March 31, 2015

Handy aids for achy hands


Dear Savvy Senior,

What products can you recommend for seniors with hand arthritis? I really struggle with anything that requires gripping and turning, which makes most activities difficult. 

Gripless Joan

Dear Joan,

There are literally hundreds of different arthritis aids and other products on the market today that can help people with arthritic hands and carpal tunnel syndrome.

To find out which devices can best benefit you, start by asking your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist, who can test the strength and functionality of your hands and recommend appropriate aids. With that said, here’s a rundown of some helpful products for different needs.

Kitchen aids

Activities like gripping cooking utensils, cutting and chopping, opening jars and cans and moving around heavy pots and pans can make preparing a meal much more difficult when you have hand arthritis.

Oxo Good Grips makes dozens of soft, large-handle cooking, baking and cleaning utensils that are easier to grip. And for cutting and chopping the Dexter DuoGlide and Ergo Chef knives are excellent ergonomically designed options.

For opening jars, the wall-mounted or under-counter mounted Zim Jar Opener is a top manual opener. It has a V-shaped grip that holds the lid as you twist the jar with both hands. Some other good options are the Hamilton Beach Open Ease Automatic Jar Opener and a nifty tool called the JarPop that pops the seal on jars so lids can be removed easier.

For opening cans, an electric can opener is the best option. West Bend and Hamilton Beach make some of the best.

And if you’re interested in arthritis-friendly pots and pans, look for lightweight cookware that has two handles. These are much easier to lift and move around.

Household helpers

Turning doorknobs, key locks, twist-handles on kitchen or bathroom faucets and twist-on lamp switches can also be difficult. To help, there are doorknob lever adapters, key turners, lamp switch enlargers and lever handles for faucets that provide leverage for easier turning.

Personal care

Squeezing a shampoo bottle or a tube of toothpaste, or gripping a bar of soap, a toothbrush handle or even a piece of dental floss can make grooming a challenge. Solutions include a wall-mounted soap, shampoo and toothpaste dispenser, which provides easy access to suds. And for brushing and flossing, there are wide-handled, electric toothbrushes and flossers that vibrate or spin to do the cleaning for you.

Easier dressing

Fastening buttons, pulling zippers and tying shoelaces can also present problems. To help with these chores there are buttonhooks and zipper pulls and elastic shoelaces, which transform lace-ups into slip-ons.

Reading, writing and computing

Holding and turning the pages of a book, handwriting and using a computer mouse can also stress arthritic hands. For readers, an eReader like a Kindle or Nook is recommended because they’re lightweight and easier to hold than regular books.

For writing, there’s the soft rubber Pencil Grip that fits on pencils and pens and ergonomic-shaped pens like the Pen Again that reduce hand fatigue. And for easier computing, the 3M Ergonomic Mouse and Contour Roller Mouse can eliminate hand and wrist stress.

Hobby helpers

There are dozens of arthritis aids for hobbies, too. For example, there are automatic card shufflers and cardholders for card players. If you like to paint, knit or crochet, there are ergonomic paintbrushes and oversized knitting needles and crochet hooks that are easier to hold. And for sewing, quilting or crafting, there are tools like Fiskars self-opening Easy Action Scissors that spring open for easier cutting.

For a rundown of additional products and where you can purchase them, visit my online article at

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Dozens protest gas pipeline at board’s office


Public Service Board to reconsider project in summer

By John Herrick

For Vermont Digger

Residents from across the state traveled to Montpelier last week to ask the Public Service Board to revoke Vermont Gas’ state permit to continue construction of a natural gas pipeline through Addison County.

About three dozen pipeline protesters crowded the hall and filled the hearing room at the Public Service Board’s offices, carrying posters and wearing T-shirts expressing their opposition to the project.

“If this pipeline goes, it passes through our neighbors’ yards,” said Patricia Heather-Lea of Bristol, who opposed the pipeline. “My heart also goes out to the source of where the fracked gas comes from.”

The Public Service Board approved Vermont Gas’ 41-mile pipeline extension from Colchester south to Middlebury on Dec. 23, 2013. But since then, much has changed. The cost to build the project has swelled 77 percent from $86.6 million to $153.6 million.

