Places I’ve Played

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Columnists

Grace and the Baron

By Bill Skiff

“America has lost it’s love affair with cars,” according to a recent New York Times article. I don’t believe it for one minute. Ever since we traded our horses for cars, the love affair has continued. Horses took us where we wanted to go. We enjoyed grooming them and took pride in how they looked. We groom our cars today, make sure they are full of fuel, and take them for rides into the sunset. Yes, I have always loved my cars.

When I was 10 years old, I learned to drive by standing on the running board of my Dad’s 1939 Ford truck. My legs were too short to reach the clutch, but I could still steer it around the meadow as we picked up hay. Dad started the truck, put it in gear, pulled out the throttle, then jumped up on the load while I drove.

The first time I drove legally was in our 1948 family Ford. I was 16 and my license had just arrived in the mail. As I sat in the kitchen fondling it, Dad said,” Bill, I am all out of cigarettes, would you mind going to the village to get me a new pack?”

Are you kidding?! I was out the door and on the road in nothing flat. As I was cruising along, thinking how great it was to be finally liberated, I entered the narrow bridge going into Jeffersonville. Right in the middle of the bridge, I met a Vermont Transit bus. When we passed, it was only by inches. That was when I realized driving was fun, but it was also serious business.

I learned other disadvantages to driving. It was much more fun sitting in the back seat with my girlfriend while Dad drove us home from a dance than in was driving her home myself. I guess today we would call it multitasking. While having one hand on the wheel and one around her shoulders, I still had to operate the clutch and shift gears. Staying on my side of the road took skill. Thank the Lord for my necker’s nob.

I never had a car until I was married. My wife came with a 1949 Plymouth. It was powder blue and drove like a dream. It was the first car I ever half-owned.

The first car we chose together was a 1958 VW Bug. One summer, we drove it from Stowe to Mexico City. I fixed it up so we could sleep in it. Yes, it was tight quarters, but who cared — we were newlyweds. It did not have a gas gauge, so I filled its 10-gallon tank every 300 miles. I once got 41 miles a gallon.

When our four children came along, we bought a VW bus. We could cruise down the road with every one of them lying down sleeping in the back. It made many long trips shorter.

A few year ago, I finally bought my toy — a 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, fire engine red with a white top.  I groom it every chance I get, keep it full of fuel and love driving it into the sunset.

A couple of weeks ago, my 16-year-old granddaughter Grace sent me a text: “Papa, I am taking driver education now; I also just passed my driver’s permit. When I come up next week to visit, do you think we could take the Baron out for a drive?”

When she arrived, I had it parked out front with a sign that read, “Grace, I have been waiting for you.”

When the weather finally cleared, we put the top down and took it out for Grace’s inaugural drive. I told her it had been a long time since I had ridden in a convertible with a beautiful blond. She smiled.

As we drove along, she had her hands at the standard driver’s ed position of 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. I said, “Grace, if you won’t tell your mother, I will show you how to really enjoy driving a convertible—place your right hand on top of the wheel. Now, put your left elbow on the top of the door and your left hand, grasp the side of the windshield support. She did remarking, “This is cool!” We agree it’s not as safe, but it is way more cool.

Bill Skiff and his granddaughter Grace enjoy a ‘cool’ drive in Skiff’s LeBaron. (Courtesy photo)

When we arrived back home, she parked it so she could see it from our porch. Later, as I was sitting on the porch with my youngest grandson, he looked at the Baron with a long sad face and said, “Papa did you give the Baron to Grace?”

I replied that I had not given it to anyone. When he looked back at me, he was wearing a big grin when he said, “Yet!”  Hope springs eternal.

In my family at least, America’s love affair with cars is far from over.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


A Garden Hackle Hike

By Bill Skiff

My dad taught me how to trout fish. He was not a fly fisherman. In fact, the only thing he knew about fly fishing was that a Garden Hackle was the best fly.

Every Lamoille County kid knew that a Garden Hackle was a fancy term for a worm. They were easily found and dirt cheap. They came in various sizes and lengths. Dad’s favorites came from under a few rotten boards by the manure sink.

When we first started fishing, I would carry the worms in an old tomato soup can with some dirt and grass on top. I left the top on so the Hackles wouldn’t fly out. Later on, Dad bought me a container with a belt holder so I could carry them on the front of my belt, making them ready for easy access.

Dad and I loved the small brooks that wound their way down the Vermont mountains. It was exciting to come upon a series of clear pools formed by water falling over the rocks and ridges. We had a gentleman’s agreement as to how to fish those pools. When we arrived at a series of pools, Dad let me fish the first one. He would then start at the pool above. When I finished at my pool, I would move to the one above Dad. This way each of us had the opportunity to be the first one at a new pool. I did notice that Dad seemed to always arrange it so I came to the best pools first.

I enjoyed Dad’s fishing technique. There was no playing with the trout or gracefully bringing them in to lift them out with your finger hooked through their gills. Dad taught the “hook ‘em, throw them out on the bank and jump on them.” It worked great. Many times as I was throwing a trout up onto the bank, it would come unhooked and fall to the ground. That’s when the jump on them part was real useful. It prevented them from falling back into the brook.

Our favorite brook was up in Pleasant Valley. We drove along Upper Pleasant Valley Road until we saw a cow path. We then walked our way up the path until we reached the bottom of Mount Mansfield. After walking in the woods for a distance, a brook would appear. There was no better sight than to see that brook in the early morning sunshine with the diamonds of light falling over its crystal clear water.

They say you can never go home, but recently I wondered if you can go to your brook. I wanted my grandson to experience the joy I felt so many years ago. I decided to see if he and I could find that brook again. After a few false starts on Upper Pleasant Valley Road, I spotted what I felt was the right turn toward the mountain. Instead of a cow path, we found a dirt road with houses on both sides. Then the trail became a sugar road with plastic pipes running alongside. Finally, we walked into the woods and shortly we arrived at that wonderful old brook. It seemed smaller than I remember but just as beautiful and pure.

