October 8, 2015

Little Details (12/17/09)

Holiday flavors: Steeped in history

Dec. 17, 2009

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

The gingerbread house perched on my kitchen table beckons with a gentle prod. Peppermint spirals, spice drops and red and green M&Ms are artfully arranged, cemented with royal icing. Colors tease and tantalize, but it’s the sweet fusion of ginger and nutmeg subsumed in a sea of molasses, eggs and flour that draw me in with their seductive scent. Oranges and cloves sit nearby, awaiting transformation into fragrant holiday pomanders.

Pan forte, a honeyed fruitcake, seasons in my cupboard. Slathered in confectionery sugar and tightly wrapped, it silently contemplates Christmas. This Italian delicacy hails from medieval Tuscany. Its name translates as “strong bread,” a reference to the mélange of spices yielding a distinctively sweet, peppery taste.

Archival records, dated Feb. 7, 1205, detail local citizens providing nuns at the monastery at Metecellesi panes pepatos et melatos (bread with pepper and honey) as payment for tax. It seems that, in Siena, pan forte was a valued currency.

My recipe for the Italian confection combines cinnamon, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, honey, sugar, candied fruits, walnuts, cocoa, a bashful sprinkling of flour and a bold dash of white pepper. A small sampling reveals complex flavors hinting at a deeper history.

Fruitcake remains a much-maligned stepchild in American Christmas cuisine. To be called a “fruitcake” is to be deemed a fool. Jokes abound about Aunt Bessie’s or Uncle Ernie’s fruitcake — suitable as a doorstop or, better yet, a weapon against intruders. Fruitcakes may be among the most re-gifted of gifts, due in part, to their unusually long shelf life.

I’ve tasted truly awful fruitcakes, lacking in spice and overwhelmed by sickly sweet sugar. My favorites are dense and aromatic, preferably steeped in one’s favorite elixir. This column represents my humble attempt to resuscitate, however briefly, the image of this holiday treat too often tainted by jokes and cheapened by discount store knock-offs.

Food historians maintain that fruitcake dates back to ancient Egypt. The dearly departed were dispatched to the afterlife with bread for the journey in the form of a cake containing dried fruits, nuts and spices. Fanciful ingredients signified wealth and keeping up appearances, even in death, seemed important to the Egyptians. Pannettone, Milan’s fruited and spiced cake, is thought to have originated during the Roman Empire.

Fruitcake received a particular boost in the Middle Ages. Pope Urban II launched the Crusades with his famous speech at Clermont, France in 1095, imploring good Christian soldiers to, “Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest the land from a wicked race and subject it to yourselves.” Their mission: Recapture the Holy Land — Jerusalem in particular — from Muslim control.

Bolstered by the promise of eternal salvation, the Crusaders unleashed their tirade against perceived infidels. Lest we forget, Holy War — some call it Jihad — is not a modern convention. Two centuries and an estimated 1 million to 2 million casualties later, the Crusades ended, leaving smoldering embers of religious divisiveness which flare up to this day.

Crusaders — largely from France, Germany and Italy — in their rampage through Asia Minor and on to Jerusalem, encountered starkly unfamiliar cultures, traditions and foods. Pathways to war eventually became trade routes, transporting exotic flavors of cinnamon, saffron, ginger, cloves and citron to arouse Europeans’ comparatively bland palates.

Spice-infused cakes, studded with stained-glass-colored fruits, secured a strong foothold in the culinary traditions of medieval Europe. Lack of refrigeration prompted popularity among foods that kept well and even improved with time.

Siena embraced pan forte. Austrians and Germans baked gugelhupf, flavored with orange peel and almonds. Scandinavians created julekake, speckled with candied fruit and raisins. The Irish prepared barmbrack, with sultanas, currants and candied peel for the Feast of All Saints. Russians, Bulgarians, Serbians and Ukrainians greeted Easter with kulich, a yeasty, cylindrical bread featuring almonds, raisins and candied fruits. British plum pudding — a holiday staple steeped in brandy, bourbon or rum — was prepared months in advance to take full flavor advantage.

When Christmas arrives, I’ll unwrap my family’s pan forte, a sweet yet pungent reminder of the rich, evocative history nestled among its fruits, nuts and spices. — Whatever graces your holiday table, I invite you to taste, eat, savor and think about the bountiful stories behind the recipes. Season’s greetings.


