Vermont’s Best Scenic Drives

August 7, 2012  
Filed under Travel

Drives along Vermont’s back roads offer many vistas of the state’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield. (Photo by Stephanie Choate)

By Stephanie Choate

Vermont is filled with stunning vistas, charming towns and peaceful countryside.

This summer, explore some areas of the Green Mountain State you’ve never seen before by getting off the main roads and traveling some of Vermont’s loveliest back roads, suggested by the Vermont Department of Tourism.

Stowe and the northern mountains
Begin in Stowe — 125 miles

  • From the village of Stowe, take Route 100 north about 2 miles, then the left fork onto Stagecoach Road, follow it for about 6 miles.
  • Turn left at the stop sign onto French Hill Road (Walton Road at the far end). Follow it to a right turn onto White Road, which is not marked.
  • Travel into Johnson on Railroad Street to the intersection with Route 15. Turn right onto Route 15 through Johnson village and go past the junction of Route 100 and Route 15.
  • Travel about 6 miles, then turn right onto Route 100 at the stop light. Follow it to a blinking light in Morrisville.
  • Turn left onto Greaves Hill Road, then left onto Couchaine Farm Road (becomes Elmore Pond Road), and follow it to Route 15. Turn left onto Route 15, then take the first right turn onto West Hill Road.
  • Take a right onto North Wolcott Road and go 8 miles, turn left just past the cemetery to the Gulf sign, then left again 7 miles to Eden Mills.
  • In Eden Mills, turn left onto Route 100, go abut 1 mile then turn right onto Route 118. Follow it to the intersection with Route 109 in Belvidere Corners, take Route 109 west through Belvidere Center to Waterville.
  • Take the second left onto unpaved Hogback Road. Take a sharp right onto Route 15, and follow it through Cambridge and Jeffersonville, to the intersection with Route 108.
  • Turn right onto Route 108 and follow it through Smugglers Notch, about 18 miles to return to Stowe. Note that the Notch road is winding and narrow (unsuitable for large vehicles) and closed in the winter.

Alternative: Take the Toll Road up to the top of Mount Mansfield, and take in the views.
Northern Mountains and Islands
Begin in St. Albans — 120 miles

  • Take Route 105 from St. Albans east through Steven Mills to the intersection with Route 101.
  • Take 101 south 1 mile, then turn right onto Route 242 and follow it to Montgomery Center.
  • In Montgomery Center, turn left and go south on Route 118 to Belvidere Coners, then turn right onto Route 109 and take it to Jeffersonville.
  • Take Route 104 from Jeffersonville through Fairfax on Route 104. About 2 miles north of Fairfax, turn left onto Route 104A, and follow it to Interstate 89. Take I-89 south to exit 17 at Chimney Corner, turn onto Route 2 all the way through North Hero, Grand Isle and South Hero.

Take a side trip on Route 129 to Isle La Motte, then return to Route 2.
Other lovely stops include Sand Bar State Park, Niquette State Park.
To shorten the route and stay on the lake, head east on Lake Road (Route 36) in St. Albans. Follow it along the shore until you connect with Route 78. Follow Route 78 north, then turn south onto Route 2.
Short Charlotte and ferry loop
Begins in Hineburg, approximately 30 miles, plus ferry travel

  • Take Hinesburg Road into Charlotte, turn left onto Mount Philo Road.
  • At Mount Philo State Park, drive up to the top of the mountain ($3 fee per person) for a panoramic view of Lake Champlain and the Charlotte farmland below.
  • Take State Park Road and turn right onto Route 7. Turn left onto Ferry Road, through the village of Charlotte.
  • Turn left onto Lake Road, then right onto Converse Bay Road, which is unpaved. Follow Converse Bay Road to the ferry dock.
  • Take the ferry across the lake to Essex, N.Y., stopping for a bite at the Old Dock or an ice cream cone.
  • Return on the ferry, and take Ferry Road, which will become Hinesburg Road.