After explaining Dad’s gentleman’s agreement for fishing mountain pools, off we went. The fish were as small as I remembered them and the experience was just as rewarding. After frying our catch and adding some pancakes and fried potatoes, we completed our Hackle Hike.

Now another Vermont boy knows where there is a mountain brook where he can find peace, solitude and some small brookies when he needs them.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. He now lives in Williston. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


Hey old timer

By Bill Skiff

Sometimes things happen that touch your heart:

My wife and I were leaving the Fire House Restaurant in Barre. We came out, arm in arm, stopping before crossing the street. As we stood there waiting, an old pickup carrying two young men came along and stopped. The driver, seeing us waiting to cross, waved us ahead. When we reached the other side of the truck, the passenger rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey old timer, I hope I still love my old lady the way you do when I’m as old as you!”

We began to laugh and couldn’t stop. So much for our self-perceived youth. We looked at each other and knew why we were laughing. It was so true and so funny at the same time. When we reached our car, we saw a truck driver standing beside his truck laughing as hard as we were.

I realized the young man was right. I first saw Ruth working on the second floor of the Springfield College administration building. She was the assistant to the director of guidance: I was enrolled in the guidance department’s Master’s degree program.

Now, here we were, 58 years later, crossing the street in Barre. How had we stuck together all these years? I am certain the young man had no idea how our love had lasted—but he knew it was important enough that when his time came he wanted to feel the same way. I am not sure exactly how it happened either, but I am sure glad it did.

It is not easy to look over the years and figure out what makes love stay. There are so many events—some good, some not so good—that make up a lasting relationship. Sometimes I think it may be just good luck or just not wanting to give up. Or maybe you find a life rhythm with another person that just feels good, comfortable and rewarding.

I know that as the years go by things change. Some get better, some stay the same while others seem to go away. How that mix develops makes a difference. Sometimes you recognize the changes and sometimes you cannot. The trick to a lasting relationship, it seems to me, is figuring out what is important to your relationship—and making necessary adjustments as changes occur.

I am not sure anyone gets it all right all the time, but when you come close, it really is exceptional. That young man was right: I do love my old lady and I am thankful she still loves this old man.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


A Curtain of Memories

By Bill Skiff

When I recall growing up on my dad’s farm in Cambridge, I recognize some of my youthful experiences as rites of passage, like smoking corn silk behind the barn (bad idea), kissing a girl behind the sugar house (good idea), driving Dad’s car for the first time with my new license in my wallet (exhilarating idea).

One rite of passage was life changing: the curtain of memories.

The curtain hung in the Jeffersonville Town Hall. At the front of the stage, this huge magnificent curtain was rolled up and down for every play and minstrel show- and countless movies over a span of decades.

My rite of passage occurred in 1950 during my senior year, when our class produced the school’s traditional senior play. After the last performance, each senior was allowed to sign his or her name on the back of the curtain. The play was near the end of the school year and I remember thinking as I wrote my name, “this is it: I am out of high school, I will be leaving home in the fall and will soon be involved in a new life.” It was an ending and at the same time a beginning. I felt emancipated—scary idea.

Over the years, I sometimes wondered what had happened to the old curtain. Recently, I found out.

I located the curtain in the Cambridge Elementary School’s gymnasium. With the help of John, the maintenance man, we saw it hanging above the stage at the end of the gym. John unrolled it and there it hung, just as I had remembered it.

When the Town Hall became the post office and town clerk’s office, the curtain was taken down and stored for many years. It was painted by Charles Huiesp in Troy, N.Y. sometime in the mid-1800s.   Restoration was completed by Chris Hansel of Curtains Without Boarders. Chris repaired the tears and restored the water-based paints to their original vibrant colors. It was exciting to once again view that` beautiful sailing vessel as it makes its way over the waves and away from the castle on the shore.

Then I wondered, could my signature still be on the back? As I  searched for my name, wonderful memories returned. There appeared the names of my teenage friends: Phila, Melba, Barbara, Dick and Rodney. And then I saw it: “BILL SKIFF ‘50.” I had written it with Claudia’s red lipstick—the same lipstick that used to mysteriously appear on my shirt collars, much to my mothers dismay.

I saw the names of my brother Bob, ‘60, and sister Carol, ‘62. It would have been nice if some of those names could have spoken to me. I would like to have heard their voices again. In a way, they did speak to me – as I saw their names, I remembered the great times we had together.

As I searched more carefully, I found other names and dates written in fading pencil—Kenneth Potter, class of 1920 and Eric Trash, class of 1918. One name was so faded I could not read it, but under it was written, “Brigham Academy Minstrel Show 1917.”

How many times has the old curtain been rolled up for an opening night? How many people have enjoyed a play in its presence? For its many viewers, I wish it well and thank it for its many years of service—and the fond memories it leaves behind.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


There’s a Sap Sucker Born Every Minute

By Bill Skiff

P.T. Barnum had it right when he said there’s one born every minute.

Now, I don’t mean the ones that hang around on the bottom of the Lamoille River or the ones who didn’t believe that Lance Armstrong was doping. Or even those that still don’t believe the first ingredient in some peanut butter is sugar.

I mean the ones who believe that thick sweet syrup comes from a tree ready to eat. Or the ones that believe that sap comes from a tree and makes syrup—but they are not sure what kind of a tree it comes from or where these trees grow. One of this latter type came into my office during sugaring one year—and I saw her coming.

I have been known to consider a practical joke once in a while. That spring I pulled off my best effort ever.