The Vermont Public Service Board will now consider whether the project should go forward. Following a 40.5 percent cost increase on July 1, regulators let Vermont Gas move ahead with the pipeline. The company then announced another 26.2 percent cost increase on Dec. 19. Regulators will decide whether the project is a good deal for ratepayers this summer, possibly as early as June.

Construction on Phase 1 began last summer. Vermont Gas set up a staging area in Williston in the spring.

The company says the benefits of the project outweigh the costs. But environmental groups say cost-competitive alternatives like heat pumps have since come on the market. And consumer advocates say the project will increase heating bills too much.

Vermont Gas Systems says the project will deliver natural gas to between 3,000 and 4,000 new customers in Addison County. If all of those customers switch from fuel oil to natural gas, they will save about $174 million on energy costs over the next 20 years, the company says. Vermont Gas also estimates the pipeline will create an additional $48 million in short-term construction wages, $4 million in state tax revenue and the equivalent of $27 million worth of greenhouse gas reductions (environmental groups question whether the greenhouse gas estimate fully accounts for methane emissions).

Pipeline opponents say the cost of the project to current customers in Chittenden and Franklin counties is too high.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Jim Dumont, an attorney from Bristol representing AARP. “The economics were bad to begin with and now they are really bad.”

The company says the additional project costs would lead to a 10.2 percent increase in gas prices for current customers as soon as November. It will take at least 30 years for Addison County customers to begin paying back current customers in Chittenden and Franklin counties, according to regulators.

Existing ratepayers will receive some benefits, including enhanced service reliability, greenhouse gas reductions and economies of scale, according to the Public Service Board. The company does not have an estimate for the financial benefits to current customers.

Avery Pittman of the Old North End in Burlington, a member of the anti-pipeline group Rising Tide Vermont and a Vermont Gas customer, says the projected increase would be burdensome for ratepayers.

“Me and most of my neighbors, we live in old houses that are not insulated. We’re renting,” Pittman said. “And facing a 15 to 20 percent rate increase is just not doable for most of us. We don’t have a say right now in whether or not we’re going to be paying for that.”

The company has not yet finalized the rate impacts of the project.

“We’ve made no rate proposal. And we are going to remain committed to keeping our prices affordable and competitive,” said Beth Parent, a spokeswoman for Vermont Gas.

The company will continue building the pipeline despite the possibility that regulators could amend or revoke the permit. Vermont Gas asked the Public Service Board to make a decision on the remand by early June.

“We’re hopeful that it can be concluded as soon as possible,” Parent said.

Some environmentalists say alternative heating sources have emerged since the project was approved in 2013. Heather-Lea said she uses oil and wood to heat her home, but said residents should use heat pumps powered by solar panels, for example, rather than natural gas.

“I believe we can keep ourselves warm using other ways that are locally generated,” she said.

Parent said natural gas gives customers a choice.

The company wants to help create a cleaner energy sector that is heavily reliant on renewables. “Natural gas is still a very competitive, reliable and an important choice for families.”

Pancake breakfast Sunday


The Williston Fire Department will host its 23rd Annual Pancake Breakfast on Sunday, March 29 from 8 a.m. to noon at the fire station. Fire Department staff will serve a full breakfast, host fire station tours, let kids climb inside a fire truck and provide information for those interested in joining the department.

Firefighter Dave Auriemma said the department typically serves between 900 and 1,200 people at the community event.

The breakfast is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for kids and free for those under 2. The money raised provides stipends and support for volunteers and call staff, Auriemma said.

Carbon monoxide sends two workers to hospital


Observer staff report

The Williston Fire Department is reminding residents of the dangers of carbon monoxide after two contractors working in Williston were brought to the hospital earlier this month after being exposed to high carbon monoxide levels.

On March 12, just after 2 p.m., the Williston Fire Department went to Michael Lane. Firefighters arrived to find two contractors who had been working on a home. One worker was feeling dizzy and nauseous with what was described as “flu-like symptoms,” while the other worker was barely responsive, according to Firefighter Prescott Nadeau.

Rescue personnel immediately provided medical care to both workers while a second ambulance was dispatched. Meanwhile, firefighters investigating the home discovered that there was more than 150 parts per million of carbon monoxide present on multiple levels of the home. Both patients were transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center with potentially life-threatening injuries.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete burning of certain fuels or equipment powered by internal combustion engines. Most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm, according to the U.S. Consumer Produce Safety Commission. Sustained concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm can cause disorientation, unconsciousness and death.