Classic Vermont Villages and Covered Bridges
Begins in Middlesex, 110 miles

  • Beginning in Middlesex village, take Route 100B to Moretown.
  • In Moretown village, take a sharp left, turn up a hill and onto an unpaved road, Moretown Mountain Road, which meanders for several miles before becoming Cox Brook Road. Near the end of the unpaved road, you will pass or pass through three covered bridges.
  • In Northfield Falls, turn right onto Route 12. Take it to the intersection with Route 12A. Take Route 12A to Roxbury village, then turn right onto an unpaved road, Warren Mountain/Roxbury Mountain Road, and follow it to East Warren. Turn left to Warren to see another covered bridge. The Warren Store in Warren on Route 100 is a good place to stop for lunch—eat out on the deck overlooking the river.
  • Backtrack on Common Road to East Warren and take it to Waitsfield Common, then take North Road (later becomes Pony Farm Road) back to paved Route 100, just south of Moretown.
  • Turn left onto Route 100 and follow it through Waitsfield. Look for covered bridges on the left in the village. Continue through Irasville and take a right turn onto Sugarbush Access Road.
  • Take a right onto German Flats Road, then left onto Route 17. Travel west for about 8 miles. Take a sharp right onto unpaved Gore Road/Main Road through Hanksville, Huntington Center and Huntington, where the road becomes Huntington Road.
  • Take a right on unpaved Dugway Road. At the end of the road, turn right onto Cochran Road, and follow it to Route 2. Turn right onto Route 2 and follow it through Bolton and Waterbury to the intersection with Route 100.
  • Take Route 100 through South Duxbury. Turn left onto Route 100B, follow it through Moretown and back to Middlesex and the intersection with Route 100.

For more scenic drive suggestions, visit the Vermont Department of Tourism’s website at

Mortgage Rates Make This Best Time to Buy or Refinance

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Money

By Terry Savage

He (or she) who hesitates is lost! It’s an old saying, and right now it applies to the housing market. Yes, the economic headlines are still gloomy, many are unemployed and foreclosures are actually rising. But paradoxically, those obvious facts are creating one of the best home-buying opportunities in history.

Not only have prices fallen by 30 percent or more in many locations, mortgage rates last week hit 60-year lows. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell below 3.5 percent for the first time since the 1950s. The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage is now 2.8 percent.

Combine low rates and low prices, and you have an incredible opportunity. But for most people, that opportunity will be obvious only in hindsight. We are all conditioned to remember only the recent past. And, for housing, that recent past is scary. Gone are the stories of profits made on the sale of a home. They have been replaced with eviction notices and lost equity.

Just as no tree grows to the sky, no market continues in one direction forever. But only a few people have the discipline to step back, gain perspective and take the risk of going against the obvious current trend.

Owning your own home is still a centerpiece of the American dream. It was the dream of the pioneers who took wagon trains west, seeking their own land. It was the dream for the immigrants who arrived on our shores. It was the dream of the post-World War II generation who built the suburbs. It was the city condo dream for a generation of yuppies. And home ownership will once again be the dream for the next generation of American prosperity.

It’s just that the benefits of building equity with a tax-deductible mortgage are less apparent now than they appeared to be just a decade ago, when homebuyers never dreamed that home prices could fall. That fear of losing money on a home is one of the factors making this the time to buy — if you have good credit and a down payment. Fear helps push prices down, creating the opportunity for future gains.

I have always advised that your house is not your “piggy bank.” But properly financed and under the right circumstances, the single-family home will once again become the foundation of middle-class financial security.

And for those who already own a home, and may have refinanced in the past, it’s time to do another refinancing and lock in these record low rates. The rest of the world has been sending money to the presumed safety of the U.S. dollar, helping the Fed keep rates low. But if Europe survives as a single economic unit, or if American debt problems become overwhelming, you can be sure that dollar fears will push rates higher.

Whether you’re getting a mortgage for a new purchase or considering a refinancing, it pays to be creative and to compare rates and deals online. No longer is your hometown bank the automatic place to start — although you should definitely check with your local lenders to see if they can match the best rates online.

The place to start looking is They’ll quote for both new purchases and refinancings, both 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate deals. You’ll input your city and state, so they can give you quotes from lenders who can actually do your deal. And they offer quotes on mortgages with either 20 percent or 5 percent down. (The latter are more difficult to obtain.) You’ll be asked to input your credit score, as well. stands behind these quotations, so you know you’re not being offered a teaser deal.

It makes absolutely no sense to take an adjustable-rate mortgage now. The slightly lower rate is not worth the upside exposure if inflation fears should return. The whole idea of making this purchase now is to lock in this financial opportunity.

Be sure to compare deals by using the APR — annual percentage rate, which includes the effect of points you might pay. In fact, since banks are flush with money to lend to those with good credit, you should avoid paying any points on your mortgage and refinancing.

