Affordable Summertime Thrills Close To Home

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

ae-baseball-gameBy Richard Daybell

With the economy down and travel alerts up, chances are good that many of us will be putting off that cross-country or around-the-world super vacation for something a little more frugal and closer to home. Perhaps even staying at home. But that doesn’t mean we can’t vacation. After all, Vermont is a vacation destination, and affordable summertime thrills are plentiful right here at home.

• Take music. Once again, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Vermont Mozart Festival will give summer performances throughout the state. Most performances are outside at venues such as Shelburne Farms and the Trapp Family Concert Meadow.  Bring along a picnic dinner (gourmet, of course) – a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and Amadeus under the stars – what more could a person want?

Folk, perhaps. If you prefer guitars and banjos to violins and oboes, you’ll want to take in the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. Six stages on the grounds of the Kingsland Bay State Park will offer music in Yankee, Irish, Native American and French Canadian traditions July 31 through August 2.

• Stages also mean theater, and one of our own, the Saint Michael’s Playhouse, is presenting four great pieces of nostalgia this summer: “Dames at Sea,” a spoof of 1930s movie musicals, “Talley’s Folly,” a romantic comedy set in 1944, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” 1959 in the Catskills, and “How the Other Half Lives,” 1969 London.

• While hardly a vacation, time spent in the garden can be rewarding. But when you get a little tired of weeding your own flowerbeds, how about spending some time in somebody else’s garden? A visit to some great nearby gardens can offer, along with a day off, a little inspiration.

In downtown, Burlington, there’s the Waterfront Park and Promenade at the foot of College Street. Take a leisurely walk along the promenade featuring a wide variety of annuals and perennials including over a hundred All-American Selections and over 500 daylilies framed by shrubs and ornamental trees.

The Horticulture Club Gardens on the University of Vermont campus offers a 150 foot-long display garden starting off with spring bulbs followed by a wide variety of both traditional and unusual annuals and perennials. The Gardens also feature displays of rhododendrons. vines and tropical plants. The Horticulture Research Center in South Burlington is also a part of UVM. Display gardens here feature woody ornamentals, lilac crabapple, flowering shrubs and perennials. The Friends of the Hort Farm host open houses, tours and plant sales.

One of the most spectacular close-to-home gardens requires foreign travel but only a couple hours of it. It’s the Jardin Botanique de Montreal (Montreal Botanical Garden). Bring your passport and get an early start. With over 22,000 plant species and cultivars in 30 thematic gardens and 10 exhibition greenhouses, it’s going to be a long day. Thematic gardens include the largest Chinese garden outside of China (in the style of the Ming Dynasty); Japanese Garden, tea room and bonsai collection; Alpine Garden; Aquatic Garden: Rose Garden, and Idea Garden to name just a few. Greenhouses feature amazing collections of orchids, begonias, ferns and cacti. The Insectarium provides an extensive look at the world of insects. A free tram will help you get around efficiently.

• If you missed out on a cruise this year, cruise our great lake. During the summer, Lake Champlain Cruises aboard the Northern Lights offers daily lunch cruises, daily 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. scenic cruises, Sunday brunch cruises and Thursday dinner cruises with entertainment. Or take one of the many daily crossings to New York via the Lake Champlain Ferries that depart from Grand Isle (12 minutes to Plattsburgh), Burlington (1 hour to Port Kent) and Charlotte (20 minutes to Essex). Farther south, the cable-drawn Ticonderoga Ferry makes a 7-minute crossing from Larabee’s Point to Fort Ticonderoga.

Lake Champlain Shoreline Cruises operates the Spirit of Ethan Allen, offering daily lunch cruises Monday-Saturday, a Sunday brunch cruise, and themed dinner cruises seven nights a week.  They also have narrated scenic cruises daily at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

And don’t forget Vermont Discovery Cruises, offering overnight cruises aboard the Moonlight Lady.

• Visit some of Vermont’s many museums. The Shelburne Museum is a national attraction. Its 37 buildings on 45 acres house over 150,000 items. In addition to artifacts, the museum exhibits entire buildings such as a lighthouse, 19th-century railroad station, a 1950s ranch house and the 220-foot steamship Ticonderoga.

ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain at the foot of College Street features exhibits on the lake and its history.

The Jericho Historical Society’s Old Red Mill Craft Shop and Museum features an impressive collection of snowflake photographs taken by a local farmer, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley. Bentley took 5,000 photos of snowflakes during his lifetime.

Music, museums, gardens, water sojourns. If your plate isn’t full yet, add a Lake Monsters baseball game or two at Centennial Field, relive the drive-in movie era at the Sunset in Colchester (the area’s last) or take in a performance by the Royal Lippizzaner Stallions in North Hero. Enjoy!

New Theater Company Hopes to Leave Impression on Burlington This Summer

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

ae-red-stageBy Tim Simard

The Burlington waterfront has become home to the Champlain Valley’s newest theater company this summer. The Red Stage Theatre Company, a newly formed group of performers from all over the country, is setting up shop in the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center. For many involved, this is their first foray into the world of small theater companies, and the members of Red Stage hope to bring a new vision to theater in Burlington.

