July 15, 2018

Archives for 2012

Chantey Blast To Benefit Connecticut River Museum – Jan 15

Top chantey singers Rick Spencer (above), Geoff Kaufman, Dan Quinn and Joseph Morneault will perform at Chantey Blast to benefit the Connecticut River Museum on January 15.

Top chantey singers Rick Spencer (above), Geoff Kaufman, Dan Quinn and Joseph Morneault will perform at Chantey Blast to benefit the Connecticut River Museum on January 15.

Essex, CT – When word got out that the Connecticut River Museum had sustained severe flood damage from Hurricane Sandy, area maritime musicians decided to rally for the cause and put on a benefit concert to raise funds to help offset the $70,000 of repair expense.  Chantey Blast, scheduled for Tuesday, January 15 at the Centerbrook Meeting House, will feature some of New England’s top sea chantey singers in a rollicking celebration of the Connecticut River.  The concert will showcase the many talents of musicians Rick Spencer, Dan Quinn, Geoff Kaufman and Joseph Morneault and others in both solo performances and group arrangements.  The event kicks off at 6:00 pm with a chantey man “meet and greet” and a bit of libation followed by the show from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

The Centerbrook Meeting House is located at 51 Main Street in the Centerbrook section of Essex . Parking and seating is limited so come early.  The suggested donation is $20 but all are welcome.  The Connecticut River Museum is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the cultural and natural heritage of the Connecticut River and its valley.  For more information, go to www.ctrivermuseum.org or call 860.767.8269.

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Essex Library Presents “The Building Next Door” – Jan. 11

The Nationale-Nederlanden building by Frank Gehry, built in Prague, Czech Republic, known as “Fred and Ginger” for its resemblance to a dancing couple, is one of the designs featured in  “The Building Next Door” with John Dixon, FAIA, on January 11th at 7 PM at Essex Town Hall, part of Essex Library’s Centerbrook Architects Lecture Series.

The Nationale-Nederlanden building by Frank Gehry, built in Prague, Czech Republic, known as “Fred and Ginger” for its resemblance to a dancing couple, is one of the designs featured in “The Building Next Door” with John Dixon, FAIA, on January 11th at 7 PM at Essex Town Hall, part of Essex Library’s Centerbrook Architects Lecture Series.

The Essex Library presents “The Building Next Door: How Architecture Relates To Its Context”, a talk by John Morris Dixon, FAIA, part of the continuing Centerbrook Architects Lecture Series, Friday  January 11th at 7 PM at Essex Town Hall.

Every building is necessarily related to its surroundings, whether natural or constructed. But the pioneers of Modern architecture rarely gave much thought to neighboring buildings, because their ultimate goal was to replace them all. Around the 1960s, architects began to realize that the context of their works was going to stay around a while. Their designs increasingly took into account the scale, proportions, and materials of nearby structures, as well as established patterns of physical development. In some cases the pendulum swung too far, and “contextualism” was understood as a making new construction look just like its neighbors. Thoughtful contrast can be as effective a response to context as conformity. This talk will deal with revealing examples of architecture in context from around the world and right here in Connecticut.

An MIT graduate, John Morris Dixon began his career as an architectural journalist in 1960. He served as chief editor of Progressive Architecture 1972-96, helping achieve the magazine’s worldwide influence. The breadth of his knowledge and insight has made John Dixon a much-valued observer on numerous design juries and selection panels. In recent years, he has written for such publications as Architectural Record, Architectural Research Quarterly, Architecture, Competitions, Domus, Harvard Design Magazine, House & Garden, Office insight, and Places.

This talk is free and open to the public; Essex Town Hall is located at 29 West Avenue.please call the Essex Library at 860-767-1560 for more information or to register for this program.

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Little Chester Has Some Big Time Restaurants. Here’s What They Offer (Part 2)

Exterior of L & E restaurant on Main Street

Exterior of L & E restaurant on Main Street

As we mentioned in Part 1 of our review of Chester restaurants, it is truly a wonder that such a little town has so many fine restaurants. Part 1 profiled four of them, the Villager, Simons Marketplace, River Tavern and Pattaconk 1850. Here in Part 2 are four more Chester restaurants.

Cabo Tequila Grill

Karen Williams, the Manager of Cabo Tequila Grill, is virtually a one woman show. For instance, she personally squeezes one lime at a time to concoct, perhaps one should say to mastermind, the ten different kinds of margaritas that are offered at the Cabo Tequila Grill.

The eye catching sign of the Cabo restaurant on Water Street

The eye catching sign of the Cabo restaurant on Water Street

Williams says that the “Traditional” margarita is still the favorite at her Water Street restaurant. At Cabo its ingredients are: Milagro Silver Tequila, Agavero Orange Liquor and fresh limes (hand squeezed by the manager).  The runner up in popularity is the “Pomegranate” margarita, made from Don Julio Anejo Tequila, Stirrings Pomegranate Liquor and, again, fresh hand-squeezed lime juice.

Cabo Manager Karen Williams and daughter Karen

Cabo Manager Karen Williams and daughter Morgan

Price-Saving Specials at Cabo

There are regular weekday specials at Cabo Taquila Grill. They include: Margarita Monday,” when traditional margaritas are reduced to $6 each. In the same vein on Tequila Taco Tuesday, the special is three Street Tacos and a shot of Don Jula Silver for $7. Then, there’s Wine Wednesday, where you get a bottle of wine at half price, when purchased with an entrée, and finally on Thirsty Thursday, the price for top-ranked Sauze Hornitos Margaritas are $6, which is $2.50 off the regular price.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday the prices are as stated on the menu, but none of them would break the bank.  For example, the Appetizer, Cabos Nachos, which is made from refried beans, and no less than eight other ingredients, costs but $11.95.