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]


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Letters to the Editor (12/17/09)

Dec. 17, 2009


Thank you for supporting us


The Champlain Valley Union High School Nordic team extends a heartfelt thank you to our generous business community and to our parents and friends. Thank you for all the wonderful donations of amazing items to our recent silent auction. We were able to raise over $3,500, which will be used to purchase ski wax (which is expensive!) for our upcoming season.

Among the many auction items were ski jackets, jewelry, gift certificates to local businesses and a great bike.

This year our team has 58 members, including 26 new members. We are looking forward to a successful season. Last year our girls ranked third in the state and the boys fourth. In the past five years we have ranked in the top three for girls and top five for boys in Vermont. We couldn’t do it without your support, as wax is critical to our race program.

One final request would help us get our season off to a great start and that is snow. We’ll be starting our racing season as soon as there is enough white stuff to ski on. So, think snow!


The 2009-2010 CVU Nordic team



Do away with bottled water


I urged the governor to stop supplying bottled water in state office buildings. I did so while speaking at a press conference produced by Corporate Accountability International (see Nancy Remsen’s Dec. 10 article in The Burlington Free Press).

For many reasons, using bottled water is not environmentally friendly while costing the state of Vermont taxpayers $228,874 last year (and $1.4 million in five years).

This is the type of systemic budget change the Legislature is looking for to save Vermonters long-term money.

The governor’s office called this (saving $1.4 million) “a distraction.”

I could not disagree more!


Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston


Be careful with chloramine


In the last month, I have lost two most preferred renters due to the chloramine in our water. One because his mother had serious health problems in her South Burlington home until she began drinking only bottled water and showering in Burlington (where chloramine is not in the water). The other prospective tenant backed away when I informed her that the chloramine in the water of nine towns surrounding Burlington is documented to have caused skin, digestive, respiratory and eye problems for some people.

I did not over-vilify chloramine at all, but felt it was my duty to tell people. Needless to say, I am irate since I depend in part on the rental income.

Since April 2006, the Champlain Water District, or CWD, has put chloramine in the water of the following communities it serves: South Burlington, Shelburne, Williston, Winooski, Essex, Essex Junction and parts of Milton, Jericho and Colchester. The CWD is the only water district in Vermont to use chloramine, which is a combination of chlorine and ammonia.

Now that winter is upon us, this letter is also a reminder about humidifiers. It is wise for people in the Champlain Water District to fill humidifiers with bottled “spring water” instead of tap water. Breathing vaporized, chloraminated tap water often causes mucous membrane irritation and respiratory problems. Unfortunately, there are no filters that adequately remove chloramine from the water.

People Concerned About Chloramine, or PCAC, is a grassroots citizen organization working to get chloramine out of the water here. If you have questions, would like our comprehensive brochure on chloramine, experience symptoms that may be related or want to learn how to limit your intake of chloramine, you may call PCAC’s confidential chloramine line at 802-651-8753. Or go to www.chloramine.org for further information.


Rebecca Reno, PCAC member, South Burlington


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Guest Column (12/17/09)

Responsible role modeling for teens

Dec. 17, 2009

By Matthew Bijur

My first wakeup call came when my firstborn son, just learning to use words, pointed to the bottle of beer on the coffee table and said, “Dad!”

As someone who consumes alcohol on occasion, this moment demonstrated that I really needed to remember the importance of seeing my actions through my kid’s eyes. I was around beer enough for my son to have a conditioned response: See beer, think Dad. Assuming he loved me half as much as I him, had I been unwittingly conducting a Pavlovian exercise, imprinting his brain to be flooded with warm fuzzies every time he sees a beer?

Fast-forward several years and I am pulling up to a friend’s summer party with my two boys, now ages 6 and 9, in tow. The first thing I see, tucked amidst the field of parked cars, are three classmates of my 9-year-old, gathered around another boy who has just started “shot gunning” a can of Coke. As the foam sprays all over his face, up his nose and down his shirt, I am only mildly surprised to hear the other three clamoring for who gets to go next. My sons never notice as they race ahead to join other friends just spotted, but I am dumbstruck, and realize I really have to start paying more attention to what goes on in my boys’ lives.

Where do 9-year olds get the idea to shotgun a coke? Did an older kid tell them about it? Was it in a movie they saw? Did they just see one of the adults shotgun a beer at the party?

As a substance abuse counselor, I spend a fair amount of time discussing the importance of modeling healthy and appropriate behavior in front of our children and teenagers. “Healthy and appropriate” are words that conjure up different images for different people, and I tend to respect the values held by my clients to work within their frame of reference. Certainly, I am not perfect, but at a minimum, I have to be aware that my observed actions have consequences. Realizing this, I try to consistently put my best self forward for my kids.

