Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nothing but Parades.

Last night was Easthampton's annual rag shag parade. It's a wandering mass of costumed kids along with costumed and un-costumed parents making their way down Cottage Street. Seems that part of the tradition is for local business shopkeeps on the main streets to throw candy from their respective sidewalks. It's actually very cool - one of those annual events that makes small towns great.
Since my ice cream shop is also a candy store, it was pretty much a given from Halloween one I'd be hurling candy on those nights. It passes by in about ten minutes, but not before I've emptied a five gallon bucket of candy. What starts as a 'shower the crowd with candy' approach, quickly turns into a hundred-little-hands-in-your-bucket, trick-o-treat-like frenzy. Some awesome costumes in a sea of smiling faces. Hope you got to participate or at least check it out.

Speaking of parades and seas of smiling faces, how cool would it have been to go to the Red Sox victory parade/Riverdance-a-thon today.
When I lived in Boston before I moved here, I got to go to a couple of the Patriots rolling victory parades. It's definitely an unforgettable event. You just can't believe how many people can fit into those two hundred year old Boston streets. It's almost scary at times, like being packed into an overflowing subway car on the Green line to Kenmore before a Sox game. All claustrophobia aside, it's a euphoric experience. Didn't get to go this year, but it sure was a beautiful day for it. I guess I'll just have to settle for my sweet new memories of champagne victory showers and high fives at the Brass Cat after each series winning game. Has it ever been a better time to be a fan in Boston. Nope, I don't think so. Great things come to those who are willing to wait. We wait no more...
Go Pats!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Take out the Trash.

I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior the other night. It's based on the book 'The Way of the Peaceful Warrior' by Dan Millman. The caption at the beginning says, 'based on actual events' but it feels more like a spiritual adventure than your typical sports movie. Speaking of good sports movies, check out 'We are Marshall' sometime. That's a good sports movie. Don't mind the critics' grades. It's about rising from the ashes of tragedy. Their entire team, coaches, and a number of fans are lost when their plane crashes on the return flight from a game. I guess I'm just a sucker for a good underdog-makes-good true-life sports movie, ala Hoosiers, The Natural, and Rudy.

Peaceful Warrior is a little annoying to watch in spots. It's about a cocky college gymnast and his equally cocky teammates all trying to make the Olympic gymnastics team. The movie tries hard, perhaps a bit too hard, to make them unlikable and in need of a good spirtual cleansing. Along comes our imaginary spirit guide (or is he?) in the form of one old and beat up Nick Nolte, a most unlikely Yoda. He tries to instill his zen-like ways on the kid, but he's just not ready to hear it. Until the obligatory life-changing event occurs when the mad-at-the-world kid drops his motorcyle and shatters his leg. You can probably guess how the rest of the story goes.

The movie isn't great, but I did get a few good nuggets out of it I thought I'd share with you. Here they are. Get your yoga mat ready...

A warrior does not give up what he loves. He finds the love in what he does.

Life is a choice. You can choose to be a victim or anything else you'd like.

Warriors act.
Only a fool reacts.

Accept that you don't control what will happen to you.

There is always something going on. You just need to pay attention.

Empty your mind (take out the trash). Be in the moment.

The journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination.


Namaste' to you and yours.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Papi-mint.

I've generally shied away from naming flavors with punny or goofy names, like Cherry Garciaparra and such, for a couple of reasons. Number one, if you name it after a local celebrity, they could be traded like Nomah, or just be unrecognizable to a customer who may like peanut butter in their ice cream but has no idea who Teddi Bruschi(-nut Butter) is. Secondly, I don't want someone to pass by a flavor because they're afraid to say 'Pretty in Pink Mint' or 'Almond-califragilistic!' It's just not right.

