Category Archives: Vermont

Fall Family Weekend

Fall Family Weekend is coming! As a senior, my parents will be making it up to Middlebury for their first Family Weekend of my undergraduate career. It’ll be the last time they’re here before graduation weekend, and since there won’t be much time at graduation for them to see the campus and surrounding area, I’m hoping to make the most of it this weekend. So I’ve got quite the itinerary planned.

My parents are staying at a hotel in Vergennes, about 15 minutes north of Middlebury. I’ve always liked Vergennes. It is the “smallest city in America”—Vermont has a unique system of classifying cities and towns, meaning that tiny Vergennes with 2000 people gets to hold the title. Last year in one of my classes, Separation of Church and State with Professor James Davis, my class re-enacted a real life debate that had been going on in Vergennes, about the placement of a crèche in the city square. And, like most other towns around here, Vergennes is quaint, Vermont-y, and fun to walk around.

So on Friday afternoon I plan on taking the ACTR bus up to Vergennes. The Addison County Transit Resources is the Middlebury area’s fantastic system of local transit—free shuttles run constantly around Middlebury College and through town, and ACTR also offers bus service to Burlington and to some of the towns surrounding Middlebury. Last J-Term, I took the ACTR bus to Burlington every morning and evening to get to an internship there. The ACTR also places a heavy emphasis on green transit options.

So I’ll be taking the bus up to Vergennes, walking around town with my parents for a few hours, and then joining them for dinner at Black Sheep Bistro, a restaurant there specializing in delicious local foods. Vermont has a really wonderful food culture, and almost every medium-sized town surrounding Middlebury (Vergennes, Bristol, Brandon, etc.) features at least one or two truly excellent restaurants, most specializing in eclectic local fare.

I’ve got a full day planned for Saturday, too. We’ll start off at Lincoln Peak Vineyard, a few miles from Middlebury. Apparently grape-growing is an increasingly popular pursuit here in northern New England, and Lincoln Peak has wine tastings—being 21, this will be a fun activity with my parents. Afterwards, we’ll head out for a hike. I haven’t quite decided which we’ll do yet—there are dozens of great hikes in the area. A student favorite is Snake Mountain, which provides outstanding westward-looking views of the Champlain Valley, Lake Champlain, and beyond those the Adirondack Mountains of New York. During fall in Vermont, any of these hikes will be spectacular.

We’ll end Saturday with a dinner at Fire and Ice, a restaurant in downtown Middlebury, and hopefully spend the evening  enjoying each other’s company.

On Sunday morning, my parents and I will spend the day on campus. In the morning, Middlebury College Hillel will be having a Family Weekend Bagel Brunch. Hillel is the Jewish student organization on campus, and has been a very important part of my life at Midd. It will be great for my parents to meet some of my friends in Hillel and to learn more about what we do. I know it’s important to them, just like it is to me. In the afternoon, we’ll walk around campus. I’ll show them my dorm, a few places where I have classes or where extracurricular activities meet, and introduce them to some of my friends. They’ll head out in the evening, and I’ll give them a goodbye hug that has to last until Thanksgiving.

As you can see, I’m excited to share this place with my parents—there is a lot to do, and this will be a fun and busy weekend. Moreover, though, I want to share this place with my parents because their love and support is the reason I’m here, and I want to give them a taste of what my life at Midd is like. While they have seen the campus, it’s been a couple of years.  And I hope that seeing the places I frequent will let them know that I am using my time here well, enjoying myself, learning, and keeping busy.

See you on Friday, Mom and Dad!

A Magical Walk

As we are approaching the middle of the semester, I find myself needing to find some personal time. Don’t get me wrong. Reading Joyce’s Ulysses, solving combinatorial problems focusing on guaranteeing a great party, and writing my math thesis on entropy and its relevance to Bayesian statistics really do make me happy, but it’s easy to get lost in the work and lose perspective. I make an effort to make time for myself everyday.

