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Posts Tagged ‘Vermont’

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe.
George, a chicken, and a sign to turn out the lights at the entrance to the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, Vt.

I knew this Boston Globe article was for me as soon as I saw it was about celebrating the everyday. Most people have bucket lists of adventures they expect will be highlights of their lives. But after we check an item off our list, how do we feel when we get back home?

Maybe we should be enjoying what we do every day. A “museum” founder in Vermont thinks so.

Dana Gerber writes at the Boston Globe, ” ‘What would a museum look like if it was dedicated to ordinary objects of no monetary value, but immense everyday life consequences?’

“That’s the question Clare Dolan seeks to answer at the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, Vt. Dolan, who founded the museum in 2011, has no interest in celebrating the precious, the rare, the famous. She’d rather honor the stuff of junk drawers — toothpaste tubes, safety pins, old to-do lists — and present them with reverence.

“So, she set out to create a museum that would redefine what is valuable, and whose lives are worth putting on display.

‘We need a museum that’s about us, too — the ordinary people,’ said Dolan, 54, who has dubbed herself the Chief Operating Philosopher of the museum. ‘We’re here, and there’s something lovely about our lives.’

“In a remote corner of the bucolic Northeast Kingdom, the Museum of Everyday Life beckons from the side of the road. There is no admission fee or lock on the door; patrons let themselves in and turn the lights off when they’re done. Dolan, who lives in a house next door, works as an ICU nurse at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in nearby St. Johnsbury, so she’s often not home to greet visitors. The only security is a feisty chicken named George.

“The museum grew out of her childhood love of the material world. ‘I was the kind of kid that would talk to chairs,’ said Dolan, who’s originally from the Chicago area. After she bought her Vermont home in 2004, ‘I found the means to start making the thing that I wish I could come across.’

“The museum, now in its 10th year, champions the small to illuminate the universal. The front of the museum boasts the ‘greatest hits’ of exhibits past, like a trove of tone balls — dust that accumulates inside of instruments — and a violin made of matchsticks. Matchboxes from around the world rest on a wooden table, some from Dolan’s travels, others from outside contributions.

“Each of the exhibits, which run from one summer to the next, are communally curated. Dolan puts out a call for submissions in February when she announces that year’s object of focus. Throughout the 1990s, she worked as a puppeteer at the nearby Bread and Puppet Theater, a political troupe that has tackled a litany of social justice issues throughout its decades-long history — but she also enlists her ‘philosophers at large,’ or board of advisers, to assist her in creating each exhibit.

“This year’s exhibit highlighting notes and lists received the most submissions of any in the museum’s history, Dolan said. The selection is organized by category: love notes, bucket lists, and unfinished lists, like one that reads, ‘Things that have never happened: 1. I’ve never been asked to dance.’ There is a number two, but it is left blank.

“ ‘My heart just broke for that person,’ said Corina Orias, a California elementary school teacher visiting the museum with a local friend on a recent rainy Sunday. ‘I just hope that she did get asked to dance, sometime, someplace.’

“Why lists and notes? Dolan loves their inherent intimacy: the content, but also the way they bear the signs of human use; a pencil smudge here, a crinkle in the paper there. ‘They’re so connected to a person and a person’s story,’ she said. ‘They’re snapshots into how we make our way through the world.’ …

“ ‘It’s a lot of work, and it’s sort of thankless work in a way,’ Dolan said, ‘but it brings a lot of joy to me.’ ”

She brings joy to herself every day. Good idea. Could be at least as satisfying as checking off a bucket list. More at the Boston Globe, here.

Do you know other cool museum concepts? I’m remembering, for example, one man’s Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis and the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Mass. The blog has also covered the Mermaid Museums, the Museum of Aromas, the Covid Art Museum, a Museum for Gerbils, and more. Search on the word “museum” at the blog when you have time for joy.

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. Photo: Vermont Folk Life Center.
The Most Costly Journey

Just before Covid descended on our world, an unusual comic book was created in Vermont. Using two languages, it spoke to the lives of migrants who work in the state in normal times.

Kaitlin E. Thomas, an assistant professor of Spanish at Norwich University, reported for Public Radio International’s The World.

