The Berkshires are a wonderful place to visit in June.  The winter’s skiers have gone home and Tanglewood’s visitors have yet to arrive; peace prevails.  Light traffic permits a leisurely drive along the Housatonic River with time to enjoy the view of rolling hills and picturesque countryside. 

Lenox and the surrounding towns were once considered the “Newport of the Berkshires.” It’s here that members of New York and Boston Society summered for the ‘health benefits’ the fresh air provided.  Their ‘cottages’ rivaled the mansions of Newport. The preservation effort that has taken place allows one to experience the charm of a bygone era.  The gardens of lovingly restored country homes abound with lavish peony blooms. Gravel roads meander through woodlands, lush with fern and myrtle.

It was the perfect setting for Bill and I to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We had the pleasure of staying at Blantyre the former summer ‘cottage’ of the Patterson family.  We were greeted by the staff and owner Ann Fitzpatrick Brown as our bags were whisked away and within minutes we found ourselves relaxing in over-stuffed chairs enjoying fruit, cheese, and drinking champagne from antique flutes.  The Tutor inspired ‘cottage’ is meticulously decorated and filled antiques that somehow instantly feel like old friends.  The Gilded Age feel is made complete with period service and entertainment that blend seamlessly with modern convenience.  Books and welcoming sofas fill the hallways, croquet and shuffleboard await; the spa beckons to the weary traveler.

Something I particularly enjoyed was the whimsical Jay Strongwater salt and pepper collection.  Bunnies, birds, dogs and strawberries; a different set appeared with every meal. Despite the grand surroundings, much of Blantyre’s charm is the staff’s ability to set you immediately at ease.  It’s like being a guest in Jay Gatsby’s house.

A tour of the grounds reveals the former carriage house stables and potting shed now housing guest rooms and a luxurious heated pool and spa. The expansive lawns and wooded trails are a pleasure to explore.  Blantyre not only offers a glimpse into the past, it allows one to experience it.  Located in the charming Berkshire town of Lenox, MA, it was the perfect way to celebrate our anniversary.

On a recent trip to the Berkshires my husband and I had the pleasure of staying at Blantyre.  A “Relais et Chateaux” and Forbes 5 Star property located in the charming Berkshire town of Lenox, MA.  While discussing options for afternoon sight seeing, Blantyre’s wine director, Christelle Cotar, invited us to tour the cellar of Blantyre.  Based on the wine list, which reads like a history book and is similar in size, we knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.

The cellar, which was voted one of Boston’s Best by Destination Cellars (a distribution and travel company based in Virginia,) consisted of a whopping 17,000 bottles that Cotar and head sommelier, Luc Chevalier, grew from a mere 4,000 bottles in 2004.  The over 2,500 selections were housed in five pristine climate controlled cellars.

Cotar was particularly proud of her half-bottle and rehoboam selections.  She explained how the half bottles allow diners more flexibility. For example, a couple could have Sancerre with the scallops, Cabernet with beef and Sauternes with dessert.  The rehoboam bottles, she pointed out, hold the equivalent of six bottles.  She went on to explain the uncorking and presentation of the rehoboam.  First, Cotar decants to allow the wine to breath; next she washes the rehoboam bottle; and then returns the decanted wine to the now clean rehoboam bottle.  The wine is served from the rehoboam.   She beamed when she told us that with this method there is no sediment and guests are thrilled with the display.

I admit, my knowledge of wine is very limited and it was only recently that I began to enjoy it.  While you might think this tour would be wasted on someone like me; I assure you it was not.  The tour was a crash course in wine collecting that explained the smiles I see when diners are presented with a selection, the thoughtful looks they give when tasting and the satisfaction when the selection is approved.  The experience is similar to that of a gardener who plants a seed, nurtures the plants for a long period and then basks in the joy of the harvest.  This tour will forever mark the time and place my wine collecting interest began.

A more detailed description of Blantyre’s wine cellar can be found in Connecticut’s Cottages and Gardens article entitled The Cellar of Blantyre.