Everyone has their own way of de-stressing, whether it’s having a dance party in your own room, doing your best impression of Kate Bush in the shower at the top of your lungs, engaging in some cardio ballet or going on midnight jogs (Note, I’m not claiming any of these comes from personal experience). My trick of letting the steam out regularly consists of two things: taking walks and lighting scented candles. The latter is actually a way to make the former happen when the weather makes it impossible to take a gander in the woods. I love the smell of moist wood, grass, and mossy air. I could go on and on about my favorite candles… contact me personally if you’d like a personal recommendation. Anyhow, it’s been raining here for a while, which means the surrounding areas have transformed into an absolute dream for the likes of me!

This past Sunday, I decided I needed a break from my three-hour thesis session in the library. I headed back to my room, put my boots on, turned on my iPod, and started making my way towards the college organic garden. The organic garden is about five minutes away from my room. You get to pass by twenty or so solar panels on your way there. The college organic garden has a great selection of produce (the kale looked particularly yummy) and flowers. You can sign up for a certain number of volunteer hours and depending on your hours (you can split with a friend) and get a CSA basket filled with goodies from the garden! Anyhow, here’s a little sneak peak of the garden.

The temperature is starting to drop, but I got to get see some flowers still in bloom.

The picnic table is a very popular place to eat out when it’s warm. The shed is such a cool spot as well!

This is from the greenhouse. There were some tomatoes starting to turn red and yellow, but for some reason, I love the look of green tomatoes so much.

After you walk through the organic garden, you come across a huge grass plain. (Couldn’t help the temptation of Instagram — doesn’t this remind you of Wuthering Heights?) Even though it was rainy, dark, and foggy, it was still so beautiful. After you follow the path for a bit, you see a small opening into the woods!

This segment is called the Class of ’97 trail, and it’s part of the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury). Many students, myself included, love running on the TAM. In the winter, the snow makes it an amazing cross-country ski trail as well. Anyhow, you cross a little bridge as you get deeper into the woods, you come across this lovely part of the trail.

Doesn’t this remind you of Narnia? Lord of the Rings? The Forbidden Forest? Whatever it is, this is definitely one of my favorite places. It’s so magical. Out of this world! You feel so removed from everything you know.

When you come out of the dense woods, you will see at least twenty cows on any given day. There are the oreo cows (with clear black/white/black coloring), cows with spots, and brown cows! Anyhow, I love saying hi to them, though I am perfectly aware they only come near me with the hopes that I will give them more hay…….

Went a little crazy with Instagram…. but look at this little guy! So precious! Speaking of cows, Middlebury sources our milk from Monument Dairy, which is literally less than 10 minutes away from campus. Happy Valley Orchard is also less than 15 minutes away and apple-picking is an amazing way to pass the time.

What I am so grateful for is that this “nature therapy” is very easily within reach. I just have to step outside of my room, with the right footgear of course. I usually spend an hour or so on these trails when I feel like getting some fresh air. Afterwards, I am so refreshed. My friend and I love puddle-jumping and mud-trailing, so we often go on walks together and end up having wonderful conversations.

When you come to Middlebury, please check out all the wonderful walkable destinations!

Till next time,


Spring has Sprung

In my information sessions, I make a point to speak to the Middlebury Winter and to the integral role that it plays in the Vermont college experience. I specify that even though it can be frighteningly cold, there are countless ways to fill your chilled times. J-term and all of the great winter activities that Middlebury offers make winter a strangely desirable time, regardless of the thermostat reading below zero. However, this year, the winter never really showed up and left us with plenty melty days and zero excuses to wear earmuffs. While I was at first a bit disappointed that I would spend my last winter here without winter, it turned out to be a welcomed heat wave.  What made the weather change wonderful was that I found myself always saying yes. I rarely neglected to attend an event or visit a friend across campus and kept much of my time filled. When the weather turns frigid, it is harder to leave a plush comforter, a cup of hot chocolate and two seasons of The Wire for frostbitten fingertips. This winter season proved to be my most proactive and I am elated that I was able to spend my time moving around and saying yes. While I still believe that the Middlebury winter is essential to the true Vermont college experience, I recognize that the 3:1 winter to extended fall-early spring ratio is ideal for every undergrad.  I will certainly be the first to construct a Snowman as January rolls around in 2013 but as for now, I am thrilled that Frosty took a vacation this year.

Hints of spring?

