Category Archives: In between

Adding Some Color

Pink field flowersTwenty seven days is a long time. Not in relationship to a lifetime, or even when considered in the context of the 365 days that form a year, but for my family the past 27 days marks the longest time we’ve neither seen nor heard from Isabelle since the day she was born. Black eyed SusansMostly things seemed pretty normal around here during the month of June. The lawn mower decided to take an extended vacation so we’re seeing what our yard looks like without being mowed – it’s rather pretty. Shawn went out to Chicago to celebrate the 100th birthday of a friend. The septic system needed emptying, which is a job I’m sure the guys driving those honey trucks do not get paid enough to do. DaisiesOliver the dog decided to tell a visiting buck whose yard it was, only to be sprayed with something pretty nasty (I didn’t know that deer could do that). He came yelping back to the house for a bath. The deer got to spend the night bedded down in our pink flowers. Deer bedFor Isabelle though June meant Air Force ROTC Field Training month (well 27 days to be exact). Which, in this age of being in touch 24/7, dialed the clock back to the pre-cell phone, pre-texting, pre-Skyping, pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, even pre-phone calling days. In order to communicate we had to take pen to paper and let the USPS shuttle our missives back and forth.Radishes and carrotsWe did get some letters, which were read again and again. Then an actual call last night after her graduation ceremony. It was lovely hearing her voice, and reassuring to find out she hadn’t melted into a puddle in the Alabama heat. I’m sure there are stories, some which can be shared, and others which cannot. The main thing I’m grateful for is that she made it through and came out smiling. Vegetables from the farmer's marketAfter nearly a month of military food I thought our Cadet could use some color in her diet. So before driving down to pick her up from the airport we stopped by the farmer’s market to get some vegetables and fruit. It should make a change from MREsCherry tomatoes and peasThe other touch of color she requested was to stop for dinner at our favorite local vegetarian restaurant Paul & Elizabeth’s on the drive home, followed by ice cream at Herrell’s. I guess she’d been dreaming about ice cream a lot while down in the south, can’t imagine why. Herrell’s was super sweet and had a free sundae waiting for her. Here’s to a summer filled with rainbows of color and no more MREs. Celebratory sundae at Herrell's


P.S. Here is the pile of mail she received while at FT. It’s incomplete as there were many letters which hadn’t arrived by the time she left. We’re expecting they’ll be forwarded to us or returned to sender. All in all a huge stack of happy mail.

Field Training happy mail

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Owning It

Sometimes I come up with the absolutely, bestest ideas for other people, and I’m trying really hard to stop doing that. Or at least reign in my inclinations. A classic example is when Isabelle was about to enter 10th grade and I thought it would be amazing if she made a Periodic Table of Elements for her Chemistry class at the Academy at Charlemont. Not just a drawing of the elements, but a painting of all one hundred and thirteen of them, each on its own miniature canvases. When I come up with an idea for someone else it’s usually a doozy!

Periodic tableUnfortunately Isabelle initially said yes to my grand idea so I went down to the Guild Art Supply and ordered 113 – 2″ square canvases. A color scheme was come up with, and at one point in the year Belle and a friend painted the backgrounds for most of the series (there may have been some prodding on my part, I don’t really remember). It took her most of 10th grade for her to finally got up her courage and tell me she didn’t want to do this project since it was, as she truthfully informed me, “your idea Mom.” Gulp. She then asked if she could use a few of the canvases to keep so she could paint some pictures for her friends because they were, after all, pretty cute. As I was feeling somewhat deflated that she didn’t think my grand idea was quite so grand, I said yes.

A few years later Russell, who by 10th grade was much better at saying no than his sister, didn’t even let me finish my sentence when I suggested he take over the project. He just gave me the “you have got to be kidding me” face and I stopped mid-sentence.