Remember that property taxes and insurance will add to your monthly payment. You can likely get a better deal if you purchase homeowners insurance, paying the bills yourself using an automatic debit system.

Here’s a tip from my mortgage experts, one that I had never heard of before. You can do a deal with “negative points.” What’s that? A very creative way to avoid out-of-pocket expenses for a new survey, title search and appraisal.

You know that you can pay points to “buy down” your mortgage rate. People have been doing that for years, but it makes no sense in today’s low rate environment. “Negative points” is just the reverse. After you do your deal and are told how much you must pay upfront in closing costs and fees, you can offer to pay a slightly higher rate on your mortgage — to avoid those out-of-pocket costs! And that could make enough of a difference to give you a larger down payment or make refinancing affordable.

Sure, there’s bad news about the economy, jobs and housing. But America will recover — and you’ll wish you had taken advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Art Center exhibit finds excellence in ten Vermont printmakers

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

Helen Day Art Center presents IMPRESSED: Vermont Printmakers 2012 featuring ten of the strongest artists working in print in Vermont.

Exhibition runs through Sept. 9.  Gallery

hours are Wednesday through Sunday,

12-5 p.m. and by appointment.

The ten artists in the exhibition work primarily in print, and many of them are pushing the medium past its limits. From basement studio experimenters, to clusters of artists drawn together around a press and a studio, these artists are engaged in a great visual dialogue about the capabilities of printmaking, with voices that speak with scientific precision, fantastic abstraction and everything in between.

Present in the exhibition is the influence of place on the artist’s work. Many of these artists live part-time elsewhere and their work contrasts the Vermont landscape and their roots in other places. In some cases, the landscape is the subject, while for others the relationship is represented abstractly.

Winooski Artist Bill Davison’s work addresses the 9/11 attacks and his emotional relationship with New York City where he lives part-time. For Sarah Amos, a native Australian, data and maps of Australian territory and the waters nearby form the matrix on which her dazzling imagery hangs.

Helen O’Donnell co-founded Twin Vixen Press in Brattleboro in 2007. Almost wiped away by Irene, the studio is back in shape and Helen is printing again. She is a gardener whose practice spans the Atlantic -England and the U.S.,  and whose life has taken her from Mount Desert Island, Maine to Italy; Bellingham, Washington; Utah;  England; and now to Brattleboro, Vermont. Her work reflects the hands-on nature of gardening and the wide range of territory she has covered. Twin Vixen co-founder Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ imaginative prints represent–in stark precision–animals and animal-humans as a way to examine the differences and similarities between us. Also at Twin Vixen Press, Bobbi Angell’s background as a scientific illustrator results in compulsively precise renderings of plants and organic forms– Albrecht DÜrer approves, and beauty abounds.

Mickey Myers of Johnson, Vermont is firmly rooted to Lamoille County. Working from her car at a variety of locations, she makes both muted and fiery landscape mono-prints of the Lamoille Valley.  She reworks these even after the print is made. That her prints are of the same family is obvious, but each is brilliantly unique.

Rachel Gross of Two Rivers Press in White River Junction creates her own spaces. Her semi-abstract prints manipulate perspective and volume to make physical compartments, landscapes and architectural forms. Both playful and ominous, these transport the viewer to another dimension.

Also working at Two Rivers Press in White River Junction, Lois Beatty draws beautiful connections between natural forms and her abstract shapes. Lois uses a range of techniques for her plates including solarplate etching and collagraphs.

Don Hanson of Stowe, Vermont is the experimenter, tinkerer, and rebel of the group. He makes work that is layered, bonded to metal, built up and distressed–over and over again. A core component of his aesthetic is to reject anything precious or pretty. The subjects of man, nature and conflict dominate his images where the evidence of his hand is everywhere and the connection to printmaking as we know it is tenuous.

Similarly sequestered and physical, Lynn Newcomb of Worcester makes massive, bold images inspired by sculpture, both hers and that of others. It is difficult to tell which influence the other; do her prints map the way to her hand-forged metal sculpture, or does her sculpture practice find a home in printed representation?

