The Way To Go: Marietta Pritchard’s book illuminates a gentle end through Hospice of the Fisher Home stories

Recently, on a gloriously sunny, spring-like morning, author Marietta Pritchard, stood in the kitchen of the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst, fixing herself a cup of tea, talking about how she would like to die.

“I’ve become very committed to this place, and what goes on here,” she said, stirring in a dollop of honey. “A nursing home is not a place I would like to be, but this is someplace where I would. Like the title of the book.”

This winter Pritchard, who has been a volunteer at the Fisher Home since 2007, published her second book, “The Way To Go: Portraits of a Residential Hospice” (The Impress Group, 2015) about her experiences at the hospice.

A former editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, she once worked as an obituary writer at the newspaper as well and now writes a monthly column for Hampshire Life magazine.

“The Way To Go,” is a series of miniature portraits of several of the patients Pritchard took care of and the various staff members she encountered at the hospice. Woven throughout are excerpts from Pritchard’s journal, which she started when she began volunteering at Fisher Home, and chapters that focus on the history of the place. Each story adds to the mosaic Pritchard paints of this particular residential hospice, which in turn sheds light on the larger hospice movement.

“Hospice seeks to normalize death,” she writes. “But for many people in our culture, death is never seen as normal. It is the unspeakable.”

Pritchard’s book tackles questions most would prefer to avoid: How would we like to die? What do we consider a good death? What does a grieving family need?

The goal, she said, is to provide patients with the best death possible.

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Families Helping Families: Volunteer night at the Food Bank

As Lori Peters of Goshen packed a plastic bag with apples at The Food Bank in Hatfield on a recent Tuesday evening, she kept an eye on her son, Eldon, 7, and daughter, Desi, 3, who were filling their own bags next to her. Across the table, her husband, Joe, cradled son, Simon, not quite 1, in his left arm while holding his apple bag in his right hand.

“We have been looking for an opportunity to volunteer as a family,” Peters said as she worked. “I want my children to be less self-centered.”

The task was to sort through boxes of fruit to find non-bruised apples and fill each plastic bag with nine. The bags were then sealed tight with a tape dispenser and placed in other cardboard boxes, which were piled onto a wooden pallet in the center of the room.

“This is a great opportunity for kids,” said Alissa Shea of Northfield as she monitored the apple-packing efforts of her sons, Liam, 7, and Aidan, 6. “It helps them become activists in their community.”

The Peterses and the Sheas were among about 30 others who had come to the headquarters of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts on North Hatfield Road that evening as part of its Family Volunteer Day program. Volunteer days, held monthly through the fall, are organized by both The Food Bank and Hilltown Families, an online network for families in Western Massachusetts to promote activities, camaraderie and community involvement.

In the warm months volunteer sessions are also held at The Food Bank Farm in Hadley.

They’re “a great way for families to work side by side while supporting their neighbors in need of food assistance,” said Megan Pete, director of development at The Food Bank. During a typical volunteer session, the families are given a tour of the facility, participate in a game and then sort food — generally fresh produce — that will be distributed throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties. More than 200,000 people count on The Food Bank’s offerings, she said.

“The kids want to keep coming because they realize that it’s fun,” said Laura Bezio of Erving, who was there with the students from the religious education class she teaches through Our Lady of Peace in Turners Falls. Last summer children from her class — who are mostly from Turners Falls, Millers Falls and Erving — pitched in at The Food Bank three times. “It’s important for them to see the bigger community,” Bezio said.

“I like knowing it all goes to a good cause,” added Bezio’s 11-year-old daughter, Catherine.

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Foot Loose: Making the case for soft shoes, or no shoes at all

With its 33 joints, the foot is as complex a mechanism as the hand, yet most of the shoes we wear keep it from functioning right.

That was the message delivered by structural therapist Derek Gardner as he stood barefoot in the Community Room at the Forbes Library in Northampton on a recent Tuesday evening.

“Our hands would start atrophying if they wore gloves as stiff as shoes,” he said.

Gardner was speaking to about a half-dozen people who turned out for his talk on the connection between footwear and health at the library. When feet can’t move properly, he told the group, muscles, tendons and joints in the leg can’t adequately react. The body is strained.

