Fond Farewell

Nearly 18 years ago I came up to the Berkshires to visit a lifelong friend and was parked in front of The Bookstore on Housatonic in Lenox reading a map book. Three different people knocked on my window and asked if they could help me. I immediately thought, “I want to live in a town like this.”

So I bought Birchwood Inn, the venerable old lady on top of the hill. The oldest home in Lenox is celebrating her 250th birthday, and I am celebrating the sale of the inn this week! It has been an inn-credible journey, and I am still in love with Lenox!

I want to thank my staff (most of them!), who, over the years have been responsible for the inn’s great success and international reputation. I particularly thank my current excellent team members, Becca Bliss Lilley and Karen Crandall. Becca, the assistant innkeeper, is my right arm as well as my right and left ear. And Karen has kept the inn impeccably clean for nearly 10 years.

I want to thank my guests (most of them, again!), who come back year after year and who have become like family. You have made innkeeping a pleasure, and I have so enjoyed your delight in returning, your hugs, and your appetites!

A big thank to all of the plumbers, electricians, techies, contractors, and landscapers who have kept this old house in order!

More big thanks to all of the cultural and recreational venues in the Berkshires, especially Tanglewood and The Mount.

And I want to thank my Lenox and Berkshire “family,” past and present, who have kept me well-fed, well-coiffed, well-read, and well-dressed! Thank you Lynne West (Glad Rags); absolutely everyone at Guido’s; Peter Alvarez; Aurelien and the Alta staff; Jim Luce at Café Lucia (the linguine and clams are unforgettable!); Stephane and Luke at Church Street Café, the best porch in the Berkshires! Jason Macioge, James, and everyone at Bistro Zinc; Kathy and Tony at Prime for always being so welcoming; Peter Platt at The Old Inn on the Green for many memorable experiences (including me setting a waiter on fire); and Rachel and Franck at Chez Nous for unforgettable cuisine and your friendship. Thank you, Doris, Mackimmie & Co., for injecting Lenox with your enthusiasm. And thank you, Ralph Petillo, for your super efforts on behalf of Lenox. Carole Rumph, The Comfortable Home, and Annie Selke, Pine Cone Hill, for your unflagging support and great taste!

I especially want to thank my two service dogs, Charley and the late and beloved Quinn, and their mischievous sidekick Piper, my grand-dog, for making sure I was always on time for breakfast, for ensuring that I never burned the chocolate chip cookies and for keeping me laughing. You three have been my heart and soul.

I wish my fellow innkeepers continued success, and I wish Birchwood’s new owners, Debbie Lancaster and Tom Johnson, the greatest of luck and may you and the inn soar to even greater heights!

If you want to stay in touch with me, you can always e-mail me at, and please continue to follow my adventures on Facebook.

Love, Ellen

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Molly Quinn McMuffin 16 1/2 Year Golden Retriever

Quinn Phoenix“Birchwoof” Inn is one beloved woof less today as we say goodbye to Molly Quinn McMuffin, my 16 ½!! Year-old Golden Retriever Hearing Dog.

Quinn was always the first to greet guests in the parking lot with the wag of her magnificent tail. And she was the first to greet each and every guest in the morning in the dining room, ever hopeful for a hand-out. If she could have poured the coffee, she would have! The epitome of optimism, she looked up hopefully at each guest with her blonde-lashed soulful brown eyes.

She traveled everywhere with me, making friends wherever we went, touching and enriching lives, even my Aunt Guzzy, who was notorious for not liking dogs. Conferences. Vacations. Parties, where she parked herself under the cheese table. And, yes, funerals.

Quinn loved being loved, basked in the love, but always gave more than she could possibly absorb.

Planes. Trains. Ships. She even conquered escalators. All with her noble aplomb.

And no one, no one ever had a more wonderful service dog. She even slept with her eyes open lest she miss an opportunity to help me in some way. The alarm clock. The stove time. The doorbell. The smoke detector. Quinn never missed a beat… or a treat!

She never knew she was a dog but rather a person of fun. She also didn’t seem to know she was a Golden Retriever as she hated the water on all of our trips to the Jersey Shore.