Fire crews discovered that contractors were using a concrete finishing machine and a propane heater in the basement. Working with the State Fire Marshal, they determined that the concrete finishing machine was faulty and emitting large quantities of carbon monoxide into the area.

“The combination of faulty equipment and inadequate ventilation made for a close call for the two workers involved,” Nadeau wrote in a press release.

According to the Williston Fire Department, proper detection in the home means at least one carbon monoxide detector on every level of a house. Also, residents should never use fueled appliances or equipment (such as propane or salamander heaters, generators, etc.) indoors and ensure adequate ventilation, if using them in enclosed spaces such as a shed or garage.

Essex Rescue also provided an ambulance. There is no word on the current condition of the workers and the investigation is ongoing.

CVU’s Riell remembered with scholarship


By Sheri Duff

Special to the Observer

The outpouring of support extended to Kevin Riell’s family after his unexpected death in December has resulted in a Champlain Valley Union High scholarship named for the school’s longtime director of co-curricular activity.

“The Riell family is humbled by all the donations made in Kevin’s memory,” said Linda Riell, Kevin’s wife. “We wanted to honor him and felt like a scholarship would be a perfect way to do just that.”

Established in January, the Kevin Riell Scholarship will be awarded to two CVU students, one boy and one girl, beginning with the graduating class of 2015. To be considered for the $1,000 annual scholarship, students must have been involved in CVU co-curricular activities, exemplify honesty, integrity and good sportsmanship, exhibit a strong work ethic and be a positive role model.

With a starting endowment of $10,000 made possible by the Riell family, additional fundraisers are planned to continue the scholarship in perpetuity. A Jazzercise class, the first fundraiser and the brainchild of Tamie-Jo Dickinson’s Future Business Leaders of American advisory group, is on tap for this Saturday, March 28 from 11 a.m. to noon in the CVU gymnasium.

“My advisory wanted to hold an event where we could encourage all clubs, activities and sports teams to participate, since Kevin was the administrator for all these wonderful options for students,” Dickinson said. “Renee Benoit, a CVU student researching Jazzercise for her Grad Challenge Project, is working with me to plan this event. I will teach the class. The goal is to raise at least $1,000 at the event, between donations to participate in the class, t-shirt sales and food sales.”

Other tentatively scheduled fundraisers include a golf tournament, memorial basketball tournament, community yard sale and casino night.

“We can’t thank our friends, his colleagues and the entire community enough for the support at the time of his passing,” Linda Riell said. “Without you, the Kevin Riell Scholarship would not have become a reality.”

Donations to the scholarship can be made to: The Kevin Riell Scholarship Fund, 369 CVU Road, Hinesburg, VT 05461.

Hoosier at the helm


Otley’s lifelong passion helps team shatter record

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

In the past three seasons, Champlain Union High girls basketball has risen from a solid competitive program to record-setting heights under the direction of Ute Otley—who hails from Indiana, where the sport is the personification of preoccupation.

And the coach is making sure that the deep roots basketball has in the Hoosier State are taking hold in the CVU community.

Helping all of this along are three consecutive Division 1 championships and the current 71-game winning streak that last year snapped the Vermont Division 1 record set in the ‘90s by Essex High under the guidance of Vermont Hall of Fame coach Jean Robinson.

One of the first things one gleans from a conversation with Otley is that the program she runs includes much more than just the high school level. Her influence goes deep—into third and fourth grade and through junior high.

Otley has coached and administered at all levels. She conducts clinics for coaches and youngsters and even her varsity and junior varsity players participate.

Much of the youth work comes from Otley’s experiences while growing up in Indiana, where some would call a basketball rim (with net attached, of course) the state flower.

She is a native of Valparaiso, where some of her first hoop memories are those of a 6-year-old shooting baskets during her dad’s corporate league games.

“There would be a time-out and I would go out on the floor and shoot,” Otley recalled.

Her father, John Bowman, a hoops lifer, had coached high school basketball for “four or five years,” before taking a corporate administrative position at Bethlehem Steel.