“Imagine becoming a character in your favorite comic book, ” she writes. “For Latino residents in Addison County, Vermont, seeing their stories illustrated in print has been key to tackling some of the mental health challenges of migration. …

“Vermont is the second least populated state in the US and more than 50% of its residents live in rural areas. The state is confronting a range of obstacles — a declining labor force, an aging population, and difficulty attracting young residents. But Latino migrants are increasingly stepping into roles that would otherwise remain unfilled. 

“There is ample opportunity for migrant workers willing to venture to the far reaches of the Northeast, particularly in the agriculture, dairy and construction sectors. But even for the heartiest locals, Vermont winters can be a challenge to endure.

“Add to the mix not knowing the local language, little access to public transportation, and separation from home, and it becomes a recipe for isolation, depression, substance abuse, and other mental hurdles for migrant farmworkers.

“ ‘People think that crossing the border is the hardest part, but the worst part is finding a way to survive after you arrive,’ said Guadalupe, 43, a homemaker and cook who came to Vermont from Veracruz, Mexico.

“Guadalupe is one of 18 contributors to ‘El viaje más caro” or “The Most Costly Journey’ — a project to create a comic-based set of stories that spotlight the experiences of Latino migrants in Vermont. She and her co-storytellers use pseudonyms to protect their identities in the midst of an increase of immigration raids and apprehensions in the area

The comic book project was sparked by Julia Doucet, an outreach nurse at the Vermont-based Open Door Clinic. While seeing patients at the clinic and in the field, Doucet noticed that the Latino migrant community she serves was dealing with an epidemic of failing mental health. …

“Doucet works with more than 300 Latino immigrant farmworkers in Addison County, the vast majority of whom are men under 40. They are primarily from Mexico, while others come from Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, and El Salvador to work in Vermont. Some speak an Indigenous language as their first language, while a third have completed less than an 8th grade level of education.

“In this population group, the topic of mental health can be sensitive. And with low levels of literacy and limited internet access, Doucet felt challenged to find a tool to best serve migrant workers struggling with mental health challenges. 

“With the support of Andy Kolovos of the Vermont Folklife Center and the University of Vermont, they started documenting the stories of migrant workers in Vermont.

“That’s when Marek Bennett, local Vermont cartoonist and educator, who had spent time documenting stories of marginalized people in Eastern Europe through comics, joined the initiative. …

“Topics such as language barriers, navigating new professional relationships, the traumatic experience of crossing the border, the pain of family members left behind, and much more are expressed in detail by participating storytellers. …

“Through the initiative, migrant storytellers talk about why they made the impossible decision to leave their home countries, and how some eventually managed to find happiness and community in rural, small-town Vermont.

“ ‘It helps all of us who are isolated. We talk about our situations,’ [said] storyteller Lara, a homemaker and gardener from Mexico. In her story, she offers encouragement to other migrant farmworkers to tap into mental health resources and the community — migrant and non-migrant alike.”

More at PRI, here.

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Photo: John Campbell via CSM.
“This spring,” says the
Christian Science Monitor, “two groups of Sterling College students spent time at instructor John Campbell’s shop, Alpine Luddites, learning how to design backpacks and operate industrial-grade sewing machines.”

I never cease to be amazed by the great variety of careers out there, some of which are careers that individuals create for themselves. Consider mountain climber John Campbell, who has learned survival skills outdoors the hard way and now shares them with others, often indoors.

Gareth Henderson reported for the Christian Science Monitor on his work.

“After scaling the heights of the Andes, Alps, and northern Rockies, John Campbell understands the importance of proper outdoor gear – and he’s eager to share that knowledge.

“This spring, he taught college students in Vermont the finer points of backpack fixing – and even how to make their own product from scratch. That’s a big advantage for those pursuing outdoor careers, because it’s rarer than one might think, Mr. Campbell says.

“As recently as the 1990s, many outdoor brands in the United States sewed their products locally. But Mr. Campbell, who runs his own gear business, says that’s not the case anymore, and he wants to pass along how it’s done. 

‘These are just good skills to have,’ he says.

“Mr. Campbell is one of three instructors for the first gear design and repair course at Sterling College, in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. The scenic college, about 40 minutes from the Canadian border, has long focused on the environment and sustainability. The new design class has the potential, say the instructors and those in the industry, to not only help students be better prepared for surviving in the wild, but also expand both local gear manufacturing and an understanding of the design process overall.