When it comes to discussions about drinking — teenage drinking in particular — people have strong and varied opinions. Most will agree however, that they want to instill the “right values” in their children. They want their teens to survive adolescence and go on to become happy and successful adults without drinking problems. To give yourself the best chance of instilling “the right values,” you have to start with “walking the walk.”

Pay attention to how you use alcohol, and keep your behaviors legal. It is against the law in Vermont for adults to provide alcohol to people under 21 — even in your own home. Throwing a party or allowing your teenager to throw a party where alcohol is furnished to people under 21 makes you liable for anything that might happen to them while under the influence.

If you are going to have a party with teenagers, kids and adults present, and you are serving alcohol, be aware of how the alcohol is featured at the party. Is it the centerpiece? Is the party merely a guise for getting liquored up or is it one part of a larger celebration? Are there options for other beverages and are they as prominently featured? As the host, are you keeping an eye out for how much alcohol is being consumed, how it is being consumed and how people are getting home?

It is not inevitable that all teenagers will drink alcohol. It is inevitable that all teenagers will be paying attention to their parents’ relationship to alcohol. In a world where influence comes from all corners, there is so much that we cannot control in our children’s lives. That is why it is so important to pay attention to the things we can influence, and work hard to make our influence positive.


Matthew Bijur lives in Charlotte. He is a parent and a substance abuse counselor.


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Around Town (12/17/09)

Dec. 17, 2009


Brick Church concert to benefit school theatre

The Brick Church Music Series concert scheduled for Friday is raising funds for the Williston Central School Theatre in honor of former teacher Al Myers.

In Accord, a locally based a cappella group that also features a brass ensemble, will perform a holiday choral program at the Dec. 18 show. The LaStrada Sisters from Williston are scheduled as the opening act.

Myers passed away in the spring after falling from a ladder while working on the set of a school play.

Doors to the Brick Church Music concert open at 6 p.m., with music beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Williston Town Hall or at the door, and cost $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 12. Children under 6 are free.

For more information, visit www.brickchurchmusic.com.


Salvation Army seeks donations

The Salvation Army in Burlington reports a shortfall this December in donated goods and food to serve the people of Chittenden County.

The drop-off warehouse is having trouble keeping the Family Stores supplied with clothing and goods. Proceeds go directly to the services to help local residents. Families in need also receive vouchers from the Social Service office to shop with at the stores.

The Salvation Army also has concerns about limited food supplies. The organization’s food pantry is poorly stocked, and staff is worried about being able to provide Christmas dinners to the families who sign up for help with presents, clothing and food for the holiday.

“The number of people being served is triple over a year ago,” Marti Tourville, director of Social Services Ministry, said in a press release. “When you add in the factor that the economy is difficult for everyone, we end up with a combination of more people and fewer donations.”

Help is needed in the form of food for distribution and gently used items to be donated to the warehouse, located at 1 Industrial Drive in Burlington, located off Home Avenue.


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Board passes utility ordinance (12/17/09)

Fee hikes axed from measure

Dec. 17, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard passed a utility ordinance but stripped the fees for buried lines sought by town staff.

The board voted 4-0 to approve the new rules at its Dec. 7 session while deciding to revisit the fee issue — the main reason staff sought the ordinance — at a later date.

The ordinance was aimed at recouping costs associated with the wires and pipes installed in the rights-of-way next to roads. Town officials say buried utilities can damage roads and increase expense of maintaining infrastructure such as culverts and sewer lines.

The proposed fees would have generated roughly $25,000 a year in revenue for the town.

Jim Condos of Vermont Gas Systems, the state’s only natural gas supplier, reprised arguments he had made during previous hearings on the subject. He said the fee would simply be passed on to customers in the form of higher rates, and it might in some cases make it financially unfeasible to extend lines to areas of Williston that currently do not have natural gas service.

“It looks to me, to put it bluntly, like a money grab,” he said.

Bruce Hoar, Williston’s new public works director, said the board should pass the ordinance written by his predecessor, Neil Boyden. He noted that his former employer, the city of South Burlington, and other towns around the country charge utility companies for burying lines.

“There’s nothing new or groundbreaking here,” he said. “It’s being done all over the United States. I see no reason why we can’t adopt it here.”

Utility excavations scar asphalt, shortening the lifespan of the stretch of road where they are installed by three to four years, Hoar said. Though utilities patch roads, he said the repairs are never as good as the original pavement.