It started by my cutting down a maple sapling four inches in diameter and 10 feet tall, with branches going every which way. I strapped it to the top of my car and headed for my office at Mount Mansfield Union High School, where I was a guidance counselor.

I arrived early and cut the tree so I could wedge the trunk against the tile floor and the top against the ceiling tile. Next, I trimmed the branches so they spread out on both sides of the trunk, and left one near the top so it hung over the top of the office door. It looked quite natural standing there.

I then drilled a hole through the tree—and on through the wall into my office at the same height.

I attached a metal spout to one end of a small rubber tube and hammered the spout into the tree. The other end of the tube I invisibly threaded through the tree and through the wall into my office. Next I ran the remaining tube up the office wall and hung it on a nail.

I dangled a water-filled quart bottle from the ceiling and attached it to the tube. Our chemistry teacher provided me with a metal clamp; this enabled me to control the flow through the tube. None of this    background apparatus was easily visible looking at the tree.

Next I hung a metal bucket on the spout embedded in the tree. Now I was ready.

Before any students arrived, I adjusted the clamp so it allowed a small amount of water to run down through the wall, through the tree and out the spout. Drip, drip, drip it began. Ping, ping, ping it sounded as it hit the bottom of the metal bucket.

As students began filtering into the office they were amazed to see sap running in the guidance office.  They pointed out that it wasn’t running very well. I told them to come back at noon when the sun was out and it would be running better. At 11:45 I loosened the clamp to allow more water to enter the tube—the sap ran faster. They laughed and went out to tell their friends. Soon, kids were stopping by the office just to see how the sap was running each day.

Then it happened. One morning we had a visitor from a college admission office. She was so excited to see the way sap ran from a tree and wanted to learn more about the sugaring process. I explained the process—as only a Vermonter could. As she left to visit classes, I encouraged her to come back at noon when the sap would really be running. She did—and so my lesson continued.

At the end of the day when she came back to my office she stood in front of the tree looking at it with questions in her eyes. Finally, she realized the tree was just sitting on the floor. When total realization set in, her thoughts teetered between embarrassment and revenge.

We later became friends but, even now, when we get together, she takes me to task over the time I gave her my “sugaring lesson.”

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


Sabrinajoy Milbury: Dancing With Plants

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Business

Sabrinajoy Milbury

By Marianne Apfelbaum

A wide, grass-green streak of hair is the first hint that Sabrinajoy Milbury is not your garden-variety business owner. “When I work with plants, I feel as if I am dancing with them. Sometimes I am the leader, sometimes they are,” she wrote on her blog in explanation of the naming of her company, Just Dancing Gardens & Greenhouse in Williston.

The dance began 16 years ago when Milbury decided to start her own business after stints as an office worker, home daycare owner, Mary Kay consultant and volunteer at her daughter’s school in its gardening program, which she created, and where she enjoyed sharing her knowledge and passion for gardening with the children. “I loved going around to different classrooms with my little cart…building gardens…planting trees,” she said.

After participating in “Growing Places,” a Women’s Agricultural Network program designed for women interested in starting or growing an agricultural-based business, Milbury set up shop in her South Burlington backyard, where she built a local following of both gardening enthusiasts and those with brown thumbs. “I don’t have a green thumb, but I wanted lots of plants,” says Leslie Holman, a Shelburne resident and one of Milbury’s longtime customers.

Holman brings her pots to Milbury every spring – “Isn’t it Sabrina time yet?” she laughs — and as Milbury’s clients often describe it, “Let’s her do her magic.”

Milbury’s potted plant creations are “visually and aesthetically phenomenal. They are a mélange of textures. I could never recreate that,” says Holman. “It’s her love of flowers that does it. She literally brightens my life. It is the highlight of my spring when I bring her my pots.”

The art of gardening

Milbury agrees that her approach to her work is a unique one. “I am an artist. I use plants and soil as my medium.”

Her “paints” are an eclectic and broad collection of high quality flowering and vegetable plants, many of which are not the norm at other garden centers. “One of my favorite plants is crossandra. I adore this plant and haven’t seen it anywhere else,” she says. “It has amazing orange flowers with shiny, glossy leaves and it flowers all through the summer.”

Milbury says one advantage she provides to customers is that she has more flexibility as a small grower to carry these types of unusual plants. If she sees or hears about a plant that intrigues her, she says, “I’m just gonna try this plant!”

She is very selective about what she offers. “The only zucchini worth growing is Costata Romanesco,” she asserts. “It is firmer and less watery (than other types) with a nutty flavor, not as seedy, just yummy.”

She also speaks admiringly about the benefits of container gardens.  “I love the convenience of them. You don’t have to kneel or weed. They are easier to maintain and move around – in this business, a lot of what you do is move plants.”

Growing business

After more than a dozen years, 57-year-old Milbury’s business was so successful it began outgrowing her backyard greenhouse, so she started looking to move her business. A friend referred her to Mike Isham, who runs the Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road in Williston. She visited the farm in August of 2011 and she immediately thought, “Oh, this is a pretty cool place.”

She and Isham worked out an agreement and she opened her greenhouse behind the Isham barn last spring. For his part, Isham likes Milbury’s “positive and outgoing” personality and that she offers “much higher quality” and is not trying to compete with Wal-Mart or Home Depot.

Just Dancing is the first in what Isham hopes will be a series of collaborations on the farm to create an “agricultural center for Williston. I don’t want people to think of Williston as just a shopping center,” he says.

Milbury is happy to be on board. “The Isham family has welcomed me with open arms. I love this family. It’s a great place to be.”

Eye Care Misconceptions: Five Things We Think We Know About Our Vision

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Between old wives’ tales and misinformation online, patients face a lot of confusion about health care, and self-diagnosis has become a popular practice. But when it comes to eye health, it’s important to know the facts and get the right kind of care in order to protect your vision.

