A domestic problem
3 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
It’s about time I got to review something like Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” a vital work with a beginning, middle, end and something important to say. Inundated by the summer of FX, where every moment of almost every movie has attempted to emulate the last two minutes of a July 4 fireworks extravaganza, I was trapped inside a pinball machine.
But ah, relief has sprung. It’s like finally being in the company of adults after far too much time among the whims and vagaries of adolescence. This fine film adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel of the same title, about race relations in the South, circa the early 1960s, proves they can still make ‘em liked they used to, on occasion.
Astute car casting sets the sociology and time as pretty Skeeter (Emma Stone), just graduated from Ole Miss, drives her blue Cadillac convertible to the Jackson Journal in search of a career. No future mint julep drinking matron here…no ma’am. She unfurls a letter of possible employment at a publishing house in New York City, if she can “gain experience.”
A pixyish sort, the editor is swayed by her moxie. And as it just so happens, he needs a new household hints columnist. While Skeeter doesn’t know a thing about keeping house, they both agree that one has to start a life of belles-lettres somewhere. The irony is that, in a manner of speaking, she is about to become an expert on domestic affairs.
Domestic as in maid, that is…specifically, the African-American women who have cooked, cleaned and essentially raised the children of white families in Jackson, Miss., uninterruptedly, since the slave days. It starts off rather naively. Skeeter just had a few questions.
But domestic problem is soon defined in its national sense when, in hoping that Viola Davis’s superbly played maid, Aibileen, might help her with tips about getting stains out of garments and the such, it opens a can of worms which leads to shocking insights. Filmmaker Taylor astutely weaves a superbly tangled web of black and white stories.
It also gets personal. When she learns that Constantine (Cicely Tyson), the housekeeper who raised her, has unexplainably left the family’s employment, Skeeter takes note of a syndrome. The black help showers its affection on the white kids who, with few exceptions, grow up to be just as prejudiced as their parents. Well, by gum, not Skeeter.
Further inspired by the cosmopolitan editor, Miss Stein (Mary Steenburgen), in the Big Apple, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, smartly exacted by Emma Stone, asks Aibileen to help her really clean house, to tell what it’s like to be on her end of Jim Crowism. And just in case that’s not risky enough, could she get her fellow maids to contribute their stories?
Diametrically opposed to the epiphany Skeeter secretly makes her cause celebre is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Hilly Holbrook, self-appointed leader of those former debs who now embraces the status quo. Hilly won’t be happy until every lily white home has separate toilet facilities for its black servants. Besides, she justifies, it’ll add value to your house.
Supplying tension and heart-rending emotion, the script tells a parallel tale from the help’s perspective. While devoted to the little charges who too rarely receive nurturing from their parents, Aibileen knows what punishment awaits if it’s found she’s sharing confidences. Colleague Minny Jackson’s (Octavia Spencer) plight is just as trenchant.
There was a time Minny’s legendary fried chicken protected her from the more severe wiles of the system. But when she suffers the brunt of scapegoatism employers routinely used to deflect blame from their own ghastly behavior, she also joins the underground confederacy supplying Skeeter info for a tell-all book. She has plenty to tell, too.
Offering a seriocomic angle from which to view the desperate manner employed by the landed gentry to preserve its socioeconomic primacy, Jessica Chastain’s Celia Foote is the only gal unafraid to hire the ostracized Minny.
Of lesser importance, meant to underline how the crusading Skeeter diverges from her rigidly indoctrinated contemporaries, is the subplot about her hapless social life. She’d like to pick and choose…opt only for the folkways and mores of her culture she still holds dear. Whether she can find a local beau sympathetic to that path remains to be seen.
Moving, intelligent and told via stellar performances, novelist Kathryn Stockett’s uniquely personal look at the civil rights struggle reminds that the humanitarian work that gained momentum in the ‘60s remains unfinished. Combined with a profoundly ennobling paean to sisterhood, this eyeopener just might be “The Help” the cause needs.
“The Help,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Tate Taylor and stars Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer. Running time: 137 minutes
By Ginger Isham
Back in the colonial days, a dessert was made with layers of bread and sweetened fruit called a “betty.” It was primarily made with apples but other fruits or combinations of fruits also work very well, such as:
PEACH BERRY BETTY
3/4 cup brown sugar (try using 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
5 cups sliced pealed peaches
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries
4 cups day-old whole wheat bread, cubed
Stir sugar, orange juice, cinnamon and almond flavoring in a large bowl. Add peach slices and bread cubes, and toss until well mixed. Gently stir in berries.
