Author Archives: Jennifer Johnston

Make It Happen May

It is here. This “May” that I purposefully never flipped to in my planner for fear of my eyes wandering to that highlighted box – May 25th. May means that a count down is unnecessary; the date you write down on all assignments is a constant reminder of the ticking time clock.

Here is my bucket list:

1. Dunmore Day

2. Ben and Jerry’s Factory

3. Shelburne Farms

4. Climb Camel’s Hump…and Mt. Abe….and Mt. Mansfield (sorry calves)

5. Make a pilgrimage back to old dorms with my roommate (yes, I have had the same roommate every year and am already feeling the separation anxiety)

6. Sunrise from organic garden

7. Enjoy it all (this one is easy)

The funny thing is that Middlebury has felt like one giant check off the bucket list. While here, I have done so many things I never thought I would, things I had never imagined, and things I had no idea to put on my bucket list. However, it has all fallen into place because this four year experience has been so amazing. You literally get smacked in the face with the water pouring out of the buckets you are turning over nearly every day. Is that where the phrase comes from? I should look into that.

Anywho, it is Make It Happen May. Best to-do list ever. You all best hold me to this. Yes, you, reading this.

Find your beach

Sometimes at Middlebury when it is meant to be spring the weather throws us back to a winter wonderland or a monsoon of rain and mud. While I do enjoy the pristine clean white powdered covered trees and a romp in my Hunter boots, sometimes I yearn for the days of sun, warmth, and the potential for a full body sunburn.

Sometimes I sit back, close, my eyes, and find my beach (cue corona commercial). Now and again I drift so far as to hear seagulls squawking in the sky. But is this such a dream? I open my eyes and see that in fact, it is not. I can’t be alone in wondering why we have seagulls in Vermont, a land locked state far from salted waters. I set out to suffice this curiosity. Here is what I found:

Seagulls are a fallacy. “Seagull” is a layperson’s term that is not used in science. This name is used informally to refer to a common local species or all gulls in general, and has no fixed taxonomic meaning. Because of this, “seagulls,” which I will not correctly call “gulls” are not always found by the sea but can be found hundreds of miles from the nearest saltwater.

Gulls can be found near any large body of water, fresh or saltwater. So thanks to Lake Champlain, Lake Dunmore, and perhaps Battell Beach after last nights storm (pre-snow), Vermont and Addison County is the home to 26 species of gulls, terns, kittiwakes and skimmers.

So the next time you are outside enjoying whatever the weather may be and hear the squawk of a gull, do not be alarmed and confused, but instead smile, soak it in, and let it help you find your beach.

Magic Hat Mardi Gras

We may be far up north from the festivities down in St. Louise, but that does not mean we do not have a celebration of our own. In fact, a mere 40 minutes further north (gasp) we have the largest Mardi Gras festival on the Northern East Coast. In fact, from February 28 until today, March 2, Burlington can expect over 25,000 to pack Church Street with excitement and bravado.

Nineteen years ago this February, the Magic Hat Brewing Company had a crazy idea: to gather the city of Burlington, VT together for a Mardi Gras-themed celebration to benefit a local non-profit. The only catch was that the Vermont brewer had to figure out how to get Burlingtonians outside for several hours in the middle of winter’s coldest, most unforgiving month of February. After countless hours of asking local businesses to participate with a float, working with the city of Burlington, the police department, the fire department and many more organizations, the parade was ready to go, but the question remained: Would anyone actually show up?

Yes! Quite a ton of people, and more than a few Middkids as well! The parade was this past Saturday and what an incredible day it was. A bunch of friends and I drove up in a caravan of cars, carpooling each one to the legal limit of course, and made our way to Burlington late morning. It was lunch time so we made a point to stop at Chipotle. Pause and enjoy this moment please because I sure did. Moment of pause for Chipotle. Great, thank you.

Once arriving we found parking and joined the purple, green, and bead-clad crowd. While things might not be as wild as St. Louise, there is no lack of enthusiasm.

All profits raised throughout the weekend go towards HOPE Works, a Vermont based charity dedicated to ending all forms of sexual violence. The Magic Hat Mardi Gras weekend is HOPE Works’ largest fundraiser, having raised more than $215,000 over the years.