Seniors, who are at greatest risk for vision loss from eye disease, need to be especially diligent to keep their eyes healthy through regular checkups with ophthalmologists – medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases. To help protect your vision and prevent vision loss at any age, EyeCare America, a public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, clarifies five common eye health misconceptions:

  • Unless I feel pain or notice changes in my vision, I don’t need an eye exam. Most eye diseases, like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), have no early warning signs or symptoms. By the time a change in vision is noticed, the damage can be irreversible. Regardless of symptoms, regular eye exams are essential in protecting sight.
  • Computer screens ruin your eye sight. Spending long hours in front of a computer screen can cause eyes to feel tired and strained for a variety of reasons, including the tendency to blink less frequently. But the good news is that computer screens are not responsible for any permanent damage to vision.
  • Kids don’t need sunglasses. Exposure to UV rays can increase your risk for AMD and cataracts. Since UV damage is cumulative, even the youngest eyes need to be protected from the sun. Make sure sunglasses block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays, and don’t forget to wear them on the slopes or during other outdoor winter sports. Wear a hat and seek shade, too, to protect eyes from UV damage.
  • Vision loss is a normal part of aging. Getting older does not mean that vision loss is inevitable. Most vision loss can be prevented as long as you catch eye diseases early and take steps to protect your vision. Staying active, eating healthy foods and practicing other healthy habits will help protect your vision as you age.
  • If you got your eyes screened when you got new glasses or contacts, you don’t need an eye exam. Only a dilated eye exam allows an ophthalmologist to examine the entire eye and detect signs of eye disease. Even if you recently got a new prescription for glasses or contacts, you might still need a dilated eye exam.

Taking proper care of our eyes is essential to preserve good vision as we age. The first step in maintaining healthy vision is to schedule regular, dilated eye exams, starting with a baseline exam by age 40. After age 65, you should schedule eye exams every one to two years or as advised by your ophthalmologist.

Outdoor Heat Increases Risk of Emergency Hospitalization

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Outdoor heat is associated with a significantly increased risk of emergency hospitalization for respiratory disorders in the elderly, according to a large epidemiological study of more than 12.5 million Medicare beneficiaries.

“While outdoor heat has been shown to increase respiratory mortality, evidence on the relationship between heat and respiratory hospitalizations has been less consistent,” said lead author G. Brooke Anderson, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “In the largest population of the elderly yet studied, we found strong evidence that short-term exposure to outdoor heat increases the risk of hospitalization for COPD and respiratory tract infections. This relationship was consistent for men and women and across all age groups studied.”

Each 10°F increase in daily temperature translates to approximately 30 excess respiratory hospitalizations per day among the elderly in the 213 counties studied, with larger increases in temperature expected to result in more excess hospitalizations.

“Our study provides clear and consistent evidence of a link between outdoor heat and hospitalization for respiratory disease in the elderly,” said senior author Dr. Roger D. Peng, associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “As the prevalence of respiratory conditions and the age of the population continue to increase and global temperatures continue to rise as a result of climate change, the risk of heat-related respiratory disease is also likely to increase.”

The findings were published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study included  more than 30 percent of the U.S. population aged 65 or older.

Quebec City Memories

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Travel

A walking tour is a good way to see Old Town in Quebec City. (Photo courtesy of John Blanchette)

By John Blanchette

As I flew into Quebec City in late March, I thought of my father, who was French Canadian and born in the small town of Chateauguay in the province of Quebec. He was proud of his heritage and every few years would drive us 300 miles from our Massachusetts home, across into Vermont, through upstate New York, around Lake Champlain and across the St. Lawrence River to visit his boyhood home. I loved visiting the farm where he was born and, remarkably, the shed where he was actually born was still standing on the property.

We would feed the livestock and chickens, milk the cows, make cheese, tend the fields and dine on vegetables, eat the honey from the hives on our morning toast and marvel at the imperial quarts of milk delivered by horse-drawn carts through the streets of Montreal and Quebec City. They were bigger than those in the United States, with a bulging neck that would collect the cream for the adults’ coffee.

Then there was the delicious honey butter that came in crocks and also graced the toast when we dined with our big-city relatives in Montreal. The distinctive flavor of fresh-pressed cider from Macintosh apples and the maple syrup and candies have a special place in my memory.

My father loved hockey and golf, the major Canadian pastimes. He was good at them both and played on the Boston University team before World War II interrupted his education. The last time I had visited the city I was 16. College would interrupt my return for many more years.

When I landed, the city had just gone through a very mild winter and the previous week temperatures had reached into the 70s. Alas, when I arrived, temperatures plunged into the teens and brave new buds were shivering in the cold along with me. It even snowed on my final day in the city.

My memories of Quebec City were dim. I remembered wandering the narrow and enchanting streets of Old Town (Vieux-Quebec), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of Basse-Ville (Lower Town) and High Town (Haute-Ville). The period architecture dates back 400 years and reminds one of Europe, especially with the sounds of French floating in the air.

I remembered the Marche, where the local farmers sold their goods on the weekends, and the immensity and utterly stunning beauty of The Chateau Frontenac, perched above the city wall (the only one still standing in North America) next to the cannons and gunnery placements that guarded this narrowing of the St. Lawrence River. This area was crucial in the fighting between the English and French for control of the Canadian Territory and entry into the Great Lakes and mid-America. According to local lore, it is the most photographed hotel in the world.

The British may have won the battle that ceded them the country, but they could not pry the language or the heritage from French Canada. The name Quebec is not French, however. It is derived from the Algonquin language and means “narrowing of the river.”