“ ‘Everything – and I do mean everything – is designed and developed the same way: through a series of steps that visualize, confirm, and then create,’ says Kurt Gray, who runs the design and product operation at Jagged Edge Mountain Gear in Telluride, Colorado. ‘The major benefit to the community,’ he adds, ‘is teaching young people how to realize their dreams through the rigors of meticulous planning and application of skill.’ …

“Mr. Campbell started by introducing students to his business, Alpine Luddites, in Westmore, Vermont. Students – in two groups of five due to pandemic protocols – trained on three large, industrial-grade sewing machines. Each group created its own backpack design, and from there individuals made their own packs, which they personalized with smaller parts, like daisy chains (the bumpy strips on the sides of packs), pockets, clips, and straps. …

“When the students weren’t at Mr. Campbell’s shop, they were honing their new skills on the nearby 130-acre Sterling campus in Craftsbury Common, a village in the town of Craftsbury, where experiential outdoor learning has been in place for five decades.

“Josh Bossin, one of the outdoor education faculty, organized the course and taught the ins and outs of repair and gear history. At his request, the college community dropped off all kinds of outdoor gear for the students to fix.

” ‘This allows us to support our community [with] keeping things out of the landfill, and at the same time, gives my students a chance to do real-life repairs and feel the impact it has with a real “customer,” ‘ says Mr. Bossin. …

“Having more students learn the skills the class is offering, Mr. Campbell says, could help bring back some manufacturing jobs that were lost years ago. … 

“Prin Van Gulden focused on participants mastering fundamentals like sewing in her part of the course, including a range of techniques for making repairs by hand. ‘My goal is for students to gain confidence and competence with the basics,’ says Ms. Van Gulden, an adjunct faculty member in the area of environmental humanities. ‘I want them to feel undaunted, to feel empowered to deal with problems as they come up.’ …

“Tyler Kheang, a student from Philadelphia, would like to use what he’s learned to get others interested in the outdoors. ‘For me personally, I want to get more minorities into the outdoor setting,’ he says.

“These skills save money, he says, as you can repair old gear rather than buying new. And anyone can learn it, he adds. ‘It takes away that financial factor and makes an opportunity for everyone to be equal,’ he says. ‘A lot of people back where I’m from don’t have a lot of money to buy expensive things.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Gareth Henderson
Messages of hope fill a window at the Bernard General Store in Barnard, Vermont.

When you’re feeling down, it’s a sign of health to look for comfort, which actually can be found in many places. Some people find it in phone calls to distant friends. Others find it in reading, music, exercise, or nature; in donating to people worse off or in watching children playing and laughing.

Gareth Henderson writes for the Christian Science Monitor that in Small Town America, some people are finding comfort at the general store.

“As COVID-19 restrictions were tightening in mid-March,” Henderson writes, “Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva made a big decision: They pledged to keep the doors of the Barnard General Store open, no matter what.

“Now the Barnard store has a grocery home-delivery system supported by volunteers, and they also offer curbside pickup. But it’s been a long haul for the store, in this remote Vermont town of about 900 people, located a half-hour from the nearest grocery establishment.

‘Most days we are working 10 to 12 hours a day, but we are happy to do it for our community,’ Ms. Bradley says. …

“Country stores across the U.S., from New England to the South and the Midwest, are the heartbeat of their communities, often standing in the same spot for generations, growing up with the town.

“Eight years ago, the Barnard store closed for about a year but came roaring back after a community trust with hundreds of local members raised the funds to save the business. It reopened in 2013, with Ms. Bradley and Mr. Minerva as the new owners. The community simply would not let the store fail. …

“These Vermont stores have become essential food hubs. With most country store buildings closed during Vermont’s state of emergency – which was extended beyond May 15 – online ordering and curbside pickup has become the trend. Such is the case a 40-minute drive south at the South Woodstock Country Store, which has been running its curbside operation since early April. Around noon each Friday, co-owner Simi Johnston, donning her mask, puts out brown paper bags with grocery orders, each labeled with the customer’s name for pickup.

“For Ms. Johnston, the main focus is continuing to serve the community while keeping everyone safe. The store closed to the public in late March, two days before the state required restaurants to shut down.

