.’s Pixels & Bricks. Such venues give kids and adults alike an opportunity to enjoy friendly competition while socializing and forming new friendships.

Pixels & Bricks launched last year as an offshoot of Vermont Computing Cooperative, which shares the same space at 23 Merchant’s Row. Robert Holman, Ian Stewart and Matt Gustafson purchased Vermont Computing from its original owner in November, 2014, and established a new cooperative.

An Idea that Snowballed

“After a few months, I think we were getting a little stir crazy from the long Vermont winter and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a gaming event every other weekend?’ The idea was to keep it pretty casual, but it really blew up,” says Gustafson, who oversees the Pixels & Bricks portion of the business.

The events grew from every other weekend to several nights a week and today it is not unusual to find the business open Wednesday through Saturday until 9 or 10 p.m. or even later. Earlier in the week the store keeps more traditional hours, typically closing at 6 p.m.

Thursday nights are free MTG nights. “We want to reflect a comfortable environment for gaming, rather than closing at 5 or 6 p.m. like most businesses in Randolph. We want to be a place where people can go after school or after work,” says Gustafson.

On Thursdays, the environment is casual with no specific format. Gamers can come in with a Magic deck that is “15 years old or 15 days old and be able to sit down and play for free because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. When I was younger, we had these random terrible decks and we would sit around our kitchen tables until 1 a.m. playing Magic,” says Gustafson.

A Valuable Alternative

Gustafson is happy to create this environment and a new opportunity for Randolph’s rural community. “I think a lot of the drug problems in this area are because there is nothing for kids to do. Having a constructive, affordable alternative is huge in my opinion,” he says.

Gustafson also notes that today’s players are more diversified than the typical “nerdy” image of old. The youngest player at the store is a 7-year-old girl while adults in their 40s come in to play, too. Tovah Donahue, a young local, agrees that the gaming store provides a safe and fun alternative for the community. “I encourage people to come and play because Magic is a fun game and it is a better, healthier way to spend your money than on drugs,” she says.

Thursday evenings draw anywhere from 6 to 30 people. Fifteen-year-old Tristan Brown of Randolph helps out at the store. “I love to watch people come in and duke it out in some awesome MTG games,” he says.

Keagan Jarvis says that Pixels & Bricks is also a great source of gaming supplies. “They have a bunch of cool merchandise to buy for Magic as well as computer stuff. There are also competitions where you can earn in-store credit.”

Although 20-year-old Christian Jarvis doesn’t play at Pixels & Bricks himself, he understands the appeal of such a place to gamers like his brother Keagan. “It is fun, enjoyable, and a way to meet new people and form friendships,” he says. The wide appeal of the game stems, in large part, from the strategy involved. “It requires you to put a lot of time in to it, but it is very rewarding. There is more to it than people think. It involves a lot of strategy, but that makes you feel really good when you win.”

Magic and Beyond

Other nights of the week gaming is structured around specific events. Pixels & Bricks is sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic, to hold official tournaments. But the store is not only about Magic. Gustafson encourages people to come in and bring their favorite board games or play a game like Dungeons & Dragons. On occasion they hold specific board game nights but, whenever the store is open, tables and chairs are set up for informal play of any sort. Some kids, such as Sam Hopper of Randolph, also enjoy taking part in creating content for Pixel & Bricks’ YouTube channel and podcasts.

Brown says, “Pixels & Bricks added a much needed element to the local community. It allows gamers, nerds, fanboys and fangirls — and people of all ages and genders — to take a little time out of the busy world to play games and have some fun!”

And, of course, it offers new and veteran gamers alike a friendly gathering place.


Kim J. Gifford is a writer, photographer/artist, avid dog lover and blogger at Her Bethel, Vt., home is always filled with nieces and nephews and her three pugs, Alfie, Waffles and Amore.


Kid Stuff Summer 2016


Summer Fun


Originally published in Summer 2016

JUNE – International Mud Day

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

Gooey, messy, squishy mud. It’s fun to play in, and on one day in June you can dive into the mud for a great reason: to connect children around the globe through the earth.

International Mud Day (June 29) is the day children and early childhood professionals — and anyone else — all over the world celebrate nature, outdoors and mess by getting really muddy. ABC’s Child Care Center at New London Hospital has participated for the past five years.

“Here at ABC’s the children look forward to Mud Day all year. We include all the children infants to preschoolers — and the staff! It is a day for the children to really be children, have fun, no rules (as long as you are safe) and they get to see their caregivers let go as well,” says Tina L. Walker, director of Child Care Services. It’s also part of the school’s ongoing educational program: “We try to incorporate what happens with children around the world so the children will start young to have empathy and understanding that their world may be different then another child’s.”