Mayor Regis Labeaume has made revitalization of the working-class Saint-Roch neighborhood a priority, pouring money into redevelopment. New galleries, restaurants, clubs and shops have turned it into one of the chicest locations in town. Cirque du Soleil has set up headquarters here and offers free shows in the summer. Saint-Roch Church is the largest in Quebec City and the focal point of the community.

The best way to get a full view of this city of just over 500,000 is to take the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Levis. The ancient skyline reveals itself upon the promontory, and the Frontenac’s full majesty is impressive. When I returned to the dock, I took a walking tour of Old Town, both lower and upper. For only $1.50, it’s possible to ride on the Old Quebec Funicular up to Haute-Ville, a relatively compact town that can be covered in a few hours at a leisurely pace. The buildings and town squares are distinct and lovely, and the narrow lanes make for great window shopping.

The Musee des Beaux-Arts is on the grounds of the Plains of Abraham battlefield (1759) that determined British dominion over Canada and the end of French colonization. In the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the territory was officially ceded to England for good.

I enjoyed La Korrigane brewpub on Dorchester Street (www.korrigane.ca), where I asked for the five-glass taster so I could enjoy the range of beers from a fresh blueberry lager to a dark chocolate stout. And speaking of chocolate, the sweetest part of the city tour is a visit to 634 rue Saint-Jean and the Chocolate Museum (www.chocomusee.com).

One of the more unusual shops was Benjo (www.benjo.ca), a toy store on steroids with a staff of grown-up 10-year-olds who love teasing the customers. Here a zany train ride takes visitors around the store and through the tunnel into a back-room fantasy land. I was also surprised by the employee-operated flying sharks and darting toy helicopters as well as the 5-foot robot who loved to squirt water on shoppers.

The hockey-mad city is building a $400 million sports complex to try and lure a new club to replace the Nordics, who left for Denver a few years ago.

About seven miles northeast of Quebec City are the thundering Montmorency Falls, named by explorer Samuel de Champlain for his patron, the Duke of Montmorency. At 227 feet tall, they are the tallest in North America and nearly 100 feet higher than Niagara Fall,  but far narrower. For the brave of heart, there is a footbridge that spans the falls with spectacular views. In winter, snowboarders make use of the spray from the falls that coats the nearby rocks with continuously falling powder snow. There are also a number of excellent ski resorts within an hour of town.

Visiting Quebec City again after so many years brought back a flood of memories to me, and first-time visitors are in for a real treat.

WHEN YOU GO

For housing options, restaurant information, shopping tips, event listings, guidebooks, brochures and maps, contact the Quebec City Tourist Office 877-783-1608 or www.quebecregion.com.

I stayed at the new TRYP Quebec Hotel PUR (www.tryphotels.com) in the Saint-Roch District. My favorite area was the spa, with a dry sauna to chase the winter cold, a large lap pool and exercise room.

Restaurant Table, Bar Gastronomique is run by inventive young chef Francois Prive. The restaurant kitchen is in the center of the room surrounded by well-spaced tables that allow easy conversation. Food is eclectic, seasonal, creative and often on small plates. — CNS

Feathering Your Nest: Spring Trends in Outdoor Decorating

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Home & Garden

One spring 2013 trend is the installation of pathways and stone walls to promote circulation through gardens. (Photo courtesy Ashley Robinson Landscaping)

By Phyl Newbeck

Flowers, trees and vegetables will always be the cornerstone of any outdoor space, but with the constraints of a Vermont climate, there are other ways to spruce up your yard, ensuring that your garden is just as enjoyable in mud or stick season as it is in the middle of summer. In the Green Mountain state, hardscapes – defined as structures that are incorporated into a landscape to accentuate the natural elements such as fountains, benches and gazebos – are increasing in popularity.

Charlotte landscape designer Ashley J. Robinson is also pleased Vermonters are becoming as interested in the use of particular plants as they are in their ornamental features. In conjunction with this trend, homeowners are using stone, wood, concrete, gravel, woodchips and mulch to help highlight the fact that plants serve a purpose. Robinson is seeing the installation of pathways and stone walls to promote circulation through gardens, in contrast to previous preferences for big lawns with no structure. She enjoys combining different elements such as perching a wood rail fence on top of a short stone wall or using wood chips to create a natural looking walkway.

“Accessibility oriented gardening is a big trend,” says Nate Carr of Church Hill Landscaping in Charlotte. “The goal is to get more and more people outside and allow them to do light gardening chores.”

Marie Limoge of Landshapes, a landscape design and installation firm based in Richmond, agrees. Limoge said many people are installing big stone stairs to reach less accessible areas on their property, as well as establishing pathways. In addition to traditional stone walkways, Limoge said many people are opting for concrete pavers, which come in many sizes and shapes and are more environmentally friendly because they are permeable.

Carr said he is also seeing many requests for outdoor kitchen features. His company makes permanent grills which are inserted into a stone wall with a countertop surface. These grills are often installed near the main kitchen, but sometimes they are designed for an area of the yard that has the potential to be a gathering place. “We find that people really enjoy being outside and having a permanent cooking area instead of a roll-around grill,” he said. “At indoor parties, people congregate in the kitchen, so this is a way of moving the party outdoors into a healthy environment.”

Carr said many customers are also requesting simple outdoor fire pits or more elaborate outdoor fireplaces. He said those features ranked high on a survey recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects. “It’s a wholesome experience,” he said. “You’ve got kids sitting around a campfire. You can stay out a little bit longer and enjoy the sunset with a bit of additional heat.”

Limoge said her company has also been installing fire pits and patios, but another trend she sees is natural swimming ponds. Landshapes installs ponds which incorporate a bog to cycle water through native plants, eliminating the need for chemicals. Limoge has also installed landscape lighting in a number of locations. “Your yard becomes an extension of your home,” she said. As skin cancer becomes more and more of a concern, Limoge said her company has begun installing shades which can stand alone or connect to an existing structure. The shades come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes and provide an alternative to awnings.