“The entire operation is sanitized, and the store tries not to touch deliveries for 24 hours. The first week of curbside, the store saw 20 orders – which is nothing like being fully open.

“ ‘It’s a huge hit, for sure, but we’re definitely hoping there’ll be a lot of understanding from everyone around that,’ Ms. Johnston says. …

“ ‘The reason we run the country store is because we care about our community,’ she says. ‘Without it, South Woodstock is very different. Closing the doors of the country store, for myself and my staff, was surprisingly emotional.’

“With Vermont’s unemployment rate soaring to more than 20% during the pandemic, many stores are also finding a way to give back, even while they themselves struggle. In Craftsbury, which sits an hour south of the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, businesses have joined forces to set up a pop-up food pantry. The Craftsbury General Store put out a call for donations, and they came in fast.

“ ‘There’s been a lot of generosity in that realm,’ says co-owner Kit Basom.

“At the store, the doors are closed to the public, but they’re doing business seven days a week, filling online and phone orders for curbside pickup. The store’s owners have added a third person to help with phones, and everyone is on deck to be a ‘personal shopper.’ …

“The Craftsbury store has also added a ‘virtual tour’ on its website, so customers can browse the shelves digitally. The staff regularly updates an online list of items people can order in bulk – think flour, rice, or pasta.

“ ‘We’re moving a lot more product from our grocery section than we ever did before,’ Ms. Basom says.

“For many here, these stores are a lifeline holding the fabric of the community together. There is growing concern about the warmer months, from May to October, when these small village stores usually make the majority of their annual income. Though it’s been on their minds, Ms. Bradley from the Barnard store says she is confident they will find a way to make it.

“ ‘It’s sink or swim time and there is no way we will let ourselves sink,’ she says.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Large-scale solar “farms” are becoming the norm across the country. It’s best to put them on places that are already treeless. We need trees to absorb carbon and give us oxygen.

There’s an organization I follow on twitter, @ecorinews, that has made me more cautious about the renewable energy I advocate. I love that people are using more solar energy, but it should not be at the expense of trees, which are also important in controlling climate change. There are plenty of buildings and already empty spaces where panels could go.

Still, it’s heartening to see communities embracing sustainable energy, and I liked a story from Vermont about strange bedfellows getting the message and working together on solar — on a landfill.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling wrote about the collaboration at the Valley News in September.

“As Vermont’s ever-shifting energy landscape continues to shake up the renewable energy sector, a community solar array coming online this month will showcase a new twist on existing financial models.

“ ‘This is a hybrid,’ said Dori Wolfe, whose company, Wolfe Energy in Strafford, has purchased two shares — at a cost of $2,784 each — of the 185-kilowatt array, which is sited beside a closed landfill site just off Route 113 in Post Mills.

“Community solar arrays — those which serve multiple customers, some of whom might not have solar-friendly homes — are nothing new in Vermont. …

“The nearly finished ‘Thetford-Strafford Community Solar’ array is designed to generate 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity during its first year, enough to power about 35 average Vermont homes.

“But it differs from projects in neighboring towns because it will be the first solar farm to serve a mix of customer sectors — the array is a partnership between residential customers, a commercial farm, and the town of Thetford itself. …

“Wolfe said that, among the 25 member-owner shareholders, the commercial entity — Dave Chapman’s Thetford-based Long Wind Farm — acts as the anchor, and purchased enough of the roughly 185 shares on offer to create a critical mass that allowed area residents to buy into the entity, ‘Thetford Strafford Community Solar LLC.’

“The shareholders (who live in Thetford, Strafford and Norwich) expect to recoup their investment and then some through reduced electric bills — about 85 percent of the electricity produced at the site will be sold to Green Mountain Power through the state’s net-metering program, which guarantees customers a minimum rate for feeding solar energy back into the grid.

“The remaining 15 percent of the power will be sold to the town of Thetford at 90 percent of the normal utility rate, which Wolfe said will exert downward pressure on the property tax rate. …

“Wolfe said she hopes that the Post Mills project will lead to a second phase in which more solar is installed on top of the adjacent landfill.