Finally and probably most importantly, the less a flavor name sounds like what's in it, the more you'll need to explain to customers what actually is in that batch of 'Nonotuck 'n Nuts'. I already know all about that with my Deer Trax flavor. The one positive of that flavor, however, when someone asks 'what's in the Deer trax', they've inevitably identified themselves as a first-time visitor to Mt. Tom's, which is good information. If there's time, I can chat them up, ask how they found the place, and if they live around the corner, why it took them so long to finally come in for a cone. But I digress.

I've mentioned in the past that names definitely can affect the sales of a particular flavor, so it's important to give it at least a little thought before reaching for the chalk. Case in point, Devil's Food Cake sales skyrocketed when I renamed it Chocolate Cake Batter.

Having said all that, sometimes, like today, I just can't help myself.

So I give you, Big Papi-mint Paddy. Mint base with pieces of real peppermint and wintergreen paddies from the gourmet chocolate cabinet. With a rich, dark fudge swirl thrown in for good measure. If this batch (and the Sox in the series) go well, perhaps I'll come up with another. Hmmm. Papelbon Pecan? Beckett Raspberry? Anyone?

Go Sox!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Leaf Peeping Underway.

Seems the green pond is my favorite early Fall foliage subject. The colors are starting to pop. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Cell Project.

Right around this time of year, I get a bunch of kids who come into the shop looking for candy. This group isn't the usual 'fill a bag with all your favorites...gummy teeth, lego blox, airheads, and Pop Rocks' type. Seems there's a local schoolteacher who has come up with an interesting way to teach her class what's in a cell. Their assignment - build a model of a cell using edible products (I don't know if the teacher specifically says 'candy', but one rule is it must last three days unrefridgerated). So for a couple days every year, I see a number of kids in the shop, assignment tucked under their arm, dilligently hunting through the jars for all the essential elements of their model cell. It's fun to watch. I don't want to give away too much, in case there are kids out there still coming up with their incredible edible cells, but I will say that the giant jawbreakers have been a big seller this week. Why didn't I get cool projects like this when I was a kid? All we ever did was boil stuff with bunsen burners...

Bears and Shakers.

I had a day off yesterday. I know that may sound somewhat unremarkable for a 'normal' person, but as a small biz owner who makes almost all his hay between May and October, it's a big deal. That first day off after a long stretch of long days of ice cream making, scooping, and all the rest that goes with it, is always a very welcomed guest. Sometimes it's hard for me to let go and to shut it all off for that first day off. Guilt creeps in. What if someone wants ice cream or gummy bears today. How many people will be disappointed when they peer into my darkened shop? Luckily, the cool Fall weather has finally arrived and although it was bright and sunny most of the day, I felt no remorse whatsoever yesterday. Especially after my first Octoberfest at the Bistro in Great Barrington.

Among the cool stops on my day off o'fun was one of my favorite photo opps, Chapelbrook Falls...
Even got a glimpse of a big black bear in a tree. Well, actually it was an overstuffed porcupine in a tree, but a pretty cool wildlife sighting nonetheless. Usually, it's just squirrels and the occasional chipmunk.

From there, it was off to Hancock Shaker Village, which was actually pretty cool too. That stop is worthy of a dedicated blog entry. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here's one more shot from the road. Looking forward to lots of foliage shots as the leaves turn. Still a little early here, but won't be long before the leaves are in full techicolor.

Hope you're enjoying this fine Fall weather.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mt. Tom's Top 10 in September

  1. Vanilla
  2. Chocolate
  3. Pumpkin Pie
  4. Mint Chocolate Chip
  5. Cake Batter
  6. Cookie Dough
  7. Coffee
  8. Maple Walnut
  9. Strawberry
  10. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

I think the pumpkin will give chocolate a scare in October....stay tuned...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Green Pond Explained.

You might remember this shot from a few weeks ago...

From Today's story over at the Channel 22 News site...

The water in Rubber Thread Pond at John Bator Park looks just like pea soup. At first glance you might think the pond is full of algae, but what is actually causing the water to turn green is a very tiny free floating plant called watermeal....