Rather than perform for the sake of performing, Maryna Harrison, who will be directing the groups’ two productions, said they chose plays that carried a message.

“Early on, we knew we wanted to produce plays that ask big questions,” Harrison said. “We want to give people a theatrical experience.”

Starting in July, Red Stage will be performing the Archibald MacLeish play “J.B.” and, in August, a newer play by Adam Bock called “Five Flights.” The shows will be presented in the performing arts center’s Black Box theatre.

In a city known for its diverse arts scene, the group looks forward to this season’s performances and hopes to make Red Stage a long-term summer tradition in Vermont.

“We want to make Burlington our home,” said Artistic Director Kohler McKenzie, a Burlington native.

Formation

Red Stage Theatre grew out of a friendship shared by acting students. It started earlier this year when a group of graduate students, working on their masters of fine arts in acting at Rutgers University, decided to form their own organization. McKenzie convinced the troupe of 12 actors and directors that Burlington was the perfect location. Once the actors relocated to Vermont for the summer, they knew they made the right choice.
“I know Burlington and I’d boasted to everyone that it is a very artistic community,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said the members of Red Stage have varied backgrounds, but share the same passion for theater. McKenzie said his love of performing didn’t come to him until he was in school at St. Mary’s College in Maryland. Studying both political science and theater, McKenzie decided to pursue his art when looking into graduate school.

“For me, I found theater to have the power and ability to make strong social statements,” McKenzie said.
Once at Rutgers, McKenzie knew he wanted to start a theater company. It was there that he met Harrison, who’d had 10 years experience acting and directing plays in New York City. Harrison, who has also performed with the Moscow Art Theater in Russia, said she prefers directing plays rather than performing them because she feels she’s more creative behind the stage, so to speak.

“I love acting, theoretically, but I don’t like doing it,” Harrison said with a laugh.

But for Red Stage actor Aaron Ballard, performing has always been one of her first loves. A native of South Carolina, Ballard said she wanted to take her acting to the next level when she enrolled as a graduate student at Rutgers. For her, acting is like becoming a storyteller for an audience.

“In a way, we communicate what it is to be human,” Ballard said.

Actor Gregory Perri also appreciates that connection between audience and performer. Hailing from New York, Perri said being part of Red Stage is the perfect next step in his theatrical growth.

“You’re part of a group, part of something that is larger than oneself,” Perri said.

The plays

The Red Stage Theatre Company has been busy rehearsing for “J.B.” in preparation for the play’s two-week run in July. “J.B.,” which takes its story from the biblical Book of Job, follows wealthy banker J.B. who loses everything and tries to find understanding in his suffering.

Written by MacLeish in the late 1950s, the dramatic verse play won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 1959.

“We were moved by the play’s questions it asked about humanity and human suffering,” Harrison said.
After the July 19 performance, the company will hold a special panel discussion with local theologians to discuss the show’s religion and morality themes.

Starting in mid-August, Red Stage will switch dramatic gears and perform “Five Flights,” a touching comedy. Written by up-and-coming playwright Bock, “Five Flights” shows the humorous ups and downs of a family and its eccentric friends dealing with a recent death.

“It’s really sweet and funny, without being sappy,” Harrison said.

Red Stage also started a series called “Shakespeare Goes Green,” which strings together scenes written by the Bard dealing with the interconnectedness of nature and people. Performances are accompanied musically by the actors’ Recycled Trash Band. Red Stage is hoping to perform “Shakespeare Goes Green” at a handful of events this summer.

Harrison said as Red Stage gains traction in the Burlington area, they hope to offer camps and clinics for middle and high school students interested in theater.

But for now, the members of the Red Stage Theatre Company are focusing on the upcoming season and have high hopes Vermonters will be drawn to their enthusiasm and love of theater.

“It’s only through the love and dedication of the people in this company that this is happening,” Harrison said.

You Can Make Chicken to Crow About

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Food

food-chickenBy Lori Weisberg

From its crispy, golden-hued skin to its tender, moist meat, roast chicken remains a timeless, comforting dish that is as eagerly embraced by home cooks as it is by sophisticated chefs. Julia Child and Jacques Pepin celebrated the well-roasted chicken as the hallmark of a fine cook in their book “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.”     Restaurateur Judy Rodgers of San Francisco’s landmark Zuni Cafe is widely known for her earthy wood-fire-oven roasted chicken. The editors of Cook’s Illustrated went to the trouble of roasting 40 chickens (so that we wouldn’t have to) to uncover a foolproof method that they included in last year’s book “The Best Chicken Recipes.”

Part of roast chicken’s appeal is its simplicity. It’s easy to prepare in a pinch, whether for a weeknight meal or a special-occasion dinner. Why, then, are there endless versions of this time-tested preparation online, in cookbooks and in food magazines, each purporting to yield the best roast chicken ever?

I confess I collect roast chicken recipes like some people collect old coins, determined as I am to achieve culinary perfection.

Truss or don’t truss? Baste or don’t baste? Brine ahead or don’t bother? Flip the bird during roasting or leave it alone? These are the nettlesome questions that bedevil anyone interested in turning out that perfectly roasted bird.