I will see Quinn rolling in the grass, in the snow, and infrequently in decayed animal matter. I will always picture her running with pure joy, her velvet ears flapping in the breeze, on the beach on Amelia Island. At Disneyland, on the rides, Finding Nemo, barking at Pluto. Prancing down the aisle at the National Cathedral, as if she did this daily. And always, always looking for her beloved cookies.

Her favorite hang-outs included Glad Rags, Bistro Zinc, Alta, and Church Street Café’s porch.

Quinn gave solace to those who were grieving and joy to those who marveled at her beauty. She had a most beautiful soul.

I will carry Quinn in my heart – and her fur on all of my clothes – forever.

Safe journey, my soul mate.

Quinn - Birchwood Inn

Quinn says goodbye to well-loved friends, including her “brother” Charley, Becca, Karen, Lynne, Susan, Amy, her “Godmother” Janice, Eric, Peter, David, Bill, her “Uncle” Rob, Aunt Norma, Aunt Ilene, Uncle Jeff, cousins Laura and Matt, Katie, Jordan, and Molly, her “Aunties” – the 8 Broads in the Kitchen, and an untold number of Birchwood Inn guests, including Ann and Bob, Joanne and David, Sue and Randy, Paula and Steve, The King and Queen.

She was predeceased by her sidekick Piper and her four-legged friends Phoebe, Sophie, and Walter.

Her ashes will help the flowers grow in her beloved garden.

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Travels with Charley :: Our Beloved Hearing Dog

Woof! I’m Charley, Ellen’s hearing dog for the past three years. As you know, Quinn has been retired for several years and is living the good quiet life at the Inn, so she has asked me to take over the blog.

Quinn wants you to know that even though she is an elderly Golden Retriever at 16!, she is doing just great! Oh, yes, there are a few problems on stairs and she needs an assist to get in the car – her back end isn’t what it used to be – she still loves to “work the dining room” when Ellen lets her, roll in the grass and snow, trot down to the village, have lunch at Bistro Zinc, and visit her good friends at Glad Rags. Her ears don’t work well but there’s nothing wrong with her “sniffer” – she can smell a treat a mile away!

dog friendly hotel in Massachusetts

I’m what Ellen calls a Bichoodle, a Bichon Frise-Poodle mix, but I also may have a bit of Westie in me, too. I was a shelter dog, “sprung” by NEADS (National Education for Assistive Dog Services), based in West Boylston, MA, to be trained as a service dog. As I supposedly once said sitting with the Eight Broads in the Kitchen in a farmhouse kitchen in the south of France, this life “sure beats the shelter.”

Over the past three years, I’ve done a lot of traveling, a lot for a dog that is. Because of my traveling with Ellen and because Ellen happens to like John Steinbeck, I’ve decided to name my blog, “Travels with Charley.” I hope you enjoy my blog as much as you have enjoyed Quinn’s.

On a daily basis you’ll often see me in restaurants in Lenox and throughout the Berkshires as well as at Guido’s Marketplace (I just love the produce section because people drop veggies on the floor all the time – asparagus and green beans are my favorite!), Stop and Shop, CVS, Glad Rags (they’re very generous with their dog biscuits)… I know where all the dog biscuits are in town – hint: in addition to Glad Rags, there are great cookies at MacKimmie & Co., the Lenox Town Offices, Chez Pet, and O’Briens. There aren’t any at Chocolate Springs, but that’s okay because they’re so friendly there!

And every few months, Ellen and I get to travel. Paris (yes, I’ve been to the Louvre!) and the south of France (love those markets! And you can’t beat the French for bread). Napa, Sonoma – just love the wine country! – and San Francisco. Santa Fe. Charleston. Key West. And Alaska!

As an inn-mate, I get to meet so many interesting people and dogs, as Birchwood Inn is dog-friendly, which is why I call my home Birchwoof Inn. And as Ellen’s hearing dog, traveling everywhere with Ellen, I get to go to unique places, stay in some great bed and breakfasts, and dine on some outstanding nibbles!

I’ll be sharing my many adventures in future blogs. Stay tuned!

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How Would You Celebrate Birchwood Inn’s 250th Birthday?