“Though having more solar options is expected to help more Vermonters access renewable energy, a report released earlier this summer by the Energy Action Network suggests that more regulatory action will be needed to get the state on pace for its ambitious goal of achieving 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“The state has made progress — in 2017, Vermont energy use was 20 percent renewable, up from 12 percent in 2010. But it is significantly off pace. … In 2017, the rate of newly added capacity was down 30 percent as compared to 2016, and new wind generation has seen an even steeper decline, according to the report.

“There are several reasons for the slowdown. … A new, 30 percent federal tariff on solar panels produced overseas [has] affected pricing, leaving solar projects looking for new ways to make the numbers work.” More.

If you are interested, click here to see what Rhode Island is doing to encourage siting of solar arrays on developed lands, like the landfill used in the Vermont story.

Does your community have a policy to spare forests from being taken down for the otherwise worthy purpose?

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Office of Administration, featuring the solar array below, is one of three Rhode Island government buildings to join the Lead by Example initiative.

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Photo: Anna Kusmer
An old Estey Organ Company factory space filled with donated reed organs.

Here is something the internet should be perfect for: finding the unusual person somewhere in the world who would like nothing better than to give new life to an old reed organ. There don’t seem to be too many such enthusiasts in the vicinity of the old Estey Organ Company in Vermont.

Anna Kusmer writes at Atlas Obscura, “In its heyday, the Estey Organ Company factory was the beating, bleating heart of Brattleboro, Vermont. It produced more than half a million organs in total and, at its peak, employed more than 500 people. On a fateful day in 1960, however, the assembly lines shut down and workers departed. After nearly a century in operation, the organ factory had gone silent.

“And then, like the most improbable boomerangs, the organs started coming back.

“Families with old, unwanted Estey organs started to donate them, one by one, to the Brattleboro Historical Society. First a few, then a few more, and the organs kept coming. Over the years, hundreds of organs have made their way back home. At first, the historical society was at a loss for what to do with them all.

“In 2002, the society chose the most interesting and playable organs and opened the Estey Organ Museum on the premises of the old factory. …

“Beyond the museum, since the 1970s, the Brattleboro Historical Society amassed what might be the largest organ collection in the world, at around 200 instruments. The majority are stored in other adjacent factory buildings owned by Barbara George, a historic preservationist and longtime Brattleboro resident.

“ ‘In a way, it’s my fault that we have all these organs,’ says George. She was generous with the old factory space, which at first provided ample room. But after years of accepting any and all organ donations, many of the buildings began to fill up. It was a unique predicament for any local society. …

“ ‘They’re a curse,’ George says, only half-joking. Today, the museum only accepts donated organs in perfect working condition, or rare or unusual examples. But this hasn’t completely stopped the tide. On a couple of occasions, organs have been anonymously left outside the door of the museum. ‘In the museum world, we call that a “drive-by donation,” ‘ says George. …

 

“Rock ‘n’ roll and the rise of electric instruments, however, did the old organs in. … However, the instrument is still occasionally found in contemporary music—John Lennon and Nico were fans.

“Collecting so many of them, in one place, was never George’s plan. ‘The mission of the museum is to promote continued use and enjoyment. They’re certainly not doing anyone any good in here,’ she says. …

“ ‘People don’t want them,’ says George, ‘but they also don’t want to throw them away.’

“Brattleboro’s best bet for its tidal wave of busted organs is to raise awareness about just how many they have, so they can find people willing to breathe new life into them. Says George, ‘We’d most like to see a reed organ revival.’ ” More history and some great pictures here.

Any takers out there? I’ll bet KerryCan knows a likely reed-organ lover.

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Photo: Jessica Ojala
Rabbi David Fainsilber (left) and Rev. Rick Swanson are working with law enforcement and volunteers to combat winter homelessness in Vermont.

Vermont gets really cold in winter, and the most recent winter was especially brutal. That is why a coalition of volunteers, religious leaders, and law enforcement officers have banded together to combat homelessness. Seeing families with young children living in their cars in bitter, brutal weather made them say, Enough is enough.

Reports Mark Davis at Seven Days Vermont, “An improbable alliance of religious leaders, law enforcement officials and volunteers quietly opened Lamoille County’s first homeless shelter. The sheriff’s department owns the Yellow House in Hyde Park, and a band of volunteers and sheriff’s deputies has been staffing it since the first frozen weeks of February.