Nothing is square

So the project sat in a small box in the back of Isabelle’s closet until last year when Russell decided to skip his senior year of high school and go to college a year early. It was time for me to finish my great chemistry class idea and paint individual canvases of the Periodic Table of Elements. So as my son was finishing up the spring semester of his junior year I spent the evenings and weekends painting and hand lettering the metals, non-metals, alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, halogens, and chalogens. Unfortunately I’d forgotten about the canvases Isabelle had borrowed, plus there was that pesky element 116 Livermorium, which had been added to the table since I’d first conceptualized this little project, which resulted in my having to make a desperate last minute trip to the Guild to get a few more canvases. Unfortunately they were sold out. There is a reason everyone tells you not to procrastinate. The clerks at Guild took pity on me and scoured the store for sample mini canvases, which someone had painted on for display purposes. They let me have those samples so that I could paint over the micro landscapes and finish up my PTE.

Working late into the night

There was also the very large reality of how to place 114 elements, all nicely painted on miniature canvases, onto a background. That was a pretty big mistake of mine, since a background was not something I had conceptualized at all when I was dreamt up this wonderful idea. My poor husband, as so often happens, was asked to come to the rescue. He can think in 3D and spatially understood that while the canvases might have fit into a box slightly bigger than a gallon sized paint can when stacked on top of one another, they were going to take up a heck of a lot more real estate when spread out into the Periodic Table of Elements. He also realized that those cute little canvases were not square. Not a single one of them, which meant the background had to be even bigger. Fortunately he has the brain of an engineer, the skill of a master carpenter, and the patience of a saint. He even calculated the maximum size this background could be so that it would still fit into my car, thus saving him the job of transporting the PTE to the Academy in his truck.

Not so small periodic table of elements

Just before the end of the school year I finished it. Five years and two chemistry teachers later. By some miracle the whole thing fit, by a few millimeters, into the space in the chemistry room designated for the Periodic Table of Elements. Hopefully I have learned my lesson when it comes to thinking up epic ideas for other people.

Mike Cardozo the PTE and me

Also I think that for the foreseeable future my involvement with chemistry will be solely through food and cooking.

Periodic Table of Elements


P.S. I found a wonderful book at the Jones library the other week, Paul Parson & Gail Dixon’s The Periodic Table: A visual guide to the Elements. You can find it on AbeBooks, but it costs much more than it’s original price of $14.95, so my recommendation is to go to your local library and check out their copy.

periodic table book

Photo credits: drawing of Periodic Table of Elements courtesy of Middlebury College. All other photos by Shawn Allen.


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Best Christmas Present Ever

Two weeks ago I gave my sister the best homemade Christmas present ever. It smelled good, tasted good, and I knew she’d love it. Here’s what it consisted of:

1  1/4 pounds of sugar

2  3/4 cups sugar

1  1/2 cups brown sugar

half a dozen eggs

10  1/3 cups flour







1 cup pecans

Non parelis and colored sugars

Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Salt

What I made and gave her was raw cookie dough for Molasses Cookies, Snickerdoodles, Scandinavians, Sugar Cookies, and Shawn’s favorite Pecan Butterscotch cookies.

Cookie dough for Christmas

Why is this the best homemade Christmas present ever? Because it makes her house smell divine plus it gave her way more cookie booty than the I would have had time to bake and decorate. The bonus was after everything was baked and eaten that was it, no worries about if what I gave her fit her decor or if she had shelf space for it. Though since she’s my sister I can say with confidence that if I did give her something it would be to her taste. She is my sister after all.

Try it, there’s still time for you to make this present yourself and give it to someone near and dear. If you’d like use the recipes on my blog, or if you have favorite holiday cookie recipes whip up a batch of those. Make sure to include all the bits and bobs they’ll need to finish the cookies such as cinnamon sugar for the Snickerdoodles, red and green colored sugar as well as some red seedless jam for the Scandinavians (whoops, sorry I forgot the jam Heather!), along with baking times and temperatures. I should have added a roll of parchment paper but my sister was creative and made do without, cause I forgot that too.

Don't forget all the bits and bobs for decorating cookies

When you’re thinking of which cookies to give make sure they can be formed into a log, then sliced and baked. Snickerdoodles, molasses crinkles, and pecan butterscotch cookies all work well and can be cut from refrigerated or frozen logs. For anything that needs to be sugared before baking simply dip the slices in sugar and make sure both sides get coated well. Scandinavians need to be smooshed into thumbprints so those work too but let the recipient know they have to come to room temperature first. Since sugar cookie dough needs to be rolled out before being cut into shapes I make a flat disc of that dough so it’s easier to roll out.