But board members had doubts. Jeff Fehrs said he could not support the new fees without knowing they matched what buried lines cost the town. Staff used ballpark expense estimates to determine the fees.

Judy Sassorossi said she was philosophically opposed to such charges because utilities are a public benefit. She said in those cases everyone should pay for expenses, not just users, likening the situation to public schools where residents fund education whether or not they have children in school.

Williston now charges a refundable deposit of $600 each time a utility company installs a new line along the town’s rights-of-way. Under the ordinance, utilities would have paid a non-refundable $100 permit fee and a $100 inspection fee.

The ordinance also would have imposed a new $10-per-square-foot fee for excavating sidewalks and roads, and charge $1.75 per square foot for digging up other areas. Boring horizontally, so-called “trenchless technology” where lines are installed by boring underground, would cost $1 per linear foot.

That later provision had previously prompted complaints from Vermont Gas, which increasingly uses the method to install lines. The proposed fee was then reduced by 75 cents per linear foot.

The town has in the past used informal guidelines to regulate utility installations and charge fees. The new ordinance makes those rules official.

The ordinance goes into effect in 60 days. McGuire said he hopes the board will within that period revisit the fee issue.

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Caring about climate change

    Observer photo by Pogo Senior
Members of Williston Green Initiatives hold a candlelight vigil in Williston Village on Saturday evening. The vigil was part of a mobilization organized by Vermonter Bill McKibben’s 350.org, which aims to pressure world leaders meeting in Copenhagen to find binding solutions to global warming.

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Development receives pre-application permit (12/17/09)

North Williston Road subdivision has 37 units

Dec. 17, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Development Review Board recently granted a pre-application permit for a proposed 37-unit subdivision off North Williston Road. With the board’s approval on Dec. 8, the development can move forward within Williston’s growth management system.

The project includes a mix of single-family homes and multi-family units built on nearly 23 acres across from the Williston Golf Course. The Snyder Group Inc. is the project’s applicant. Alden and Phoebe Bryan own the land, which sits across North Williston Road from their home.

The Snyder Group, along with J.L. Davis Inc., is also developing the Finney Crossing project in Taft Corners that is not yet under construction.

According to plans, the North Williston Road development would contain two entrance points: a public loop road accessing 32 units and a private drive for the remaining five single-family homes. In an earlier interview with the Observer, developer Chris Snyder said he plans to build the five units on the private road before tackling the loop road homes.

At the meeting last Tuesday, the Development Review Board questioned the locations of units within the project, said Senior Planner Matt Boulanger. Boulanger said such questioning is not unusual as plans tend to change with projects between the pre-application stage and the discretionary permit stage.

By receiving the pre-application permit last week, the project can vie for unit allocation in Williston’s growth management system next year. In growth management, landowners compete annually for available building units. The Snyder Group subdivision falls into an area of town that has few units available.

Only five units are available through 2015 and the Snyder Group subdivision would have to compete with other projects within its zoning district. Units are allocated based on a points system, where projects receive points for landscaping, environmentally friendly building and affordable housing, among other categories. After 2015, more units could open up throughout town. That decision is in the works with planning staff and the Planning Commission.

Next year’s growth management allocation meeting is tentatively scheduled for March.


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St. George farmer seeks land swap (12/17/09)

Deal exchanges municipal, private property

Dec. 17, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A St. George farmer has proposed an unusual land swap that would permit him to build homes on town-owned land while preserving his undeveloped property.

Dan Pillsbury owns Breezy Valley Farms along with his brother. He received town approval for a seven-unit subdivision on the land just south of the St. George-Williston town line.

But Pillsbury would prefer not to construct the homes on the farm, which has been operated by his family since 1935. Instead, he wants the town to give him municipal land at St. George Town Center. In return, Pillsbury would cede to the town a slice of his farm.

It would be difficult to see a part of the farm his grandfather bought decades ago and where his grandchildren now live turned into a subdivision, Pillsbury said.

Hay is still harvested, but the cows were sold three years ago. The modern realities of farming made him consider a subdivision.

“I’ve accepted that’s what needs to be done,” Pillsbury said. But if he could avoid development with the land swap, “it could be positive for everybody.”

He has discussed the land exchange with town officials over the past several months. The Selectboard is scheduled to talk about the proposal at its meeting this Thursday, Dec. 17. The session starts at 7 p.m.

The farm is located at what amounts to St. George’s front door, the first open land southbound motorists see when they enter town on Vermont 2A. Building the subdivision on municipal property instead would fulfill a goal of St. George’s comprehensive plan, which calls for grouping new development near the middle of town.