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Tag Sale

In the spirit of what is certainly prime tag sale season right now, I dug up an old piece I wrote during that first lonely winter here. A lot has happened since then, so it was cool to re-read this one. It was printed in the local Gazette a few years ago. Thought you might enjoy...
The Tag Sale

Why is it so difficult to drive by a tag sale without stopping? Let’s face it, a tag sale is really just the result of someone saying, ‘Let’s throw all our old junk into the front yard and see if anyone will buy it.’ A dilapidated old desk, one Nordic track turned coat rack, a stack of dog-eared paperbacks, and three-hundred fourteen other personally obsolete trivia. Just extra ballast jettisoned from a family’s lives. Or at least that’s what I used to think.

Like many these days, I’m unemployed. This past year of joblessness has given me the time to reflect on where I want my life to go from here. Yet, despite all the unhurried contemplation, I was still unable to choose a direction.

Then my parents decided to have a tag sale.

Within minutes of Mom’s proclamation, boxes began appearing throughout the house. Dad was tasked with assessing every rusty tool and retired sporting good. He served as judge and jury, passing judgment upon each item – keep, sell, live, die.

Our own archeological dig was underway. Family artifacts rediscovered in remote places like beyond that giant box of Christmas decorations in the attic and deep within the mysterious space underneath the stairs. Our entire family history was excavated, dusted off with toothbrushes, and put on trial. Amid this chaos, I sought solace in my journals as I wrote endlessly about ‘what I want to do with the rest of my life’ and daydreamed about a new life with an exciting new job.

The tag sale would arrive well before the new job. As I sat on the front steps and gazed across our land of misfit toys, I played spectator to the spectacle of this American institution - the simple uniqueness being the junk strangers and neighbors were rummaging through was ours. And so it was in this moment when it all became clear, like I’d come out of a blinding snowstorm into a warm, sunny day. The answers that had eluded me for so long, delivered right to my front door.

Tag sales are about pulling out the past, sorting through it, and then letting it go. What to keep, what to sell. Each box from the attic represents a set of memories. In one box, an old Sea Monkeys kit reminds you of the loophole you found in Mom’s ‘no pets’ rule growing up. A bumper sticker proclaiming, ‘This car climbed Mount Washington’, invites memories of the family trip that mercifully did in that station wagon with the walnut veneer siding. Each item offers the opportunity to relive a specific moment in time, like reading an old journal long buried in the back of a little-used bureau.

This heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking process of sifting through the past doesn’t come often but seems to appear when we most need it. When we clean out a shed or an attic, we make room for something else. Selling that relic push lawn mower for twelve dollars isn’t about the money. Tag sales are an opportunity to lighten our loads. To set free what we couldn’t part with when its time truly was up. By unloading en mass, somehow it seems easier. Less personal. Like laying off 500 people instead of just Mary and Bob.

The time I spent sifting through my pile of ‘history’ was a chance to relive my own past. It was also a chance for me to let go of that past. Among my history I found a box of old love letters from my college sweetheart. As I read the letters, it was as if she was with me again. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the heartbreak that returned. Instead, reading those letters filled me with happiness as I relived the playful spirit of the moment, the innocence, dabbling in love for the first time, reaching for that hot stove before I knew it could burn me. After wallowing in those feelings for a while, I swooped up the letters and tossed them into the fireplace. I lit a match and threw it in. As I watched a piece of my past burn, I felt a weight I had carried around for too long melt away like fallen snow in the rain. I had made room for the new, and it felt good.

Losing my job and losing my way were tests, meant to make me stronger. That tag sale became the turning point. I had been stuck. My past kept pulling me back and tempting me to repeat the patterns such as returning to the career my résumé best fits yet the same one that denies me fulfillment. It wasn’t until that morning, sitting on my folks’ steps, as I watched my past being sold for grocery money, that I figured it out. The past is just that, the past. It’s meant to be savored and to provide wisdom. But only by letting go of it can you truly make room for a new and compelling future. I look forward to that future and the new experiences awaiting me.

