June 22, 2018

THE HUB: Following The Leaders

A chat with Beth Anne McFadden of McFadden Academy of Irish Dance

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Beth Anne McFadden. (Photo by Luke Baynes)

It has been just about a year since the McFadden Academy of Irish Dance moved from Shelburne Road to its present location off South Brownell Road in Williston.

Owner Beth Anne McFadden couldn’t be happier with the relocation.

“The location couldn’t be better,” McFadden said. “All the parents are so happy, because you have Wal-Mart and Home Depot around the corner and they can do their shopping. It’s a great, great location.”

McFadden, a fourth generation Irish native of Long Island, danced competitively from ages 9-20. When she was 17, she danced in the World Irish Dance Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. When she was 24, she became the owner of Vermont’s only certified Irish dance school.

“I took my first lesson and I didn’t shut up at the dinner table that night,” said McFadden of her 9-year-old self. “I think it’s great that I get to do what I love for a living – not many people can say that.”

McFadden explained that becoming certified as an Irish dance instructor involved a rigorous two-day exam in Los Angeles by an extension of An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, the Gaelic commission of Irish dance, and that the certification allows her dancers to be eligible for the world championships.

Earlier this month, the World Irish Dance Championships 2012 were held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Among the competitors was Sean Downing, a 17-year-old senior at Essex High School and a student at the McFadden school.

“It was lots of fun,” said Downing of his time in Belfast. “It was a really awesome experience just to see the level of dancing there is in this world.”

Downing added that his love of Irish dance is based on both the rigidity of its structure and its freedom of expression.

“It’s a type of dance where you really have to follow the rules, but you are really expressing yourself through what you can do,” Downing said. “You have to be powerful, you have to show off your stamina and you have to have good technique.”

McFadden said that while “Riverdance,” the Michael Flatley-initiated craze of the 1990s, doesn’t conform to the traditional standards of Irish dance, it did much to increase the popularity of Irish dance in general.

“When I first joined, Riverdance hadn’t come out yet, and when it came out, our school’s enrollment doubled in a year in Long Island. It was crazy,” said McFadden. “It brought Irish dance into the mainstream.”

While McFadden’s school – which has grown from 20 to over 100 members in just under four years – is capable of producing world-class dancers such as Downing, it’s also open to beginners as young as four years old.

“In my school, you can dance for recreation, or competition or anywhere in between,” McFadden said.

Downing summed up the school’s appeal by focusing on its instructor.

“She’s just a great teacher.  She works with you, she’s really fun, but she’s serious at the same time,” Downing said. “She comes from Long Island, where Irish dancing is more serious, but she has really adapted to the Vermont attitude where activities are fun.”

THE HUB: Alec’s Spicy Pretzels changes name

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Due to trademark issues, Alec’s Spicy Pretzels is now called Distler’s Pretzels. The family-owned business began as an eighth grade project of then-Williston Central School student Alec Distler. (Photo courtesy of Alec Distler)

Spicy pretzel lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. Alec’s Spicy Pretzels didn’t sell out – it just changed its name.

“Everybody thinks Alec has sold the business,” said Williston resident Lynn Distler, mother of the family pretzel brand’s former namesake. “There’s a lot of rumors out there … like we sold it to Nabisco.”

The reason for the name change was much simpler.

The Distler family wanted to trademark its brand name, but lawyers advised that it was too similar to the California-based snack company Alex’s Fruits and Nuts. So, Alec’s Spicy Pretzels – which come in maple, ranch, spicy, x-tra spicy and fiery varieties – are now called Distler’s Pretzels, with the slogan, “Pretzels with a Kick.”

“We did this to grow our company,” said Lynn Distler, who added that Distler’s Pretzels will be featured in the gift bags handed out at the 33rd Annual Sports Emmy Awards, to be held April 30 in New York City.

What began as a Williston Central School project for Alec Distler – now a junior at Champlain Valley Union High School – became a phenomenon after his pretzels were featured on the Rachael Ray Show in 2009.

When asked if he will try to incorporate the pretzel business into his graduation challenge at Champlain Valley Union High School, Alec Distler laughed.

“I’m not totally sure, because that’s supposed to be new learning,” he said, “but I’ll probably find a way to sneak it in there.”

THE HUB: Stitched sews up new location

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Stitched owner Jennifer Buffington (above) is a certified Bernina sewing machine technician.

Stitched is not your grandmother’s sewing shop.