Details of the arrangement have yet to be settled. But St. George Selectboard member Phil Gingrow said the idea is to give Pillsbury the right to develop a portion of town land in return for agreeing to forgo construction at his farm. Pillsbury would eventually turn over ownership of a piece of his land to the town.

The town’s Development Review Board approved the subdivision last year. Marie Mastro, who chairs the board, said the permit allows him to build seven homes, which would be clustered on three acres.

The approval requires Pillsbury to conserve much of the remaining 70-acre, planned-unit development as open space, she said. The project would occupy less than half the 160-acre farm.

One of the subdivision’s conditions of approval requires disclosure to future homeowners of a major power transmission line on the property. Mastro said the condition was imposed to protect the town from potential liability issues when a planned upgrade of the line by Vermont Electric Power Company — more commonly known as VELCO — is completed.

Pillsbury said his proposed land swap would not sidestep the power line issue, which may worry prospective homeowners. He noted that the line also runs through the Town Center property.

The deal would involve an exchange of land, not just a trade of development rights, Pillsbury said. But it may not be a one-to-one acreage swap, he said, because the lots approved for development at his farm differ in size and quality from the parcels at Town Center.

Scott Baker, chairman of the St. George Planning Commission, said because of the land swap’s novelty, some residents may worry that there is a hidden agenda. He said the proposal is instead a selfless gesture toward the greater good of St. George.

“I think he’s done something very admirable,” Baker said. “He’s said, ‘I’ve got this approved subdivision. Let me put it on hold and see if we can work out something with the town.’”

Pillsbury hopes publicity about the land swap will draw comment from residents, who would have to approve the arrangement.

“When we have Town Meeting in March, I want to make sure it’s not the first conversation we have with residents,” he said.

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Smith sentenced on assault charges (12/17/09)

Dec. 17, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

After a full day of testimony detailing years of domestic abuse, a judge sentenced former Williston resident Kaseen Smith to 15 to 30 years in prison for his crimes.

The sentence follows a plea deal in which Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated domestic assault against his former girlfriend. As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped two charges of sexual assault.

The abuse took place in 2007 in the Williston home Smith shared with his now-estranged wife, girlfriend and the eight children he had with the women. Both women testified in court, detailing abuse that occurred over a 10-year period.

Issuing the sentence on Dec. 9 at Vermont District Court in Burlington, Judge Michael Kupersmith called Smith a “very dangerous individual.”

“I consider him to be a major danger to the community and not just to the two women we heard today,” Kupersmith said.

Smith’s former girlfriend appeared relieved after the sentencing, telling the Observer, “It wasn’t enough, but at least it’s something.”

Earlier in the day, the woman told the court she was afraid Smith would try to kill her after being released from prison. The wife made similar statements during the hearing.

“I know he’ll look for me,” the girlfriend said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s 70 when he gets out.”

The Observer does not publish names of domestic abuse victims.

Smith was arrested in February 2007, when Williston police learned of the abuse of his girlfriend. The woman fled their home and found solace at a battered woman’s shelter in Burlington. Shelter staff alerted police.

During processing for the assault charges, Smith tried to take Williston Police Detective Mike Lavoie’s gun from his holster, resulting in a charge of attempting to disarm a police officer. Smith was found guilty of the disarming charge in December 2007 and sentenced to two to three years in prison.

Smith was also found guilty in a separate domestic assault incident in 1998 in Binghamton, N.Y. He was convicted of assault with intention to cause physical harm to his wife, and spent a few weeks in a Binghamton jail.


Assault in Williston

According to court documents, the charges on which Smith was sentenced last week stemmed from two separate incidents in which the man attacked his girlfriend. Smith allegedly threw a weightlifting weight at the woman and also beat her with a walking stick until it split in two.

The girlfriend testified to more abuse during the sentencing hearing last Wednesday. She said Smith more than once held a gun to her and controlled her movements within the home and at work. She said he poured hot wax in her left eye during one incident and routinely made her eat her own contact lenses because he considered her vision impairment a “weakness.” The girlfriend said he beat her frequently, even once allowing the kids to hit her. The woman said the abuse became more frequent in the later years she lived with Smith.

“You just took whatever happened and hoped it would end soon,” the girlfriend said, adding that she eventually worked up the courage to leave with her two children.

While no charges stemmed from alleged abuse of Smith’s wife, the woman testified to similar attacks. She told the court Smith hit her “way too many times to count.” She feared leaving her husband, she said, because she would have been unable to take her six children and believed Smith would attempt to kill her.