Mud Day can be a great tradition for your family, too. Learn more at

JULY – Old Home Days

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

In 1899, New Hampshire Governor Frank West Rollins started Old Home Week. The tradition still continues today — but just for a day or two in many Granite State towns. Almost any weekend in July, you’ll find a fun celebration with activities for the whole family.

Springfield’s Annual Old Home Day (July 9) has a boat race, sock hop, farmer’s market, a family fishing contest and a 5K ramble. Grantham (July 4) is known for the fire department’s chicken barbecue and themed parade through town on Route 10. Unity (July 23) has a pancake breakfast hosted by the fire department, a day of activities, and ends the festivities with a dinner hosted by the eighth grade class. Enfield (July 29 to 31) hosts a chili cook-off and a community dance.

It’s a great time to visit with your neighbors, eat some good (local) food, do something different (an Iron Man contest!), learn local history, and create some family memories.

AUGUST – Vermont Open Farm Week

By Grace Meyer

Do you love local food and farms? Want to get to know your farmer better — and get a behind-the-scenes look into Vermont’s working agricultural landscape? Mark your calendar for Vermont Open Farm Week: Aug. 15 to 21.

During Vermont Open Farm Week, farmers across Vermont will open their barn doors and garden gates to welcome the public for a behind-the-scenes look at Vermont’s vibrant working landscape. Last year, more than 100 farms participated, many of whom are not usually open to the public.

What’s the greatest part about Open Farm Week? Every farm is unique. Milk a cow and harvest a carrot at one farm, sit on a tractor and take in the smell of freshly cut hay at another. You can meet the farmers, plants and animals that bring your favorite high-quality Vermont products to your plate. Some farms offer activities (scavenger hunts and hayrides) while others offer fresh farm food and live music.

To find a farm near you (or to plan a farm tour), check out the up-to-date lists of participating farms and search by location at

Local: A Newbie’s Guide to the Upper Valley

Summer is the best time for newcomers to explore the Upper Valley

By Marcos Stafne, Ph.D.

Being new to the Upper Valley last spring, I was pleasantly surprised at the numerous cultural resources that come alive when the weather warms up. Here are a few family friendly picks that I highly recommend.

Get Your Feet Wet

The Montshire Museum of Science’s David Goudy Science Park is a favorite among area residents. While cooling off in the water activities, kids have a chance to do a little tinkering and explore hydrology. Three miles of trails offer outdoor physical activities and, when you’re ready for a break from the sun, it’s well worth a stop inside to visit the Tinkering Loft exhibition where kids of all ages are invited to design, build, and create. Try venturing out on the Planet Walk; it sends you on a three-mile round trip around the solar system.

If you’re looking for a summer flight of fancy, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Vt., facilitates daily programming featuring our feathered friends. Kids get up-close and personal with extraordinary birds and explore the amazing natural environments on the VINS campus. Be sure to check out The McKnight Trail, perfect for a long summer afternoon walk and accessible for people using wheelchairs and strollers.

Delve into the Past

Craving ice cream? Stop by Billings Farm and Museum to get a good dose of the Upper Valley’s farming past while tasting delicious ice cream produced from its dairy. Walking the grounds during the summer to meet the horses, checking out their robust kitchen garden, and exploring how people farmed in the past is a great family outing — be sure to neigh “hello” to Jim and Joe for me (they’re horses).

If industry and engineering excite your kids, check out the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. Kids get to explore the history of the tools and machines that made the Upper Valley an industrial center and see demonstrations of real machining. Don’t miss the awesome miniature machine shops of John Aschauer at the back of the museum.

Dabble in the Arts

After visiting natural environments, why not try sketching what you see out in the open? On Thursday evenings in the summer, AVA Gallery in Lebanon, N.H., facilitates free plein air (making art outside) activities in nearby Colburn Park. AVA Gallery provides changing exhibitions over the summer and Kira’s Garden is a great place to take in some fresh air while looking at fantastic outdoor sculpture.

Need a little inspiration to bring out your inner artist? Feed your creativity with a walk around Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. The historic buildings and fascinating sculptures are a delight at any age. Visit on July 31 for a special Explore Your Park day featuring music, art activities and family friendly games.


After each visit, keep the memory alive by asking a question to spark conversation and imprint memories. I like to play a game called “Three Favorite Things.” Ask everyone, “What were your three favorite things about the day?” Then write them down in a small notebook. Collect these experiences over the summer and review them before school starts. Kids are often surprised to later be reminded what they enjoyed at a museum the day they visited. It’s a great way to relive the experience together.


Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., is executive director of the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. Follow him on Twitter at @marcosstafne

How to: De-stress

A class, meditation, essential oils — follow a mom’s quest to find peace and tranquility during a busy week of work and family.
By Laura Jean Whitcomb

“Stress has become a part of everyday life,” says Allison DeStefano. “It has become a badge of honor to be stressed…but, at the same time, it’s killing us. It increases your heart rate, increases your blood pressure, and weakens your immune system.”

Ouch. I’m in a conference room with 25 other folks for a free seminar on the topic of “Alleviating Stress & Anxiety Naturally” hosted by the Concord Food Co-op of New London, N.H. There was a waiting list for the class, so it seems that I’m not the only one that would like to remove my badge. DeStefano — a certified integrative nutrition health coach who has her own practice and works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. — is going to help us identify oncoming stressors and how to avoid them, how to combat and reduce stressors you experience (sometimes there is just no avoidance), and how to push past them in the future.

The co-op staff is serving tea and dark chocolate, so that’s a good start. DeStefano has us close our eyes for a few deep breaths. It’s hard to “tame my monkey mind” — a phrase DeStefano uses to describe how our thoughts jump all over the place — but eventually I’m able to clear my head so I can focus on the class.

The key to alleviating stress, it seems, is organization. First, identify your triggers. For example, trying to get two kids out the door in the morning always ends in a scream fest and some crying (sometimes you). You can organize your environment to make it easier: give each kid their own space for backpacks, boots and coats in the front hall. You can make a schedule; tell the kids to pack backpacks the night before and set the alarm for 6 a.m. for yourself. Second, cut yourself some slack. “Give yourself permission to feel the way you do, then work to change it,” says DeStefano.

If mornings are still your cross to bear (face it, the kids are not and may never be morning people), then do things to help your state of mind. DeStefano suggests grounding exercises, like listing animals or saying the alphabet backwards. Maybe clench and release your fists (but behind your back so no one thinks you are going to punch them). Then, once the situation has passed, do other things to release the tension from your body: make sure you get enough sleep, take a walk, stay hydrated, and eat foods that help you relieve stress: dark chocolate, walnuts, cashews, berries, garlic, oranges and avocado, to name a few. And, to keep yourself on track, add relaxation to your calendar. “Schedule ‘me time’ just as you would any appointment,” she says. “You need to take care of yourself before you can care for anyone else.”


I like the idea of me time. I set up my “stress reduction” schedule. The Yoga Connection in Grantham, N.H., offers free meditation space on Fridays from 5 to 5:45 p.m. Janice Vien, an RN who has been practicing yoga since 1982 and teaching since 1989, built her yoga studio on Route 10 two years ago. It has heated pine floors, and big, bright windows with views of the rolling hills of Grantham. She opens the doors to her studio two days a week for meditation. “I offer free meditation as a community service. Not everybody can afford classes and everybody can learn to meditate,” Vien says.

The studio offers mats and blankets (as well as chairs and other yoga props), but I have my own. Four other ladies are there, and we all set up in different positions: some lying on their backs, some sitting up, some using props, some not. A chime starts the evening session of sitting together in silence.

Meditation, a practice that helps make your mind calm and peaceful, is not easy. I think about the timing of the class; 5 p.m. is usually when I get dinner started. The kids had a snack, but I’m not sure if my husband planned on cooking. Why didn’t I start the slow cooker this morning? I remember my yoga teacher telling me that it is okay to have these thoughts — acknowledge them and let them go.

Someone is snoring. How can she be sleeping? I realize that my shoulders are creeping up to my ears, a sure sign of stress. I drop my shoulders and try to relax them. I shift slightly, quietly, so I don’t disturb anyone else. After a few minutes my shoulders are back up to my chin, so I start the process over again. Now my back hurts. Can I bend my knees to release some of the pressure? I do silently, but now notice that my shoulders hurt in a different place.

Never mind the complaints of your body, I tell myself, focus on your breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Is anyone else talking to herself like I am? Stop, breathe. Nose, mouth, nose, mouth, deep into the bowl of my belly. I hear the hum of the traffic on Interstate 89. I open my eyes. The pink of the sunset is glowing through the windows. I listen to the cars with my eyes open. My mind is quiet. I close my eyes, and the chime rings to send the session.