Gardner, who is also a licensed massage therapist in Northampton, practices a form of bodywork, like rolfing, that targets specific points of the anatomy experiencing musculoskeletal pain or dysfunction. If he had his way, most people would go barefoot whenever possible, and when circumstances demand shoes, the footwear would be spare.

“You don’t want your shoe to break your foot in,” he said. Shoes, boots and sneakers should allow feet to feel the surface beneath them. When feet can feel the terrain, he said, the rest of the body can adjust more easily to a hazardous change underfoot — a piece of ice, a forgotten toy, a protruding tree root — and better maintain balance.

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The Search for the Perfect Breakfast Sandwich

On a recent frigid morning, I followed a series of footprints left in the freshly fallen snow up to the front door of the Loose Goose Cafe on East Pleasant Street in Amherst. I knew the cafe had closed sometime last month, but felt the need to confirm it nonetheless. Sure enough, the sign on the front door read, “Thank you for 14 years of business. We will miss you all!”

What a disappointment.

I like egg sandwiches — a lot — and Loose Goose, a jazz-themed restaurant which specialized in all sorts of gourmet sandwiches named for jazz musicians, made great ones.

I usually opted for The Solo (egg and American cheese on a choice of bagel — the whole wheat worked well). But The Count (Basie) (egg, American cheese and bacon), The (Dave) Brubeck (egg, Swiss cheese and ham), and The (John) Coltrane (egg, cheddar cheese and turkey) all proved as delectable as Ron Carter’s walking bass line pacing a 16-bar tenor saxophone solo.

People can get pretty particular about their egg sandwiches. Fried egg? Scrambled egg? Meat? Veggie? Burrito wrap? Bagel?

“It can be a big dialogue when you let someone build their own,” said Helen Kahn, owner of the Cup and Top Cafe on North Main Street in Florence. “But regulars usually know what they want.”

Last summer Brooklyn journalist Joseph Checkler started a Kickstarter campaign in order to print and distribute instructional egg sandwich leaflets promoting what he called “best practices” to delis throughout Manhattan. Checkler’s check list included fried eggs, cooked on a griddle, served messy with lots of cheese — and ideally with meat.

He’d like the Classic Egg Sandwich (egg, cheese and meat on a bagel, toast, or English muffin) served up at Sylvester’s, on Pleasant Street in Northampton. And if I’m sitting with the newspaper at Sylvester’s counter top, I might agree with him.

But for me, the art of the egg sandwich lies at the confluence of both the taste and the ease of eating.

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The Other Good Life

Pioneering back-to-the-landers Helen and Scott Nearing lived in the shadow of Stratton Mountain before it was a ski resort

Stratton Mountain sits some 45 minutes north of Brattleboro. The drive up state Route 30 encapsulates much of what visitors and residents alike love about the Green Mountain state. The single lane road follows the meandering West River alongside the Green Mountain National Forest, through picturesque villages Newfane and Jamaica, straight into the heart of southern Vermont.

Downhill skiing has been a permanent fixture here for over half a century, and the region enjoys more than its fair share of popular resorts. Bromley, Mount Snow, Magic Mountain, and Stratton are all under an hour’s drive from Brattleboro, and the snowy slopes of each area are visible from the summits of the others.

Stratton’s access road leaves Route 30 and climbs quickly, treating its travelers to more impressive mountain views and a handful of ambitious out-of-state drivers anxious to arrive at the slopes. After negotiating the heavy foot traffic by the base village and the overflowing parking lot farther down the road, I make my way to the Tamarack lift, which is not moving.

I’m not surprised. Tamarack is the ski area’s oldest lift, one of the few that has not been replaced by a high-speed, detachable six-person chair. And it serves mostly beginning skiers looking for easier terrain. Those two factors often cause a greater number of delays.

After a moment or two the lift clangs back to life. I take my seat, and am propelled — slowly — up the mountain.

A few minutes later, the chair comes to a halt once more, leaving me suspended over Tamarack Heights, a cluster of multi-million dollar private homes accessed by a private road that was tunneled under the ski trail just a few years ago. The Heights is among the most recent developments at a resort that cut its first trail 50 years ago, when back-to-the-landers Helen and Scott Nearing were writing about the subsistence lifestyle they enjoyed.