Great Day. Great Cause. Great Friends. Great Memories. Great Food.

(we stopped at chipotle on the way home for dinner, too)

Save the shoes

It is beautiful and snowy.  It is that time of year when you see skis resting outside of classroom doorways anxiously awaiting the student that has the efficient plan to meet the shuttle bus at ADK right after class. Many of us have done this: wake up, pack bag for school, pack ski bag, pack a snack, attend class, hit the slopes. Both nordic and downhill lovers are privy to the prompt bus shuttle schedule from the Middlebury campus up to either Bread Loaf for some cross-country ski fun or the Snow Bowl for some shoop shoop shooping in that fresh pow pow.

Speaking of pow pow (powder in colloquial terms), we currently have some beautiful pow pow. A few feet in fact. The west coast may be the best coast but the east is beast. I have skied on the east coast my entire life and we currently have some of the best conditions I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. However, when the wintery fluff turns to a wintery mix there can be issues.

Mainly, footwear. I made the mistake today of seeing the clear and crisp morning sky and deciding that the paths were clear enough to wear a cuter and more spring like pair of boots. Rookie mistake. As I sat in my political science seminar on US and Latin American Relations my heart sank…straight to my boots. It had begun to snow and not just a light dusting but a proper snow that meant I was about to be slipping and sliding on my way to Environmental Economics across campus. Not only was the potential embarrassment of a wipeout on my mind (we have all done it, it is a right of passage really), but these poor boots were about to get a beating.

Alas, they are only boots and alas I am a senior who should know better. Every now and again it is fun to walk on the wildside and slip on the waterslide.

5pm Freedom

On this day, at 5pm, I will be done with my two-semester long thesis process (I suppose it is past 5pm now posting this but the writing took place early this morning pre 5pm deadline…act of procrastination, if you will). It has been a rollercoaster with all parts included. First was the decision to take the ride, a self-selecting, self-challenging, and almost self-loathing prophesy. As an economics major, it is not required to write a senior thesis or do some form of culminating senior work (although I believe this has since changed and I was grandfathered into the old system) so those of us who choose to are making this decision for ourselves and ourselves only. No one else but yourself is putting you in the seat, and your very own driver’s seat, to launch yourself into a thrill ride the likes of Kingda Ka, a ride that shuts down at the slightest signs of precipitation. However, this ride includes not only the largest and steepest vertical plummet of the green tracks, but also the twist and loops of Batman and the flying thrill of Superman. Rain, snow, ice, or shine this ride is open and ready to go. (For those unfamiliar with the roller coaster references, please visit the New Jersey 6 Flags park map for clarification. However, these are merely metaphors for the adventure that is the thesis process, much popcorn included). So now you have decided to embark on this process and are waiting in the metaphoric line that is hoping to get your thesis topic approved. You have mustered up the strength to put yourself out there and now you keep your fingers crossed that you make it to the front of the ride before it closes.

Approved! Great. Now you are stepping in, strapping on your seat belt, and wildly excited while simultaneously nervous for the next few seconds, minutes, and in reality, months. You are not alone, however. You have the support and guidance of your advisor as well as the other students who have decided to take the same trip. You are ready to begin.

Woosh! And somehow you are in it all. All the rush, the ups, the downs, the turns you never knew you were going to take, the surprises beyond the next corner, the slows of the climb and the adrenaline of the decrescendo.  This, of course, for me was related to the research process, diving into more empirical studies in macroeconomic growth literature than I knew was physically and mentally possible, and the analytically driven methodology, models, and STATA coding. More interests. More equations. More variables. More endogeneity (we don’t want that, okay, now back to the drawing board). New interests. New equations. New variables. More endogeneity. Okay, now a larger drawing board, more erasers, and definitely more chalk.