Nor is it your mother’s sewing shop – unless your mother is a certified Bernina sewing machine technician with an affinity for power tools.

“I want to make it cool to sew,” said Jennifer Buffington, the 38-year-old owner of Stitched, whose penchant for brightly colored fabrics mirrors her buoyant personality.

Stitched (aka the store formerly known as Strawberry & Rhubarb) had been located in Maple Tree Place near Best Buy until March 30. On April 3, it was back in business in the building on the southwest corner of Taft Corners, which used to be known as the Calvin Morse Tavern around the time dirt was discovered in Williston.

“Who wouldn’t want to be in this building?” Buffington asked. “This is the best location I could possibly have asked for in Williston.”

Although Stitched won’t hold its grand reopening until May, it’s now open for business in a space twice as big as its prior location. The added size will give Buffington more room to hold sewing classes and to display her array of Bernina sewing machines.

Stitched, a sewing shop and authorized Bernina sewing machine dealership, recently moved to the yellow ‘house’ on the corner of Vermont 2A and Williston Road (U.S. 2). (Observer photos by Luke Baynes)

“They are the finest sewing machines in the world,” Buffington said of the only brand she stocks. “They’re made in Switzerland (with) all metal parts (and) they’re the only sewing machine company that’s still privately owned in the world. They’re more expensive, but if you buy Bernina, it’s the last sewing machine you’ll ever own. It’s like a finely tuned instrument.”

While Bernina machines can range in price from $149 all the way up to $12,000, Buffington put the higher-end machines in perspective for those who truly love to sew.

“You could spend $6,000 to go to Hawaii, and it’s gone within a week,” she said. “You could spend that money on a sewing machine – if that’s your passion – and you can use it 365 days a year.”

Buffington, who was named “most outstanding” in her eighth grade home economics class and later obtained an accounting degree and worked in commercial lending, appears to have found her niche at Stitched.

“I love opening the door every day,” Buffington said. “When you have a hobby and other people share that interest, you just love talking to other people about it.”

Although she works a rigorous schedule – 12 days on, two days off – Buffington isn’t complaining.

“I just love what I do, so it doesn’t really feel like work,” she said. “That’s what everybody should strive for in life.”

Sports Shorts

CVU tennis teams take a spring break

With a break in their schedules until May 1, Champlain Valley Union High girls and boys tennis teams had varying levels of success.

The girls captured all six of their matches, the most recent a 6-1 triumph on Monday over South Burlington High. This followed Friday’s 7-0 win at Essex High and last Wednesday’s 4-3 nudging of Montpelier High on the home Shelburne courts.

Individual winners Monday were Anna Clare Smith, Emily Polhemus, Claire Stoner and Andrea Joseph.

Teams of Laura Andrews/Mandy Taheri and Samone Schneider/Mackenzie Buckman earned doubles victories.

The boys were 2-3 at the break after losing 6-1 Monday at home to South Burlington High. The lone CVU win was in doubles by the duo of Brad Barth and Asa Cloutier.

Last Friday, the Redhawks got nipped 4-3 by Essex High, which was led by Williston’s Ro brothers. Defending Vermont individual champion David Ro and younger brother Daniel Ro easily won their individual matches.

CVU got an individual win from Joey O’Brien and doubles triumphs from Tyler Murphy/Ryan Schneiderman and Brad Barth/Tristan Arthaud teams.

CVU track and field athletes return to action in may

Following their first home meet of the season on Wednesday against Colchester High and Milton High (after Observer press time), Champlain Valley Union High track and field athletes will be off until May 2, when they travel to Essex High.

A week ago Wednesday, the Redhawks took team runner-up slots in a three-way meet with Milton at Colchester High. CVU’s lone double winner was Roshi Brooklyn, with victories in the 110 and 300 hurdles.

Shane Haley gave the boys a win in the log jump, and the 400 and 800 relay teams also triumphed.

The girls heated up the track with relay wins in the 100 and 800, while individual victories were earned by Haliana Burhans (200), Autumn Eastman (800), Julienne Devita (1,500) and Taylor Spillane (3,000).

Baseball home opener Friday

Coach Tim Albertson’s veteran Champlain Valley Union High baseball team will take a 2-0 record into its 2012 home opener Friday (4:30 p.m.) when it plays host to St. Johnsbury Academy.

The Redhawks opened the week with an 8-0 triumph on Tuesday at South Burlington — with senior Drew Nick hurling a one-hitter and also leading the swat brigade with three hits. Nick whiffed seven Rebels while walking four.