Lenox Massachusetts Bed and Breakfast

Lenox, Mass. 1839 A reprint from Barber’s “Hist. Coll. of Mass.”


Birthday cake? Party hats? Gift bags? How would you celebrate Birchwood Inn’s 250th birthday in 2016?
In 1766, the Massachusetts Bay Colony deeded its first residential property in what was to become the town of Lenox to Israel Dewey, who built a substantial home. Dewey’s home laid the foundation, literally and figuratively, for what has become Birchwood Inn.
Birchwood Inn is the oldest home in Lenox and celebrates its 250th birthday next year.
Lenox was incorporated in 1767, and the first town meeting was held in Dewey’s home in March of that year. At that meeting, the form of town government was decided on — and remains in that form today — and Dewey was elected as the town’s first selectman.
This is a major event as Birchwood Inn is even older that the US! So how should we mark this milestone?
Tentative plans include commemorative mugs, a special New Year’s Eve party, a house blessing, a strawberry social and open house, and occasions for local students to learn the house and town history.
But how else can we make 2016 even more special for Birchwood Inn? Any and all ideas are welcome on the inn’s blog, Facebook, twitter, and email. All who submit winning ideas will receive one of the commemorative mugs.
And DO make plans to visit the Berkshires and Birchwood Inn during its birthday year!

New sign and inn


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Oh Brave New Brews! Lenox & Surrounding Area Breweries

Lenox Breweries


Things are brewing in the Berkshires! Innovative beers with local flavors!

What’s on tap?

In Lee, the Berkshires’ smallest brewer, the Glass Bottom Brewery, brews its TeaSB with Earl Grey tea and lemon zest while Parsnippity is brewed with the obvious for a country flavor. Weird? Yes, but definitely different! Or how about a dessert beer like Banana Cream Stout? In the spring, there’ll be a repeat of last year’s Dandelion IPA.

A few miles south, Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington features more than a couple of dozen beers, including a number of seasonal ones — Cask Conditioned and Rum N’Oak Brown — as well as Farmer’s Ale, made completely with local ingredients.

Travel a few miles further south and head for Big Elm Brewery in Sheffield. India Pale Ale is their most popular brew but American Lager, they say, it heading to the top. And we’re not just talking about foam. Another popular choice is 413 (the Berkshires’ area code), which includes chamomile flowers and locally sourced peppercorns. Their dark beers — like Gerry Dog Stout or Imperial Stout which incorporates coffee and chocolates — are favorites during the challenging New England winters.

But once you’re at Birchwood Inn, you don’t even have to get in your car. Nejaimes Lenox Wine Cellar stocks local beers and offers beer, wine, and cheese tastings every Saturday afternoon.

Yup, here in the Berkshires there’s a beer for all seasons. So come up and hoist a few! They’ll warm up winter’s chill!


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Stay at Birchwood Inspires Guest to Wax Poetic

Three lovely and interesting women stayed at Birchwood Inn this fall. One of them, instead of writing a review, was inspired to be poetic, and we wanted to share this with you:

Autumn in New England

What a lovely stay at Birchwood Inn,

So far away from life’s usual din.

Up on a hall and standing tall,

Just the place to enjoy New England’s magnificent fall.

There are mountains, galleries, and history galore,

But, at the Inn, it’s more, more, more.

More wonderful breakfasts and tasty teas,

Which Ellen serves with such talented ease.

She makes the Inn the place to stay

And to come back soon to spend a week or another day.


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“Happy” in the Berkshires!

The old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is only a cliché because it’s so true. With thousands of words we could tell you how “Happy” the Berkshires are, tell you about The Mount, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, The Clark Art Institute, Tanglewood, Canyon Ranch, Jacob’s Pillow, Bash Bish Falls, the unique towns and villages, and so much more, but thanks to the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, you can now experience “Happy in the Berkshires” for yourself. Sit back and tap your toes or get up from your computer and dance!

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The Most Requested Recipe This Year

Blood orange recipes

Blood Orange Olive Oil makes roasted pears extra special!

Whenever we serve Blood Orange Roasted Pears with Pumpkin Seed Crunch as Birchwood’s fruit course at breakfast, nearly everyone asks for the recipe. This is our version of Roasted Pear Crumble that appeared in the October 2013 issue of Bon Appetit, and it’s most assuredly a winner!