Garden variety

At Gardener’s Supply, Maree Gaetani notes five distinct trends — color, whimsy, elegance, nightscaping and use of water.

Last year, the company introduced a line of poppy sways which proved so popular that two additional colors — yellow and purple — have been added to the line. Last year’s “rainbow bottle trees” are still strong sellers and this year the company is selling additional bottles since customers complained that the wine bottles they added to the array weren’t sufficiently colorful. Often, people will design their gardens around these artificial features, planting fragrant roses, hollyhocks and larkspur surrounding the sculptures.

Gaetani said Vermonters are doing more with perennial gardens and native plants, which often tend to be less showy than annuals. Unpredictable weather and drought can further drain color and life from a garden so Green Mountain State natives are purchasing whimsical items to liven up their landscapes. “Whimsy is back,” Gaetani said, noting that some items are used by parents as a way to get small children interested in gardening. Gaetani pointed to a funky chicken whirligig, musical frogs, and an anthropomorphic resting rabbit as examples.

On the other side of the scale, there is a movement toward more traditional English cottage gardens. The Jardin line of trellises, antique plant pot stakes and a bronze-leaf bird bath are popular items in that category.

Gaetani said water features and other liquid elements are always in high demand. Although these items are pricier, a natural-looking fountain made from an artful pile of river stones, a more traditional solar pineapple pedestal fountain and a deep blue two-tier pedestal fountain are best sellers. Gaetani also sees a trend toward what she calls “nightscaping” — the use of solar lights to highlight the garden. These include solar string lights, lights shaped like morning glories and simple spotlights which shine on a particular plant or tree.

Why Not to Be Neutral About Color?

April 24, 2013  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Rose Bennett Gilbert

Q: We are spending this season working on my late aunt’s country cottage (makes us feel warm imagining the summer). It’s a very plain little house, so our first idea was to make it all white. Nice and clean-looking, but not very interesting.  We’ve already bought white (or off-white) furniture. What’s your advice about adding color — where and how?

A: My advice is, do it! Anywhere and any color you introduce into an all-white scheme will have major impact on the attitude and energy in the room.

The KISS syndrome also applies: Keep It Simple, keeping with the basic cottage nature of your house. Look what a genius stroke of apple green does for the all-neutral country-home living room we show here.

Folk artist and author Terry John Woods devotes his new book, “Summer House,” to romancing a cabin in the woods, a house by the beach, the kind of quiet, simple retreats where childhoods are spent and adults’ memories are laid down.

In the neutral living room of his southern Maine house, (see photo on page 9) Woods demonstrates the power of one perfect color. On an antiquing expedition, he found the old green door in a salvage shop and, he writes, “I just had to have it.” Merely propped against the wall, the door made the all-white room spring to life, abetted by the bright green print on the chair cushions.

That green, by the way, is destined to take on more yellow undertones, according to the latest “Color Pulse” predictions from Benjamin Moore, the giant paint company that keeps close watch on the latest color trends. Here are a few highlights from the “Color Pulse” report presented recently at the New York International Gift Fair:

Turquoise lies ahead on the color charts.

Red is going orangey — more of yellow’s overall influence on the 2013 palette.

Ditto for yellow itself, as it takes on warm red-based overtones.

Dusty roses and mauves are back on the scene.

Metallics are keeping their gleam but not their shine: look for more eggshell finishes.

Wood, one of the world’s oldest materials, is new and important again. Watch for textures inspired by tree bark, for mixes of light and dark woods and for woods deliberately left unfinished and natural.

Coffee — the grounds, not the color — is another natural material that’s making decorative news. Not the same old grind by any means: watch for objects like decorative bowls fashioned from coffee grounds.

Other ordinary materials showing up in unexpected places include man-made decking layered on as wall covering, plumber’s plungers used as table legs and packing materials repurposed into light fixtures. What a bright idea! – CNS

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of “Manhattan Style” and six other books on interior design.


Don’t Be a Target…or a Victim

April 17, 2013  
Filed under Money

Consumers lose billions of dollars every year to various kinds of consumer fraud. Thousands of Vermonters are being targeted and people over 50 are especially vulnerable, accounting for more than half of all victims.

Whether it’s bogus investment deals, the grandparent scam, e-mail ploys, lottery scams, or the newest ID Theft scheme,  sophisticated con artists are busy at work coming up with new ways to get you to hand over your hard-earned money. It’s important to keep up to date on the latest scams and schemes to help protect you and the people you care about.

For National Consumer Protection Week 2013, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has released a list of the top ten scams that targeted Vermont consumers in 2012. These numbers only represent what has been reported. The actual incidence of scams in Vermont is far higher. In 2012, the top ten categories of scams reported to the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) were:

“Phishing” scams: 563 complaints were filed with CAP in 2012 regarding attempts to collect sensitive information, usually to access bank accounts or steal someone’s identity. The most common were phony bank text messages (“Your account has been locked”) and bogus offers by text message (“you won a $1000 gift certificate to ….”). Don’t reply to unsolicited texts.

Contest, sweepstakes or lottery scams: Vermonters filed 220 reports of receiving a bogus sweepstakes, contest or lottery notice or telephone call. Many of these scams originate overseas (Jamaica in particular) and all want some sort of upfront payment to receive “winnings” that will never come. Never pay up front to receive winnings.

Bogus computer tech support scams, viruses, and ransomware: CAP received 95 complaints from consumers regarding phony tech support calls, viruses and other malware from fake e-mails and other sources, and “ransomware” that hijacked their computers unless they made some payment. Never click links in a strange e-mail, or allow remote access to your computer.

