What a view

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When my husband and I first moved to the Berkshires from California in 2001, some people would ask us in disbelief, “Why would you want to live here?” Granted there are parts of the Berkshires that are not that pretty and it has a fair amount of people who live in poverty and don’t go beyond a mile from where they live, but only if they did just get on bus or go for a walk in less than a mile from anyplace you live in the Berkshires you can see such amazing scenery.  I painted one of my favorite views which is on the way to a quaint town called Stockbridge, about a twenty minute drive from my house.  The field is a sea of cornstalk stubble and the three pines remind me of some in California.  The sky had a beautiful purple streak across it that day and the hills were a majestic purple. Funny enough, this view reminds me of another reason we love to live here.  The property is close by High Lawn Farm, a farm http://www.highlawnfarm.com that raises Jersey cows and doesn’t give the cows hormones or antibiotics. The farm has been in continuous operation since the 1800s. The milk from these Jersey cows is amazing and it naturally contains more calcium and protein than other milks. We have enjoyed this milk for the entire time we have lived here and my children have grown up drinking it.  The milk is only available here and over the years it has become available in other places in Massachusetts.  You can be sure High Lawn Farm milk will be a part of our Thanksgiving dinner.  Scenery and farms are just two of the many reasons we love to live here and thankful that we call the Berkshires home.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Fall has been just spectacular in the Berkshires. In the leaf-peeping industry, bus tours to the New England area always try to come during the two traditional peak weeks (second and third week in October), when most of the trees have turned their vibrant colors and the trees are still full with leaves.   This year, the entire month of October was peak viewing!  The moderate temperatures kept the leaves in the yellow-orange color spectrum with an occasional fire red tree tossed in for a surprise.  Week after week, the leaves refused to fall off and I kept on taking picture after picture of beautiful trees.  I selected a variety of leaves for my art class to use when we did leaf rubbings with crayons and then the children filled each leaf in with watercolors.  My son collected (ok I collected most of them!) over ten black and rust brown woolie bears for a school project, created a habitat, and faithfully fed them apples and dandelion leaves and soaked white cotton balls with water so that they could drink. In this spirit of fall, I created my second treasure box from a recycled cigar box.  I kept it simple at first with a golden orange maple leaf on the top with a dark brown border.  If you look closely, you will see a woolie bear on the front right of the box.  Inside, I continued the fall colors with four more leaves in a pile. I imagine someone using this treasure box to keep those mementos that help us remember the passing of the seasons.

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Field of Goldenrod

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I have been out bicycling more this fall now that my children are back in school and as I bike around the Berkshires I have noticed that the goldenrod seems more bountiful than other years; or perhaps I just wasn’t looking! Everywhere there are large fields of this yellow native flower.  I was looking for the perfect goldenrod scene to take a picture and to paint from the photo.  I wasn’t finding quite what I had in mind and the days were going by quickly.  Then while I was driving past the local Pittsfield airport, tucked between a row of trees, I noticed a dirt road that I had not seen before.  The entrance to the dirt road was closed with a big metal farm gate, however I parked my car and walked closer. The view was beautiful; a huge field of goldenrod with blue spruce trees sprinkled in between.  The dirt road curved to the right and the sky! What a blue, blue sky with these amazing billowing clouds all tilted upward as they were saluting!  Another great day in the Berkshires. See more painted scenes of the Berkshires at http://www.mjnicole.com!

Do-it-yourself

Do-It-Yourself

As I put away my hand sander and washed my various paint brushes, I thought about what a huge Do-It-Yourself project of painting my house has been.  I started two years ago in late May of 21013 and I worked on it on the days when the weather forecast was dry weather and while my children were in school or between summer trips.  I started on the north side of the house and tackled the full height of the house, then moved to the front (pictured here) and again had a new challenge with the dormer windows and shutters that demanded attention to their small slats of wood.  Several of our windows are still the original 1950s models and so I learned how to scrape, paint, glaze, and paint again the thin wood holding the panes of glasses in the windows.  The north side of the garage gave me a bit of trouble. After painting it, it started to bubble in a weird angled line.  I figured out that in the fall, the sun is lower and it reflected off my neighbor’s metal stove pipe and produced a laser like stream of heat that bubbled the paint as the sun moved through the sky (or more correctly as the earth turned!). I waited till this year to re-scrape and repaint the garage and then continued on the south side and finished up in the back on the east side.  This is a major check mark on my To-Do-List.  Woo- Who!!! It is finished!!! It has been fun to have the neighbors watch the progress – some would drive by and yell out their car window “Looks good!” when I was up on the 24 foot ladder and the walkers who watched intently and would offer words of encouragement.  With such an all encompassing project complete, I am looking forward to picking up my other paint brushes and painting more scenes of the Berkshires.

Kennedy Park

Kennedy Park

Two inches of snow have fallen this evening in the Berkshires and it is still coming down. However, snow doesn’t stop us here in the Berkshires! One of my favorite walks to do in the winter is at Kennedy Park in Lenox, MA http://www.townoflenox.com/public_documents/lenoxma_parkland/kennedy especially since it allows dogs and I can bring my dog Pepper. Kennedy Park has a variety of trails and one we take often ends at an impressive overlook. If you look around you might also see stone foundation remnants from the Aspinwall Hotel built in 1912 and burnt to the ground in 1931. I also keep my eyes open for the woodland streams that are still flowing through the snowy forest. I showed a friend of mine this painting and she immediately recognized it as Kennedy Park. I guess even with snow covering the ground it is still recognizable!

The Castle

The Castle

After living in the Berkshires for over 10 years, I have found that in order to really know the true Berkshires, one must explore! The Berkshires hides some of its natural beauty, but also some pretty interesting national organizations keep a low local profile. One example is in the town of Great Barrington, if you drive down a rural road called Division Street, you will come to a massive stone wall. If you turn between the stone pillars, and drive up the long windy driveway, there at the top of a large hill sits a brick mansion that is fondly called “The Castle.” This Castle is home to two organizations: one is the American Institute for Economic Research http://www.aier.org (that conducts independent, scientific economic research) and the second is American Investment Services http://www.americaninvestment.com (that provides asset management services). American Investment Services (AIS) is where my husband works. I bring my children to visit occasionally; the view from the top is delightful and the grounds are fun to explore. We have visited in all of the seasons, but when there has been a fresh snowfall, the Castle and grounds look magical. My painting is of the Castle coated with fresh snow. The view is from someone coming up the main drive; snow clings to the branches of the grand tree that stands post by the back courtyard. This image will be used for some really special AIS holiday cards and the original can be viewed at http://www.mjnicole.com