When she was in the eighth grade, Valparaiso High played its way into the Indiana Final Four at the hallowed Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Otley and the junior high players were rewarded with a bus ride to the semi-final and final if Valparaiso won.

“Valparaiso won the morning game and back then the championship game was held the same day,” Otley said. “So we were given the afternoon at a mall and then went back for the championship game in the evening, which Valparaiso lost.”

One of the stars on that team worked with Otley in the gym.

“She told me to get my left thumb out of my shot and I did,” said Otley. “It must have been peer involvement because my dad had been telling me that for four years.”

A solid high school career was nearly interrupted after her junior year at a time Otley was being heavily recruited by Division 1 powerhouses including nearby Notre Dame (her number one choice).

At an elite Blue Star camp in southern Indiana that summer, Otley had what she calls her three best days in basketball followed by her worst day.

The camp had 300 of the best players in the Midwest. In a one-on-one tournament, Otley advanced to the final four. In the camp semifinal, she drew Tanya Edwards, later to play at Tennessee.

“I got out to a 5-0 lead with my moves,” Otley recalled. Then Edwards put the hammer down.

“All of a sudden it turned around and she physically overpowered me and won it, 11-8.” said Otley.

The worst came a day later when in an air collision going for a rebound, Otley fell and tore a knee ligament.

 “A knee ligament (ACL) then was a big deal. It meant I might not play anymore,” she said.

Her father got her quickly to a hospital for surgery. After the operation came the rehab once the knee and leg came out of a cast.

“The physical therapist told me I would need a year of recovery time. I replied that our first game is Nov. 28.”

“He said, ‘six months? That is highly unlikely,’” Otley said.

The unlikely became likely as Otley went through a “lonely” rehab summer including running in pools, exercise biking, dribbling basketball everywhere and other exercises. Two weeks before the start of her senior season, she was cleared to play.

“My first game back, I was wearing two giant knee braces, but I scored 26 points, like I had never been away.” she said.

But while she was back in full basketball mode, the injury gave recruiters second thoughts.

“A lot of those schools went running,” Otley said. One of those shying away was Notre Dame.

One that didn’t was Dartmouth College.

“No doubt you’ll be back as you were before,” the Big Green people told her. The persistence paid off and Otley came east to Hanover, N.H. following her high school graduation in 1986.

Otley and Dartmouth had a huge season her senior year, going 23-3 while knocking off Big Ten schools. Two of the defeats were to Connecticut and then very strong Boston College.

She praises the coaching of Dartmouth’s Jackie Hallah, noting that many of the techniques and plays the Big Green used are in the Otley tactics book today. Hallah is now head coach at Carnegie-Mellon.

But coaching was not in the life plan, at least at the beginning of her post-commencement life.

Her husband, Brian, took a job in New York and Otley happened to see an advertisement from Jericho (N.Y.) High seeking a girls basketball coach to guide its first year of varsity hoops.

“No one else applied,” she said. The first year coach and first year varsity players went 1-16 that season, but Otley had found her calling.

“I loved it,” she said.

In addition, she took advice from administrators and earned her teaching certificate. A social studies job opened up and now she was both teacher and coach.

In her second year behind the coaching whistle, the team improved to 12-5.

After two years there, it was on to Atlanta for five years, where just opening the gym during the long, hot summers would bring out hoop hopefuls otherwise bored out of their minds.

Then, about five years ago, the Otleys came back north to CVU and the Redhawks and future Redhawks.

She said over the seasons her coaching style has toned down so that when things go wrong on the floor (primarily mental miscues) it is a “quiet fury,” the players see from the bench.

“In Georgia I probably yelled more, but kids tend to tune that out,” Otley said, adding that coaching on the sidelines is more related to strategy, motivation and observing all-important match-ups.

The youth development and encouragement programs are a major part of Otley’s approach. As she is quick to point out, “You never know when a kid is going to light up, or who will grow to 6-3.”

She said when a youngster comes out and has success, he or she will feel a little better and then want to come back. Key partners are junior varsity coach Cathy Kohlasch, freshman coach Katie Kuntz and former head coach Dick Carlson.

Otley thought back to her Dad, who encouraged her at every opportunity and sent her to the elite basketball camps. He was also a tough one-on-one foe.

“I was 17 before I finally beat him one-on-one,” she said. “He never took it easy on me. After that win I thought I was ready for the big time.”