“The shelter isn’t getting any government funds or charitable donations; in fact, it hasn’t been officially ‘approved’ by the town. But the Yellow House has hosted a steady stream of guests this winter. …

“The number of people without housing in Lamoille County swelled from 22 in 2016 to 64 in 2017, including 34 children, according to an annual survey by the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. But the closest shelters were more than an hour away, in Burlington and Vergennes.

“Organizers tried without success for three years to open a permanent shelter in nearby Morrisville. They concluded that it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission and opened the Yellow House with little public notice.

” ‘It’s a “Let’s just do this” approach. Enough is enough. There simply can’t be families and individuals out in the cold anymore,’ said Rabbi David Fainsilber of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe. ‘I appreciate all the questions and concerns people may have. And yet, at the end of the day, I personally have to ask myself, Did a family stay out of their car and have a warm place to stay?’

“Organizers such as Fainsilber envisioned Yellow House as a winter-only endeavor. The Hyde Park planning and zoning offices gave the shelter temporary verbal approval before it opened, according to backers, but will spend the coming months mulling over whether to grant official permits. No hearings have been scheduled.

” ‘I’m hoping it’s not a battle. But if it is a battle, I’m committed, because the interfaith community is, too,’ said Sheriff Roger Marcoux Jr., a key backer of the project. …

“Part of the problem is the nature of rural homelessness, according to shelter advocates. In Burlington, the itinerant people who congregate downtown are highly visible. But the homeless in Lamoille County tend to live out of sight in an unheated camp in the woods, or in cars, so residents don’t appreciate the size of the population. …

“In late December, temperatures plummeted to minus-25 degrees, and Rev. Rick Swanson of Saint John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church heard that people were sleeping in tents in the woods. Swanson opened the doors to his Stowe church. One man came in from the cold and spent several nights sleeping inside, by the altar. …

“Religious leaders reached out to Marcoux, the longtime sheriff, who is elected to his post and enjoys broad discretion in setting program and budget priorities within his jurisdiction. Marcoux wasn’t just cooperative; he offered to host the shelter.

“The Yellow House is part of a complex of abandoned buildings across the street from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department in Hyde Park village. …

“To head off any potential community concerns about safety, he pledged on-duty deputies would regularly stop by. …

” ‘I’m in the business of protecting the public, and I feel like I’m doing that,’ Marcoux said. ‘Why are people living in cars when I’ve got a house I’m heating?’ ”

More.

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Some days it was too cold for our skiers to ski, but since I wasn’t planning to ski anyway, I just did the things I usually do — blogging, reading, exercising … I finished a masterful biography of poet Elizabeth Bishop and launched joyfully into the first volume of Philip Pullman’s new series, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.

I discovered a new liking for a treadmill, but only one with a view of the mountains beyond an outdoor hot tub in a fitness center with no noisy music or TV. I set the treadmill at Snail. That’s not the very slowest, you know. Sloth is slower.

And I ate. A lot. The Austrian-themed food at the Trapp Family Lodge is pretty rich. I especially loved the breakfast buffet, where even though I ate a lot, I could make choices that were good for me.

The only thing I’d do differently is bring a tea kettle to make my own kind of coffee at 4:30 or 5. That’s just me. Lots of people like those Keurig, one-cup brewers using Green Mountain Coffee. The lodge has them in guest rooms. Lots of people are also able to sleep until 7, when you can get better coffee in the bar.

The trip was a nice break from routine. I hope you had a good holiday week, too.

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Dressing in Austrian dirndl at Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont.

Nearly five years ago, when I was an editor, I solicited an article on Latino dairy workers from Daniel Baker at the University of Vermont. Dairy farms are practically synonymous with Vermont, where cows dot the mountainous landscape. The article summarized Dr. Baker’s research showing how essential immigrants were to the Vermont dairy industry’s survival. (Read the piece here.)

Of late, however, Vermont dairy farmers are anxious about their industry’s viability as walls both figurative and solid threaten the labor supply.

Visiting the state this week, I did note that there seemed to be a good supply of immigrants or former immigrants working in the hospitality industry at least.