Also getting in on the rap session were Tucker Kohlasch (three hits) along with Curt Echo and Jeff Badger with two each.

Softball seeks first win Friday after loss to Rebels

The Champlain Valley Union High softball team got some whack from the bats on Tuesday at South Burlington High, but the Rebels prevailed 13-7, leaving the Redhawks 0-2 in the early season.

On Friday, the scene will shift to the home field in Hinesburg where the Hawks will entertain St. Johnsbury Academy (4:30 p.m.).

Pitcher Alannah Roy unloaded three hits including a double and drove in three runs in pacing the attack for the youthful (one senior) CVU team. Laurel Hubbert-Severance bashed a triple and also chased home three tallies.

South Burlington’s offense was keyed by a pair of bases-loaded three baggers by Allyssa Gamelin and Kate Fitzgerald.

— Mal Boright


CVU Sports Schedule (April 19-25)

Baseball and Softball

Friday: ST. JOHNSBURY ACADEMY, 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday: at Middlebury Union High, 4:30 p.m.


Boys Lacrosse

Saturday: SOUTH BURLINGTON HIGH, 11 a.m.

Wednesday: at Hanover, N.H., 5:30 p.m.


Girls Lacrosse

Friday: SOUTH BURLINGTON HIGH, 4:30 p.m.


Boys and Girls Tennis

No matches until May 1


Track and Field

No events until May 2



Schedules subject to change

CVU girls LAX team 3-1 going into Friday’s game

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

After three solid victories in their first four outings, new coach Erin Malone and her Champlain Valley Union High girls lacrosse team will entertain a solid South Burlington High team on Friday (4:30 p.m.) at the Redhawks’ Hinesburg nest.

The Rebels, 2-0 going into this week, opened their season last Wednesday with a 17-9 home win over Rutland, a team that popped the Redhawks 13-8 Friday.

However, CVU shrugged off their lone defeat with a one-sided 13-4 home triumph Tuesday over Burlington High on a sunny, breezy afternoon. “This was much better than the last one. We just want to get better with each game,” said Malone after the contest. CVU is already more than halfway to its 2011 win total of five.

Kate Raszka took the ball on the opening faceoff and sashayed her way through a stunned Burlington defense to deposit the ball past Seahorse goalie Nina Knorr. The play took just 13 seconds.

Junior Brenna Gorman and senior Michaela Kiley added counters in the next three minutes and the Redhawks were on the wing. They led 6-1 by halftime by as much as 12-2 before Burlington notched two consecutive pointers late in the second half. CVU sophomore Thea Weiss then added a final goal with four seconds remaining.

Raszka had three scores, while Gorman and senior Jessica Dudley each fired home a pair of scores. Lucia LLona, Abby Owens and Caelin Weiss added a goal apiece.

Owens helped lead a CVU defensive effort that limited Burlington’s effectiveness near the CVU goal where netminder Sarah Caffry made eight saves. Raszka and Kiley were among players controlling midfield with interceptions and loose ball recoveries that led to 29 shots on the BHS cage.

CVU boys LAX team hosts rebels on Saturday

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

The unbeaten Champlain Valley Union High boys lacrosse team hit the road for St. Albans and a session with Bellows Free Academy on Wednesday (after Observer press time).

The Redhawks return home on Saturday to meet South Burlington High in an 11 a.m. contest in the Hinesburg hills.

Coach Dave Trevithick’s defending Division 1 champs collected their fourth straight 2012 victory Friday afternoon by smoking Burlington High 18-5 at home, as eight Redhawks unleashed goals on the stunned Seahorses.

With a scoreless four minutes and eight seconds gone in the first period, Chris Bulla, Charlie Shea and Bulla again knocked in scores in a 40-second span. The explosion started CVU toward an 8-1 advantage by the end of the opening 12-minute period…and control of the game.

Chris Bulla finished with four goals and three assists, while Alex Bulla tallied three times and added a pair of assists giving the Bullas a total of seven scores and five helpers, better than some teams’ totals on good days. Christian Goulette notched four goals. Shea and Quinn Kropf each had two, while Sam Raszka, Brady Griffin and Silas Hill nailed one each. Steele Dubrul captured several mid-field faceoffs and chalked up three assists. Owen Hudson held forth in the CVU cage with eight stops.