“What is interesting about roast chicken is, it seems really simple: unwrap bird, put in oven, bake. And the ingredients list is just salt, pepper, chicken,” said Jack Bishop, editorial director for America’s Test Kitchen, home of Cook’s Illustrated. “Yet it’s one of those things that’s hard to get right, because you have two kinds of meat, the hollow cavity and things cooking at different rates.

Still, after roasting dozens of chickens, the experts at America’s Test Kitchen concluded that preparing a roasted chicken does not have to be a complicated endeavor. One essential step, many agree, is brining the chicken to ensure a flavorful, tender bird.

One of my biggest frustrations with roast chicken is that no matter how much I season it, embellish it with fresh herbs and nudge butter under the skin, the end product is tender but not that flavorful. Failure to brine, I’m told, is the reason.

“We brine our chickens, and that really is the secret, even if you buy a lesser-quality bird,” said Matt Gordon, executive chef at Urban Solace in San Diego. “We use salt water, lemons, garlic, sugar, fresh herbs and peppercorns in our brine.

“The salt draws the natural liquid out of the chicken and tenderizes the meat. The muscle relaxes. That allows the flavors you put in the brine to work itself back into the chicken.”

Rodgers of Zuni Cafe is a fan of using a dry brine, rubbing the bird in advance with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt per pound of chicken.

Salting the chicken at least a day in advance will help season it evenly while also tenderizing it, she said.
“If you do stuff herbs under the skin, you have a double win. The salt will grab hold of the aromatic herbs and carry them inland,” explained Rodgers.

Coating the chicken with oil or butter before roasting is unnecessary, she added, as there already is sufficient fat in the skin.

Tell that to Julia Child, who always generously massaged her chickens with butter before putting them in the oven.

I have used Child’s roast-chicken technique many a time. While I adore the intensely flavored deglazing sauce that comes from melding the juices, the chicken itself is rather bland.

That was not the result when I followed Rodgers’ instructions to pre-salt the chicken. Just as she predicted, the meat was full of flavor, having absorbed the seasoning over a 24-hour period, and the skin was nicely crisped.

BRINE AND GLAZE FOR ROAST CHICKEN

Brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 thyme sprigs or other herbs
1/4 cup garlic cloves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 lemon, halved
4 cups boiling water
1 gallon cold water
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cider Molasses Glaze:
3 cups apple cider
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cups dark molasses
1 tablespoon cold butter
1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs
Yields brine/glaze for 3 chickens,

To Brine chickens:
Place kosher salt, granulated sugar, brown sugar, herbs, garlic cloves, peppercorns and lemon halves in very large pot. Add boiling water and stir. Let rest for 20 minutes for all flavors to steep. Stir and then add cold water. Use this to brine up to 3 chickens. (Remove any giblets.) Let chicken(s) sit in brine, refrigerated, 12 to 24 hours.

To roast chickens:
Remove chicken(s) from brine and drain all liquid out of cavity. Pat outside of chickens with paper towel. Fold wing tips behind chicken’s back (so it looks like it’s relaxing in a hammock on a hot summer day). Truss legs with twine. Place chicken in roasting pan, rub skin liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Roast bird for 20 minutes, or until skin looks mostly golden brown. Reduce oven heat to 250 degrees and continue to cook for 20 minutes or longer. During last few minutes of roasting chicken, brush on Cider Molasses Glaze. Chicken is done when a meat thermometer inserted in inner thigh near breast but not touching bone registers 160 degrees. (Home ovens vary, so use a meat thermometer to judge doneness.) Let chicken rest for at least 20 minutes prior to carving.

To make Cider Molasses Glaze:

In a saucepan, boil cider and vinegar until reduced to 1 cup. Remove from heat. Add molasses and let cool. The glaze should be lightly syrupy.

Place any remaining glaze (or glaze that drips off after chickens are finished) in a saute pan. Bring to a simmer and stir in the cold butter and fresh herbs. Pour sauce over carved chicken just before serving.

New Spin on Vertigo Treatment

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Phyl Newbeck

Getting dizzy and feeling faint are troublesome enough when you are young and sturdy, but for the older population, the medical condition known as vertigo can be downright frightening. Combine a loss of balance with more brittle bones and you have a recipe for disaster.

Susan Cromwell, a physical therapist at Fletcher Allen Health Care, says humans maintain balance by using information gained from their eyes, muscles, joints, and inner ears. As we grow older, all of these systems begin to break down somewhat. Problems with the inner ear can lead to a disorder known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV.

BPPV results in short episodes in which people feel as though they are spinning. These episodes occur after individuals change the direction of their head by movements such as lying down, sitting up, bending down or perhaps reaching over their heads.