I am surprised that 45 minutes went by so quickly. I enjoyed the silence — something I don’t have at home — but I’m wondering if a guided meditation, where a leader walks participants through the meditation practice with his voice, might be better for me? Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, N.H., offers a session on Monday evenings, so I add that day and time to my stress reduction schedule. We’re lucky here in the Upper Valley: you can find a meditation drop-in every day of the week: Wednesday night at the Upper Valley Zen Center in White River Junction, Vt.; Tuesday night at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover, N.H., with the Valley Insight Meditation Society; and Thursday night at the Women’s Resource Health Center on the green in Lebanon, N.H., to name a few.

Essential Oils

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly crabby, I light a candle. It’s not news that scents can help you shift your moods or emotions; there’s a science behind why smells make you feel a certain way and an entire industry built around it: aromatherapy. In her talk, DeStefano mentions essential oils — biologically active volatile compounds of flowers and plants in a highly concentrated form — as one way support physical health and mental well being.

“Lavender oil is my immediate go-to for stress; I dab it on my wrists, use it in my baths, and breathe it in throughout the day when I need something to decompress,” she says. “It is also important to pause and truly breathe deeply to experience the effects. Applying the oil is a reminder for me to slow down a moment, take a few deep breaths, center myself, and continue on with my day.” In addition to lavender, DeStefano also recommends rose, chamomile, lemon, cinnamon and eucalyptus.

With 50 million smell receptors inside the nasal cavity connected to the brain’s limbic system, an area responsible for emotions, it’s not surprising to see why the scent of my candle (vanilla is soothing) helps ease my irritability. I take a trip to the natural food store to see what might be available, and essential oil blends abound. I can buy one with bergamot, jasmine, frankincense and rose to help me unwind, or one with sunflower, lemon, grapefruit and vetiver to give me energy. A few dabs on my wrists and I do feel a bit better. DeStefano suggests using essential oils in a diffuser, adding a few drops to a shower or bath, or “wafting the scent to the nose instead of breathing in straight from the bottle.” My bottle of essential oil is now in my purse and, if the kids are in a bad mood when I pick them up after school, I wave it around the car. I’ll let you know if it works.

Parent Tip

Meditations are free at some locations, a small fee at others. Check before you drop in.

Laura Jean Whitcomb, wife and mother of two, wrote this article while basking in the light of her Himalayan salt lamp.

Pediatric practice gives out free books to kids

Reading as Medicine

Pediatric practice gives out free books to kids

By Matt Golec

Brother and sister team Dillin and Morgan Reed are picking out books.

There are lots of choices in the giant, well-organized bookcases and the siblings from Baltimore, Vt., take their time poring over covers and showing off possible titles to take home.

Eventually, each settles on a book: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques, a pirate-y adventure, for Dillin, 10 (“Looked interesting,” he says) and Owl in the Garden by Berniece Freschet and Carol Newsom, a picture book, for Morgan, 7 (“I like to look at the pictures,” she says).

Reach Out and Read

Despite the literary surroundings, the Reeds aren’t at a bookstore or library. Instead, they have just seen a doctor at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center’s Pediatrics Department in Windsor, Vt., where every kid gets to take home a free book.

The practice participates in a national program called Reach Out and Read, which helps provide new books to kids aged 6 months to 5 years during annual well-child visits. This practice, however, goes above and beyond by collecting gently-used books to give to all patients (and patients’ siblings) regardless of age and at every visit.

“The kids really enjoy them,” says pediatrician and chief book collector Dr. Mary Bender. “And it’s a way to get back on their good side” after swabbing their throat or poking them with a needle.

But putting books in kids’ hands generates more than goodwill. Dr. Bender explains how books lead to kids becoming better readers, writers and communicators. Parents reading out loud can help their kids develop lifelong reading habits while strengthening the parent-child bond.

Research cited by the Reach Out and Read program agrees that early reading is important: kids who are exposed to books do not struggle as much with reading in early grades. That can set them up for success later in school — and life.

Books for Wellness

Books can even be seen as medicine, of a sort. Thanks to vaccines, Dr. Bender does not see many infectious diseases and has more time to focus on overall child wellness. To treat patients’ stress and anxiety, pediatricians at Mt. Ascutney commonly prescribe exercise, relaxation techniques, less “screen time” and, of course, more books.

“Sometimes kids really do have challenging lives, and books are a great escape,” Dr. Bender says, adding that books are a nice way to wind down from a busy day. “We want there to be a book by every bed.”

Mt. Ascutney’s pediatric practice has been putting books by kids’ beds for more than a decade through the Reach Out and Read program, but about six years ago they also began giving out used books to kids who were too old for Reach Out and Read or were at the doctor’s office for something other than a well-child visit.