 You could also make a Christmas CD to get everyone in the cookie baking–tree decorating (in case they don’t have their tree up)–present wrapping mood. I mentioned some of my favorites in this blog post. This year I’ve been listening a lot to Straight No Chaser’s Christmas Cheer , who have cheeky remixes of some of my old favorites. I’ve also been cranking this and this, both of which have been flying around the internet this holiday season.

Another reason I gave this gift to my sister is because she’s pretty busy with their newest family member – Edgar Allen Pug. They all have their hands and laps full of this adorable new puppy. He is the softest, most scrumptious black pug ever!

Edgar Allen Pug

Edgar the pug


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Countdown to Advent

I know that right now most people are ramping up for the big turkey and pie day next week a.k.a. Thanksgiving. We’re going to see my folks and sister in Hudson, New York and I’ve already made and frozen the stuffing (I used this recipe minus the nuts and sausage), gravy and butternut squash. Next week I’ll make a few pumpkin pies and some rustic apple tarts. Maybe the kids will help with some applesauce when they come home from college. All in all I feel like Thanksgiving is pretty much under control.

While turkey day is more or less organized what seems to sneak up on me every year is the season of Advent. This year the first Sunday of Advent is November 30th. Fortunately for me there are four weeks to get ready for the mystery of Christmas. I need all of that time to switch gears and remember there is so much more I am getting ready for beyond the shopping, cookie baking, and jolly guy in the red suit. Since our kids are returning to college the first day of Advent I thought I’d pull out their Advent calendars now. Isabelle and Russell have one (as do my nephews, niece and goddaughter), and we have a few other ways of marking Advent – all homemade. Continue reading


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Grammy’s Advice

Mist on Mountain Street

Grammy Caldwell believed in advice – both giving and receiving. She loved quoting from the witticisms and proverbs in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and she was known to make up quite a few of her own words of wisdom which she happily passed along. I’ve ben thinking about one in particular lately,

“Have overnight guests once a month and dinner guests once a week. That way you’ll have a clean house once a month and enjoy eating a good meal every week.”

When the kids were still home I gave up on the clean house part. Okay, let’s be honest. Whether or not I had kids I never worried too much about the clean house part because cleaning has never been a major priority for me. Ironically I am actually quite good at removing dirt, grime, and tarnish; and spent one summer during college cleaning houses for other people. It’s not that I live in squalor (and trust me I don’t-it’s just a bit dusty and there may be a few bits of dog hair to be found), but a good book or an interesting knitting project or a yummy batch of biscotti all seem like much better choices of how to spend one’s time as opposed to wielding a vacuum cleaner to banish dust bunnies from under the couch or picking up a bottle of windex and rags to vanquish fingerprints (or in my case paw prints) from windows and doors. Having disclosed that I’m not the world’s foremost cleaner, I will admit to becoming a whirling dervish prior to anyone’s announced visits (especially when it’s my Mom). If folks show up unannounced I try to distract them with a cookie or three. It’s amazing what people will overlook when you feed them.

Sunrise on North Farms Road

The dinner part was never an issue when there were children to feed, but it turns out that Grammy was right about the once a week dinner part when you remove offspring from the equation. With no kids to make meals for Shawn and I have become quite casual when it comes to our evening feed. I won’t say I haven’t cooked for the entire time since Russell and Isabelle departed to their separate institutes of higher learning, but the suppers I’ve produced since the drop off dates can be counted on less than ten fingers. Since I’m no longer responsible for feeding growing bodies I can feed myself hors d’oeuvre for dinner. Or a bowl of cereal. Perhaps even some eggs on toast. Any funny thing that catches my fancy when I open a cupboard or happens to be sitting on a shelf in the fridge. It’s rather astonishing how infrequently I find myself in front of the stove. I haven’t lost my appetite (or any weight for that mater) but I have lost a significant portion of my culinary audience. Plus my husband seems quite content to putter in the kitchen and whip something up for the two of us, or just himself if I happen to be so engrossed in a good book that I don’t feel like eating.