Cromwell says the inner ear has three semi-circular canals which are filled with fluid. When a person tips their head, the fluid moves, stimulating nerve endings which give the brain the location of your head, i.e., forward, sideways, tilting, etc. In the section of the ear where the canals meet, there are microscopic pieces of calcium carbonate. The combination of fluid and crystals works as a “mini gyroscope” to provide an indication of where you are in space and how fast you are going. However, particularly in older people, the crystals sometimes migrate into the canals. The confluence of the two stimuli causes what feels like “momentary episodes of spinning” according to Cromwell. These episodes can last less than a minute, but may still be dangerous. A senior with orthopedic problems or perhaps other balance issues can get seriously hurt. They may get BPPV from sitting up in bed, causing them to fall and break a hip. Worse, if they are reaching for something in a cabinet and tilt their head back, they may fall and hit the back of their head.

The good news, according to Cromwell, is BPPV can be easily treated by a sequence of three or four head positions known as the Epley Maneuver, which moves the crystals back into position. These movements can be performed by a variety of health care providers including physical therapists. Cromwell said 90 to 95 percent of all BPPV cases can be cured in one or two treatment sessions.

Richard Tonino, a South Burlington physician who specializes in geriatric medicine agreed, noting that vertigo is extremely common in senior citizens. “In simplest terms, it relates to the deterioration of the cranial nerve which controls hearing and balance,” he said. Just as hearing worsens with age, the nerve function within the inner ear can also deteriorate. Tonino said at least half of all vertigo cases come from inner ear problems. He conceded that the manual manipulation used to treat inner ear vertigo is “a little voo-dooish, but it works.”
Mark Whitaker, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Fletcher Allen Health Care, said there is no proven way to prevent vertigo. While some might be able to ward off the problem by changing their sleeping positions, others might find such a change impossible to make. Whitaker said manual manipulation has an 80 percent success rate, although he noted that sometimes the procedure needs to be repeated.

Whitaker said that if a physician is absolutely certain a patient’s dizziness is caused by BPPV, surgery is a possibility. The surgery, which takes two to three hours, seals off the inner ear to prevent the movement of particles. Whitaker stressed that surgery is quite rare.

Other conditions which may cause vertigo are Menieres, a disorder of the inner ear which also results in ringing in the ears (tinnitus), pressure in the ear, and fluctuating hearing loss; a stroke; certain medications; or a condition known as vestibular neuronitis (a swelling of the inner ear nerve which carries balance signals to the brain). When vertigo comes from one of those disorders, the condition itself must be addressed, not the vertigo which is merely a manifestation of the problem. Vertigo which comes as a result of these conditions may be longer lasting and more immobilizing for patients, preventing them from activities such as flying.
Robert Jauch, an otolaryngologist in St. Johnsbury, stressed the need to differentiate between dizziness and vertigo. He stated that a common disorder is a condition known as “disequilibrium of the elderly” which results in mobility problems often confused with vertigo. Jauch also pointed to certain benign tumors known as acoustic neuronomas which affect balance but again, do not cause true vertigo. Jauch said seniors with any type of dizziness should see a specialist since many family doctors will simply prescribe sedatives which hinder the patient’s ability to exercise and move.

Dick Walters, an 84-year-old Shelburne resident, is living proof that, voo-dooish or not, manual manipulation works for BPPV. He had a minor episode of vertigo in 2008 which was cured by Susan Cromwell. This year, the vertigo returned with a vengeance. “I sat up,” Walters said, “and the world started spinning. It didn’t matter if my eyes were open or closed; everything was whirling.”

Walters spent several days almost completely bedridden while the vertigo continued. His stomach was so queasy that when he was able to walk, he carried a bucket with him. When the episode subsided, he immediately returned to Cromwell.

Walters explained that Cromwell won’t treat someone during a vertigo episode. She waits until it is over and then puts her patient through a series of head movements to recreate the problem. By doing so, she can pinpoint the location of the trouble and then direct further movements to correct it. Cromwell does not manipulate the patient’s head herself; she directs the patient and they turn their head in the direction she requests. “I call her the witch doctor,” Walters said. “She’s absolutely fantastic.”

After his episode, Walters has learned how widespread the problem is among seniors. He recognizes that vertigo may return but for now, he’s happy. Since his visit to Cromwell, he and his wife have gone skiing and he varnished the mast and trim on his boat. “I know it can return at some point,” he said, “but this time it won’t scare the hell out of me.”

For information on support groups, visit the following Web sites: www.dailystrength.org/c/Dizziness-Vertigo/support-group www.mdjunction.com/vertigo or www.vestibular.org/support-groups.php

History, Food and Fun Meet in Mobile

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Travel

By Molly Arost Staub, CNS

The Alabama port city of Mobile reveals a surprising melange of architectural styles and historical periods, peppered with several firsts and lasts, plus imaginative cuisine. The downtown area blends modern buildings with Civil War remnants and homes recalling New Orleans on its Government Street.

Fine buildings have frequently been recycled, now harboring fascinating museums. Some reveal matters of shame, some of pride. For example, in the 1856-building housing the Museum of Mobile, visitors learn that the country’s last African slaves were brought here. The country’s first successful submarine was built in this city. Children especially love the detailed collections of Aaron Friedman’s Miniature Houses and original carriages — including the oldest, an circa 1850 doctor’s buggy.