Imposter scams: 89 complaints from Vermont consumers in 2012 reported phone calls from someone posing as a family member in an emergency. A number of Vermonters lost significant money to this heartbreaking scam. Never wire funds unless you can verify the emergency.

Debt collection scams: CAP received 89 complaints from consumers in 2012 about debt collection scams. Scammers barrage consumers with telephone calls at their homes and workplaces, making false threats of imminent arrest, legal action or financial ruin. Most of these calls originate from overseas, using technology to hide their location, and can be difficult or impossible to stop. Never pay a harassing collector over the phone—demand proof of the debt.

Phony invoices targeting Vermont businesses: Vermont consumers and businesses are being targeted by scammers trying to steal money through bogus invoices. 87 reports of phony invoices were filed with CAP in 2012. Check your bills carefully to make sure you really owe.

Security system scams: 76 reports were filed with CAP regarding “free” home security system scams in 2012. Always ask for local references for anyone offering to do work on your home.

Other telemarketing scams: CAP received 73 complaints related to other or general telemarketing scams. Many of these involved unlawful robo-calls. Hang up on robo-callers.

Online listing scams: 66 complaints were filed with CAP regarding some form of online classified advertisement. In some cases, consumers who had listed an item for sale were contacted by a scammer trying to send them a fake check, in others consumers responded to an ad for an item for sale or a rental unit that didn’t exist. In cash, in person is the only way to be sure.

Loan scams: 56 complaints were logged at CAP regarding loan scams. These scams ranged from unlawful “payday” loans to phony advance-fee loans that took money from consumers without ever paying a dime. Beware of online lenders. Demanding fees before making a loan is illegal in Vermont.

What can you do if you have been targeted?

Cease all contact with the scammer: If you have been targeted by a scammer, do not continue contact. You will not be able to get any useful information from continued contact.

Stop or report any fraudulent wire transfer of funds, checks or credit card transactions: If you have sent funds, contact the financial institution or wire transfer company immediately to report the fraud and halt the transaction.

Contact authorities: Contact your local police to report the fraud, as well as the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). CAP tracks fraud reports and uses the information in its efforts to work with local, state and national law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.

Know how to spot a fraud: Vermonters’ best defense against this predatory activity is to understand and avoid these scams altogether.

Vermont consumers can contact the Consumer Assistance Program with any questions, concerns or requests for more information toll free in Vermont at (800) 649-2424 or at (802) 656-3183, or visit the website at www.uvm.edu/consumer. AARP Vermont and the Consumer Assistance Program will be holding a number of free forums on this subject around the state in the coming months. For more information on dates and locations, contact Dave Reville at 802-951-1303 or dreville@aarp.org.

Holy Cow: Less Meat and Dairy Better for You and the Planet

April 17, 2013  
Filed under Food

By Dr. Stuart Offer

I recently read an article that took my breath away, literally. According to the U.N.’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report, livestock are responsible for 14 to 22 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide— more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet. And it’s going to get worse as the standard of living rises in developing nations around the world. Global meat production is expected to more than double from 1999/2001 to 2050.

Living here in Vermont, we may view the landscape dotted with farm animals as a beautiful pastoral scene. But as I have been discovering, these animals are living smokestacks, throwing methane emissions into the air. Our appetite for meat and dairy is taking a toll on our health, the environment, climate and animal welfare.

When we talk about greenhouse gases and our carbon footprint, seldom mentioned are the cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats. These animals put out methane and nitrous oxide that are far more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, a primary culprit from other industries. Methane has 21 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and comes out from both ends of the cow, mostly from the front. It was a shock to learn that a single cow can belch out anywhere from 25 to 130 gallons of methane per day. Nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas, and there’s nothing funny here, has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide!

Researchers found cutting out or reducing meat consumption would do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than trading in a gas guzzler for a hybrid. If you eat one less burger a week for one year, it’s like taking your car off the road for 320 miles. If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day per week for a year, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road!

Now let me say I am not becoming a vegetarian anytime soon, but this really gave me a moment of pause and some thoughts on how my personal choices are affecting the planet.

As I have delved deeper into the subject, I learned livestock produced by conventional farming, aka factory farming, is one of the two or three top contributors to the world’s most serious environmental problems, including water pollution and species loss. They contribute to global deforestation of rainforests, as land is cleared to make way for pastures and to produce the crops that feed the animals, primarily corn and soy. The rainforests are crucial “carbon sinks,” the vast tracts of trees and vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide.

There are many other solutions besides eating less meat that can help, such as the Sterksel project in the Netherlands that is capturing the methane produced from pigs and turning it into electricity. In Denmark, by law, farmers now inject manure under the soil instead of laying it on top of the fields, a process that enhances its fertilizing effect, reduces odors and also preventing emissions from escaping.

Our government should take a cue from other parts of the world that are being proactive rather than reactive, and address this problem with the seriousness it deserves.

U.S. agricultural policy is partially to blame and way overdue for changes. Subsidies of crops such as corn and soybeans have traditionally kept the price of meat artificially low.

I realized the beef industry is a dangerous foe for politicians and that is largely why this has become a taboo subject on Capitol Hill. That being said, we all can make a greener choice in the way we eat. By eating less meat, we will not only help the planet but also consume less saturated fat—helping our heart and vascular system.

Americans love beef and veal, eating 100 pounds per capita per year. We’re also leading the world in obesity, heart disease and colorectal cancer. There is a link here and the link is the saturated fat contained in red meat.

The most attractive immediate solution is for everyone to simply reduce their meat consumption. But, there are also other easy-to-implement strategies that can help. Lamb, beef and cheese have the highest emissions. Besides vegetables and plants, chicken, turkey and wild-caught seafood and fish are more gentle on the planet. Producing a pound of beef creates 11 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as a pound of chicken, and 100 times more than a pound of carrots, according to the Swedish agricultural group Lantmannen.