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon chilled butter, in small chunks
Combine sugar and flour. Sprinkle oil and butter on top and blend well.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of topping in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with oil. Spread the fruit mix evenly on top. Sprinkle remaining topping over fruit mixture. Bake in oven on 375 degrees oven for about 40 minutes.
Serve warm with scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Do you want some new corn recipes? Try the following southern sauce:
SWEET MUSTARD BBQ SAUCE
—use with chicken, pork or beef recipes
1 cup fine chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 dashes hot sauce
1/4 cup water
6 ounces Coca-Cola
1 large ear of corn, shucked and kernels removed
Put onion, garlic and vinegar in a saucepan. Cook until mixture is reduced and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
GRILLED CHILI CORN
—recipe from an old Bon Appetite cooking magazine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
12 ears of corn
Combine first four ingredients and add salt to taste. Place ears of corn in large baking dish and rub oil mixture all over the ears of corn. Grill until tender, basting with any oil mixture left in dish (takes about 10 minutes).
Suggestion for leftover corn-on-the-cob: cut off the kernels, freeze and add later to soups, stews, chili, pancakes, muffins, salads, or mix with other veggies. They can also be put in a blender with milk and added to a cornmeal muffin mixture.
Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.
All fall sports working out (puff-pant) at CVU
Aug. 25, 2011
By Mal Boright
The sun broke through Monday along with cooler 70-degree temperatures to make for a pleasant day weather-wise, as hundreds of fall sports hopefuls went through their first day of tryouts on Champlain Valley Union High’s fields. An exception was coach Jim Provost’s football team which opened pre-season practice for more than 100 candidates last week and held the annual Red-White scrimmage Saturday.
First up Monday was coach T. J. Mead’s boys soccer team of 35 varsity candidates which was on the field (and on the run) at 6 a.m. for the annual gauntlet.
In a test to determine team members’ physical condition, Mead has players run a full mile with a goal of under six minutes. They take a one-minute break and then run a half-mile with a two-minute 50-second goal. Then, after another minute break, it’s a quarter mile run in under 1:25.
The coach was pleased with the overall results.
“Guys did well in the fitness tests,” Mead said noting that half the candidates equaled or exceeded all time goals.
A game test comes up Saturday when the biggest British invasion to hit these parts since the Beatles bopped over the big puddle in the 60s takes place. At 1 p.m., there will be a scrimmage game against a touring private school team from Newcastle, England, where soccer is the national sport and passion.
“This should be very interesting,” said Mead, adding that Newcastle has boys between 14 and 18, the same ages as his CVU team. Newcastle goes on to play at Essex High Sunday.
Late morning Monday, after Mead and his team left a second session, found Kate McDonald working out more than 50 field hockey aspirants.
McDonald said she lost six seniors from last year’s playoff team and has a group of at least 10 returning veterans around whom to build. The Redhawks will be off to Bennington Saturday for an annual jamboree. A scrimmage at Essex is slated for Aug. 30.
One change this year that will require some getting used to by the athletes is mandatory eye protection for players, due to a ruling from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
McDonald said the girls will be required to have the eye protection by the first game (Sept. 7). She said the eye protection devices cost $65 each, for which players will be responsible.
Monday evening brought out girls soccer coach Brad Parker and some 35 varsity candidates who were spending time building their individual relationships with the spotted spheres.
Parker lost a solid group of seniors from last season’s playoff team, but is hopeful that a strong junior varsity squad will bring in significant replacement talent.
“We are going to be young,” the veteran coach said.
An unanticipated loss is veteran Talon Tomasi, who injured a knee recently and is likely gone for the season.
Provost and the football team will be on the move Saturday to Barre, where the varsity and one of the junior varsity teams will scrimmage Spaulding High.
The gridirion Redhawks are one of two teams to open the season prior to Labor Day. They will have a nocturnal lidlifter under the lights Sept. 2 (Friday) at Burlington High.
Coach Scott Bliss’ cross country runners get their season underway Sept. 3 with relays at the CVU facility.
Aug. 25, 2011
Pedestrians vs. cars
Governor Shumlin (per Free Press) wants some quick, inexpensive improvements for traffic flow. Just take a look at the width of the bike path being built beside Rt. 2A in Williston. Wish they had used some of that space to widen Rt. 2A for left hand turns. We needed a left hand turn from Taft Corners to Overlook Park for a steady flow of traffic. How many will use the bike path during the winter months while vehicles will be backed up on Rt. 2A waiting for someone to make a left turn?