One of the biggest surprises unfolds at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Visitors learn that the New World first celebrated Mardi Gras in 1703, not in New Orleans, but in Mobile’s first settlement. The museum, which opened in 2005 in a mansion bedecked with wrought-iron balconies and fences, dazzles with costumes and crowns; some bejeweled and fur-trimmed trains weigh 50 pounds. Other astonishing firsts: the first Jewish mystic society was founded in 1890; the first black Mardi Gras parade was held in 1938; and the first gay society’s dance in 1980.

Nearby, a modern building lures youngsters to the Exploreum. Here, in My BodyWorks, a cornucopia of interactive machines allows participants to check various body functions, including their heart, strength, digestion and so on. Little ones enjoy the Wharf of Wonder.

These sights are reachable by foot or the MODA trolley from downtown hotels such as the outstanding full-service Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel, connected to the Mobile Convention Center and participating in the RTJ Golf Trail. They’re also near the Cruise Terminal, where, year-round, Carnival’s fun ship Holiday departs for a Mexican itinerary.

Another downtown hostelry, The Battle House, began life more than a half-century ago and was named “one of the Top 500 Hotels in the World” by “Travel & Leisure” magazine. Guests are wowed from the moment they step into the elegantly restored lobby on to its Crystal Ballroom, scene of debutantes’ and Mardi Gras balls. Not to mention the outstanding cuisine served in The Trellis Room.

In contrast, the casual Wintzell’s Oyster House is a must-eat stop. Founded in 1938 and now part of an eight-location Alabama chain, its specialty is oysters “fried, stewed or nude” along with gumbo — though land-based options also abound. Walls are papered with down-home platitudes such as “It takes a lot of payments to make a house a home.”

In the Spring Hill neighborhood, the Mobile Museum of Art sits within a wooded suburb. Boasting of being the Gulf Coast’s largest art museum, its two floors showcase a fine collection of American, European, African and Asian holdings. Especially impressive are some Impressionistic pieces by Renoir, Daubigny, Corot and the newly lauded Hagemeister, plus the extensive glass art collection.

This upscale neighborhood is home to an extremely fine restaurant, True. Though set in a strip mall, the interior’s stunning contemporary decor renders guests awestruck. What follows, however, is culinary theater at its finest. Native son Wesley True, after studying at the Culinary Institute of America and working at several high-end New York City restaurants, returned to Mobile to open his own gastronomical temple. He dubs his style “modern French with Italian and southern Alabama influences.”

If his Roast Duck Breast With Saffron And Pine Nut Puree And Coconut Reduction is heavenly, it’s only outdone by his Local Snapper With Bacon Veloute And House-Made Black Truffle Oil, served with braised artichokes. Asked if he prefers to use local ingredients for his dishes, he replied, “The longer I’m here, the more I support local fishermen and farmers.” Aficionados have also lauded the wine list.

A bit farther away await other important spots. The world-renowned Bellingrath Gardens and Home began as a fishing camp for Walter Bellingrath, Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler. He and his wife Bessie opened their gardens to the public in 1932, which became immediately successful. They then built a lavish antique-filled brick house, completed in 1936. Most famous outdoors are the huge azalea bushes of every hue abloom in the spring. However, each season sees eye-popping flora. Through summer, 2,000 roses in a kaleidoscope of colors scent the air. (The gardens were chosen the country’s top public rose garden by All American Rose Selections in 2004.) Tropical blooms stun within greenhouses.

Few area visitors will want to bypass nearby Fort Gaines, where costumed interpreters detail the pre-Revolutionary War fort. Remember “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”? This was where, in1864, Adm. David G. Farragut shouted his famous command to break the Civil War blockade and capture Mobile’s forts. The Hunley rammed 90 pounds of explosives into the Confederate Navy’s Housatonic. It marked the first time a submerged submarine sank another ship.

Close by at the Estuarium, Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s aquarium (the teaching facility about the Gulf) exposes kids to live denizens in tanks while grownups learn about the best practices to prevent logging erosion. Outside, the briny air also smells of pennywort and lantana.

Also along the waterfront stands Alabama Five Rivers — the confluence of the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers. Exhibits at the Visitor’s Center include a stuffed 12.5-foot alligator, bobcat, armadillo and bear. Nature lovers find opportunities to trek, canoe and kayak the 250,000 acres of woods, waterways and wetlands. The Delta boasts an amazing 300 bird species, 126 fish species and 500 plant species. For information, contact the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-5-MOBILE or view www.mobilebay.org.

Beware of Work-at-Home Rip-Offs

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Money

By Janet Groene

The deal seems perfect for a bright, 68-year-old man who needs extra money, but prefers to stay home while his wife recovers from a minor stroke. He signed up for a multi-level marketing scheme selling products to neighbors, online, and to a wide circle of friends. Better still were the carefree commissions he expected to reap from others he would recruit to work under his wise guidance.

Sadly, the product flopped and his pyramid crumbled. His first mistake was to begin by taking a sales course from the company. Promoters pumped him so full of pipe dreams, it never occurred to him to do market research. By the time reality set in, he’d spent more than $200 for the course, supplies and samples.
Working at home (WAH) is increasingly popular with seniors whose retirement funds have shrunk ,but who prefer to be their own, stay-at-home bosses for one reason or another. Here’s how to tell real WAH opportunities from highly hyped hoopla.