It was a transformative ride that has all culminated to a presentation, a poster, and one large paper. While the car has pulled back into the station with all passengers intact, perhaps a few misplaced hairs due to high velocity of travel, an unkempt look of a wind brushed face, and a smile of gratitude and satisfaction for successful completion, they each may laugh at the idea of getting on again. Funny enough however, they each would. Perhaps not right away, perhaps needing a break to look back on the experience to laugh and smile at all the hours, triumphs, headaches, coffee breaks, and stress dreams. But, they each would do it all again.

5pm. You are coming ever so soon, not fast enough, yet too soon to unbuckle the seat belt. It has been a great ride.

Thesis Poster Presentation

A Very Merry Middlebury

Although the month of December will bring dropping temperatures and finals (and lets hope not dropping GPAs), Middlebury has a wonderfully cheery way of keeping everyone’s spirits high. This finals week was particularly memorable and cheery for me as I chose to ride out the snow storm crossing the northeast here at school instead of racing home to beat out the storm. While there was a part of me that could not wait to get home, there was a larger part of me that wanted to spend an extra few days here on campus to finish up some final papers slowly, relax with friends, and go romping in the snow for study breaks. Below are a few photos from the week (frosty Middlebury below was from pre-snow…probably won’t see this image again for a few months)

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A stop at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op will surely delight that finals crazing. My fave? The soups. Any of them. There is nothing like something warm and toasty on those cold winter nights.

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And how about some hot cocoa on the way back to campus from the co-op? The Middlebury Hot Chocolate Hut downtown is a perfect stop. For only 25 cents (does anything cost 25 cents anymore??) you can treat yourself (queue best day of the year: Please note “The Works.”

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And no matter what time you are heading home from the library, you are sure to have a smile walking past our gigantic holiday tree.

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Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since there is no (better) place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let is snow…

26.2 Nouns: The Things Along the Winding Roads

Training for the New York City Marathon allowed me to discover new things. “Things” is an entirely inappropriate, lackluster, and ambiguous word to use for describing anything, especially the people, the places, and the things I have met and discovered during those months. Before I get to the things, I will start with people, turn the corner to places, and in the distance spot the ever-enlarging view of things down the road.

People – For sake of cyber confidentiality, all names have been changed and in there place I hope to elaborate with details on qualities, personalities, and characteristics. Something I remember hearing from a young age when learning about the many relationships we will form with each interaction we have, no matter for how long or how short, was “you may not always remember their name, their face, or what you did with them, but you will always remember how they made you feel.” Now, I cannot remember the sage of which bequeathed such words onto me, but I know, knew at the time, and will continue to know the feeling of gratitude I have for them shaping my views of leaving a lasting feeling of positivity no matter their name, their face, or what I did with them.

Along my way, I remember fondly feeling welcomed each time by the woman at the farmers stand up route 125 past the organic garden, I will remember the joy of the little girl pulling at her moms coat after getting out of the car and saying, “Mommy, look at her go! She must be so chilly.” (It happened to be a rather brisk early evening). The woman at the Half Way Diner who brought us glasses of water, that literally was halfway on my training partner and I’s epic 20 miler that turned to a 23 (we decided this diner was a symbolic place to turn around as “Haven’t we been running for more than 10 miles? We have been running FOREVER! Let’s turn around there.” Post run and a little google maps action, we discovered we had missed our 10 mile turn around point and the diner was more 11.5 miles out. Good thing we didn’t keep going). To my running partner, a dear friend who had hoped to run the NYC marathon the year before. It being cancelled, he came to school ready to train again after tackling another marathon last fall in place of New York. We got each other through, well, as I can only speak for myself, he got me through those long runs on the afternoons where a nap seemed so much better. We dove into long talks that made the musicless run fly by faster than any amount of Turbulence on repeat. To all the wonderful Vermonters who graciously moved over while whisking by in car, diverting their path so we could continue on ours (I’m counting them as the 1.2).

Places – Morgan Horse Farm, the Meat Shake, the covered bridge, the Middlebury Farmer’s Market in Leatherworks, the Half Mile Diner, Porter Hospital (just running by…except for post marathon xrays…but that’s a different story…), the gas station at the junction of 125 and 22A, the first horse farm out past Porter, the little stretching spot in that farm’s horse pasture a little ways past that, the Middlebury Fishing spot.