Artist List:

Sarah Amos: Fairfield, Vermont

Bobbi Angell: Marlboro, Vermont

Lois Beatty: West Lebanon, New Hampshire

Bill Davison: Winooski, Vermont and New York City

Rachel Gross: White River Junction, Vermont

Don Hanson: Stowe, Vermont

Briony Morrow-Cribbs: Brattleboro, Vermont

Mickey Myers: Johnson, Vermont

Lynn Newcomb: Worcester, Vermont

Helen O’Donnell: Brattleboro, Vermont

Making the Old Sound New

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

84-year-old Lee Konitz

Wows at Burlington Jazz Fest

Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz performs at the FlynnSpace in Burlington as the penultimate act of the 2012 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Konitz, 84, began his professional career in 1945. (Photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

The headliner of the 2012 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival was as unassuming a man as you’re ever likely to meet.

Were it not for the alto saxophone gripped in his smallish hands, the man in the baggy black cargo shirt who stepped from the backstage shadows into the spotlight of the FlynnSpace on June 10 might have been mistaken by the casual observer as a local barber or a friendly neighborhood postman.

The man was 84-year-old Lee Konitz.

With the possible exception of Sonny Rollins—the closing performer of the 2010 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival—Konitz is the greatest survivor from the 1940s bebop era of jazz.

Tellingly, neither was long associated with the movement that claimed many a jazzman from drugs, booze or commercial disillusionment.

Rollins played on Bud Powell’s seminal 1949 bebop recordings for Blue Note Records at the tender age of 19, but by the time he found his mature voice during the hard bop era, he had moved beyond categorization.

Like Rollins, Konitz’s singular approach to his horn is instantly recognizable.

Born in Chicago, Konitz joined the postwar New York City jazz scene in the mid-1940s and came under the tutelage of fellow Chicagoan Lennie Tristano, the blind pianist who introduced classical dissonance and jagged counterpoint to bebop chord changes.

Despite critics’ insistence on pigeonholing Konitz into the West Coast school of “cool jazz,” he was never truly a part of the movement that sprung from Miles Davis’ 1949 “Birth of the Cool” sessions, on which Konitz played alto.

Konitz’s legacy is instead as the most consistently adventurous interpreter of the Great American Songbook through his famous 10-level system of improvisation, in which a familiar melody is incrementally deconstructed until a tangentially related melodic structure emerges.

“I’m very pleased to be here tonight,” Konitz said as he shambled onto the stage at the FlynnSpace with his comparatively youthful backing band of pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist John Hebert and drummer Matt Wilson. “In the words of Dizzy Gillespie, I’m very pleased to be anywhere.”

Konitz turned to make sure his bandmates were set, adjusted his mouthpiece and stepped to the front of the stage.

“We’re going to play some old songs and make them sound new,” he said.

During the next hour, the ageless Konitz validated the timelessness of the jazz standards of yesteryear.

The centerpiece of the set was an extended workout of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”—which Konitz reworked as early as 1949 as “Subconscious-Lee.”

Here its melody began cryptically before progressing beyond recognition, with the band lithely shifting between tempos and time signatures and bouncing fragments of ideas off each other before settling into an eastern raga trance.

The interplay between the band members was telepathic, with a simple cymbal accent or pizzicato bass run spurring Tepfer and Konitz into new realms of melodic interplay.

Playing without amplification in the FlynnSpace’s intimate club setting, Konitz’s dry tone jabbed through the swath of his mates’ improvisations with the concentrated poise of a flyweight boxer. Like his hero, Lester Young, Konitz’s playing was simultaneously engaged and detached, sitting just behind the beat with lines of constantly fluid invention.

Konitz and company closed with the archetypal standard “Cherokee,” the Ray Noble tune that gave 21-year-old Kansas Citian Charlie Parker his musical epiphany in a 1941 trio session, and in the process laid the framework for modern jazz.

After the set, Wilson commented on the band’s oblique reading of the jazz standard.

“It was ‘Cherokee’ in all 12 keys,” Wilson quipped. “We call it ‘Chero-keys.’”

As the FlynnSpace crew rearranged the stage to make way for the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Nonet—an ad hoc group of local musicians formed for the occasion—Konitz stood offstage in a baseball cap, politely shaking hands with the crowd.

The BDJF Nonet’s program for the evening was a selection of tracks from “Birth of the Cool”—the very songs Konitz recorded over 60 years prior.

It was further proof that Konitz doesn’t just make old songs sound new.

He makes them eternal.

South End Art Hop Set for Sept. 7 and 8

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

Annually, 30,000 art lovers take part in the South End Art Hop,visiting artists’ studios, and local businesses that are refit as art galleries and exhibition sites. (Photo by Stephen Mease)

By Stephanie Choate

Burlington’s South End will once again be the focus of creativity for local painters, sketchers, sculptors, glassblowers and artists of all persuasions.