This past weekend I traveled to Hillsborough, NJ to compete with Middlebury’s cycling team in the first race of the spring season. The forecast called for rain, but the minute we pulled up to Saturday’s race course, the sun came out and we jumped out of the van eager to catch some rays. The other teams thought we were crazy for running around in shorts, but after a Vermont winter, even one as mild as this year’s, 50 degrees felt like summer.

The group of us competed in a road race through New Jersey horse country on Saturday and raced around a park in a circuit race on Sunday. Winter is a tough time to be a cyclist-even if the ground is clear of snow, cold temperatures and the possibility of ice patches on the roads lead all but the most daring of souls to move training rides inside. After months of staring at a dorm room wall while pedaling in place, the open road was pure bliss. Driving back to Midd last night, I couldn’t wait to get back outside on my bike, but I woke up this morning to find a fresh dusting of snow. I plan on enjoying this last bit of winter then willing it away–it’s time for spring to come!

The Question

Where is the snow?????

It’s all anyone can talk about. This winter has been mysteriously snowless, with several flurries followed two days later by a spurt of rain. The rumor is that every twelve years Vermont has a snowless winter, but who knows? All we know is that the winter is warm and brown and somewhat confusing.

You’d think, being from North Carolina, that I’d love the respite from the snow and subzero temperatures. I’ve surprised even myself, though, by how much I miss Winter. Somehow making it to spring doesn’t seem quite as exciting or hardcore when the coldest I ever got was 30 degrees… and I miss the snowy playground that replaces campus for five months!

I hoping for at least a few inches before Winter Carnival this weekend, but if not, I suppose I’ll have to resign myself to my last Winter being non-winter. Unless we get another storm like the Valentines Day Blizzard (watch til the end, it’s worth it)…

Thanks and Snow

When I told my mom I was planning on staying on campus for Thanksgiving break, she was really worried: “but will the dining halls be open? Wont you starve? Will there be anyone else there? Wont you be lonely?” I had to laugh at her questions. The truth is, there are a LOT of people here for break. It’s always really relaxing to be on campus when there aren’t too many people here—you can just spend time with friends and sleep a lot more than usual. My roommate and I are planning to watch a lot of movies and eat a lot—the International Students Organization organizes and funds dinners for everyone staying here.

And the best part of this break? Last night, it started snowing!!! Our first real snow of the year—it’s still coming down, 20 hours later. I love snow. Even after years of it, I can still sit and watch snow fall, mesmerized, for hours. This break provides the perfect opportunity for my favorite activities: running around in snow and snuggling in bed with a mug of tea. What could be better? This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I get to spend the day in one of my favorite places on earth.


Just. Ask.

The question: “What does she look like?” is a normal question one would ask when trying to identify another human being. However at Middlebury I have learned it can turn into a game of 21 questions.

Is she short? Kinda

How long is her hair? Um shoulder length…

What is her style? I dunno, depends on the day

Does she play a sport? No…

Does she hang out with any athletes? I’ve seen her at a few games…

Does she do any clubs? Yeah, I think she is in Riddim and does other orgs too…

What  is her major: I think she is in the sciences

Well what does she look like!? Um she is kinda short, black hair, brown eyes…

Oh, is she black? (Long Pause.) She’s African American, I believe…

The topic of race is one that many like to approach with deliberate ambiguity. I could tell you that Middlebury has 22% U.S. students of color, but what does that mean? What does that truly tell you about our institution?

I have realized in the past 4-years that Admissions counselors have one of the best jobs on campus. Not only are they able to meet prospective students, but their job provides them the medium to truly gain a more holistic view of each student. They have the luxury of looking at a student’s academic history in relation to their character. In the fast-paced academic bubble of Middlebury we rarely make the time to learn about each other outside of the classroom. Based on our majors, friends and personal assumptions we sometimes create artificial boundaries and stick to them for our four years. I thought I would take the time in this blog entry to shed light on a touchy subject.

Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! (Did you say it?) Probably not, and simply reading it I know it made some people uncomfortable and wary of reading further. But bear with me as I flesh this out. I bring the race topic to the table with humor because I feel it is one of the few ways to address the issues without causing conniptions or heart palpitations. Let’s start with a basic fact.  We all have varying levels of melanin that cause our skin color to be different shades. So to all those folks who like to say they are “color-blind”…Please leave that to the folks who really have that genetic condition. You see me, and surprise, I am black.