•Does the company have a phone number staffed by real people, a physical address and a rating from the Better Business Bureau (www.BBB.org)? If you send money to a nameless, faceless mail drop or Web site, it may be impossible to chase down cheats.

•If you give a credit card number online to pay for an inexpensive, WAH how-to booklet, you may be signing up to pay on a monthly basis for a series of books, lessons, Web site access, CDs or just nothing at all. Read all the fine print before checking the “I Agree” box and uncheck boxes that give permission for you to be put on mail lists or otherwise enter a relationship with the company. Check your monthly credit card statements carefully. Sometimes these charges are small enough to go unnoticed, but they go on forever unless you put a stop to them.

• Do numbers add up? If you’re handy, assembling things at home from raw materials or kits sounds like a pleasant way to earn money. Assuming the company is legitimate and will actually pay you for doing the work and shipping the finished products, look at your costs in time and money. You must buy materials from the company, so look at your start-up costs, how many units you might produce per hour, and how much you’re likely to earn per hour.

• One hazard to look out for is “inspection.”If your work doesn’t “pass,” items are rejected and you’re stuck with the products and the cost of materials. If you’re asked to produce samples to prove you can do the work according to specs, it is probably OK if the company provides materials at no cost.

• Beware multi-level marketing. If your success relies on your talking other people into taking the sales course, buying the sample kit and generating commissions you share, you could lose friends as well as dollars.

• “Just sit in front of your computer, filling out surveys and giving your opinion,” screams an ad that claims you can make $20 an hour or more by answering surveys for famous companies. Then you’re offered a $49 course. Beware schemes that ask for money before they’ll tell you who will pay you how much for doing what work.

Even if you can’t leave the house, start your WAH search locally by using the phone, Internet and e-mail to look for outsourcing and telecommuting jobs in your hometown. Advertise free in your community newspapers.

As a second choice, work by mail and keep copies of all correspondence. If you’re scammed, you might get satisfaction by charging the crooks with federal mail fraud. The Internet is filled with schemers, many of them overseas, who cannot be traced let alone prosecuted. The Internet offers fabulous opportunities but it also calls for added vigilance.

• Online search results for “work at home scams” are scary. Many WAH “reviews,” “warnings” and “exposés” are posted by people who are in the business of selling you their “approved” work-at-home schemes.

•Phone “acting” is a want-ad euphemism for WAH phone sex.

• The list of expensive online WAH courses includes medical transcribing, bridal consulting, child care, financial planning, jewelry repair, flower arranging, being a travel agent and many more skills that won’t earn a nickel if you don’t know how to run a business. The toughest part of working at home is the lonely, highly disciplined, uncertain world of self-employment. Many people just aren’t cut out for it.

Bottom line: just as Mother told you years ago, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Statewide Campaign Offers Vital Message: Ask and Check Before You Invest

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Money

By Ben Portnoy

As part of a statewide campaign to educate investors about the growing risk of investment-related cons and scams, a free educational seminar was held on June 18 at the Sheraton Conference Center in South Burlington.

Continuing throughout the fall in large and small venues across Vermont, the ongoing seminars are designed to educate Baby Boomers and seniors about how to recognize common tactics used by scammers and how to protect themselves from dangerous investments.

Key speakers and presenters at the seminar included Governor Jim Douglas, State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, Director of AARP Vermont Greg Marchildon, Commissioner of Vermont Department of Banking Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISCHA) Paulette Thabault, President of Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation John Gannon, Director of Financial Literacy and Communications of Vermont State Treasurer’s Office Lisa Helme, and Director of Securities for BISCHA John Cronin.

Due to a significant downturn in the economy and declines in the stock market, investment-related scams geared towards seniors have increased.“Americans have lost more then $2 trillion of their retirement nest eggs, and now they’re desperate to get ready for retirement,” said Gannon. “Unfortunately, that creates the perfect opportunity for scam artists to pitch their too-good-to-be-true and get-rich-quick schemes.”
Governor Douglas expressed similar sentiments. “During economic downturns we often see a rise in predatory and exploitive practices by a few bad apples, and we must always be diligent in protecting ourselves from investment fraud,” Douglas said.

These “scam-artists” have been found in Vermont. Vermont State Police Lt. Robert Kalinowski told a cautionary story about how his father was taken advantage of and ended up falling victim to investment fraud. “Nobody is exempt from the deviant people out there who want to take advantage of good, hardworking, trusting people,” said Kalinowski. “If it can happen to our family, it can happen to anybody.”

According to Cronin, the number of investment-related complaints in Vermont has doubled compared to two years ago. As to why Vermont has seen such an increase, Cronin cited technological advancement as a plausible explanation. “The internet and telephone have ended the days in which geography protected Vermont from these things,” Cronin said.

More then 250 seniors from the area attended the free seminar, most wanting to learn how to protect their money. “Anything we can learn about how to make money or how to preserve our IRA and 401k is worthwhile,” said Garth Peterson of Burlington.