As for Entrees the long list of selections includes, Chicken Enchiladas for $15.95; as well as a Pulled Pork Taco, accompanied by corn tortillas with queso fresco, pico de gallo, sour cream and sofrito rice and refried greens, also for $15.95.

For dessert Cabo Tequila Grill serves homemade flan and a chocolate Mexican cake from a “secret recipe,” among other the desert items.

Not a “Slop on the Plate” Tex Mex Restaurant!”

Speaking with emphasis Williams says that, “Cabo is not you’re run of the mill ‘slop on the plate’ Tex Mex restaurant.” “We only serve fresh ingredients,” she says, and “All of our margaritas have fresh squeezed lime juice.”

Williams is assisted by her daughter, Morgan, who her mother says, “is a cook herself.” Right now “mother” Williams says that she is working as much as seven days a week. Also, she has managed Cabo since it opened in Chester four years ago.

Williams is originally from Massachusetts, but she is now a big booster of her new hometown of Chester. She terms it, “a cute, quaint little town, which has some wonderful people in it.” She especially likes Chester’s, “comfortable at home atmosphere,” adding that she finds her customers to be “a lot of fun.”

Cabo is open seven days a week. Hours are: Monday through Thursday from 5 pm to 9 pm, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5 pm to 10 pm. The restaurant is at 4 Water Street in Chester, and the telephone number is 860-526-8277.

Restaurant L & E

“We serve quality food in a comfortable and inviting atmosphere,” is how L & E co-owner Linda Reid describes the dining experience at her L & E Restaurant in downtown Chester. The “L” in the restaurant’s name, incidentally, stands for “Linda,” and the “E” is for Everett, the first names of the two, married owners of the restaurant.

Exterior of L & E restaurant on Main Street

Exterior of L & E restaurant on Main Street

The Reid’s opened their L & E restaurant close to four years ago, taking up the space that was previously Restaurant Du Village. The Reid’s have continued the French theme of their predecessor with a “French 75 Bar” on the first floor, and with many French styled selections on the menu. Also, a number of the staff, who once worked for Du Village, now work at L & E.

The “French 75 Bar” at L & E must takes its name, perhaps, from the French 75 field gun of World War 1. Also, in 1915 Harry’s bar in Paris created a “French 75” drink made from gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar.

The French Food at L & E

There is also a strong French emphasis in the food that they serve at L & E. For example, Starters include a Salad of Duck Confit, an item which consists of Celery Root Puree, Gingered Figs and Red Wine Syrup.

A highlight on the Soup and Salad section on themenu is s French Onion Soup with Cherry Vinegar, Three Cheeses and Braised Oxtails, and one of the salads is Pan Fried Chicken Livers with Smoked Bacon Lardons, Frisee and Poached Egg.

Entrées include Venison “Osso Bucco” with Sweet Potato Sardalize Gratin and a Salad of Pears and Dried Black Cherries. Another entre is Pan Seared Atlantic Skate Wings with Brown Butter with Pancetta and Leek Confit with a salad of Arugula and Cranberry Beans.

A New Second Floor Restaurant

In additional to the downstairs that L & E took over from Du Village, the Reid’s have created an Upstairs L & E out of what was once an apartment on the floor above the restaurant.

Although it is a steep climb up the stairs to reach this second floor restaurant,   the upstairs space is billed as a perfect place for private functions. Also, it is open to the public on weekends, offering such fare as Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Golden Spotted Tilefish, which Linda Reid characterizes as “Beautiful.”

Prior to moving to Chester, Linda and Everett Reid for several decades owned the  American Seasons Restaurant on Nantucket Island, and, subsequently, a bistro, also on Nantucket.

Background of the Head Chef at L & E

Chef Everett G. Reid received his training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and his ownership of earlier restaurants earned him considerable press attention. Chef Everett has also been publicly recognized as one of the “Great Chefs of the East.”

The Chef’s wife and partner, Linda Reid, has developed a passion and deep knowledge of American wines, and she has been recognized in the Wine Spectator magazine.

On Tuesdays L & E offers “Burger Nights,” which feature for $14 a “sumptuous” burger with fries and a glass of house wine or a beer. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, there is also a $25 Prix Fixe dinner.

The prices on the main menu range from $12 to $21 for Starters; $12 to $14 for Soups and Salads, and $26 to $32 for Entrees. Prices are similar at the Upstairs       L & E.  The restaurant is closed Monday and is open Tuesdays thru Sundays from 5:00 to 9:00. The Upstairs L & E is open Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 9:00.

L & E is located at 59 Mains Street, and the telephone number is 860-526-5301.

The Wheatmarket

Most people think of The Wheatmarket down on Water Street, as a great place for lunch, and they are right. As co-owner Joan Welch says, “We do a brisk lunch business.”

Exterior of the popular Wheatmarket down on Water Street

Exterior of the popular Wheatmarket down on Water Street

The Wheatmarket at lunch time offers the following made-to-order sandwiches: (1) a chicken and grape salad sandwich, (2) a store roasted, top round of beef sandwich with horse radish and cheddar cheese, (3) a tuna works sandwich with sprouts, carrots, dill and Havarti cheese, (4) an old-fashioned bacon, lettuce and bacon sandwich, as well as other sandwich selections.