Add to this adjustment of empty nesthood the fact that when I make enough food for eight it actually lasts two people for four meals! With the kiddos home I’d make enough for what I thought was a small army and it would be gone in less than 24 hours. I began to lovingly refer to them as, “my teenage human locusts”. Our grocery bills are a fifth of what they were. Which is, I suppose, in part to compensate for the thousands of dollars we are now spending on their college meal plans.

Honestly I can’t say I’m feeling compelled to become a house cleaning maniac, but it would be nice to actually get back into the habit of cooking dinner – at least once a week.

Beginnings of fall

I took these photos on my way into church yesterday. Fall was one of Grammy’s favorite times of year and I think she would have loved the misty morning vistas I happened upon as I wove my way through the hilltowns to worship. ♥


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Picnic Baskets

There has been a lot of packing going on at our house of late.

A few weeks ago I watched as our son Russell simultaneously packed for both camp and college since he was scheduled to go straight from one to the other. Seeing how neatly he lay everything out on his bed, along with how well-labeled his boxes were, it looked like he had everything he would need to start school with. He’d even registered for classes and ordered his textbooks before we took him up to camp. This past Saturday we dropped him off at Simon’s Rock. Turns out he’d done a great job of packing since the only things he needed were a longer internet cable (the connection was on his roommate’s side of the room) and some coffee. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old.

Isabelle and Russell in his dorm room.

This week his sister has been scrambling to get packed for her return to UNH. The good news is she’s a sophomore and has a better sense of what she does and doesn’t need at college. Still, when I peek in her room this morning there seems to be a good many piles which have yet to make it into boxes or bags. It’s not that she hasn’t packed anything – her ROTC uniform has been picked up from the dry cleaners and is ready to go, there are bags of bedding, as well as several games for those necessary study breaks organized in a corner of the living room. I also caught a glimpse of a lengthy to-do list she is clearly working her way through. By the time we pack the car on Saturday I am sure everything will be sorted out.

Picnic baskets


House sale picnic basket picked up for $3.50

Unlike my two offspring I am not packing to go off to college, but I have been thinking about what to pack in when I go to visit them this fall. The other day I got out my collection of picnic baskets in anticipation of some upcoming Mommy Road Trips. One of the delights of having both kids go to school so close to home is that it’s easy to pop over (or down) for a day. While there are dozens of great restaurants in both New Haven and Great Barrington, sometimes the best thing to do is bring a little slice of home in a picnic basket and go off exploring.

Briefcase style picnic baskets

I have a small metal briefcase style picnic basket just big enough to hold a pair of plates, cutlery, glasses, napkins, and cups – the food clearly has to come in it’s own basket.
Vintage metal picnic basket

There are also mends on a few of the baskets. Ones which haven’t held up as well as one might hope, or which have been nibbled on by a very naughty mouse.

Mended picnic basket handle

Most of my picnic baskets are either hand-me-downs or from estate sales. In a pinch I have been known to throw together a picnic into a market basket or beach bag. Cold stuff usually ends up in a cooler, since most of our destinations are arrived at by car. Truth be told almost anything can suffice as a picnic basket – even a bag from the grocery store – as long as you don’t forget the essential tools. Here’s my list:

  • Small knife and cutting board
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener
  • Clothespins
  • Blanket or plastic table cover
  •  Rubber stoppered bottle
  • Plastic  or enameled tin plates/bowls & utensils
  • Two gallon plastic bag (for bringing home dirty dishes)
  • Paper towels or cloth napkins
  • Water

Picnic basket essentials

So four days until our eldest returns to college, then I can start planning some picnics.


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Let Summer Commence

It’s over – Oliver’s forty-five days of quarantine are finally done! So now summer can officially commence, and let me tell you that all of us are ready. More than ready.


quarantine calendar



No more rabies shots, no enforced use of the leash for every single walk (though trust me we will  be using a leash more often from here on out), and most importantly no more slamming the door in the poor little dog’s face every time we have to slip outside. We can take him to the park, let him romp with his friends, and he can roll around in the grass outside.


Good Dog

To celebrate this momentous occasion my friend Hilary re-gifted our family a charming seed rendition of a raccoon someone gave her daughter. I have to admit I giggled when I first saw it because now that our quarantine is over I can laugh about it.


Seed Raccoon



Hope the rest of summer is full of cooking, trips to the farmer’s markets, and free of visits to the ER.


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