Catering to a high-priced crowd that has affectionately dubbed it “the upper north side,” Stratton Mountain is well known for its European-style ski village, an abundance of second homes, extensively groomed terrain, and high-speed lifts. So it is surprising to hear that the Nearings lived their version of “the good life” right here, in the shadow of Stratton Mountain. Continue reading

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Whole Children of Hadley to Show The Crash Reel: The story of how an extraordinary family deals with disability

During Thanksgiving dinner at his home in Vermont two years ago, champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce, 27, finally told his family that he realized that the brain injury he had suffered in a crash on the slopes three years earlier had changed him forever.

He looked at his brother David, 30, who has Down syndrome, and told him that he accepted the limitations he now faced. His days of X Games glory were over. Their mother Pia turned to David and asked: Would Kevin’s acceptance of his traumatic brain injury help David accept his Down syndrome? David’s eyes welled with tears as the other five family members sat silently. It was a long moment. “It’s hard,” David said finally. “But I will try.”

That scene is from the HBO documentary “The Crash Reel,” the story of the rise and literal fall of Kevin Pearce’s snowboarding career and how the Pearces have coped with disability that has affected just about every family member. Beside Kevin’s brain injury and David’s Down syndrome, the father, Simon, who is an internationally known glass blower, and three of the four children have dyslexia.

On Feb. 8, Whole Children, the Hadley-based organization that provides social programs for children, especially those with special needs, will host a screening of the film and an appearance by Kevin Pearce at the conference center at Baystate Health Whitney Avenue in Holyoke. Kevin will talk about brain trauma and answer questions. Pia and David are expected as well. Dr. Barry Rodstein, of Baystate, will also speak about brain injury.

“We want to share this story with the community because it is such a positive message about resilience and disability and the power of family,” said Valle Dwight, communications and development manager at Whole Children. “That’s a message that aligns to our mission — which is focusing on strengths, overcoming adversity, and supporting families.”

Dwight and Pia Pearce have known each for six years, ever since Pearce contacted Dwight looking for an organization that could assist David. The Pearces were living in southern Vermont at the time.

“There’s a lot of resource sharing in the disability community,” Dwight said.

And now, with the organization looking for a way to mark its 10th anniversary, several people suggested showing the film, she said.

“The movie is an amazing glimpse of a family dealing with disabilities on multiple levels.”

That family, said Kevin Pearce in a telephone interview, “has done everything. And continues to do so.”

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“Four-wheel Drive for Your Feet”: Snowshoeing offers accessible outdoor exercise

Several times a week during the winter months, Mary Jo Maffei steps into her snowshoes and heads out the back door of her Shutesbury home and off along a trail that was cut by her son. The red-blazed trail, which the family calls the Quackenbush Connector, leads uphill into a forest of hemlock, maple, and birch.

She hikes quickly, usually accompanied with her dog, a poodle-bichon frise mix named Walter, working to get her heart rate up, keeping warm in just a polypropylene shirt, wool sweater, hat and water-resistant pants.

“I’ve gone from absolutely despising winter to loving it,” said Maffei. “I don’t like being cold, but I love the feel of the cold on my cheeks. It’s really invigorating.”

The Quackenbush Connector was cut by Paul Quackenbush, 23, who started the Amherst Regional High School Nordic ski team six years ago. He and Maffei’s other family members, daughter, Lenna, 20, and husband, Jeff Quackenbush — are all avid cross-country skiers. But for the past dozen years, Maffei has stuck to snowshoes.

“I like being outside, and used to downhill ski,” Maffei said, “but snowshoeing is more my speed.”

Snowshoes, which mimic the larger hind feet of the snowshoe hare, allow their wearers to walk on top of the snow instead of sinking in through soft powder.

“I go places on snowshoes that I can’t on skis,” Maffei said. “They bring me closer to the natural world.”

Maffei is one of a growing number of people who have taken up the sport enthusiasts say offers the freedom to trek wherever they want in all types of conditions.

“Put on a pair of snowshoes, and you can go anywhere,” said William Gabriel, manager of the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center in Northfield. “It’s like four-wheel-drive for your feet.”

Some people also find it less intimidating than skiing, skating or sledding which involve more gliding, higher speeds and a greater risk of falling.

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