Also at lunch time The Wheatmarket features “made from scratch” soups, including a homemade baked potato soup; chicken rice and a chicken noodle soups; house made chili; and cream soups of asparagus, tomato or potato. Deserts feature slices of Deep Dish Apple pie and a selection of saucer-sized cookies, including a ginger cookie, which is close to habit forming.

As for beverages there is “Honest Tea,” which is low in sugar, plus an array of soft drinks, including root beer, birch beer and Sarsaparilla tea.

All of these items can be eaten at one of the tables at The Wheatmarket, or they can be taken out.

The Emphasis Is on Lunch Not Breakfast

Although The Wheatmarket opens at nine in the morning, it does not offer much of a breakfast. You can get a muffin and coffee to tide you over, but that is about it.

The owners of The Wheatmarket are Daniel and Joan Welch, who live in Essex. This coming spring they will have owned their business in Chester for 22 years. Over that time, Joan Welch observes, “We are going into another generation of our customers.”

She means that children that once came in with their parents are now parents themselves. As for the adults back then, well let’s just say they are now a bit older.

Over the years Joan Welch has listened to a number of life’s travails from her customers. “Sometimes I feel like a bartender,” she says of her role as a sympathetic ear. Friends are friends after all, and Joan Welch has many friends among her customers.

Another indication of the passage of time at the market is that one of the former young dishwashers is now a medical doctor. Also the Welch’s two boys are now grown men. In fact, the younger son, Mark, is the Manager of the Colonial Supermarket in Essex.

Selling Sandwiches Is Only Half the Story

Serving soup and sandwiches is all that many people know about The Wheatmarket. But it is only half the story. In the large kitchen in the backroom of the market, Chef-Owner Dennis L. Welch conducts a full blown catering business, and don’t think that this is a small operation.

Inside the busy, busy Wheatmarket, stacked for the season

Inside the busy, busy Wheatmarket, stacked for the season

Just before Christmas The Wheatmarket catered complete meals for a group 600 people. This order entailed making some 600 pounds of Lasagna, and 300 pounds of Sausage and Pepperoni, according to Chef Welch.

Chef Welsh, who is deeply involved in his catering business, also tells the story that once he was hired by a very successful business person to cater a dinner for literally hundreds of the host’s friends and clients. Then, shortly before the big event, the Chef received a call that the host had died.

Chef Daniel and Joan Welch, owners of the Wheatmarket

Chef Daniel and Joan Welch, owners of the Wheatmarket

This meant the cancellation of the big dinner. However, Welch says that he did cater the funeral of the departed host. In fact, these days Welch says catering funerals, “last suppers” you might call them, has become an important part of his  business.

Pattaconk River Flooding Could Be a Threat          

About the only event that could threaten the present success of The Wheatmarket could be major flooding of the Pattaconk River. The river is just across the parking lot from the market.

A few years ago, in fact, the river flooded over the entire parking lot, although the market was on high enough ground. With global warming the next big flood could be even higher. As Joan Welch puts it, “After all we are on Water Street.”

But now is not the time to think about such things as floods. The Wheatmarket is decked out for the season, and Joan Welch has put together a couple of monster gift baskets, which a customer can take home for $60. Also, one suspects that even in this happy season, she is prepared to offer a listening ear to a customer who wants to talk to her about private things.

Six Main Restaurant

On November 29, ValleyNewsNow.com published a review of the Six Main Restaurant in Chester, entitled, “New Chester Vegan Restaurant Receives Top Rating from the New York Times.” The headline of the Times’ article was, “Artistry at Work,” and the Timesgushed at the skills of the Six Main Restaurant’s Chef, Rachel Carr.

The ValleyNewsNow.com article about Six Main Restaurant, and the Times enthusiastic endorsement, can be easily found by scrolling down to Recent Articles by Jerome Wilson on the ValleyNewsNow.com. The New York Times review referred to in the article was published on November 16.

One new development at the Six Main Restaurant is that it has recently put in place new soundproofing on the interior ceiling of the restaurant. After all, the restaurant space was previously used by a bank, which clearly did have the sound levels of a busy restaurant.

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Essex Town Meeting Approves Elderly and Disabled Tax Deferral Ordinance

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday approved a new property tax deferral ordinance for elderly and disabled homeowners while also extending the town’s existing elderly tax relief ordinance through November 2018.

Only a handful of residents turned out for the town meeting, with the ordinance approved on a nearly unanimous voice vote. One resident, Wally Schieferdecker, voted no, contending the ordinance was not clear on what would happen to outstanding taxes if it is not renewed in 2018.

The plan first proposed last summer by First Selectman Norman Needleman expands on an existing elderly and disabled property tax relief ordinance approved by voters in 2004. The ordinance, which currently assists 57 elderly and disabled property owners, allows the town to match any tax relief provided under the state’s Circuit Breaker Program for property owners who meet income guidelines.

The existing ordinance, along with the new option, requires that property owners meet the “rule of 85,” being at least age 65 and a resident of Essex for at least  as many years needed to add up to 85. Disabled property owners must meet Social Security Administration requirements for total disability.

The new option approved Wednesday allows eligible property owners to apply for a deferral that would freeze their tax bill, with the higher tax amount for future years becoming due within 90 days after the death of the taxpayer or the sale of the property. The new option would supplement, not replace, any tax abatements provided under the existing ordinance. The revised ordinance allows the town to place a lien on the property for the deferred tax total.

