Falling victim to a fraudulent investment scheme can mean losing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to your life savings. While most people might not see the harm in sitting through an investment seminar, Better Business Bureau recommends researching the investment company first, rather than run the risk of falling for a financial siren song over a free lunch.
“Free lunch seminars can seem like an easy way to get a meal, but attendees run the risk of getting drawn in by the slick presentations and promises of big returns,” said Paula Fleming, BBB spokesperson. “Unscrupulous seminars often use the promise of a free lunch to lure in leisurely senior citizens who have time and exploitable retirement accounts and real estate.”
When listening to an investment pitch, BBB recommends looking for the following red flags:
• Requires a large up-front investment. Untrustworthy schemers might try to convince investors to pay a lot of money upfront so they can get out of town with a large haul, rather than wait for the funds to trickle in.
• Promises high returns for low risk. Every investment comes with a level of risk. Typically the amount of risk increases in line with the potential return on the investment. If the seminar is trying to sell an investment scheme that claims a high return with little or no risk, beware, even with a “money-back guarantee.”
• Employs high pressure sales tactics. Seminar leaders often use high pressure sales tactics to get people to sign up without thinking it through. Any reputable investment company will let you take your time and do your research and will not pressure you into signing a check.
• Relies on off-shore investments. Many hucksters try to give their scheme an air of sophistication by relying on overseas investments such as foreign currency, property, stocks and bonds. They also might claim—incorrectly—that you can avoid taxes by investing overseas.
• Sounds too good to be true. At the end of the day, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always listen to your instincts because the potential payoff is rarely worth the risk.
For more advice from your BBB on financial planning and investing, visit bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-finance/
It’s time to get hot and look cool in summer’s latest style trends. Whether you’re attending a class reunion, going to a backyard barbecue or getting away for a weekend, there are plenty of new ways to put some heat into your wardrobe without going broke. Here are 10 fashion favorites for summer 2011:
• One: Bright colors. What better way to celebrate a new season than to put on some color! The neons are making news in hot pink and lime green. Taxicab yellow is another way to shout summer with a juicy spritz of color. Summer is the perfect time to get your color on with screaming accessories or a new pair of “look-at-me” jeans.
• Two: Sculpted wedges. Save the flip-flops for the pool. Platform shoes are a great way to spring into warm weather. You can dress up any summer outfit just by changing into one pair of these statement-making sandals. Just remember that pedicured toes make all the difference.
• Three: Nail polish. A simple way to get instant style this summer. Choose a color that’s dramatic, such as the new denim polish from essie or a gunmetal silver like the one from Sally Hansen. Keep the costs down by doing your own manicure on Sunday afternoon, and you’ll be set for a week of barefootin’ down the beach.
• Four: Round sunglasses. Channel John Lennon and his round glasses only this time around, they are bigger and better in sunglasses.
• Five: Jumpsuits. Yes, they’re back in a big way. Think Bianca Jagger and think sexy and silky. It’s the perfect way, if you dare, to dress up for a class reunion, even if you do remember wearing jumpsuits back in the ‘70s.
• Six: Palazzo pants. Another favorite from the past, these flowing wide-legged pants were a hit on the spring and summer fashion runways; they are one of the best ways to keep cool this summer. Just team the soft pants with a skinny tank top or fitted sweater to balance out the fuller silhouette on the bottom.
• Seven: Dressy shorts. Shorts rise to a new level this season, and if you’ve got the legs for them, then the new styles will give you lots of options. The softer, skirt-like looks may even be appropriate for some work environments when paired with tailored jackets. Just make sure that they’re not too short or tight.
• Eight: Polka dots and stripes. Summer wouldn’t be summer without a few of these peppy prints poking out of your closet, now would it? Polka dots are sprinkled over everything from giant totes to sundresses. And natty nautical stripes are the perfect way to top off any skirts, shorts or Capri pants.
• Nine: Neutral suits. Yes, some of us do have to work in the summer. And it can be a problem trying to keep cool but look professional. But this year, designers have turned up with sharply tailored suits and dresses in pale neutral colors that make getting dressed for the office a refreshing change of pace.
• Ten: The long Boho dress. Summer is a time to relax … at least a little bit. Here is an option that will make lounging by the pool a treat. These long dresses — especially the strapless versions — make great swimsuit cover-ups as well as casually elegant party dresses.
Empire waist styles will flatter most body types. Stick to small all-over prints or solids for a more sophisticated style that won’t overwhelm you. Now, it’s time to have that mojito.
The Champlain Valley Fair returns for its 90th season Aug. 27 through Sept.5 with a great lineup of food, entertainment, agriculture and events. The state’s largest fair features all of the trappings of summer fun in one, 10-day package, with things that will interest guests of every age. The top draw is always fair food – the number one thing people cite as their favorite part of fairs. More than 50 types of food vendors are featured during the Fair, with everything from light snacks to staples like fried dough, burgers and dogs, pizza, chicken and more. Shoppers will find plenty to browse, both outdoors and in. The air conditioned comfort of the Robert E. Miller Expo Centre will provide a welcome setting to shop the hundreds of vendors on hand.