Others in attendance were hoping to get a better understanding of the current and future position of the economy. “I want to find out what [the experts] have to say about our economy and to see where things are headed,” said Steve Stoddard of Williston.

Regardless of individual reasons for attending, the fact of the matter is, according to Gannon, this seminar works. “This presentation has been tested repeatedly and we’ve seen that participants who have gone through this program have been able to reduce their susceptibility to investment fraud by over 50 percent,” said Gannon.

According to the presenters, recent research shows there are consistent demographic trends among investment fraud victims. Those include people who are self-reliant decision makers, have above-average income and financial knowledge, are college-educated, have experienced a recent health and/or financial setback and are optimistic and open to listening to new ideas or sales pitches.

Highlighted in the presentation were common persuasive tactics used by scammers. The “social consensus” tactic leads the victim to believe that other wealthy, smart investors have already invested in the item the scammer is trying to sell. The “source credibility” tactic is when the scammer attempts to build his credibility by claiming to be with a reputable firm, or to have a special credential or experience. Another frequently used ploy is the “scarcity” tactic, wherein the scammer creates a false sense of urgency by claiming there is only an extremely limited supply remaining.

The presentation made a point of noting that legitimate marketers may use these tactics too, but the difference between real deals and scams is that the real deals do not require you to act fast. There is always time to think about the deal before making a decision.

The presentation outlined three effective strategies to help distinguish between good and bad offers. The first step is to “end the conversation.” If you practice an exit strategy, such as simply saying, “No thank you, I am not interested,” it will be easier to exit a conversation when the pressure starts rising.

The second step is to “turn the tables and start asking questions, then check the answers.”

Ask if the seller and his firm is registered with FINRA, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and if the investment is registered with the SEC or the Vermont securities regulator. Then, verify the answers by checking the seller’s background.

Thirdly, “talk to someone first.” After checking to make sure the seller is legitimate, it is important to discuss the decision with family and friends.

Attendees of the seminar, such as Johanna Widlal of Burlington, thought the presentation was “very informative. Any information as to how to watch out for fraud is information anyone needs.”
Burlington resident Bob Forrest saw the presentation as a “matter of awareness and where to look for help and being aware that [help] is there.”

Prior to the presentation, Douglas said, “All Vermonters, especially senior citizens, must take important steps to protect themselves and their finances from investors seeking to defraud them of their life saving and retirement investments.”

The “Before you invest, ask and check” campaign, sponsored by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, AARP Vermont, BISCHA and the Vermont State Treasurer’s Office, is certainly a valuable way to get started.
Visit www.SaveAndInvest.org or call (888) 295-7422 for more information about upcoming seminars, how to check a seller, investment or form, or to order a free DVD of the presentation called “Tricks of the Trade: Outsmarting Investment Fraud.”

Father and Son Partnership Stays the Course

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Business

golf-cart-kidsBy Phyl Newbeck

It’s not every day that a father and son can work together at a job they love, but that is the case with Brian King and his son Bill. They designed and operate the 18-hole Barton Golf Club in the Northeast Kingdom.
Bill is absolutely thrilled with the turn of events. Brian, now 77, began building the course in 1988 and opened it as a 9-hole course in 1990.  Bill left his job as an engineer for a large construction company and began working for his father in 1999. One year later, he and his wife bought the course and expanded it to 18 holes. “Technically, he works for me,” Bill says, “but really we’re an equal team. We work together and we bounce ideas off each other.”

Bill noted that the first few years on the job he relied on his father’s expertise and advice. “I still do,” he said, “but it’s funny that there’s been sort of a shift lately. I catch myself wondering ‘why is he asking my opinion?’”
Brian said his son really only worked for him for a year; the goal had always been that he would take over the business. He said Bill brings an assortment of mechanical and other skills to the business which he lacks.
Brian may be the senior partner, but he isn’t one to shy away from hard work. “He works just as many hours as anybody else,” said Bill. “He’s an inspiration not only to me but to the others who work here.”

Bill jokes that despite the presence of high tech equipment on the premises, his father’s favorite tool is still a shovel and his favorite job is digging a ditch. “Maybe,” Bill speculated, “that’s why he’s still going strong. I hope I can keep going the way he is.”

Brian didn’t entirely agree with his son. “I don’t really enjoy shoveling,” he said, “but I enjoy seeing the outcome of my work.”

Both father and son live next door to the golf course, and Bill considers the proximity to his father and work to be a plus for himself and his children, ages 6, 10, and 12. “I see my dad seven days a week,” he said. “It’s great. We have a good working relationship.”

The golf club is more than a father/son business. Bill’s children help out during the summer, moving the cups and flag locations, picking up trash and refilling the ball washer. His mother works in the pro shop and her brother and brother-in-law are also employees. Bill said his kids love being out on the course and say they want to work there someday, but he recognizes that it is far too early for them to be making a career choice. “It’s fun to hear, though,” he admits.  Brian thinks there is a good chance the golf course will become a multi-generational business. For now, he relishes the opportunity to see his grandchildren on the course. “They really pitch in,” he said.