Needleman said he would have preferred to offer an expanded tax abatement for eligible homeowners, but analysis determined that an expanded abatement would have been too costly over the long term. Needleman said the deferrals and tax liens would continue after 2018, but acknowledged the ordinance may need revision in future years. Selectman Joel Marzi said the deferral option was “a solution worth trying,” as a way to offer some additional assistance to long-time residents who are having difficulty paying a rising property tax bill.

The revised ordinance will become effective next month, allowing interested property owners to apply for the benefit between February and mid-May for deferrals in the tax year that begins in July 2013. Property owners must be fully paid up on all real estate and motor vehicle taxes due by May 15 to apply for the deferral option.

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Essex Elementary School Foundation Kicks Off Annual Appeal

EES Principal Scott Jeffrey and EES Assistant Principal Deborah O'Donnell help stuff envelopes for the EESF annual app

EES Principal Scott Jeffrey and EES Assistant Principal Deborah O’Donnell help stuff envelopes for the EESF annual appeal

The Essex Elementary School Foundation, a not-for-profit, volunteer organization that provides independent financial resources for worthy enrichment  projects and  programs at Essex Elementary School, had granted $23,480 to fund various programs during the 2011-2012 academic year.  Some of the specific programs receiving grant money that year included an iPad Lab enrichment program with $13,000 given for the purchase of 19 iPads, 19 smart covers, 19 Apple care protection plans and iPad Applications in the math and science areas for all grade levels. This academic year, The Foundation is looking to grant many of  the programs that have successfully been put in place  such as;  the Justus W. Paul World Cultures Program with $5,000 granted for the development of a new Haitian culture program and for  the implementation of previously developed programs on China and India; Grade Level Grants of $1000 per grade awarded to three grades each year on a three year rotating schedule; and the Historian-in-Residence Program. This year they are looking to give additional funds to the school as the needs arise.

On Tuesday, November 27, EESF board members met at the school’s media center to launch the Foundation’s annual direct mail campaign to Essex area residents and businesses. Continued growth in financial support will allow the Foundation to expand the enrichment programs and projects now underwritten by the organization. In October, the Foundation announced grant awards totaling approximately $23,000 for the development and implementation of several programs during the 2012-2013 school year.

Since its inception in 1996, the Essex Elementary School Foundation’s primary goal has

been to create a significant endowment that can support the school’s strategic vision to be a world-class educational institution.  Each year, 5% of the EESF endowment is allocated for programs and projects proposed by Essex Elementary School administration and staff.  Past grants have also funded a Scientist-in-Residence program, literacy support materials, equipment for musical and physical education, playground improvements, logical thinking games, and audio/visual equipment.

For more information about the Essex Elementary School Foundation or to make a tax-deductible donation visit www.essexelementaryschoolfoundation.org or make checks payable to “Essex Elementary School Foundation” and mail to Essex Elementary School Foundation, PO Box 882, Essex, CT 06426.

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Special Concert in The Gallery – Jan 1

dan_stevens_Ramblin’ Dan Stevens will be performing in the SPECIAL CONCERT IN THE GALLERY at the Leif Nilsson Spring Street Studio and Gallery, 1 Spring Street, Chester on January 6, 2013 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Dan performs an eclectic mix of traditional fingerstyle blues and originals and has entertained audiences throughout the US, Germany, UK, Canada and Virgin Islands. Of special interest is his unique style of “bottleneck” slide playing popularized by early Mississippi delta bluesmen including his use of a homemade, three stringed “Cigar Box Guitar” and one stringed “Diddly Bow”, both primitive blues instruments. Dan has been lauded for the authenticity of his approach gained by many years on the road as a traveling blues musician. Dan has appeared with such artists as Arlo Guthire, Richie Havens, Charlie Daniels, James Cotton, Gatemouth Brown and many others. For more info on Dan Stevens, please visit www.danstevens.net.

The Pattaconk 1850 Bar and Grille is offering 1/2 off an appetizer and $3.50 for a glass of wine or a beer, before or after the concerts.

$10 donation suggested for admission – BYOB – Bistro Style Seating.  Call (860) 526-2077nilssonstudio.com for more information.

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Letters: Proposed Path to a Safer Society

To the Editor:

Sandy Hook School is an earthquake that shakes the soul of human decency. My response:

I acknowledge the right to have a hunting rifle and a pistol for self-defense.  The right to self-defense is a root of liberty. Equally important is a coincident right of people who choose not to own a gun: the right to live in a safe and secure society. This right is an indisputable expectation. While I realize this is an ideal that will be difficult to fulfill, we must, for the sake of human decency, respect, and compassion, strive to create such a society. To not strive for this goal is disrespectful and inconsiderate to all people who want to live in peace.

My proposal to create an environment that begins to lead our society down this path is as follows:

1. A gun is not sporting equipment. To equate a gun to sports is akin to saying it is no different than a tennis racquet or basketball. This is an insult to humanity. There is no comparison because their designed purposes are so different – fun and games versus a killing implement.

2. Any weapon that is capable of firing multiple rounds in rapid succession should be outlawed to anyone other than military, law enforcement or security personnel. No one in a civil society should have such a weapon, for its sole designed purpose is to kill. For hunting and self-defense there should be no need for anything more than a single-shot pistol or rifle.