While the basketball season wound up a couple of weeks ago, CVU interim athletic director Pete Coffey observed that the work goes on.

“Her (Otley’s) basketball season is far from over,” Coffey said, noting that because this is so, “athletes coming up through can understand the commitment necessary to be a part of this.”

One of those is Sadie Otley, a junior who has just completed her third championship season as a backcourt starter.

So who now rules the family one-on-one? The question was not asked, but from seeing her in action these past three years, it is known that Sadie can quick as a flash drive to the basket, or fake the drive and launch cord-snapping treys from outside the arc.

Growing pains?


Allocation process spurs debate between developers and neighbors

By Adam White
Observer correspondent

The Williston Development Review Board approved 18 allocation units for fiscal year 2016 at its annual growth management meeting Tuesday, setting the stage for six projects to proceed to the next step of the development process.

Some of those units were shuffled between years and projects, as the board sought to establish a fair and realistic growth rate in the first year of a new allocation system that will stretch over the next decade.

“The whole goal of growth management is to regulate the pace of development,” Town Planner Ken Belliveau said during the meeting. “It’s not perfect; there’s some lumpiness to it.”

“Clear as mud,” was how acting DRB chairman John Bendzunas jokingly described the process later in the meeting.

The largest project under consideration, a 35-unit development proposed for a vacant field across from the Williston Golf Club on North Williston Road, received its full request of allocation on a staggered schedule, with seven units green-lighted for FY16 and the rest spread out over the next seven years.

Developer Chris Snyder said the initial five years’ worth of allocations—a total of 24 units—would likely be banked until a start date some time in 2020, so as to increase the feasibility of the project from a financing standpoint. Allocation units expire if permits for the project are not pulled within a five-year period.

Several neighboring property owners were present at the meeting, and expressed concerns about facets of the project.

Shannon Hiltner of 548 North Williston Road said that while other nearby developments such as Chatham Woods were designed with considerable setbacks from the busy thoroughfare, the proposed configuration of buildings in the Snyder/Bryan project would be “very dense” and “close to the road.”

“We do not feel this fits the context of the area,” Hiltner said.

Hiltner, who is a member of the town’s Planning Commission, also said the water table in that area is “extremely high.”

“Every time it rains, it floods,” Hiltner said. “The water has to go somewhere.”

Pat Troxell of 253 North Williston Road said she worries about the traffic impact of adding 35 more dwelling units to such a well-traveled road.

“North Williston is already a mess at certain times of the day,” Troxell told the board. “What is your part in considering traffic?”

Belliveau replied that a traffic study would be required as part of the project’s discretionary permit process, as determined previously by the board.

Additional points raised about the project included potential debris in the nearby woods and disruption of existing silt fences in the area. Bendzunas said Belliveau typically brings such complaints directly to the board if and when they arise, and has the authority to issue zoning violations if appropriate.

Another project provoking debate at the meeting was a duplex proposed by Alex Pintair for a subdivided lot at 7997 Williston Road, in the village.

Kevin Brochu of 76 Slate Barn Drive said the project was “significantly different” from what was proposed in the pre-application process, resulting in issues that he felt had not been properly addressed.

“It is now two homes instead of one, the property lines are completely different, and the footprint … as originally shown is now not even existent,” Brochu said.

Pintair’s response was that the proposed building’s overall footprint would be relatively small, on what he called “a massive space” by village standards.

“It has always been a single building; the only thing that has changed is space (inside),” Pintair said. “Where the internal walls are is what has changed.”

Brochu said he and his wife, Zuzana, have sought legal counsel on the matter.

“We are prepared to file an appeal, should growth management allocation be granted,” Brochu said. The project ultimately received its two requested units.

The growth management process involves scoring of projects on various criteria by the town’s planning department, and the DRB can alter the resulting scores before deciding on allocations. Five of the staff-recommended scores for the six projects on this year’s agenda were approved as calculated, while the board added five points to Snyder’s project to account for connectivity to existing paths and trails in the area.

Other projects that received allocations at the meeting were Finney Crossing (seven units), a single-unit project at 665 South Brownell Road, and three units each at 186 Spruce Lane and on the east side of South Brownell Road near the Williston/St. George town line.