As September rolls around, the South End Arts and Business Association is gearing up to host its signature event, the South End Art Hop on Sept 7 and 8..

“It’s the largest exhibit of visual arts in the state of Vermont,” said Executive Director Adam Brooks. “There is an artists’ market, outdoor sculpture, we have a fashion show with local designers, the Kids Hop, which is fantastic for grandparents to bring their kids to. We have some other surprises in store as well, which were not releasing just yet.”

The South End Art Hop works with more than 500 artists at 150 locations throughout the South End of Burlington to put on the largest exhibition of visual art in the State of Vermont.

“It’s great to see so many creative people and businesses coming together for a wonderful festival,” Brooks said in a statement.

The South End Art Hop will also feature a Friday night concert, Strut Fashion Show sponsored by Seven Days, performing arts, Kids Hop and food vendors.

As the Art Hop gets closer, a list of events and a map will be posted on the Art Hop website.

For more information about the Art Hop, visit

Summertime is for Grilling

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Food

Soak corn, husks and all, in water for 15 minutes before grilling. Cook over medium heat for approximately 15 minutes. As soon as the husk picks up the dark silhouette of the kernels and begins to pull away from the tip of the ear, the corn is done.

By Stephanie Choate

Summer is all about grilling, but there are plenty of options besides those old standbys of burgers and hot dogs. Get creative and try something new this year.

Veggie kebabs. Slice a variety of veggies into evenly sized pieces, about 2 inches. Try bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini. Toss them in a bit of olive oil and season with salt, pepper and whatever spices you’d like, then thread them onto skewers (if you use wooden ones, make sure to soak them for at least half an hour first so they don’t burn). Grill until done, turning often. Larger vegetables, such as zucchini and eggplant, could also be cut into rounds and thrown straight on the grill.

Potato packet. Cut potatoes or sweet potatoes (or both) into 1-inch chunks, and place in a bowl. Add a chopped onion, several cloves of diced garlic, a handful of fresh chopped herbs and whatever other seasonings you like. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss well. Make a packet out of two layers of tin foil, and cook the potatoes on the grill, flipping occasionally, about 20-30 minutes, or until done.

Shrimp skewers. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to three hours in lemon juice, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper.  Or, marinate in half rum, half lime juice and a bit of brown sugar. Thread the shrimp onto skewers and grill until shrimp are opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Grilled fruit. Tropical fruits like mango, pineapple and peaches are great on the grill. Skewer some long slices or throw pineapple rings and peach halves straight on. Serve plain, or with a little scoop of Greek yogurt or mascarpone cheese.

Pizza. Yes, pizza. Stretch out store-bought or homemade dough into several thin ovals of a manageable size, and have all your toppings ready. Lightly brush one side with olive oil, and grill it until cooked about halfway through. Flip the dough, and add toppings and cheese. Close the grill lid, and cook until the cheese is melted and the toppings and dough are cooked through.

Other things to cook on the grill:

Corn, soaked in water and grilled in the husk.

Quesadillas, filled with cheese, beans and salsa, and topped with fresh cilantro.

Tin foil-wrapped fish, seasoned with lemon, herbs, salt and pepper.

Store-bought bread or pizza dough, formed into thin 8-inch wide flatbreads and grilled on both sides, until cooked. Spread with some herb-infused olive oil and top with a bit of coarse salt.

Experiment with different ideas all summer—really, almost anything you can cook in the kitchen, you can cook on the grill.

Fit to Eat: Eat Your Way to the Best Years of Your Life

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Dr. Stuart Offer

Healthy living begins with healthy eating. That’s always been true, but in a nation plagued by preventable diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, diet is more important than ever.

The good news is it’s never too late to trade in old habits for healthier new ones and to lead a more active lifestyle. Make some minor changes and I guarantee you will start to feel better.

I know that to be true first-hand. Twenty years ago, I was 55 pounds overweight, inactive and suffering a steady decline in my level of fitness and overall health. Worse, I come from a family with a history of heart disease—my father had his first open-heart surgery at the young age of 56.

Then I got a wake-up call–literally. My cousin Steve called me from his hospital bed, where he was waiting to be wheeled into an operating room for open-heart surgery. He was the same age as I was. The very next day, I started turning my life around. I made a commitment to myself to lose weight, become more active and to eat a healthier diet. Today, I am 55 pounds lighter, and I am more fit than when I was 20 years old!