The whole topic of race is something subjective, so I will leave that for each person to individually define. But I can speak for myself…and I shall. Ethnicity-wise my parents are Grenadian. Grenada (pronounced GREN – NAY – DUH) is an island in the West Indies (not to be confused with Granada, the city in Spain.) The national language is English (as we used to be a British colony) and one of our major exports before Hurricane Ivan was nutmeg. If you ever have a chance to visit, you will experience views such as these everyday.->

The Spice Island


Now, just who is Mona? (I’m getting there…)

I was born in Suffolk, England. (Gasp, What?  And she has no accent?) Sadly, no, I was teased and the Queen’s tongue left me faster than you can say PIPPA.  I am a military brat and it is a title I hold near and dear to my heart. I am an American and I am very proud of my parent’s dedication and service to this country. That being said, I also identify heavily with my Grenadian and British roots. My house is always filled with Cream Crackers, Marks and Spencer’s products and nutmeg. To throw another hook in there, I also identify as a southerner as I lived in Sumter, South Carolina for 8 years. And Before Midd I lived in Brooklyn, New York for 10 years. My life is a mezcla of Urban, Southern West Indian cool with a hint of English austerity. I go through all this to prove a simple point. Get to know me. Don’t assume by my clothing, my surroundings or my skin color that you know all there is to know about. In the words of the artist Mateo, Just get to know, I’m here… Till May, that is  🙂

65 and November

One of the best things about going to school in Vermont is that the weather is never predictable. There’s a saying in Vermont that goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.” While this is something of an exaggeration, it is definitely rooted in fact, as you could wake up to a bright sunny day, eat lunch during a rainstorm, head to the library in hail, and return to your dorm in driving wind. Middlebury’s location between two mountain ranges (Adirondacks in New York and Greens in Vermont) and within the Champlain valley makes us particularly susceptible to changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure (and I’m no weatherman, so all of this is based solely upon personal observation and not scientific acumen) so that really, anything goes in terms of what’s happening outside. I’ve experienced some of the craziest weather of my life here, whether it’s a monster snow storm, a menacing thunderstorm that knocks out power for the entire campus, or an impossibly stunning sunset behind the Adirondack Mountains that makes it hard to imagine a more beautiful place on earth.

However, one of the best things about this unpredictable weather is that we can get moments like these past few days, the first week of November, that roll in with beautiful, sunny, warm weather reminiscent of early spring and late fall, rather than nearly-Thanksgiving. This past week, the campus exploded with people taking advantage of this gift of gorgeous weather, whether it was playing Frisbee on Battell Beach, taking some reading outside to the Atwater terrace, or enjoying lunch outside Proctor. Students shed their polar fleece and boots in favor of dresses, leggings, shorts and even flip-flops. Yesterday I even witnessed a professor taking her class outside for discussion section. Even though most of the trees have lost their leaves and the squirrels have started their maniacal foraging of acorns, these past four days brought a reminder of the end of summer days we have left, and a teaser for the beautiful spring to come after the long, long winter.

So, when you’re packing for Middlebury, you definitely need a warm winter coat, boots, and lots of hats, mittens, scarves and warm socks. But, don’t forget your shorts, t-shirts and sandals (and don’t pack them away too soon) because you just might get a day like we did, when it’s 65 degrees in November.

Sweet as maple syrup

An admissions counselor once asked me what separates Middlebury from similar small liberal arts colleges.

Well, Middlebury is in Vermont, and as such we have come to expect extremely high standards of maple syrup and other maple-based products. Next question, please.

The level of reverence given to the mighty maple could seem silly to those uninitiated in the sugar-happy way of life, but maple products make up a significant portion of Vermont’s economy-over $30 million per year! Passing off sub-par, adulterated products has always been looked down upon by Vermont natives, but Vermont’s senators are hoping to take things one step further and make false advertising of supposedly “maple” products a felony. I’d be all for the new law, as maple sugaring, the process of collecting maple sap and boiling it (and boiling it and boiling it and boiling it…) to make syrup takes a lot of work. As part of my environmental chemistry research with Professor Costanza-Robinson, I’ve had the chance to spend many brisk spring afternoons collecting samples of maple sap, and I’ve even tried making my own syrup with some of the leftover sap.