Tuesday, August 30 is Senior Day at the Fair. Guests age 50 and over with ID receive a $3 discount on gate admission that day. A new promotion that supports the community will be featured — Champlain Valley Exposition is teaming up with the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging to support the Meals on Wheels program. Fair guests who purchase a $2 button for CVAA at the gate receive a 10 percent discount on food from participating vendors.
A special free musical performance will be presented on Senior Day this year, as The Return, a tribute to The Beatles, will perform. This free show will take place in the Coca-Cola Grandstand at 7 p.m.
The Return is a talented group of young musicians known for the way in which they have so meticulously recreated the complete Beatle image on stage. The boys showcase authentic vintage instruments, haircuts, and custom made clothes and boots. Their unmistakable Liverpool accents and Beatlesque antics truly bring out the charming, charismatic personas of the original four lads. In being true to the original Fab Four, The Return derives their song list from a specific part of the Beatles catalog, primarily performing material that the Beatles performed live in concert.
Other free entertainment this year includes the world-famous Flying Pages high wire trapeze act. Other new acts this year include the 3-man, 30-instrument band New Odyssey, a petting zoo, the West Texas rattlesnake show, and the strolling Hot Tamale Brass Band. Returning acts include the Dazzling Mills Family jugglers, Anastasini Family Circus in the Big Top Tent, Draft Horses, Racing Pigs, toy tractors and model trains, and much more. A special attraction for opening weekend this year will be a Civil War encampment. Reenactors will demonstrate Civil War artifacts and lifestyles, as well as participating in the opening ceremonies on Aug. 27.
Competitive exhibits continue to draw entries from all over the northeast, just as they have since the fair began in 1922. Blue ribbons are awarded in dozens of categories, including art, fruits and vegetables, flowers and Bonsai, cattle, horse, pony and oxen pulling, home crafts, fine arts, sheep, poultry and rabbits. Senior Day includes two categories of Horse Pulling this year. In addition, the culinary department offers bakers a chance to show their talents in a range of competitions, including cookies, pies and breads. Tuesday, Aug. 30 features the King Arthur Flour “Best Whoopie Pie” contest in the Ware Building Annex at 4:30 p.m. Other baking and cooking contests will be featured throughout the week as well. In addition, the Fiber Loft will present a Felting Demonstration that day.
The Comcast Stage in the Coca Cola Grandstand will host top entertainment during the Fair. Opening Night will feature two of classic rock’s most enduring groups, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Doobie Brothers. On Sunday, Aug. 28, Nickelodeon stars Big Time Rush will perform for the delight of younger pop fans. The entertainment continues on Thursday night, Sept. 1, when pop artist Bruno Mars appears in concert. The next night, 3 Doors Down is the featured rock act. The final weekend of the Fair, Sept. 3-4, will feature two of the hottest groups in country/crossover today, Lady Antebellum on Saturday and Sugarland on Sunday. Tickets for all shows are available at the Flynn Box Office. Tickets purchased in advance include free gate admission to the fair the day of the show. Tickets are available online at flynntix.org or by calling (802) 86-FLYNN (863-5966).
Fans of motor sports will also find much to their liking in the Grandstand. On Monday, Aug. 29, Tonny Peterson’s Hell Drivers will be the main attraction. This free show features a thrilling lineup of driving that will impress fans of fast cars and motorcycles. Wednesday, Aug. 31 features the Earth Waste Systems Demolition Derby, and Monday, Sept. 5 is the Dixie Chopper Grand National Tractor & Truck Pull. Tickets for the Demolition Derby and Truck & Tractor Pull (which do NOT include gate admission to the Fair) are available at flynntix.org.
The Champlain Valley Fair, presented by Progressive, runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 5 from 10 a.m. to midnight. Gate admission is $10 for adults, $5 children, kids under 5 are free. Convenient on-site parking is $5 per vehicle. Special deals for group, advance and seniors – buy early and save when you get your tickets before the fair. Get great discounts when you buy at Price Chopper stores.
The Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction – it’s ‘The Ten Best Days of Summer!’ For more information, visit cvexpo.org or call (802) 878-5545.
Vermonters flocking to sources of their favorite foodsBy Adam White
Farming and tourism are two defining characteristics of the Green Mountain State. More than one quarter of Vermont’s land is devoted to agricultural purposes, and tourists make an estimated 14.3 million trips to the state each year and contribute over $1.5 billion to its economy.