Wellness has made such a difference in my life that I’ve made it my passion. Today I am a nutritionist, an educator and a certified weight and stress management counselor — I am happy to share what I’ve learned.

I’m very excited to offer “Fit to Eat,” a new regular column in Vermont Maturity. In it I will cover topics devoted to food, nutrition and healthy eating. I will share information, recipes and resources to help you prevent disease, optimize your health and improve your lifestyle. I will cut through the bologna and dish out easy-to-understand healthy eating strategies.

I’m not a health “nut,” and I don’t expect you to be, either. I eat ice cream, just not every night. I eat pasta and other carbs, just not the over-processed flavorless ones. I am a judge for the Kansas City Barbeque Society, so you know I haven’t given up meat.

My point is that living healthily isn’t about suffering or denying yourself. It’s about freeing yourself from bad food and bad habits, and living more fully. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, just a little at a time… starting now! Look for tips and recipes to help you get there in upcoming issues of Vermont Maturity. Here’s to your health!

Dr. Stuart Offer  is the Wellness Director for Greater Burlington YMCA.

Turn Your Backyard Into a ‘Resort’

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Home & Garden

Yardscapes offer new dimension to home ownership

Long popular in places like the southwestern United States, outdoor kitchens are catching on in New England due to advancements in appliances and building materials that can withstand the sometimes extreme weather in this part of the country. (Photos courtesy Sub-Zero/Wolf Appliance, Inc.)

By Adam White

The smell of a roasting chicken wafts from the oven. A piano concerto twinkles from the stereo speakers. An open bottle of vintage Bordeaux is left to breathe on the coffee table in front of the plush, overstuffed sofa – both of which sit upon a floor of richly colored stone.

The best part? The 360-degree, panoramic view of the surrounding natural world – with no walls in the way.

Thanks to the expanding possibilities of outdoor yardscapes, more people than ever are replicating the comforts of their favorite room outside the confines of their typical, four-walled world.

“Over the last few years, I’ve seen a real focus on exterior space, on this idea of creating another room outside,” said Ashley Robinson, who operates a namesake landscape design business in Charlotte. “I think people are realizing the benefit of what it can do for their living space to add an outdoor dimension to it.”

From creative landscaping with flowering plants and trees to patios to structural additions such as decks, pergolas and outbuildings, the possibilities for yardscapes are almost endless. Robinson thinks that having such a wide array of possibilities benefits those on both sides of a project.

“It’s so individual,” she said. “There’s a lot of variance, and that allows local craftspeople to really do what they do well.”

Ground-floor opportunity

Nowhere is that expansive palette more prevalent than in the patio industry. David Pariser, owner of Vermont Stone LLC in Williston, said that patios run the gamut from traditional red brick to more naturalistic bluestone and far more exotic materials, with design touches only limited by the imagination.

“You can start mixing materials, and incorporating things like patterns, circles and borders,” Pariser said. “People get really fancy. I’ve seen names and family crests used in patios; if you’re a boater, you might want something like an anchor imbedded in the design.”

Pariser said that a project’s price tag typically grows along with its complexity, but customers with deep enough pockets could end up with their very own yellow brick road.

“I’ll lay a patio of gold bullion if someone wants it,” he said with a laugh.

More realistically, a customer will want a functional and aesthetically pleasing space that meshes with the existing characteristics of their home and property. The initial step toward that is assessing the “envelope” that the new patio will fit into.

“The first things we look at are the gradation of the yard – hills, drop-off, pitch – and how we’re going to handle water,” Pariser said. “Another factor is proximity to the home; if people have a favorite tree in their yard, they might want a patio next to it that connects to the home with a path.”

Pariser said that while concrete patio stones are gaining in appeal due to their vast array of shapes, colors and textures, stone remains one of the most popular choices for homeowners. It doesn’t degrade or rot over time, and it can boost the resale appeal of a property down the road.

“A stone patio is a permanent addition that definitely adds value to a home,” Pariser said.

Playing with a full deck

Another way to use yardscapes to bolster a real estate investment is to add a deck or porch onto a home. According to owner David Cone of DC Construction in Burlington, homeowners often start with something modest – he cited a simple, 10-foot-square deck as an example – and graduate to larger and more elaborate projects in the future.

“We’ve been doing this for 23 years, and we’ve had a lot of our former customers come back and tell us that a porch or deck we built helped them sell their house,” Cone said.