I try not to ask people where they are “from” since friends in my Race in America group at the Fed have convinced me it’s a question that can make people feel unwelcome. But I was interested when someone whose way of speaking suggested Africa came to fix the hotel shower and when I noted the dirndl-garbed young lady above working the breakfast shift.

According to 2015 data from Migration Policy, Vermont has 2,619 residents born in Africa (9.3 % of the state’s foreign-born population in 2015), 8,199 born in Asia (29%), 9,113 born in Europe (32.3%), 3,038 born in Latin America (10.8%), 4, 875 born in North America, with small places like Greenland added to that mix (17.3%), and 403 born in Oceana (1.4%). By far the largest group is from Canada, which borders Vermont on the north. Vermont would be a more empty state than it is and nearly devoid of workers without all the foreign born.

If you’re interested in more, take a look at American Migration Council’s Vermont data, too. It’s here.

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Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
In this production,
Treasure Hunt, a boy called Jim is lured out to sea, where he encounters a mermaid, “a giant clam, a fish that swallows him whole, an electric eel and an angry octopus guarding his treasure.”

Tuesday night at the Trapp Family Lodge, my husband and I watched a charming puppet show about a fox called Sharp Ears. The show was created and performed by the Vermont-based No Strings Marionette Company. Our four grandchildren were too tired for theater after a day of skiing, but we were charmed — especially by unusual marionettes like the frog, the chicken and chicks, the rooster, the grasshopper, the cow, and the numerous butterflies and flying bugs. And in case the theatrical company’s title threw you off, the puppets do have strings.

We very much enjoyed hanging around afterwards to listen to the questions that children asked the puppeteers: how do you make puppets? how do you make them move? how did you make the bench? did you paint your sets or buy them? do you have other shows?

Puppeteers Dan Baginski and Barbara Paulson have about 12 other shows, which they tour widely, keeping them so busy that the story of Sharp Ears took them two years to create at night — instead of the four months in which they could have finished if they’d been able to work nonstop.  “Sharp Ears” is still new, not even up on the website yet.

The show was based on the Czech story called “The Adventures of the Vixen Known as Sharp Ears,” on which the opera The Cunning Little Vixen is also based. In this version, a henpecked woodcutter who’d rather hang out in nature than do his chores brings home a fox as a pet for his grandson, with unfortunate consequences for the farm.

Dan and Barbara, says their website, “have toured America together for over sixteen years.  Their traveling stage transforms any space into an intimate theater, where the seamless blend of movement, music and masterful manipulation captivates young and old alike.

“With puppeteers in full view,  the audience sees how the puppets are brought to life. These Vermont artisans lovingly hand craft the marionettes, props and scenery, whether for an original tale or an adaptation of a classic.

“Shows begin with an interactive song featuring audience members, and finish with demonstrations sparked by the audiences’ curious questions.”

More here.

Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
Puppet characters from
The Hobbit.

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Vermont’s Farm Ballet

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Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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Photo: Taught by Finland
Taught by Finland promotes a play-centered approach to early education and writes loving posts about “the joyful, illiterate kindergartners of Finland.”

On Facebook, I’ve been following Taught by Finland, which highlights the Finnish approach to education (e.g., lots of playtime for young children) and posts links to related research and stories.

In higher grades, Finns usually outrank American students by a lot on standardized tests. That may have multiple causes, but it seems reasonable to ask what Finland is doing right and what would happen if American schools were to lighten up.

A school in Burlington, Vermont, is beginning to get answers to that question.

Nicole Higgins DeSmet writes at the Burlington Free Press, “Five months after a no-homework policy went into effect, Orchard Elementary parents report that after-school reading is flourishing.

” ‘We have a first grader, and at her age it’s as much a chore for the parents as the kids,’ parent Rani Philip said about homework. ‘Instead we’ve been spending time reading. We don’t have to rush.’

“Philip said her husband was skeptical, but now he’s convinced. Other parents who were surprised by the policy said their children are reading more. …

“[Kindergartner Sean Conway] hid behind his dad’s legs but managed to share that his solo literary conquest was the book ‘Spirit Animals.’

“Teachers at Orchard voted unanimously before the start of the school year to end homework for their kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Instead students are encouraged to read, play games and be kids.