Serves 4.

2 ripe firm Bartlett or Anjou pears

2 teaspoons blood orange olive oil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons oats

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

1/4 cup marscarpone

Mint leaves for garnish.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cut pears in half and core with a melon baller. Spread the cut side of the pears with the blood orange olive oil. Place the pears, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and bake on the upper rack of the oven for 20 minutes, until soft but not mushy.

Mix the pecans, pumpkin seeds, brown sugar, oats, salt, and the extra virgin olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Toast the crumble mix on the lower rack of the oven and stir occasionally until golden, about 12-14 minutes. Mix in the sesame seeds and let cool. (We make up a triple or quadruple batch and refrigerate so that we always have some on hand.)

Place each pear on a plate. Spoon the marscarpone into the center of each pear. Top with the pumpkin seed crunch. Add a mint leaf and serve… to rave reviews.



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Celebrating the Bard! Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

 Shakespeare & Company 2014 season


With this year being Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, Shakespeare & Company has planned a joyous, thrilling, and powerful season celebrating the Bard’s life and work.

This magical season aptly includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a jazzy 30s’ twist, set in the mysterious mangrove forests of the Mississippi Delta. (June 21-August 30) And if you really would like to honor the Bard, indulge in an evening cocktails, dinner, theater, and dancing at the Midsummer Night’s Gala on June 28.

For this season’s celebration, Shakespeare & Co. are bringing back — finally — the very hilarious medley of mayhem, comedy, and lunacy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Fast-paced and devilish, this popular parody is a cornucopia of naughty laughs. (July 4-August 24) Even Quinn, who accompanied me several years ago, was mesmerized and delighted!

Let’s get serious about this, shall we? Henry IV, Parts I and II, brings power and rebellion as well as Prince Hall and Falstaff to the Lenox stage. (August 2-31) It’s amazing to consider that these plays have continued to endure for more than four centuries!

The old adage that behind every successful man is a woman so we must include Anne Hathaway is this celebration season. Shakespeare’s Will, a sensual tale full of passion, humor, and mystery, explores with song, dance, and poetry the tumultuous life of Will’s wife. (May 24-August 24)

For most of us, our introduction to Shakespeare was in sophomore year of high school when we studied Julius CaesarCaesar, Portia, Cassius with his “mean and hungry look,” and Brutus will all be familiar in the “bare Bard” production. (June 27-August 30)

The Tony Award winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike makes its Berkshire premiere as well — a comedy with a dose of mayhem. (August 6-September 14)

And Shakespeare & Company returns to The Mount, a most romantic setting for Romeo and Juliet, in a “bare Bard” production. (July 17-August 23)

And more! Come celebrate Shakespeare’s incredible legacy!

PS Birchwood Inn, only a mile from Shakespeare & Company, by the way, boasts an authentic replica of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in our library, compliments of my high school friends who created it when we were high school sophomores in 1961!




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Lenox is Harmony

Romantic Berkshires Getaway

Imagine summer picnics while listening to Boston Symphony concerts at Tanglewood with mountains and lakes as the backdrop.

Harmony. If I had to describe Lenox in one word, it would be this.

Of course, Lenox being the summer home of the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood with as many as six concerts a week in the summer it’s only natural to think of musical harmony. But harmony in Lenox is more than musical.

It’s culture and the arts, such as Shakespeare & Co., in harmony with nature — our mountains, lakes, and nature trails at Kennedy Park and Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

It’s culinary harmony with our renown restaurants in harmony with Berkshire grown and produced fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats.

It’s the past, as evident in our historic homes such as Birchwood Inn, Ventfort Hall, and author Edith Wharton’s elegant restored estate The Mount, in harmony with our unique boutiques, from antique shops and handcrafted art — wearable and decorative — to the latest fashions.

It’s the harmony of the seasons with downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in winter to hiking, cycling, and water sports in warmer months. It’s fireflies in summer, foliage in fall, blossoms in spring, and firesides in winter.

Harmony is in the residents and visitors from around the world, many of whom become residents.

Yes, Lenox is harmony.

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