Jim Ingram

Jim is an ex-engineer who recently traded his cubicle for an ice cream parlor. He just opened Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe (formally Sunrise Sweeties), 34 Cottage Street in downtown Easthampton, Massachusetts.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


As you've probably heard, Cottage Street, Easthampton, and the Pioneer Valley lost one of its greats this past week. Frank Lucchesi, luthier extraordinaire and owner of Lucchesi Vintage Instruments, passed away suddenly this past Saturday. He was 56. Many heartfelt words have been written about Frank as the news of his untimely passing has spread throughout the community. A tribute night of music is planned for this week's ArtWalkEasthampton.

I didn't know him well, but from the few times I got to hang out with him over a beer and his wife Fran's amazing cooking, it's easy to understand why he was so beloved by family, friends, and even customers. He was the storyteller. Those who have written about him all say you couldn't just drop-off or pick-up your instrument. Going into his shop meant a visit and a conversation with Frank. He was a wealth of knowledge and stories. He was just one of those people, five minutes after meeting him, you felt like you've known him your whole life.

During one of those dinners at his home, he gave us a tour of his gardens, fruit trees, and blueberry bushes. I remember being particularly impressed with the giant blueberry bushes, all draped in netting to protect them from their predators. To which Frank said, 'Take as many as you want. Come back with buckets.' It was a small gesture, but gave me a clear first impression of the man. A good guy who'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He will be sorely missed by all who were lucky to know him.
Rest in Music, Frank.

I urge you to stop by his shop this coming Saturday, 5 -8pm.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Can you call it Indian Summer?

If you haven't had any cool Fall weather yet?
I thought September was crazy good for ice cream weather. How about Mid-80's for the first week of October?! If I had to choose between global warming and the next ice age, I'd have to go with this heat. But being an ice cream shop owner, I suppose I'm a little biased.

Even the pumpkins are sweating today...

Monday, October 01, 2007

The E stands for Eat!

I got a chance to check out the Eastern States Exposition (better known as 'The Big E') last week. I've been here four years and never made time to go. I don't remember going when I was at Umass a few...years back either. I'm sure anyone who lives west of Springfield has been at least once. Figures in today's Gazette say over 1.2 million people passed through the gates during the 17 day run of this year's fair. All I know is I was there on a Monday morning and it was packed. I don't think I'd even like it on a crazy Saturday. In any event, there's lots of cool stuff to do. You can eat...

Homemade apple pie with a big hunk of cheddar cheese from the little old ladies slaving away in the Vermont building. Mmmm.

Or you can ride the rides in the midway...

And after a few rides on the scrambler or the giant ferris wheel, it's time for another bite. I highly recommend the baked potato from the Maine statehouse building. It's one tasty spud, jammed packed with butter, bacon, chives, and sour cream. Mmm.

Now that you've got your strength back with some carbo loading, it's time to see some livestock! It's off to the 4H buildings. Cows, chicks, sheep, whatever turns you on. Er, you know what I mean.

One of my favorite overheard lines that day was 'there's nothing cuter than a baby pig.' Can't argue with that. Well, I guess you could, but...
Speaking of tasty fried foods, a trip to the Big E wouldn't be complete without a savory plate of cheese curds. They're basically just fried soft cheese. I must admit they were pretty yummy, although I'm fairly certain I shaved about a year off my life by consuming five of them.

Like any good country fair, there's lots to see. Great people watching. Trinkets to win along the midway. Velvet Elvis's and the latest 'As seen on TV' miracle product to clean grease off your shoelaces and every booth in between in the 'Better Living' building.
And lest I forget to mention, they had a milk truck made completely out of butter. What more could you ask for?
Ok, well, maybe just one more cheese curd...

The Big E is good fun. Thanks to Bre for bringing me along, and for the photos of me stuffing my face with fried fair faire. Now at least I don't have to respond to the question, 'Have you ever been to the Big E?', by saying 'Not since I marched in a parade there when I was in the high school band.'

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

All I want to know is where do the vendors get those fancy pants carts? I want one!

Sweet ride.