This past Saturday I participated in Nuestra’s Cleanest Streets Contest.  Nuestra (Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation or NCDC) is a developer of low income housing and creator of economic opportunity for the communities of Roxbury and North Dorchester.  Their annual cleanest streets contest is their premier community building event.

This contest is one of the ways Nuestra builds positive relationships amongst residents and develops neighborhood networks. Their hope is that as community members work together over the course of the day, they will develop the level of comfort with each other needed to tackle some of the other challenges in their communities.

Nuestra’s staff identifies emerging community leaders to serve as Cleanup Street Captains; these leaders help plan and support the contest. Street Captains canvass their neighborhood to recruit volunteers. Street Captains also ensure that volunteers have t-shirts, figure out what tools are needed, and pick out flats of flowers to beautify their streets. Towards the end of the contest, judges visit the different streets and decide which street will get the title of most improved street. The day ends with a celebratory BBQ to recognize the hard work of all of the community volunteers.

After I arrived in the morning I promptly donned my bright green hi visibility T-shirt (this identified me as an official cleanup volunteer), was handed a broom and was assigned to a 200 foot section of Blue Hill Avenue as my cleanup project for the day.  As an environmental scientist, I have always thought of environmental cleanup as my full-time day-job.  But this was clearly different!

Once you seriously go at the job of cleaning a street, it is amazing how much trash and debris turns up.  Over the next three hours I filled three big green trash bags full of litter.  I dug the weeds out of a sidewalk opening where a tree may have once grown and planted a couple of flats of yellow marigolds; much better than the weeds!  When I was done I looked around and decided while some of the other cleanup crews may have achieved more than I did, I could still be proud of my work.

As I was planting my last marigold, my Street Captain came by and told me it was time to clean myself up and join the BBQ party that was already getting going.  It was a bright sunny day with a nice breeze and the event was very well attended.  Lots of kids running around and enjoying themselves; it was a great way to spend the day.  Thanks to NCDC for the opportunity, I’m already looking forward to next year’s contest!

I consider myself blessed; with two really great daughters that are now in their twenties, I’m finding I have two great friends.  My younger daughter does our house cleaning once a week (yes!).  This week she suggested we try using a lemon to clean the master bathtub faucet and shower doors.

This interesting idea came from a blog she found on Pintrest called Broccoli Cupcake – Where Healthy Meets Happy. In her post titled, Spring Cleaning – Natural Cleaning Tips the blogger reported that she cleans her bathroom with nothing more than lemon, vinegar and baking soda. She included step by step instructions in addition to before and after pictures.

Now just for the record, I have tried every grocery and hardware store cleaning product on the market to clean whatever this crud buildup is and this bathroom has resisted all of it!  I used bleaches, cleansers, foams, hard water clears, rust stain removers, oxygen cleaners, and even wool pads, and rubbing compounds.  I had given in to the idea that I would have to demo the tub/shower and install a new one.  I even had our water tested thinking that a water softener would stop this from happening in the future (it turned out we did not have hard water).

By that point I had given up and I am embarrassed to admit for many years I just did not bother trying to get the faucet and shower doors clean.  The chrome faucet was a dull white and the shower doors, once clear glass, were now opaque.

Since I have been using vinegar to wash the ceramic and porcelain floors, glass, mirrors and in the laundry and dishwasher for a number of years (with great results) I thought “why not give a lemon a try?” A few minutes after rubbing the faucet with a lemon wedge, I half halfheartedly used an old tooth brush to scrub the faucet and could not believe my eyes – the faucet began to shine!  That lemon had more cleaning power than all the store cleaners combined!

Thrilled and motivated, next I tackled the shower doors which I can actually see through once again!  The cleaning power in that lemon was astonishing. That little lemon saved me thousands of dollars – no need to remodel now!

Next week we go full force using all three of Broccoli Cupcake’s recommended natural products to clean the bathroom – Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon.  No more harmful fumes and no more white stains.  And when I run out of floor cleaner for my hardwood floors, I’ll give Broccoil Cupcake’s black tea suggestion a try. It’s simple – boil a kettle and add three bags of Stash black tea. Allow to steep and then bust out your mop (or mop cover). Soak in the tea and then wipe down your already swept floors.