Cone said while family size helps determine the right size deck for a customer, budget is the single biggest factor. Once the potential cost is ironed out, Cone’s next challenge is to help develop a design that works with the existing structure.

“The most important thing is to make it look like it belongs,” Cone said. “People will fall in love with a design that looks great in a magazine, but just wouldn’t work on their house.”

Once the deck is built, Vermont’s severe winters can pose some issues. Cone said the Green Mountain State’s 100-degree annual temperature change can “wreak havoc on wood,” making synthetic decking materials a wise choice. His company also uses tapered footings beneath the deck’s supports, to combat problems with ground frost.

A new set of walls

Homeowners sometimes want to add an entire additional structure to their yardscape. Andre Plouffe’s family business in Colchester, Little House By Andre, has spent the past three decades building and selling gazebos, pergolas and other outdoor structures to enhance people’s property.

Plouffe thinks that the economy has played a role in the proliferation of the yardscape industry.

“Everybody’s staying home these days, so they want to turn their back yard into a resort,” he said.

Little House By Andre sells all manner of outbuildings, and not just for human enjoyment; the company’s website touts a “K9 Castle” that provides the best in combined indoor/outdoor living for the family pet. But Plouffe said that his top-selling structure remains the “classic, screened-in gazebo,” especially with advancements such as composite floors and other synthetic materials.

“When it gets dirty, you basically just hose it off,” Plouffe said. “Other than that, it’s more or less maintenance-free; people joke that their gazebo is going to last longer than they are.”

Little House By Andre also builds playhouses for children. Plouffe pointed out that these structures serve multiple purposes for grandparents, as they can be used as extra storage space once the children head back home from a visit.

The joy of ‘eating out’

While an additional closet might be useful, the room that many homeowners want duplicated outside is the kitchen. Great-outdoors gourmets have long existed in places like the American southwest, but advancements in outdoor appliance technology and more creativity from forward-thinking designers and contractors have helped bring that trend to New England as well.

“When you get an experienced builder who knows what they are doing, and it’s done right, you can create a pretty nice outdoor kitchen in Vermont,” said Sloane Carbonel of Cocoplum Appliance in Essex Junction. “But the weather here is definitely a factor in how you’re going to design it.”

Carbonel said that the outdoor versions of high-end kitchen appliances typically eschew plastic and painted metal surfaces in favor of stainless steel, which stands up better to the rigors of the changing seasons. He said that outdoor kitchen configurations tend to involve as much under-counter placement of appliances as possible, to afford them additional protection from the elements.

“You see a lot of stone being used, because it stands up to rain and snow well,” Carbonel said.

Geography also plays a role in how the outdoor kitchen as a whole is shielded from Mother Nature.“If you live in a place like Arizona where it never rains, why would you want to put a roof over your outdoor kitchen?” Carbonel said. “But if you like to barbecue in the wintertime here in Vermont, you might leave [the kitchen] open – but you’ll need to have a roof over it.”

Even with a roof overhead, homeowners in the Green Mountain State are discovering a whole new dimension of living through yardscapes. The only pity is how quickly Mother Nature has a tendency to drive them back inside.

“I think outdoor living is popular because people want to enjoy the nice weather – especially with the short summers we have in Vermont,” Cone said.

Reprinted from Vermont Maturity 2011.

Savvy Shopping Tips for Fall

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Blogs

By Sharon Mosley

Whether you’re shopping for your kids or grandkids who are going back to school or you’re just scoping out the new fall fashion trends, chances are you’ll be scouring the stores and the Internet looking for a few bargains to get off to a stylish start for a new season. Here are some shopping tips to keep in mind.

First of all, it does pay to make a list. It really does keep you focused. There are always items we need to replace, i.e., the jeans that don’t fit anymore. Just tell yourself that they’ve just been through the wash one too many times!

Then set a budget. I know, it’s a tough thing to do, but if you think about what you can comfortably spend, even if it’s just for the day, then you will be not as likely to suffer that dreaded buyer’s remorse at the end of the day when the credit card bill arrives.

Shop alone, if possible. If you’re buying back-to-school clothes, then of course you may have to take the kids or grandkids along to try on clothes. But if you have younger kids and you know their sizes, it may pay to plan a trip by yourself and fill in the blanks later. If you’re shopping for yourself, then you won’t feel rushed to make decisions with someone pacing the floor outside the dressing room.