3. Any weapon that uses multiple round magazines or any type of device that loads more than six bullets at a time should be outlawed. Reasons stated in item 2.

4. Anyone caught in possession or ownership of these outlawed weapons and ammunition would be in violation of the law and should be punished with extensive community service or imprisonment.

5. Anyone who currently owns such weapons described in item 2 should be paid to turn them in. They should not be grandfathered.

6. Extensive background checks should apply to 100% of sales in any form for the purchase of legal pistols and rifles.

7. A permit is required to fish. A permit should be required to purchase ammunition.

8. Internet sale of any weapon and ammunition should be illegal.

I urge everyone with a strong opinion on this subject to voice their opinion to their representatives and senators. Time is of the essence. Do not let this moment and these memories fade.

Sincerely,

Thomas Soboleski
Essex, CT

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Chester School Board Approves New Three-Year Teacher Contract

REGION 4—  The Chester Board of Education Tuesday approved the new three-year contract for Region 4 teachers, setting up a required 20-day on-file period before the agreement becomes effective.   The board approved the contract, which will provide about 220 teachers serving Chester, Deep River, and Essex with a total 9.5 percent salary increase over three years, on a 7-1 vote, with member Ashley Marsh opposed.

The Chester board, which governs the operations of the Chester Elementary School, lacked a quorum when the district’s three other school boards, the Region 4 Board of Education and the local school boards for Deep River and Essex, approved the agreement at a Dec. 6 meeting. The approvals were unanimous for the two local boards, but the vote for the Region 4 board that governs the two secondary schools was three members supporting the agreement, two opposed, and one abstaining. Two members, including board Chairwoman Linda Hall, were absent.

Members Laurie Tomlinson of Deep River and Mario Gioco of Chester voted against the contract, with member Ann Monaghan of Chester abstaining. Each had questioned the impact of the total salary settlement on future budgets and tax rates for their towns. Board members that had participated in the negotiations that led to the agreement, including current Supervision District Chairwoman Wendy King of Chester, maintained the salary package was in line with other nearby school districts, and that rejecting the contract would lead to last and best offer binding arbitration with the cost of the process to be paid by the school district.

The contract provides teachers with an average 3.9 percent salary increase in 2013-2014, a 1.7 percent pay increase in 2014-2015, and a 3.9 percent increase on 2015-2016. The totals include step increases on the 12-step teacher salary schedule in 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, but not in 2014-2015. The anticipated total cost increase of the package would vary among the four boards, ranging from 9.12 percent over three years for Region 4, to a total 11.3 percent hike in salary expenses for Deep River Elementary School.

Under state las the contract is now filed with town clerks for the three towns for 20 days, a period where the board of selectmen for any town could request a town meeting vote on the agreement. Rejection of the contract by voters in any of the three district towns would block approval and send the contract negotiations to binding arbitration.

While selectmen in the three towns are expressing varying degrees of concern about the budget and tax rate impact of the contract, a move to force a town meeting vote on the agreement is considered unlikely with the tight 20-day on-file period that falls over the Christmas and New Years holidays. Such a challenge has never occurred in previous Region 4 contract negotiations.

Deep River selectmen discussed the contract at a Dec. 11 meeting, with all three selectmen, First Selectman Richard Smith and selectmen Angus Mcdonald Jr. and David Oliveria, expressing concern about the cost of the three-year package. Smith said he objected to providing a 3.9 percent pay hike in the first year, with two additional increases building on that. Mcdonald predicted “a sticky spring” for education budgets that could lead to teacher job cuts to limit the budget and tax rate impact. But Deep River selectmen did not move to challenge the contract, and are not scheduled to hold another meeting until Jan. 8, at the end of the 20-day file period.

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman said the contract “is not the way I would have negotiated it,” but added that board negotiators “did the best they could,” given that pay raises for district teachers have been lower over the past five years. Needleman said it would be “counter-productive” to challenge the agreement and send the negotiations to binding arbitration. The Chester Board of Selectmen were scheduled to discuss the Region 4 teacher contract at a meeting Wednesday evening.

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Walmart Stopped Selling Guns in Old Saybrook Five Years Ago; But Store Still Sells Ammunition

Cases of bullets for guns on sale at Walmart

Cases of bullets for guns on sale at Walmart

According to several of its employees, Walmart stopped selling guns at its store in Old Saybrook five years ago. However, the store still has plenty of gun ammunition for sale, although it is kept under lock and key. A potential buyer has to ask a Walmart employee to unlock the cases to purchase the bullets for the various makes of guns.

Also, above the locked ammunition show cases are packages of gun targets. In addition, in an exhibit near the entrance of the store, there is a large display of BB guns and their ammunition for sale. BB guns are on sale for less than $30.

BB guns for sale at Walmart

BB guns for sale at Walmart

An informal survey among employees of stores in the shopping plaza confirmed that there was no store in the Old Saybrook shopping plaza that has guns for sale. There was, however, speculation that guns might be purchased in Groton, and certainly in other parts of the state.

Gun practice targets also on sale

Gun practice targets also on sale

After the terrible shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, many shoreline residents who shop in Old Saybrook are concerned about the sale of guns in the state.

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Valley Regional High School Graduate Killed in South Carolina Home Invasion

steven grich 2DEEP RIVER– Police in Pickens County, South Carolina have arrested three suspects in the home invasion murder of 23-year-old Steven Grich, a former Deep River resident who graduated from Valley Regional High School and was attending Clemson University at the time of the crime.