— Larry Currier, Williston
A few head scratchers
Aug. 25, 2011
By Mal Boright
Oh yes, lingering questions have arisen without immediate answers from recent events here in the Green Mountains, and the ongoing horror of national politics. These include:
Is that a vast economic awareness gulf we see between; on one side, University of Vermont administrators and the board of directors; and on the other side, students, support personnel, some professors and citizen-taxpayers? How else can you explain the $500,000-plus departure payoff to former UVM president Daniel Fogel, which hit the news media the same day as an administration declaration that the university could not afford more than a 1 percent pay increase (over three years) for its service workers.
Can there be any other logical reason for the payoff to departing development vice president Michael Schultz, who we were told, broke no laws or UVM policies while carrying on a friendship with Fogel’s wife Rachel Kahn-Fogel? Schultz leaves but keeps his $155,000 annual salary through 2012, and was also awarded $15,000 for legal costs. Wouldn’t this $700,000 from apparently stretched coffers have been more appropriately spent, for instance, providing health care benefits to part-time workers including instructors?
That leads to this question: Why is there not more outrage at educational institutions, major corporations, and even local, state and (yikes!) the federal government for using the escape hatches of part-time and/or temporary positions as a means to avoid the rising cost of health insurance for employees?
And doesn’t this very fact argue mightily for significant reform in the way we finance health care in this nation?
Shouldn’t we be able to expect a more measured and thoughtful approach to these serious issues from those who would lead the nation? A few weeks ago, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann declared that no matter what plan came out of Congressional negotiations to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, she would vote against it. She was not alone in her declaration.
Isn’t it well past time for many of those who claim to be inheritors of the mantle of leadership to stop creating facts to fit in a narrow ideological framework, but instead adjust their thinking to meet the requirements of reality as the proper approach to finding workable solutions to vexing problems?
It has been said that in war, the first casualty is truth. Is it not also a fact that truth is also the first casualty in an election campaign?
Is it time for a few “You Go Howard” cheers for Starbucks chief executive officer Howard Schultz? The coffee company executive — appalled as are many others at the shenanigans in Congress — called for a halt to campaign giving to all campaigners until the lawmakers mend their ways, and produce legislative results instead of gridlock. That’s a great idea, but it needs widespread support or nothing good will happen.
Is there a “your Congressperson is a doofus, mine is a hero” syndrome taking place that explains why many of us deplore Congress (lowest poll ratings ever) but generally support our own Congressperson?
Could that have been warm sounds of great relief from the old flivver’s shock absorbers this week during what used to be a teeth-chattering drive from the Industrial Avenue-U.S. 2 intersection to the South Burlington town line? All car parts and driver appreciate the new layer of asphalt.
Avoid wolves in volunteers’ clothing at school
Why background screening for school volunteers is important
Aug. 25, 2011
By Bill Tate
As the back to school season swings into full gear, there are many opportunities for adults to volunteer and support school activities. Volunteers lend valuable time and assistance to our school systems — and while the majority of school volunteers are law-abiding role models for our nation’s children, unsavory adults sometimes come into the mix. Predators, or “wolves in volunteers’ clothing,” can be quite wily at finding ways to be near children. When the infamous bank robber, Willie Sutton, was asked why he stole from banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Individuals who work closely with children — whether it is a teacher or a volunteer, a coach or cafeteria or maintenance worker — should be subject to background screening before their interaction begins. Most of us assume that the schools with which they are associated carefully vet every adult working closely with our children.
The practice of background checks for school employees is standard issue for all employees with access to children. Background checks reduce organizational liability and help protect children. So why should this practice differ with school volunteers? Depending on the role of the volunteers and the level of supervision they will have, many believe school volunteers should be subject to the same screening criteria as any other school employee. While not universal, more and more school districts across the country are adopting policies mandating that volunteers who interact with students must first go through a criminal background check.
However, such policies are not in place in all school districts. Some schools are concerned that background checks on volunteers will reduce volunteer involvement. But every school needs to carefully consider whom they allow to interact with their students — on school grounds and at school-sponsored activities. Background checks on school volunteers may reveal that someone has a criminal history or is living under an alias. Most parents don’t want volunteers who have misdemeanor and felony convictions at their school.
It is important that parent volunteers don’t become offended when asked to go through a background check. A comprehensive screening policy should dictate that everyone interacting with the students be screened — even if they are a parent of a current student. Most parents will understand this need and will support the school district’s commitment to student safety.