Maple sugaring season happens in early-to-mid spring when temperatures dip below freezing at night but are above freezing during the day. This change in temperature keeps large amounts of sap flowing into either the traditional buckets hung from trees or into the plastic vacuum lines used by large scale (several thousand tree) operations. Molly’s lab is examining the relationship between soil characteristics, mineral content in sap, and syrup flavor compounds and has been analyzing the sap from five trees on campus for the past several years. Each afternoon one of the students in lab collects 50 milliliters of sap from each tree and can either dump out the extra sap or use it to make maple syrup.

Making maple syrup isn’t a difficult process; you simply start to boil sap and keep it going. However, it’s also a bit disheartening, as it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Lugging an enormous water cooler full of sap from the woods on the edge of campus then spending three or four hours in a hot kitchen only to end up with just enough syrup for one pancake has given me an immense appreciation for “real” maple sugarers. As much as I love that sweet maple taste, I’d rather leave the work to the experts and pick up my syrup either at the local farmers’ market or in the Middlebury College dining halls.

My favorite way to eat my maple syrup is to mix it with plain yogurt for a delicious, just-sweet-enough treat. I may or may not do this almost every morning for breakfast…

In any case, I’d like to leave you with a parting verse by John G. Saxe that appeared in the Vermont Department of Agriculture Bulletin in 1915:

“Men, women, maple sugar and horses;
The first are strong, the latter fleet,
The second and third are exceedingly sweet,
And all are uncommonly hard to beat.”

Fall Break: Food and Friends

Today marks the first day of Fall Break, a strategically placed four- day break in the middle of the fall semester that gives everyone a chance to take a breather after the first round of midterms and papers and projects has been completed.  For some, this break provides the chance to head home for a round of home-cooked meals and free laundry. Others take the chance to visit Boston, New York, Montreal or other nearby cities with friends, and still others choose to stay on campus and take advantage of the peace and quiet to catch up on sleep or work. Students and faculty alike appreciate this built-in pause in the middle of the semester as a way to regroup and refresh for the remainder of the semester, which includes such exciting events like Homecoming (next weekend),  Halloween, the annual Fall Concert and finally, final exams.

This fall break, I’m embarking upon a mini road trip with a friend, starting down in Boston to visit a friend who graduated a couple of years ago and then winding our way back up to Middlebury, via several small towns with culinary establishments we’ve been wanting to visit. This trip combines two of the things that have been most important to me about my time at Middlebury; good food and good friends. Middlebury, and environs, offers much to its students in both of these areas. I’ve been fortunate over the course of my four years here to develop many close friendships that I know will last long after we’ve all received our Middlebury diplomas and Painter’s canes. These relationships enrich my life everyday and have made Middlebury more than just a school, but a home.

Also, for those of us who often have food on the mind, Middlebury has a lot to offer as well. On this trip, we’re hoping to visit the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory and the Cabot cheese factory in Waterbury, Vermont. If you haven’t yet experienced the wonders of Cabot extra sharp cheddar cheese, I encourage you to try it. We’re also hoping to catch the tail end of the Vermont foliage season, which never ceases to amaze me.  Closer to home, the town of Middlebury also offers a lot to the foodie. The farmer’s market, which takes place every Saturday morning, brings together many farmers and producers in Addison County, offering  apples, bread, veggies, meat, wine, cheese, and much more. The Middlebury Co-Op is a natural foods cooperative offering anything and everything your vegan, organic, gluten-free heart could desire.  And American Flatbread, an iconic pizza establishment in Vermont, serves up delicious hearth bread pizzas, salads and desserts five nights a week in a wonderfully cozy restaurant with red-checkered tablecloths and tea lights. These places have been the foundations of my food life at Middlebury, and when I want a brief break from the dining halls, they always deliver.

So, on this trip, I’m looking forward to enjoying the best that Middlebury has to offer—good friends, good food, and a brief break from homework.