Grich was shot to death Saturday night at his residence in Central, S. C. after four men entered the dwelling through an open back door. Grich, a junior engineering major at nearby Clemson University, shared the residence with 29-year old Robert McKinley.

Police investigating the crime later charged Mckinley with possession of marijuana. Police believe the suspects may have thought the two men had a larger quantity of marijuana at their residence, though only a small amount was seized by police. By Monday, police had arrested three men, ranging in age from 19 to 24, on charges of murder, armed robbery, burglary, and weapons possession. A fourth suspect, age 18, is still being sought by police.

Grich was raised in Virginia, but lived in Deep River during his high school years, graduating with the Valley Regional High School Class of 2007. He attended New England Technical College in Rhode Island for two years, but moved to South Carolina and entered Clemson University after his family moved to the state about three years ago. Friends and former classmates of Grich are planning a vigil in his honor Friday evening at the skateboard area at Plattwood Park.

Read obituary here courtesy of Heraldoline.com

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Little Chester Has Some Big Time Restaurants. Here’s What They Offer (Part 1)

The Villager

How did it happen that the little town of Chester has one, first class restaurant after another? But who cares how it happened, just that it did.

Let’s begin with The Villager at 13 Main Street, which opens its doors at 5:30 a.m. every morning on weekdays, and an hour later on weekends. It closes at 2:00 p.m.

The Villager starts its breakfast at 5:30 a.m.

The Villager starts its breakfast at 5:30 a.m.

Diane and Frank Voccia, who took over the Villager a year ago this coming January, serve what you would expect at these early morning hours. Basically, its breakfast, breakfast, and breakfast, with everything freshly made.

Villager owners Frank and Diane Voccia, a new menu coming up

Villager owners Frank and Diane Voccia, a new menu coming up

Diane takes the orders, and Frank does the cooking, and unlike many other cooks he can actually make a soft, scrambled egg. Also served are pancakes, meats, fries and delicious toast. The bread for the toast comes from Fabled Food Bakery in Deep River, which only sells wholesale.

The clientele at The Villager is what you would expect among early risers, utility company workers all suited up for a second cup of coffee before they head off to clear brush and climb up telephone poles.  Also, along one whole side of the restaurant there sit the newspaper readers. They sit there for the better part of an hour, because there is a lot to read in a daily paper, especially when you are nursing a second cup of coffee.

The Voccia’s have big dreams for the future of their restaurant. In a few weeks they will add Italian favorites to their lunch menu. (Both of their parents came from Italy.) The future menu will include “real” Italian antipasto, as well as egg plant parmesan, sausage and pepperoni, meatball grinders and pasta fagioli. (Phone:  860-526-9981)

 Simon’s Marketplace

Next down the road at 17 Main Street is Simon’s Marketplace. The Marketplace opens at eight in the morning, and closes at six o’clock in the evening. Also, there is breakfast from 8:00 until 11:30 am.

Simon's Markeplace at center stage on Main Street

Simon’s Marketplace at center stage on Main Street

Simon’s owner, Jim Reilly, when asked what is special about his popular place says, “Everything is fresh, everyday.” Specialties include “great salads” with ingredients such as fresh fennel, corn beef, walnuts, chicken, goat cheese, pasta and arugula in many different combinations.

Reilly says, “Everyday, we do five new salads.” Also, portions at Simon’s are very, very large. In fact, it is not unusual to see diners splitting a single sandwich for two. The house also makes a variety of soups, a popular item.

Menu favorites also include: meatloaf, roasted salmon, and the “very popular” pulled pork. Also, Simon’s can cater to both vegetarian and non-vegetarian customers.

Owner Reilly notes that he has operated Simon’s “for eight great years.” He and his wife split the duties entailed in operating a restaurant, “She does all the book work,” he says, “and I run the restaurant.”

Not content with running just one restaurant. Reilly for the past 17 years has also run the Blue Oar, an open air restaurant in Haddam along the Connecticut River.

As for Simon’s Marketplace, one senses that it is the kind of place where the deals go down, where everybody is talking but others are not listening. The kind of deals going down could be financial, political, charitable, social, and perhaps even romantic on occasion.  (Phone: 860-526-8984)

River Tavern

 Without question River Tavern is the “Big Kahuna” among Chester restaurants. Located at 23 Main Street, it has set a high bar that other Chester restaurants can only attain to. Although, essentially, a high quality dinner restaurant, River Tavern also serves weekday and Sunday lunches as well.

River Tavern, Chester's classic, superb food restaurant

River Tavern, Chester’s classic, superb food restaurant

Lunch hours are: 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, Monday thru Saturday. Sunday lunch is from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm. Dinner hours are 5:00 pm to 9:30 pm, Monday thru Friday, with slight variations on Saturday and Sunday.

As for the food Executive Chef Chris Flahaven says, “We do everything to order, and we only serve local produce.” “We support our local farms,” he also points out. As for style the offerings at River Tavern can be very original and even complicated. They are also with very few exceptions simply delicious.

River Tavern's Chefs, Chris Flahaven and Stefan Burcyuski

River Tavern’s Chefs, Chris Flahaven and Stefan Burcyuski

Here are some samples dishes from the River Tavern web site.

First Course: soeltl farm pork liver mousse with grilled crostini & pickled local honey mushrooms & carrots;

Main Course: grilled Stonington swordfish with roasted potatoes, bacon-corn salad & smoked tomato cream sauce,

Dessert: chocolate-whipped ricotta with toasted pistachios, crushed amaretti cookies & grapefruit zest. Prices for the above are 12, 28 and 12 dollars, respectively.