Finding furniture that fits

When considering new pieces, custom-made may be the way to go

By Chelle Cordero


This side table, designed by David Rasmussen, is composed of a solid form that has split open to reveal the cross section of an artichoke. (Creators.com photo courtesy of CustomMade)

The room you spend your time in — the one you relax in, entertain in or run your business from — should be a reflection of you, the owner. Filling your space with custom-made pieces will help make the room more personal and unique.

You can spend hours searching through store inventory and still not find that special piece that speaks to you or fits your space properly, and if you’re shopping for stock furniture, you’ll always get something that’s mass-produced. But many stores carry furniture that can be bought ready-made and die-cut in prescribed sizes and designs. Custom-made furniture is unique and crafted to your specifications, however exacting.

Sometimes the need or desire for custom pieces is practical; maybe the area needs a specific size or a match is needed for another existing piece. Awkward spaces require customized pieces to fit comfortably. Personalization can also be a compilation of hobbies, special interests or individual necessities. Current design and fashion trends often factor into what you’ll find available in the stores.

“As far as furniture goes,” says Michael Salguero, CEO and co-founder of CustomMade.com, “the bedroom (beds, dressers, lighting, bedside tables) seems to be a place where people want high levels of customization.” Those levels of personalization can differ. “There are items that are more on the personalization side, other items are what we call blank-page customization. This is where the customer and artisan work together to co-create something out of the client’s needs/wants/tastes.”

The most common materials used in North American furniture are metal and wood; some mass manufacturers may specialize in one specific type of material. Other materials such as plastic covers, metal hinges and glass panels may be used as accents. Custom designers will also find ways to use specialty woods; merge woods and textures; use carvings; and combine wood and metal sculptures. If you can dream it, a designer can make it happen.

Salguero also explains that custom pieces are “more affordable than you would think. Custom is certainly on par with mid- to high-end retail stores, such as Restoration Hardware and others. Plus, you can get something locally made and handcrafted to your exact specifications. When a consumer transacts through CustomMade, they are able to correspond with the artisan right on the site, compare different bids for their project and accept a bid with the knowledge that CustomMade has their back in the event that they have a problem.”

Kitchen cabinetry is another area where custom pieces often come in handy. Stock cabinets, doors and shelves will fit stand sizes. Custom-manufactured cabinets are made to the buyer’s specific needs and dimensions. This may be a perfect solution to fit a corner or to accommodate different sized appliances than the original. Custom cabinets also offer more options in terms of shelving, accessibility and storage spaces.

Unless you’re purchasing a stock piece from a floor display, the time between ordering and delivery is often no different, even if you order a custom piece. Since retailers often order from the manufacturer, it may take weeks until the customer has the furniture in place in his home. According to Salguero, ordering custom furniture typically takes about four to eight weeks until delivery. No matter what you decide to order, make sure that the entry path for delivery will accommodate the furniture to avoid damage to your walls or the furniture; it’s suggested that you measure staircase widths, corners and doorways.

When you’re thinking of choosing custom furniture, start by scouring stores, magazines or the Internet for ideas and designs. Visit a custom manufacturer and ask to see some of their previous designs for inspiration, if need be. Once you have a concept in mind, choose two or three local and reputable artisans; describe your ideas and see what they can suggest. If someone’s design doesn’t sing for you, then she’s not the designer for you. Ask designers whether they have a 3-D visualization program for major projects to help you decide whether the finished project is really what you want.

Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

I rode the Ti


As the world remembers the Titanic, I remember the Ti.

The steamer Ticonderoga was built in 1906 and sailed the waters of Lake Champlain until its retirement — when it was pulled across land to the Shelburne Museum in November of 1954. The Ti is 220 feet in length and 59 feet in her beam. She had a steam-powered engine that ran her side paddle wheel.

The postcard (shown at right) is of the Ti in her glory years.

The postmark on the back reads: Rutland Vermont, August 12, 1928. It was sent to “Masters Everal and Fayette Wilson” at R.F.D. 2, Chester, Vt.”

The message reads, “Would you dear little boys like to be on this pretty boat with Alice and Helene?”

The postage stamp shows Ben Franklin and cost one cent. I don’t know if those “dear little boys” ever got to ride the Ti — but I did.

My last ride on the Ti was in the spring of 1954, just before she was retired — and what a ride it was. I was a senior at Middlebury College and my fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho, scheduled a formal dinner dance cruise to celebrate our upcoming graduation.