Parents should inquire about the background screening policy at their child’s school. This will allow parents to better understand the school’s position on the issue and what will be required of them if they have the opportunity to volunteer. If there is no background screening policy for volunteers, ask for one. It is important that schools establish criteria for background checks, and guidelines for unsupervised access to children. What level of access are volunteers given? Are they alone with children in the classroom? Are they transporting students in a vehicle? Are they acting as the primary student supervisors on overnight trips?
As a parent and human resources professional, I believe that all concerned parents should be active in ensuring that a background screening process is in place for all people who come into contact with their child at school. There is nothing more important than the safety and security of our children. As our children return to school this fall, I recommend that we ask our school administrators the following questions. With the answers to these questions, we learn what policies and procedures may need improvement, and where schools may even be exceeding our expectations:
- Does the school have a policy in place to ensure background screening for all employees of the school? Are teachers, crossing guards, teaching assistants, nurses, cafeteria workers, and maintenance people — virtually all paid employees — screened?
- What type of background screening is conducted on employees? Is a national criminal background check conducted? Is the school conducting drug and alcohol testing?
- Does the school permit parents, grandparents and other family members to volunteer?
- Are non-familial relations (i.e., area residents, nannies, family friends) permitted to volunteer?
- Is there mandatory background screening for all school volunteers — whether they are family members or non-familial relations?
In addition to wanting to serve the best interest of the students, many school boards are open to the idea of background screening because they understand the risks they take by not doing so. The school itself is likely to be held responsible if a child is placed in danger from a volunteer or an employee. For the safety of our students, parents’ peace of mind and fiscal health of the school, it makes sense for schools to implement a comprehensive background-screening program.
William (Bill) J. Tate is president of HR Plus, a provider of comprehensive employment and background screening solutions based in Chicago, Ill.
Aug. 25, 2011
Friends of the Winooski River is hosting three river clean-ups in Chittenden County this year, including one in Williston on Sept. 10. Volunteers are needed to help haul tires, cans, bottles and random flood debris out of the river.
The Friends hosted the first three river clean-ups in Barre, Montpelier and Berlin on Aug.20 and collected more than 40 tires, 12 bicycles, carpeting, clothing, cans, bottles and several other items, including a cash register drawer.
“The amount of items on the banks of the river dramatically increased this year,” said Linda Setchell, clean-up coordinator for the Friends. “We easily collected four times as much trash and debris this year in Barre as we did last year.”
The river clean-ups and dam catchments along the Winooski are the only way of removing trash from the river and its tributaries. “Volunteers are vital to helping keep the Winooski clean,” said Setchell.
The Chittenden County clean-ups will be held in Richmond, Williston and Burlington on Aug. 27, Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 respectively. They all begin at 10 a.m. and end around 1 p.m. The Friends, with the help of Rustic River Adventures, is providing canoes, buckets and gloves for volunteers.
“We do collect trash off the banks, but in many instances we’re digging debris out of the side of banks or islands in the middle of the river,” said Setchell. “Volunteers should be prepared to get wet and dirty and have fun!”
Williston project results in benefit calendar
Aug. 25, 2011
By Adam White
It was the kind of picture that told a story, and in this case, it was a sad one: townspeople plucking books out of the mud after a flood destroyed the Lincoln Library in 1998, a heart-wrenching repeat of a similar disaster 60 years before.
But with the push of a shutter-release button, Williston photographer Andy Duback helped bring that story full-circle to a happy ending, showing two Lincoln residents holding the aforementioned photo in front of the rebuilt library in their hometown. The resulting image is one of 14 that will comprise a special Vermont Library Association calendar, currently being pre-sold across the state.
The calendar project was conceived by Marcy Kass, a graphic designer and trustee of the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston. Kass enlisted the help of Duback, writer Kathy Stamper and library director Marti Fiske, and the initial funds to get the endeavor off the ground came via a loan from the Friends of the Dorothy Ailing Memorial Library.
“The idea came out of a workshop with some fellow trustees in Randolph last fall,” Kass said. “I had done specific community-minded projects before, and thought that this could bring a lot of cool stuff to people’s attention. [Fiske] is the one who suggested 14 months, one for each county in Vermont.”
The calendars will be sold across the state, at libraries that will each get to keep all profits beyond the $8.50 cost per unit. Fiske said that sale prices will likely range from $15 to $20, at the discretion of each library.
The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library is not one of the 14 buildings featured in the calendar, as Fiske – a past president of the VLA – wanted to avoid any conflict of interest.