Another sample menu on the web site lists includes:

First Course: crispy salt & pepper pork ribs with sriracha, sweet soy & crisp vegetables;

Main Course: sautéed fresh shrimp & squid with crispy polenta, tomatoes, corn, Swiss chard & herbs, and

Dessert: ginger-plumb crème brulee. These items are priced at 13, 28 and 6 dollars.

In addition to this dazzling display of culinary creativity, River Tavern has a number of price gimmicks to get you in the door. They include ½ price wine on Monday and Tuesday evenings; ½ price cocktails on Wednesday and Thursday, and a $10 children’s menu on Sundays.

Wine prices at River Tavern range from $350 for a bottle of Champaign Moet & Chardon Perpignan Brut 2002, to $14 for a bottle of Pinot noir rose on a half price wine night.

Like Chester’s new vegan competitor, 6 Main Restaurant across the street, River Tavern has been reviewed by the New York Times. However, 6 Main was placed in the Times’ highest culinary category, “Don”t Miss;” whereas River Tavern was in the second category as “Worth It.”

Although very enthusiastic about the food at River Tavern, the Times groused, “THE SPACE Tiny tightly spaced tables. (It can get noisy).”

True enough, but few can argue with the delicious sophistication of River Tavern.  No matter the Times quibbles; the bottom line for locals is that River Tavern cannot be beat. (Phone: 860-526-9417)

Pattaconk 1850

A competitor of Pattaconk 1850, once wrote off the restaurant as “nothing but a bar.”  This remarks angers Pattaconk’s Manager, Robort Gallbraith. “I hate the word ‘bar,’” he says. “We cater to everybody.”

Pattaconk 1850, awaits the night

Pattaconk 1850, awaits the night

Still there is some truth that Pattaconk 1850 is something of a bar; at least when compared to its down the street competitors, River Tavern and 6 Main Restaurant. In fact, on a busy weekend evening Pattaconk 1850 can have as many as three deep at the bar at its 33 Main Street location.

At the bar of Pattaconk 1850

At the bar of Pattaconk 1850

But the restaurant is, granted, far more than being just a bar. Posted on its web site a reviewer writes:

“The food is great. It arrives hot and in generous portions. I tend to have sandwiches and burgers when I go there, and I haven’t yet been disappointed in anything that I’ve ordered. They are cooked to order and they make reasonable substitutions when asked. I admit that I have a weakness for clam chowder… and it’s worth the trip up to Chester just for that

As for the “1850” in the title of the restaurant, Manager Gallbraith says that the Pattaconk 1850 restaurant was founded sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, but no one really knows when. So they just picked up the “1850” the middle of the century.

Pattaconk 1850 has an interesting and informative web site. One of the photos on the site, among others, is a long row of motorcycles parked out in front of the restaurant. But don’t call it, “a motorcycle bar.” The manager would not like it. (Phone: 860-526-8143)

 (Part 2 of this look at Chester’s downtown restaurants will include articles on Cabo Tequila Grill and the Wheat Marked on Water Street, as well as L & E Restaurant and 6 Main Restaurant back up on Main Street.)

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At the Supermarket, Use the “Scan It!” and be Done With it!

First: At the Scan It rack, shopper Debra Mals scans her Stop & Shop card, then picks up a Scan It device from one of the nests.

First: At the Scan It rack, shopper Debra Mals scans her Stop & Shop card, then picks up a Scan It device from one of the nests.

If you have the chore of doing the shopping at the supermarket, use a Scan It!

A Scan It! will save you time. Give you more control over your spending. And speed you out a lot faster, not even having to deal with a clerk.

The Scan It! is the latest digital device that I’ve come across. As we know, there’s been a frenetic roll-out of electronic devices–escalating every year and changing our lives in remarkable ways. I’m delighted to have discovered the Scan It! It’s already changing the way I shop.

(Note: The Scan It! with the exclamation mark is a registered brand name. But to make your reading easier, I’m going to delete the exclamation mark. You’ll appreciate this as you continue reading.)

I go grocery shopping only for myself, and I’m not a technological nut by any means although I do own far more electronic gadgets than I ever imagined. A cell phone that I use little, a computer that I use a lot, a hearing aid (just recently), which isn’t helping me much. Plus an IPod, an e-book reader (two!), a DVD player, a camera, all unbelievably “smart.”

In truth, I’ve gotten along fine without the Scan It. But I recognized the advantages of this remarkable device get in the blink of an eye. Excuse me. Make that “at its very first scan!”

Of all the digital marvels I’ve mentioned, the Scan It is unusual in an interesting way. You don’t buy it or lease it. You borrow it. And only for when you’re really shopping in the store that makes them available.

And it has another distinctive feature. Its purpose is not only to make your life easier. It’s to make that store more profitable. Yes, the Scan It will help you in several ways. But it will let that store make more money by ushering you through your buying spree faster and without needing a clerk at checkout. The store will reduce its payroll.

You can breeze into the store, pick up a Scan It, cruise the aisles and pick up everything you need, then check out at a self-service register. You’ll get it all done and walk out without talking or interacting in any way with another person. Except maybe a clerk in deli or the fish or meat departments if you want something special.

I came across the Scan It at the Stop & Shop in Old Saybrook. I buy at three or four supermarkets in the area–wherever I happen to be when I need to pick up a few things. To my knowledge, Stop & Shop is the only one that has adopted the Scan It. And they have it only in select stores.