Set priorities. It may be tempting to browse for a new pair of leather ankle boots, but if you really need to shop for kids’ clothes, then remember you can always set aside some time after school starts to shop for yourself at your own pace. You may even want to spend some of your beach time searching the Internet for inspiration. Go to your favorite sites and fill your “shopping basket” with ideas. I also like to check out the spreads in fall fashion magazines for ideas on ways to put looks together.

Do watch for sales. This is a great time of year to catch sales on fall fashion favorites. The shopping season is in full swing, and retailers want your business early. You’ll also get the best selection now, too. And sales are always a good excuse to indulge yourself a little and splurge. You may not want to wear that fabulous quilted leather jacket right now, but it may be on sale now, and in a few months you’ll have a classic new piece that you will probably wear for years to come.

Focus on the essentials. First things first. If you’ve got a statement-making coat, handbag and shoes, you will not have to worry so much about what goes underneath. Let’s face it. When it comes to fall and winter weather, it’s what’s on top that counts. Your coat, handbag and shoes are what people see day after day. So spend the bulk of your money on these items. If you can find them on sale, that’s even better.

Coordinate with color. Shopping can be a lot easier when you know what color of clothes you want to buy. First pick a color that will coordinate with what you already have in your wardrobe. Start with neutrals. If you already have a lot of black in your closet, then think about adding a fresh touch with a rich brown or a silvery charcoal. Then focus on adding some more colorful hues, such as cobalt blue, ultramarine green, tangerine or even a bright chartreuse.

Have fun. Yes, you can make shopping enjoyable. Do your homework. Be patient. Be true to yourself. And don’t spend your rent money on a new pair of red shoes!  —CNS

Affordable Care Act Poses Financial Puzzle

August 2, 2012  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Dr. David Lipschitz

Whether you are celebrating or upset, it is clear that for the moment the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Americans, liberal and conservative, have significant reservations for numerous different reasons.

For many it is the cost. For those with Medicare, it may be concerns that their benefits will be reduced to meet the health care needs of the uninsured. Others worry that the law will ruin the best health care system in the world. (If only that were true. The health of Americans ranks last among developed countries.)

There is consensus about what most of us favor. Almost universally we believe that young people who are in school or working in jobs without insurance should remain on their parents’ insurance until they are 26.

We believe that no one should be denied access to insured care because of the presence of a pre-existing condition. This is a no-brainer. Pre-existing conditions make movement from one job to another difficult. And for those who lose a job, getting re-employed becomes impossible. Most agree that all children need preventive care and if they become ill, deserve adequate medical treatment.

In Arkansas, the percentage of our residents who are disadvantaged and poor is very high. Many are gainfully employed and hardworking but currently have no access to affordable health care insurance.

These people have a shorter life expectancy, suffer from many chronic diseases, and go to the emergency room too often for minor problems and too late for serious ones that can lead to financial ruin and more. Paradoxically, being uninsured and ill is very costly. For these reasons, it is fair to say that, no matter our status in life — rich or poor, young or old — as long as we are Americans, being healthy and productive is a good goal.

The opposition to the Affordable Care Act boils down to the cost. States are balking at the extra billions they will have to spend on Medicaid. Lobbyists are working to assure that their special interest groups continue to generate current revenue or more from health care and that there be no attempt to reduce the amount paid for any medical services.

I am sure there are other financial reasons for concern and like most of us, I do not understand the full economic implications of the Affordable Care Act. I do not think the experts, if there are any, have a clue, either.

Where do we go from here? We mostly agree that everyone should receive care. And because of concerns about costs, there are encouraging signs on the horizon. Insurance companies and government-sponsored health care programs are designing ways to reimburse physicians and hospitals for quality — not quantity — care. Approaches to payment will change and physicians and patients are becoming more involved in managing costs.

Clearly, we are just at the starting line of a long journey. Rather than turning back the clock, let’s work together as a nation to improve the quality of care for everyone. We spend roughly two times more than any other country on health care per capita. We must ask why we pay more for equipment and drugs than Canadians or Europeans.

When it comes to technology and managing acute or life-threatening diseases, money is no object. But prevention is paid no more than lip service. And unnecessary, duplicative and excessive testing and treatments contribute to the fact that as much as half of all health care costs could be cut by reducing overhead and practicing the right, rather than too much, medicine.

Currently, the only hope lies in insurance companies changing incentives for hospitals and health care providers to practice quality care and cut costs. It is so sad that the bottom line remains the highest priority for the majority involved in health care. —CNS

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