Vermont has a few weeks to get its wish list in order before the federal government hands out parts of a $400 billion stimulus plan to stem the national recession and prime the economic pump. Faced with thousands of layoffs in recent months throughout the state, Vermonters, no doubt, want to know what Gov.
Hey, it’s two weeks ’til Christmas and from the constant bleating of news reports 24/7, we all know that the world’s economy is on life support. So, what do we do … dig a hole and hide, or look around us and see what life has to offer? Well, as Annie said, “the sun will come out tomorrow” — in fact, it’s out there now.
It seems appropriate, in this coming year of change, to talk about establishing new traditions. That doesn’t mean tossing out the old, but rather making way for the changes that are ahead and learning how to embrace them with all the richness of family rituals.
I speak for many, as an adult with three grown daughters, to recognize that the holiday traditions we celebrated 20 years ago when they were young, giddy and true-believers, are much different today. Not yet the granddad and with daughters in the Rockies and further West, the four of us gather when we can and celebrate togetherness simply because we miss each other and rejoice in the bonding of just being together.
We ski. We run. We hike, bike, kayak, swim, water-ski, rock-climb or just hang on the porch and gab away the hours. This past January we had cause to go to Hawaii to see an uncle of mine married and be part of the wedding party. We all took time off from work and school (not an easy thing in itself) and spent the better part of a week playing on the shores of Oahu and being with family. We played in the surf, toured the island, paid $10 each to open a clam and see what type of pearl would be inside; two of us took surfing lessons after the other two had to get back to their respective responsibilities, and we all had a memorable time together.
Three months later, two daughters and I met in Big Sur, California to run in their first marathon along that spectacular coast to Carmel. We started the race together, ran stride for stride for those 26 miles and crossed the finish hand-in-hand triumphant over our heads. That night I treated them to cocktails at Carmel’s Highlands Lodge and saw a glorious, blazing orange sunset over the Pacific in country made famous by photographer Ansel Adams. It was an occasion not to forget.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ORWELL — When you hear “Santa Shop” it might conjure up images of a frosty North Pole workshop, staffed by Christmas elves and jolly old St. Nick himself.
Think again, at least if you find yourself at the Orwell Village School come Christmastime.
Every year, volunteers at the school transform the town hall gym into their very own “Santa Shop,” where students at the K-8 school can — for the price of just one dollar — select gifts for their families.
The hundreds of gifts — some brand new, some as good as new — are all donated by Orwell residents, and arranged on tables for the children to sift through. There are stuffed animals, puzzles and piles of toys for siblings. Earrings and ornaments, candleholders and coffee cups, bells and books — the choices are seemingly endless.
There may not be reindeer or elves manning this Santa Shop — but as children from the school streamed into the gym last Thursday, sifted through tables piled high with goodies, and consulted with each other on gift ideas, this particular incarnation proved just as festive as that North Pole outpost.
The Santa Shop tradition is among the school’s oldest — with a genesis that no one can quite pinpoint anymore.
Cathy Dundon, who heads up the event now, said the Santa Shop was already well established by the time she moved to Orwell 25 years ago.
“(Kids) like to give presents, too,” she said with a small smile and a shrug. “They’re usually the ones who are stuck home with the babysitters (during Christmas shopping).”
By ANDY KIRKALDY
MONTPELIER — $6.2 million in transportation payments that local towns anticipated in mid-January are being frozen as a result of budget-cutting negotiations among the administration of Gov. James Douglas, the Agency of Transportation and a key committee representing both branches of the Vermont legislature.
Those payments, plus another round due in April, could still be made in full at a later date or could be reduced, according to state officials. Their size and timing depends on a number of in-state factors, including the health of January tax revenue figures and ongoing negotiations between the state’s Republican governor and Democrat-controlled Legislature.
State officials also hope the administration of incoming President Barack Obama moves quickly with an economic stimulus package that could include funds for local transportation projects.
Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol) said joint fiscal committee member Shap Smith — the Democratic nominee for speaker of the Vermont house — told him that hopes for local transportation money in such a stimulus package was the single biggest reason for an agreement to freeze January’s Agency of Transportation highway grant payments.
Without such an agreement, there are no guarantees the payments will be made in full, according to Sharpe, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“He said the primary reason behind the postponement is ... we’re hoping for some support from the federal government,” Sharpe said. “If that’s not forthcoming, then all bets are off, I guess.”
Sharpe is not fully optimistic about the forecast for January revenue figures, and said the overall state budget picture is not pretty. Cuts will have to be made somewhere, he said, and could still be made in quarterly highway payments that are due not only in January, but also in April.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
NEW HAVEN — When 64-year-old Lorraine Clark’s car swerved off an icy road and into the New Haven River earlier this month, the Bristol woman remembers having one clear thought: Don’t panic.
“I said to myself, ‘Now, don’t panic. You can’t panic. You’ve got to use your head and you’ve got to keep your wits about you,’” Clark remembered. “‘You’re the only one down here and you’ve got to help yourself.’”
That wherewithal — an inner strength, Clark said, that she never knew she had — and a heavy dose of good luck saved Clark’s life on Dec. 9, when her 2002 Pontiac Grand Am slid off the road and plunged about 30 feet into the icy river.
Clark had been driving toward Bristol on River Road around 2 p.m., shortly after leaving her job as a food service assistant at Helen Porter nursing home in Middlebury.
As she approached a narrow bridge over the New Haven River near Halpin Road, she saw a green car driving toward her from the opposite direction — too close to her own side of the road for comfort.
She swerved to the right slightly to avoid hitting the car, and the tail end of her Grand Am fishtailed. Clark made it over the bridge, but by that point the front end of her car had started to shake violently, and she lost control of the vehicle entirely.
Her car slid off the road, over the river bank, and then plunged into eight feet of icy, fast-moving water.
Clark, jostled by the crash, found herself suddenly in the passenger seat. Her car was rapidly sinking.
She knew that all four doors were locked — the Pontiac’s doors did so automatically every time the key turned in the ignition. So Clark fumbled with the lock, and then threw her weight against the door, using her shoulder to try to wedge the door open.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLBURY — It appears as though the various broadcasting and cell phone tenants of the communications tower on Chipman Hill will be providing Middlebury residents with some property tax relief this year.
Subject to the approval of an Addison County Probate Court judge, a portion of the rental fees derived from those tower tenants will be used to make up a penny on the tax rate — around $70,000 in property tax revenues — that will be earmarked for Middlebury’s conservation fund.
Middlebury selectmen recently requested the donation from directors of the Battell Trust, a 100-year-old organization that presides over the vast public lands on which the communication tower is located. Those lands include the 130-acre Chipman Hill and 90-acre Battell Woods properties that were willed to the town by the late Joseph Battell, who stipulated that the lands be used for public enjoyment.
A communications tower (to host an FM station transmitter) was first built on Chipman Hill around 30 years ago. The courts in 2003 OK’d the replacement of that initial tower with the more modern structure that stands there today. The structure provides free spots to several emergency response organizations, including the Middlebury police and fire departments, the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association and Porter Hospital dispatch services, Middlebury Department of Public Works and the Addison County Sheriff’s Department.
But other users — who pay monthly fees ranging from $500 to $2,000 — include Central Vermont Public Service Corp., Rinker’s Paging, Unicel, NEXTEL, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and local radio stations like WFAD 1490 AM.