Things – Cows, horses, sheeps, more cows, fuzzy bears (the furry caterpillars that always crawl onto the edges of the warm road. Endearingly named by my long-distance running buddy), the piles of hay wrapped in white plastic that look like giant mozzarella balls, the giant wolf spider the size of my palm (even on exhausted legs that caused me to run faster), the great blue heron that would fly away startled by a human disrupting its stillness, the road kill (deer, possums, skunks, snakes, foxes, porcupines, squirrels, fuzzy bears. RIP lovely creatures), the GU packets (necessary companions on long adventures), the beautiful golden lab that would always be lying in the same one last sun beam as the sun was setting, the sunsets over expansive fields of corn.

And there you have it, 26.2 things along the way. These nouns had yet to be discovered, truly discovered, until I laced up my running shoes and hit the ground, well, running. My own two feet carried me on an adventure of Vermont and an adventure of my own self through the journey. Taking on this challenge allowed me to explore the beauty around me and has excited me to continue this quest, soaking up every inch of nounery illustratively described through feelings, emotions, adjectives, and memories.

As a nonreligious but spontaneously spiritual person, I have always found solace in the words of this traditional Gaelic parting blessing: 

May the road rise up to meet you. 
May the wind be always at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face; 
the rains fall soft upon your fields 
and until we meet again, 
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Otter Pup

I have a new baby sister. Well, not biologically a baby sister, but the closest I will probably ever get. This non-biological family I have found here at Middlebury goes by the name of the Otter Nonsense Players. Since getting into the group freshman year spring, it has become my familial unit far away from home. With its ups and down, the group has been there for me in times of pure joy, absolute silliness, and days of sadness. However, the sadness never lasts long with this gang of characters. And the gang is now one more strong. Last week we had auditions and I am so very excited that we welcomed in one new member, the incredibly funny and charismatic sophomore girl who already meshes with our dynamic effortlessly.

Improv has been an amazing outlet of creativity and fun throughout these past years. These last auditions were very bitter sweet, marking the second to last that I will ever take part in. When going through deliberations of the many talented and deserving candidates, I wanted to take everyone, bring as many people into the family as possible for departing. It is just too fun to not let everyone come play make believe for two hours twice a week and the occasional show when we step out of safe confines of rehearsal and make fools out of ourselves in front of hundreds.

This week’s family activity – trust falls.

This weekend’s family outing – apple picking.


Play Ball

Last first day of classes. First day of last year of school. But beyond that cliché Facebook status everyone seemingly fell victim too, making us realize that no matter how individual we are we really are walking this cobble stones path together, this is about yesterday.


Yesterday was Convocation and seeing the first years line the path to Mead Chapel, dressed in a familiar dress or button down, a pair of slacks, and a familiar sense of unfamiliarity that has begun to feel comfortable. I remember that day vividly. Our orientation week had been a hot one, confusing for an incoming student believing that, “wait, isn’t Vermont supposed to be cold all the time?” Caught off guard by the beautiful heat, we lined the path to Mead Chapel, following behind our Common’s banner, almost marching behind a flag, a team, a country, a new family tartan. What does Wonnocott mean? And why is our mascot a squirrel?


We were the incoming class of 2014 and were beginning, finally. After years of preparation, even deliberate or not, we had made it to the place we would call home for the next four years. We were united in a common nervousness if nothing else.


The nervousness culminated into a group mind of action, and that action was the wave. Yes, while not quite a Fenway Park all the way around the stadium wave, it was a top of the hill to the bottom of the hill wave. Smiles a mass and arms in the air, immediately more than nervousness bounded us. Perhaps it was more of a reaction than an action, but none the less, a memory was formed.


That same flutter of energy was felt yesterday. As I returned from a run I saw the first years lining up. Sweaty and tired, I climbed the stairs in my dorm that lines the quad and commented to a roommate, “Did you see all the first years lining up for convocation?” With a yes of agreement and an “We are old,” we began to hear singing. The communal nervousness of 2017 had manifested itself into a roaring revel of “Star-Spangled Banner.”


First Years, it is time to play ball. With the national anthem and the wave in place, it is going to be a great game.