“I didn’t feel it was appropriate to use my office to promote our library,” Fiske said.
The Brownell Library in neighboring Essex Junction will provide the calendar’s image for the month of March. Fiske said efforts were made to photograph the individual libraries during the season in which they are featured within the calendar.
Kass sees Duback’s photos as having added a truly artistic quality to the project.
“He has a way of framing a picture that gives it a monumental quality, a sort of timeless grace,” Kass said. “He has a gift, for capturing both the places and the people he photographs, that definitely goes beyond just a pretty picture.”
Stamper researched interesting history and facts about each library, and incorporated them into text that accompanies Duback’s photos throughout the calendar.
“[Stamper] did some great research, and not just compiling data,” Kass said. “She was able to get a lot of beautiful quotes from people as well. One in particular that stands out came from the head librarian at the George Peabody Library in Post Mills; he said, ‘was there ever a better idea than a public library?’”
Fiske said that pre-orders for the calendars are being taken through Sept. 8, “so that Friends of the Library won’t have to outlay as much cash” to pay for copies that will be sold in Williston.
Kass said the financial benefit of the project will certainly be appreciated by the libraries across the state, but added that the very nature of the project fits in well with its cause.
“It’s not only about the money,” she said. “The education part of it is a big piece as well.”
More information can be obtained by visiting www.VLACalendarProject.org.
DRB upholds decision on former chair’s tree cutting
Aug. 25, 2011
By Adam White
A Richmond resident whose maple sugaring operation stretches across the Williston border warned the town’s Development Review Board at its Aug. 23 meeting about excessive tree-cutting being conducted in the area.
Gary Grzywna of 264 Sherwood Forest Rd. holds an easement to tap maple trees on the property of Kevin McDermott, but alleged at the meeting that a longstanding feud between the two men has culminated in McDermott clearing a large number of healthy trees under the guise of cleaning up damage from the windstorm of Dec. 1, 2010.
“Our concern in this case is that Mr. McDermott is not just cleaning up his property,” said Mark Hall, an attorney representing Grzywna. “He’s using windfall from the storm to cut trees out of the maple sugaring easement.”
Grzywna said that he has counted upward of 25 truckloads of trees being taken off the property, and that he had observed at least one instance of a standing, healthy tree being cut down. He said that he has consulted with University of Vermont Extension maple specialist George Cook, and commissioned an aerial photographer to document the extent of the tree clearing on the property.
Grzywna acknowledged that wind damage was indeed severe on the property, and had cut the number of sugar maples he could tap there roughly in half. He also said that he had made his own efforts to clean up some felled trees within the easement.
“I already took a 50-percent hit from that storm,” he said. “It is going to take four or five years to clean this mess up properly.”
Grzywna was seeking an appeal of a decision by zoning administrator Ken Belliveau that McDermott was not required to obtain an administrative permit for the work on his property. Belliveau said that he visited the site earlier this summer, and witnessed damage that he said was consistent with other wind-damaged areas in town.
“From the view that I had, [the] amount of tree damage on his property was nothing short of gigantic,” Belliveau said. “There were trees down all over the place.”
Belliveau said that he had been advised by the town’s land-use attorney, Paul Gillies, that his decision on the matter was defensible, and that no further action was required of his department on the issue. Belliveau told the Board that in his opinion, the case belonged in another arena.
“Where truth lies between these two men, I have no idea,” Belliveau said. “But in my opinion, this is not a zoning action – this is a matter of land and money.”
Board chairman Scott Rieley asked Belliveau if any other permits had been granted for cleaning up trees felled by the windstorm, and Belliveau said he could think of only one. Board member Michael Alvanos raised the question of whether Grzywna’s easement equates to actual legal ownership of the trees; Hall said it does not.
The DRB voted unanimously to deny Grzywna’s appeal and uphold Belliveau’s decision not to require McDermott – who is a former chair of the Williston DRB, and served alongside the majority of the current members – to obtain a permit for tree clearing on his property.
McDermott was not present at the meeting, and did not immediately return a call for comment the following day.
Green light for Lot 30 Project
In other action at the meeting, the DRB granted Discretionary Permit approval to the Lot 30 Project, which involves several buildings encompassing approximately 29,000 square feet of retail space immediately to the north of the existing Ponderosa restaurant. The project – proposed by Taft Corners Associates – also entails the dedication of land, construction of two new public streets and some minor boundary line adjustments.
The Board retained review of the final plans for the project, a step that Belliveau said is not uncommon for developments of that size and complexity.
The DRB’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 6.