“I just don’t want my kids to grow up the way he raised them,” the wife said. “He was showing the children it’s OK to treat people like that.”

Smith and his lawyers asked the judge for a lighter sentence of four to 10 years in prison. Lawyer Bill Skiff questioned the authenticity of some of the abuse allegations and pointed out that neither woman sought medical attention after the alleged incidents.

“The sentence would allow (Smith) to complete the type of counseling which is appropriate here,” Skiff said.

Before his arrest in 2007, Smith was an aspiring rap musician under the moniker KA, with a local access talk show in Burlington. He was also a youth sports coach with a football program in Essex and a soccer program in Williston.

Smith spoke briefly at the sentencing hearing, claiming he had found peace with himself and God over the assaults.

“I’d like to say I’m sorry for all the physical and mental anguish I caused the two ladies and kids,” Smith said.

Smith is currently housed at the Chittenden County Correctional Center in South Burlington.

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Young writers explore their creative side (12/17/09)

Dec. 17, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Over the past four weeks, several Williston Central School students have been able to raise their creative writing talents to a new level. Thanks to funds from a local grant, about 15 upper house students took part in a supplemental class geared toward gifted writers.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Miciah Bay Gault (left) instructs seventh grader Meghan O’Day on how to write a sestina poem during Monday’s writing class at Williston Central School. About 15 gifted writers at the school took part in the four-week supplemental class.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Sixth grader Abigail Keim (left) listens as seventh grader Amelia Dodds reads her poem aloud during Monday’s writing course.

Not only were the classes informative, but most of all, they were fun. On the Monday morning of Dec. 14, students diligently created new names for themselves using a set list of words.

The title of the exercise was “My name is …” By arranging the words in different orders, tenses and uses in an eight-line poem, students discovered just how creative and elaborate they could be with their invented names.

Names and phrases such as “Crepuscular Photograph Mask,” “Intestinal Oyster Taxi Wagon” and “Pelican Freckles” echoed throughout the room. Students and their peers read the poems aloud, offering words of encouragement and praise.

“It’s like you’re taking yourself and trying to fit in with the words,” said seventh grader Shea Ingham. “It’s like a puzzle.”

Students taking the class said it gave them a chance to meet with other writing students at Williston Central and hear the work of peers. Sixth grader Amelia Dodds said the class inspired her to continue writing.

“This is the best creative writing class and lots of fun,” Dodds said.

Teachers across the upper houses nominated up to five students each for the extracurricular class, which took part during school hours. Seventh grader Jake Quatt said his teacher, Nick Brooks, encouraged his writing and wanted him to take the course.

“I like to write stories, usually historical fiction,” Quatt said. “I like to take things that actually happened and make them change a little.”

The class became available through a $750 grant discovered by Williston Central School receptionist Carmen Portelli. Always on the lookout for different grants, Portelli found one geared toward standout writers.

“It’s for children who have a specific gift but don’t have the opportunity to use it,” Portelli said.

The money was made possible through ExxonMobil’s locally owned Jolley Convenience Stores.

Miciah Bay Gault, the course’s writing instructor, focused primarily on poetry, introducing students to forms not commonly taught in English classes. After reading selections, students were asked to write their own.

During Monday’s class, students tried a complex structure known as a sestina. The poetic form uses six recurring words in different orders throughout the stanzas. Even in a limited amount of time, students began creating their own sestinas, which impressed Gault.

Gault is the editor of “Hunger Mountain,” a literary journal published in magazine and online formats. The journal is part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, based in Montpelier. The school offers master’s degrees in fine arts in the areas of poetry, fiction and nonfiction writing, as well as specialty courses in children’s writing.

While Gault generally works with adults, she said she’s continually amazed at how advanced middle school students’ writing can be.

“It all starts here,” she said. “Their minds are really playful at this age and they love a challenge.”

Eighth grader Leah Soule said the class allowed her to write at length about her favorite subject, nature.

“It’s like my religion,” she said. “My ideas are mostly centered around nature.”

Ingham said she comes from a literary family and her parents try to write as often as time allows. Even outside of school assignments, Ingham tries to find time to write.

“It takes a lot of time for the inspiration to come, but when it does, it takes off like a rocket,” Ingham said.

Since Monday’s class was the last one of the course, Gault sent the students away with some encouraging words.

“I hope you all keep writing,” Gault said. “I hope you go back to your classrooms and teach your classmates how to do some of these poems you’ve learned.”


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