“I didn’t like being in the position of telling kids they couldn’t have a book,” Dr. Bender says.

There’s no firm number on how many books the practice has given away, but clinical secretary Sue Miller-Goulet estimates that between five and 20 books go out the door each day, depending on patient volume. Even at the low end, that’s more than a thousand volumes per year. “We have given away a lot of books,” Miller-Goulet says.

Miller-Goulet enjoys when kids come back to her office to show off the books they’ve picked out. She likes to ask them what they think the book will be about from looking at the cover and, if Miller-Goulet has some time, she might even start reading the first few pages with the child. The books make pediatric visits more pleasant for kids, and they help build relationships between health care providers and their patients.

“The kids who come here, once they know the routine, they’re excited to be here, excited to pick out a book,” Miller-Goulet says.

You Can Help

The book program is successful, though running it takes money and time. Financial donations help purchase the new Reach Out and Read books, while staff members buy most of the used books themselves at church, rummage and library sales. Miller-Goulet also credits “book angels” who drop off books for the program.

As for time, last year Miller-Goulet drafted Hatsy McGraw, a retired elementary school librarian, to help her keep the shelves organized and appealing to young readers. McGraw volunteers about once per week. She groups the books for bigger kids up high and the littler kids’ books down low. She restocks the shelves, filling in gaps where popular books ­­— series like the Magic Treehouse and young adult fantasy books — have been snapped up. If kids ask, she’ll offer book recommendations, but she’s happy to let them discover books on their own.

“The idea is to keep kids reading,” McGraw says.

McGraw notes that the program is especially nice for those families who can’t afford a lot of books. “It’s pretty wonderful to know that you can take it (a book) home with you and keep it,” she says.

Douglas Reed, father of Dillin and Morgan, says his kids love the book program. He likes how it encourages reading, and also how it makes them more excited to come to the pediatrician.

“It isn’t just a doctor appointment,” Reed says. “They get some fun out of it.”

Matt Golec lives in Norwich, Vt., where he does some writing, game design, and light child care. Matt, his wife and son have lived in the Upper Valley for 10 years, though it doesn’t feel nearly that long. For more, visit



Kid Stuff Summer 2016


Summertime Fruit Tower Cake


Summertime Fruit Tower Cake

This scrumptious pillar of summer produce is fun to make — and requires no cooking.

By Amy Makechnie

While perusing the Internet for a nutritious, summertime cake recipe, I came across a rather ingenious picture of a “cake” I’d never made or seen before. Both creative and healthful, our very own towering cake of fruit was born (the title being a bit more appealing than “fruit cake.”)

Layered with naturally sweet and juicy fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, pineapple and berries, this cake is simple to make and will have your family and friends asking for seconds and thirds. With beautiful, bright colors containing all-natural ingredients and no artificial dyes or added sugar, this unique spin on “cake” is a terrific summertime alternative for those hot, humid summer days when you’d rather not turn on the oven.

The fruit tower cake contains ingredients high in antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, but low in calories and fat. In addition, it’s hydrating and gluten-free, making it an excellent choice for a glorified snack or special event. With all the summertime produce coming into season, you might pluck the ingredients right out of your own garden, local farmer’s market or fruit stand.

In lieu of ice-cream or whipped cream, add plain Greek yogurt drizzled with local maple syrup for a bit of pizazz and protein. Got a birthday celebration coming up? Add some candles and you’re in business!

Recipe: Summertime Fruit Tower Cake

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 small watermelon
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 1 honeydew melon
  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 cup blueberries and raspberries
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup


  1. Slice circles of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple about ½ inch thick. Start with the largest fruit circles as the base layer. Use a knife to cut out the middle or a biscuit cutter for a more uniform look. If the slices look too large, trim as needed.
  1. Layer watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and honeydew. Repeat. Use long skewers to keep the cake from falling over.
  1. Top with cut kiwis, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
  1. On the top, add a dollop of Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. Prefer whipped cream? Make your own using one cup whipping cream and one tablespoon powdered sugar. Whip until light and fluffy.

Parent Tip

Try to make your cake circles as uniform as possible in terms of width, so they will stack more easily. The long skewers will definitely be helpful in keeping your cake upright and in place. Because watermelon tends to be the biggest fruit, I made that my first layer, but feel free to stack in whichever order makes sense in terms of size.

Amy Makechnie is a sports nutrition specialist, freelance writer and the mother of a wily flock of children. You can find her at


Kid Stuff Summer 2016