For your health and the health of the planet, join the international campaign’s effort to take the Meatless Monday pledge. If you do choose to eat red meat or cheese, choose to go greener and eat meat and dairy that come from  organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals, avoiding large-scale commercial, grain-fed feedlot systems and industrial milk, pork, and poultry production sources (aka “factory farming”). It may cost more, but when you buy less meat overall, you can afford to go healthier and greener. On Mondays, I will enjoy one of my favorite high-protein meat substitutes, beans and legumes including lentils, yum!

Stuart Offer, DC, CSCS, CLC, is a Wellness Coach & Educator with Hickok & Boardman Group Benefits.


Shelburne Pond Studios: Creative Reuse of a Classic Vermont Dairy Barn

April 17, 2013  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

Some of the 17 Shelburne Pond Studios artists stand in front of the remodeled red barn.

By Phyl Newbeck

A burgeoning art community has sprung up just across the road from Shelburne Pond. Founded in January of 2010 by stone carver Katharine Stockman, a large red barn has become the creative home for 17 artists. Gracing the grounds outside the barn are eight sculptures, representing the work of seven of the artists who comprise Shelburne Pond Studios.

When Stockman and her husband moved to the former dairy farm in Shelburne in 2005, she set up her stone-carving studio in an outbuilding which had been used to repair farm equipment. The couple’s waste-management recycling company used the old dairy barn, but a lack of people looking for salvage material led to the closing of the business. Learning how difficult it was for other artists to find studio space gave Stockman the idea of converting the barn.

Although a farmer was storing hay on the top floor (which he continues to do), the stalls on the first floor were empty. Stockman and her husband used recycled materials to separate the stalls, two at a time, to create studios. Many of the spaces have small signs with the names of the bovine former inhabitants and there are numerous reminders that the studio is an example of creative reuse.

Renovations began in the spring of 2010 and within six months, 12 artists were using the site; a number that has since grown to 17.  There is a waiting list of artists hoping to use the space as word of the inexpensive studios spreads in the artist community. The original vision of Shelburne Pond Studios was to “create a vibrant and supportive artist community.” In addition, Stockman has used her property to create a year-round outdoor sculpture space. The studio takes part in First Friday art walks and Open Studio Tour, which takes place on the Saturday and Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend.

With the exception of stained glass maker Ruth Murphy who needs a studio with access to water, the studios all have windows facing west, allowing the artists to watch the sunset. For those who have day jobs, that event may only mark the start of their artistic endeavors, but Stockman assures the night owls she doesn’t object to cars driving past her house to the barn during the nighttime hours.

Most of the artists come from urban areas and enjoy the opportunity to walk along the dirt road, cross-country ski through the hay fields and visit Shelburne Pond. “When I come here it’s like I left the city,” said Lyna Lou Nordstrom, a monoprinter.

The artists make an attempt to perpetuate the bucolic atmosphere. Murphy’s stained glass is lead-free and Nordstrom works with soy-based ink and without any solvents.

Lin Warren, a mixed media artist who specializes in oil paintings, relief art from acrylic media, veneer pieces and bendable arcs, once thought she would find community as director of an art association. Instead, she has found it among her fellow artists at Shelburne Pond Studios.

Even though the artists work in different media, they are able to energize and motivate each other. Jill Abilock, a multi-talented artist who specializes in book arts, worked for two decades as a translator while doing art in the evening. “I’ve done art all my life, but had no formal training,” she said. “It wasn’t until I joined this community and people started calling me an artist that I could believe it. It’s been part of a huge transformation for me. The support here is really amazing.”

One married couple, painters Stephanie Bush and Dana Dale Lee share a studio. “It’s partly due to practicalities,” Bush said “since we have two children under the age of five and we’re on a budget.”

The couple is thrilled to have the most recently renovated studio; an addition at the end of the barn with bay doors, big windows and a fabulous view of the adjacent field. “We rarely get there at the same time,” said Bush “but when we do, we complement each other. We have different audiences so we’re not in competition and neither of us overshadows the other.”

The artists of Shelburne Pond Studios are as varied as they are talented. In addition to book arts, Abilock makes what she calls fiberscapes, as well as mobiles, jewelry and intricate doll books which have custom texts written in the paper folds of doll skirts. Other tenants include: painter Christine Lamar; sculptor Dan Webster; book binder Elizabeth Rideout; fine art illustrator and watercolorist Jenn Cullen; jewelry maker Joe Russo and fiber artist Robyn Woodworth. Those labels are really not sufficient since many of the artists work in a variety of media as they explore different fields of creativity.

Warren said one of the goals of the artists is to make Shelburne Pond Studios a destination for classes and workshops. Many artists already teach classes either in their individual studios or in the larger main room which doubles as gallery space. Nordstrom has recently rented a second studio in the barn to separate her teaching space from her work space.

During the summer, the artists also work outside doing plein air painting, paper-making and batik work. The studio sees more traffic on First Fridays during the summer months, something the artists are looking forward to. “We want to make this a place where people can come and visit and see new work,” said Warren.

The artists don’t have any formal get-togethers aside from planning for events like Open Studio Weekend, but they frequently get together informally to compare techniques, share ideas or just admire each other’s work. Every artist insisted on heaping praise on the work of the others in a manner that seemed completely genuine. While many credit Warren with having done the most to energize the group, she countered that they all feed off one another’s energy.

Abilock concedes she could have simply put an extra room on her house and worked from there but she is glad she chose not to. “Here I have a place with no distractions and a supportive community,” she said. “There’s not a person who wouldn’t say that being here is an absolute blessing.”

Shelburne Pond Studios is located at 1260 Pond Road. For more information on the artists at Shelburne Pond Studios, visit www.shelburnepondstudios.com.

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