As we sailed out of Burlington harbor, the sun began to set and the stars magically appeared.

I was not used to being in a tuxedo and was a little uncomfortable: I felt if I bent the wrong way it might break apart. My new shoes had leather soles and were so slippery I was sure I could ice skate. Those shoes did, however, make jitterbugging easier.

We enjoyed a beautiful buffet dinner, after which a dance band played on the bow of the Ti and a Dixieland band jazzed it up on her stern. These wonderful sounds flowed over the ship’s decks and into the night. The sounds of the music mingled with the sounds from the Ti’s engine room. The brass workings added their own rhythmic beat to the dance music. Added to this was the constant splash of the water being lifted and dropped by the Ti’s paddle wheel.

The grand staircase was the scene of the evening’s funniest event. The staircase takes you up to the second deck. The large number of stairs end in front of a majestic golden mirror. Then you turn and take two more stairs to the top deck. It was in front of the mirror where the drama began.

My fraternity brother Herbie and his date had been enjoying the punch bowl most of the evening. As they started their descent at the top of the staircase, they were a little unstable. They made it down the first two stairs, stopped to admire themselves in the mirror, then turned to continue down the longer staircase. Both misjudged the first step and tumbled down the stairs, landing in a heap at the bottom. Herbie stood, helped his date up, dusted them both off and cocked his arm: she took it and they walked off down the deck as if nothing had happened. The Marx Brothers couldn’t have pulled it off any better.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

Life in Williston

By Karen Wyman

Birthday party mode


We successfully made it through the Easter season, and now my household is in full birthday party mode. The twins will be turning five in June, and they are very eager to start planning their bash. Never mind the fact that my husband and I both have May birthdays, the girls think the next exciting event as soon as Easter is over is their birthday.

We are currently debating (ok, arguing) over a theme and venue for their party. Luckily, there are so many choices right here in Williston for us to consider. The girls love arts and crafts, so we could have a beading party at Bead Crazy or a craft party at AC Moore. Like most 5-year-olds, they also love to dance and run around, and appropriately Green Mountain Gymnastics, The Edge and a variety of other local dance and exercise studios offer up their wonderful facilities for the kids to shake their sillies out. Other options include a movie party at Majestic 10, a glamour trip to a hair/nail salon or a tea party at a local bakery. If we decide to have the party at our house, there are even Williston residents who specialize in face painting and who offer bouncy house rentals.

One year, we had the pleasure and thrill of Miss Ellie (beloved performer at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library and music teacher at Heartworks) bring her famous Preschool Party to us! Williston offers so many choices, plus it has the added convenience of a quick trip to I Party, Christmas Tree Shops or Toys ‘R’ Us for decorations and goody bags. For those who love to bake your own treats for a party or other occasion, a stop at Amarah’s Chocolates in Taft Corners Shopping Center is a must. They have candy for any theme that you can add to a goody bag or use to decorate cakes and cupcakes.

It all seems so quick and painless to plan a birthday party in Williston, unless of course, no one can agree on a single aspect of the party. One of my girls desperately wants Justin Bieber to sing at her party, and the other one wants to have a sledding party for her June birthday. Oh, to be so naïve and innocent again! Unfortunately, with such unlikely desires, it appears that no matter what theme we end up with, both girls will be sorely disappointed.

On a positive note, during our research for party locations, we did come across upcoming summer happenings that we could all agree upon. We were excited to find that Maple Tree Place has already posted to its website information on its Summer Concert Series. Sitting on the green, eating snacks and catching up with friends while dancing and listening to great music is one of our favorite summer events. The Williston Recreation Department has also released its much-anticipated Spring/Summer Activities brochure. The girls were thrilled to sign up for their third year of Challenger British Soccer Camp and to finally be old enough to play in the Fall Soccer League. We also found that another one of our favorites, the Williston Farmer’s Market, will be back starting June 6 on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. We can’t wait to stroll around and try fresh foods and visit with the vendors. In a way, it was disheartening for me to see that so many other people can successfully and seamlessly organize large events that appeal to so many, yet I can’t even bring together a birthday party for five-year-olds! If only Maple Tree Place could schedule The Biebs for a Concert on the Green, half of my problems would be solved. Then all I would need is a few feet of snow to fall in mid-June, and we would be ready to party! I wish my little girls realized that a Justin Bieber CD and a Sno-Cone machine is as close to their theme ideas as they are going to get.

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for six years, and lives with her husband and twin 4-year-old daughters.