Brian was born in Island Pond and taught school in Barton before joining the staff of Champlain College where he taught business courses for 26 years. Bill was born in Burlington and raised in Richmond. Brian was the first to relocate to Barton, creating the course on land that was part of his wife’s family farm. He was still teaching at Champlain College when he made the move, spending winters teaching business and summers working on the course. When he retired from Champlain, the couple moved to Barton full-time. Bill and his wife Barb followed in 1999.

Bill admitted that he and his father have some differences of opinion, but he thinks their relationship is closer than many father/son duos. “It’s quite amazing how well we work together,” he said, “but we have the same philosophy as far as business goes and what we want to do with the golf course.”

Both father and son are concerned that golf has become “a rich man’s sport.”  They are doing their best to keep prices down and create a relaxing experience. Bill chastised golf clubs that rush their customers on the course or are rude to them on entry.

Although the pair may not agree on everything, they have an open relationship which allows them to talk through their differences. “His ideas are better than mine now,” said Brian. “As I get older, he brings more to the table.”

But Brian has no intention of retiring any time soon. “I’m in good health,” he said, “and I intend to continue working as long as I can. I’m making something more beautiful. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”
“This is a dream job,” said Bill, “the absolute best job. I’m outside every day and I’m working with my family.” He recognizes that most people don’t get the chance to choose who they work with and considers himself lucky to have been able to do so, having made a conscious decision to move to Barton and work with his father. “It’s absolutely the best relationship I’ve had with a coworker,” he said. “We got lucky. We chose this situation and made the right decision without a doubt.”

Brian concurred.  “It’s a wonderful thing,” he said.

Hollywood Hair at Beauty School Prices

July 1, 2009  
Filed under Blogs

fashion-hairBy Sharon Mosley, CNS

You don’t have to have the big bucks of a celebrity to have movie-star style, according to Robert Vetica, hairstylist extraordinaire. Based in Los Angeles, Vetica has been the “mane man” to dozens of A-list clients: Salma Hayek, Debra Messing, Avril Lavigne, Reese Witherspoon … and who can forget Renee Zellweger’s “Veronica Lake” hair in that yellow vintage dress at the Oscars?

Although he is a premier Hollywood stylist, Vetica’s philosophy about having great hair is to keep things “simple, simple, simple.” In his new book, “Good to Great Hair” (Fair Winds Press, $24.99), the celebrity stylist does not offer an airbrushed version of haute coiffure. His very readable (and often humorous) tips, gleaned through 25-plus years of experience, provide all of us with uncomplicated basics that are often as affordable as checking out the local beauty school.

Here are some of Vetica’s money-saving tips when it comes to achieving great hair:
• Ease up on the shampoos and styling products that dry hair out when washed every day. “Ever wonder why European women, or Asian women, or for that matter any other group of women outside the United States have such amazingly healthy-looking hair?” he asks. “They do not, I repeat, do not wash their hair every day. Never did, never will.”

Instead, Vetica recommends just wetting hair and giving it a good rinse with water in between shampoos. “Hair maintains its proper pH better when you don’t shampoo as often,” he says. “Really, ladies, try it my way for a while. Less is more, even when it comes to your hair. Start out by using fewer products and tell me if, after a few months, your hair isn’t in better shape.”

• Choose a “leave-in” product instead of a daily moisturizing conditioner. “Leave-in conditioners have become my best friends,” admits Vetica. “You will be amazed at the results. You might even find that you’ll be using fewer styling products. When applying any product, always start with smaller amounts. Less is more with hair products. If you need to, you can always add more later.”

• Attempt a dry shampoo, Vetica’s “favorite product of all time.” “It’s amazing,” he says, and recommends using the product in a colored aerosol form.

“As we all know,” he says, “your hair starts to lose its style as the day goes on. Take the dry shampoo and give your head a good once-over, leave it for a few minutes to let it absorb all the oils from the day, then give it a good brush-through. You will be amazed at the results.”

Dry shampoo can also cover gray temporarily and give hair texture at the roots when having extensions applied. (Note from Sharon Mosley: This really does work great for thinning hair! My favorite is from Bumble & bumble (www.bumbleandbumble.com).

• Try before you buy. “A lot of beauty supply stores will have samples,” says Vetica. “Try a few that look right for your hair and see if you like what they do for you.”

• Look into beauty schools. This is one of Vetica’s best secrets if you’re on a “hair” budget. “Every beauty school in the country needs hair clients,” says Vetica, “and every school has a trained teacher on staff that oversees every client that comes through the door.”

• Be cautious about using store-bought color. “What you see on the box is not usually what you get,” he says. “Because this color on the box was put on hair that was previously lightened.”

Vetica suggests being honest if you can’t afford salon coloring and asking your hairdresser for advice. “Your hairdresser will advise you as to what number to buy, and, yes, all color has a number attached to it, especially the ones you buy in the supermarket or the drugstore.”

If you have any doubt about coloring your own hair, and money is tight, Vetica again recommends checking out the services of a beauty school. “Hey, you never know, you might meet a ‘me’ in that school,” he says.