“Orchard Principal Mark Trifilio sent a homework policy survey to parents in November. Of those parents, 254 sent back answers. About 80 percent indicated they agree with the policy.

“Parents reported in the survey concern that their fifth-graders might miss skills that will help them succeed in middle school. …

“Lolly Bliss, a fifth-grade teacher with 25 years experience, said her students will be prepared to accomplish more because they are freed from busywork — which is how she defined some homework.

“She has more time to accomplish academic goals in class because she doesn’t have to spend time on kids’ and parents’ anxieties about missing or incomplete homework.

” ‘We get a lot done in a calm class,’ Bliss said.”

If you read the rest of the story, you’ll see that some parents fear children are missing needed skills. They may not take into account how difficult it is to learn if you are stressed. I hope someone will tell those parents about Finland.

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My latest photo round-up includes several from family members plus examples of my own fascination with shadows and light.

The first picture is from Erik’s mother in Sweden. I love that a Swedish gingerbread house was rendered in red board-and-batten style. Next is a funny sign about Norwegians that my husband shot in Concord. Then we have Suzanne’s photo of proto-skiers and another funny sign, this time in Vermont.

The old barn is next to the Ralph Waldo Emerson homestead. The house being torn down is the haunted one I have described before. Tearing it down revealed that it was actually haunted by a raccoon.

The six light-and-shadow photos depict a stuffed animal in bright sunlight, our front gate after a recent storm, Plato’s Idea/Form of a trash can and recycling bin, three green windows, chairs in the pocket park, and a surprising pattern of light on a window blind.

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Missing the excitement of the summer Olympics? As these Vermont farmers show, any determined and organized group can have their own “Olympics” and have a lot of fun.

Jessica Rinaldi writes at the Boston Globe, “With the world’s attention focused on the Olympic Games in Brazil, a decidedly different type of competition was held in a small corner of New England, as farmers took to the field for the second annual Farmer Olympics in Vershire, Vt.

“After taking part in warm-up events that included a hay bale toss, the crowd gathered for an opening ceremony where a quartet performed the Olympic theme song on kazoo. When the competition began, 60 farmers sprinted up a hill, empty bins and shovels in hand, for the manure relay. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. In the end it was a team from Cedar Circle Farm in East Stepford who took the gold. Their team’s name? Soil’d.

Click here for a terrific collection of photos from the second annual Farmer Olympics.

Photo: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Competing in the Farmer Olympics, Vershire, Vermont.

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
A stage in the back of a U-Haul (paid for in part by Fresh Sound Foundation) allows the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet to perform anywhere.

Classical musicians who believe their music will bring a blessing to whoever hears it have been presenting in offbeat locales in the Greater Boston area. Tomorrow, too. Malcolm Gay has the story at the Boston Globe.

“The 17-foot U-Haul truck sat parked in an empty field, ringed by trees. With the touch of a button, a roof-mounted winch whirred into action, unspooling cable as a fan-shaped stage lowered like a drawbridge from the rear. The U-Haul’s modified rear doors acted as a band shell, flanking the stage to project sound, and a custom-made sail, supported by deep-sea fishing rods, projected as a visor from above.

“Fifteen minutes later and the vehicle, dubbed the Music Haul, was a fully functioning stage — a 21st-century gypsy caravan that will bring live performances to the streets and schools of Greater Boston, Sunday through Tuesday.

“ ‘It really is more boat than truck,’ said Catherine Stephan, executive director of the Yellow Barn music center. ‘We got to know RV dealerships really well.’ …

“ ‘It’s supposed to be as close to magic as possible,’ said architect John Rossi, one of the traveling venue’s principal designers. …

“Its creators say the Music Haul’s main mission is to bring world-class concert performances to the most unlikely of places: schools, underserved neighborhoods, hospitals, perhaps even prisons.

” ‘We exist in the world as musicians that is in a way so finely controlled and tuned,’ said Yellow Barn’s artistic director, Seth Knopp. ‘Music Haul removes some of the ceremony, which can be a barrier for people who are not often exposed to that world. There’s an element of taking something out of its accustomed place and allowing it to take people by surprise.’ ”

What a good thought! Reminds me how you can suddenly start seeing the pictures on your walls again if you move them to a new location in the house.

Read more about this enchanting initiative here.

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