Those two trends have combined to spawn an entire industry that is booming in Vermont: agri-tourism. The New England Agricultural Statistics Service reported in 2002 that one-third of Vermont farms benefitted from agri-tourism to the tune of more than $19.5 million, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 census indicated that the number of farms nearly doubled over the preceding five-year period.
But while the latter half of the agri-tourism label suggests out-of-state visitors getting their first real taste of the state’s signature maple syrup and cheddar cheese, Vermonters are making an increasing number of those farm visits. The mainstream popularity of the “localvore” movement has consumers more interested than ever in how their food is made, and where it comes from.
That journey to discovery is the business of Chris Howell, who is in his third season operating Vermont Farm Tours out of Winooski. Howell has found success connecting customers with not only the locations where their food originates, but also the people whose hard work and craftsmanship helps turn raw materials into local culinary delights.
“Eating real food, with the person who made it on the soil where it comes from, you have a totally unique experience,” Howell said. “You develop a story around the food that you eat, and it makes you appreciate it more.”
Food tours can also enhance people’s understanding about the difference between local products – which may cost more at markets – and less expensive, but potentially lower-quality alternatives delivered from elsewhere.
“I used to go to places like City Market and look at the cost of Vermont produce and think, ‘why would you pay so much extra for that?’” said Jay Garrett of Burlington, who said he has visited a number of Vermont farms since moving here from New York state. “But it is important to support local farmers, and you’re reducing the need to truck in more food from out of state – and the more you eat [local food], the more you realize how it’s so much better, and worth it.
“Eat an apple from who-knows-where, then eat an apple from Vermont. It doesn’t even taste like the same fruit.”
While he admits that much of his business comes from out-of-state visitors, Howell said that one of his events in particular attracts many Vermont residents: the Heart of the Islands Bike Tour. Participants choose between 10, 25 and 37-mile routes, along which they can visit a variety of farms and vineyards situated among the Champlain Islands.
“The Bike Tour draws mostly people from Chittenden County and across the lake in nearby New York,” Howell said. “A lot of older, retired folks enjoy it, too. It’s self-paced, not a race; you get to stop between five and 15 times along the way; when you come back, you get a massage and a wine tasting. It’s pretty relaxed.”
Riders can get their localvore fix along the way by stopping at the Champlain Islands Farmers Market, where homegrown foods ranging from preserves and produce to baked goods are available for sale. They can wash all that down with one of Snow Farm Vineyard’s signature wines, such as its estate Vidal Blanc – which won a gold medal at the 2011 Taster’s Guild International Wine Competition.
“People get excited tasting wine here because it’s very personal,” said Harrison Lebowitz, proprietor at Snow Farm Vineyard. “The staff can spend time talking with you, they know what they’re doing and they believe in it.”
Part of the localvore allure is knowledge about the practices with which food is grown and produced, particularly when it comes to organic fertilizers and pesticides vs. chemical ones. But Vermonters’ interest in the source of local foods isn’t just about how green it is.
A growing number of food tour participants are looking to educate themselves about the processes, so that they can replicate them on smaller scales on their own property.
“They want to learn something they can take home with them,” Howell said. “People who might be interested in starting their own vineyard or hobby cheese-making operation can come to a farm and experience the process not through a workshop or book, but by seeing people actually do it.”
Garrett said he has picked local farmers’ brains for ways to improve his own garden, which he jokingly called “an overgrown weed patch.” When asked if he has ever shared samples of his homegrown produce with fellow Vermont growers, he laughed.
“I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself,” he said.
Others aren’t so shy. Lebowitz said that many aspiring local winemakers bring samples of their products to Snow Farm, and are more than willing to share their experiences with the craft.
“Some people will talk about their home setups for as long as you’ll let them, and we try to listen for as long as we can,” Lebowitz said. “People have brought in all kinds of homemade wines for us to try, including things like dandelion wine and rhubarb wine.”
Lebowitz said that support from fellow Vermonters for his company has been “great,” though he wishes that restaurants in the state would embrace local wines more. He said that while professional wine writers typically make a point of sampling local wines when exploring a place, too many Vermont eateries have turned their noses up at local vintners.
“You constantly see restaurants saying, ‘come try our localvore menu – and our California wine list,’” Lebowitz said.
But otherwise, Vermont is one of the leading states in taking pride in its local food makers and exploring their operations and practices; in fact, it has grown to become a significant part of the state’s identity.
“Vermont has the image of being at the forefront of both the localvore and agricultural tourism movements,” said Greg Gerdel, chief of research and operations for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.
The intersection of those two movements is a place where agri-tour guides are thrilled to be bringing people.
“It’s a part of connecting with the place that you live, and it’s something that stays with you for a long time,” Howell said.
Yardscapes offer new dimension to home ownershipBy 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.”
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 or attic 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. While the very concept is to keep the cooking process outside the confinements of an indoor setting, there is a fine line between aesthetics and practicality.
“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.