I know I’ve got you wondering, What the heck is the Scan It? Let me tell you. It looks like an odd-shaped cell phone, but bigger. It is hand held, easy to use, not heavy, and you use it for every item you want. But the item must have a barcode.

Stop & Shop has a display of Scan Its right by its two front doors. Two racks of 24 of them, each in its own nest. Each one has the word Motorola on it, by the way. They are silently charging, awaiting you. You take one and use it as you wander through. And you leave it behind when you check out. You can put it back. If you don’t, the store will do it, and the Scan It will immediately pep itself up for the next borrower.

No charge of any kind for you to use it.

I was standing there studying one of the racks. Had never noticed it. I had seen a gal using a Scan It on a previous visit and I became fascinated. Now, all the other shoppers were just walking by, ignoring the devices, or not being aware despite Shop & Shop efforts to promote it. All 24 were there idling, so to speak, not getting the attention they deserve.

Then Debra Mals strode in and picked one up. Right next to me. She did it so fast and so naturally that I was sure she was a Scan It expert. My big opportunity! Maybe I could entice her to become my personal Scan It tutor. And I succeeded.

It took me only two minutes to explain that she could help countless folks around here who know zilch about the Scan It. How? Just by letting me walk around with her, see how she uses it, take a few pictures at key moments, and let me write this report for you.

What a good sport this Debra! An interesting gal. She is a dance instructor in the Old Saybrook Park and Recreation program. Lives in Old Saybrook with her husband Peter and their college-age daughter. Debra does all the shopping and does it all in just a single visit per week. She comes in with a shopping list, not on paper but in her brain, and, I found out, gets the job finished with supreme efficiency. Then out she goes, all done for another week.

I asked her one question after another. She was suspicious at first. Of course. Who wouldn’t be? Then she smiled. “Sure,” she told me. “More people should know about the Scan It.” And we started out. Before long, I could see she was enjoying our Scan It ramble as much as I was.

She said, “I discovered Scan It about two years ago. When they were brand-new. Well, I think they were new. I’m not a digital person. Oh, I use a cell phone and computer and things like that. I just saw how useful this thing was. And so easy to get the hang of it.”

Here are the basic steps she went through as we walked along.

The Scan It rack has a scanner dead center at chest level. She swiped her Stop & Shop member card into it. That’s all she had to do. The Scan It computer now knew her. Then she picked up a Scan It and we started down an aisle. She kept the Scan It in hand as she guided her cart. The cart was as big as they come. “I usually fill it!” she said.

Second step: She selected an item, shot its barcode with the Scan It, then put the item in her basket. The Scan It kept full details.

Second step: She selected an item, shot its barcode with the Scan It, then put the item in her basket. The Scan It kept full details.

She knew the store cold. She stopped in the detergent department. She found the kind she wanted. She held the Scan It as she would a pistol, and scanned the item’s barcode by clicking a button. And put the item in the basket. Actually, in a heavy fabric bag. She had brought several.

And that’s all she had to, in aisle after aisle. The name of the item was not important. It’s its barcode that was all-important. For custom orders, fresh seafood for instance, the clerk puts a printout with a barcode onto the purchase.

And that’s how she proceeded through the whole store. She went at it fast and smoothly and her purchases piled up in her cart.

What will she do when she gets to produce, I wondered. Bananas, say. Or grapes.

No problem. She knew a trick. In fact, she did need bananas. She picked out exactly eight. I wondered why eight. “One for every day of the week,” she said with a smile. “And one as a spare.”

Third step: For loose produce, she weighed it. The scale spit out a receipt with a barcode. She shot it with the Scan It.

Third step: For loose produce, she weighed it. The scale spit out a receipt with a barcode. She shot it with the Scan It.

Then she showed me the trick. She carried the bananas to one of the digital scales. Put the bananas on it. Quickly tapped in the data the scale needed: she clicked Fruits, then Tropical, then Bananas, then Print It. The scale spit out a receipt. The receipt gave the price per pound and the weight and the total price. And it had a barcode. She just scanned the barcode and that was it!

Now came the dramatic finale. She pushed the cart to one of the self-service checkouts. Each one has a Scan It “target”. She aimed her Scan It at it and shot it. I asked her why.

“This tells the computer to add everything up!”

Then she passed her Stop & Shop card under its scanner. Took only a couple of seconds. Magically her whole order flashed up on

the big monitor. She could see the total price and whatever tax was required. But this was no surprise: she had already seen that on her Scan It. She tapped “Okay.” Then she told me, “Now I can pay with cash, or a credit card, or a debit card.” She used a credit card.

Now I saw why she had brought in her own bags. She said, “This way at the end I don’t have to bag everything in their plastic bags. Besides, better for the environment!” She smiled and gave me a wave, and pushed her cart out the door. She had saved a lot of time. Excuse me. She would have if she hadn’t had to explain everything to me.

I’ve got to tell you I could not have found a better tutor!

Debra had also explained a few other things as we worked our way through.

“If I’ve put something in my cart and change my mind, all I have to do is take it out and then delete the item from the Scan It.

“And on the Scan It I can review the list of everything I’ve bought and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. And if

I want to stick to a tight budget, easy!”

“How?”

Final step: At the register, she shot a “target.” This told the computer she was done. It showed her every item and the total cost. She paid with her card. Then out she went in jig time.

Final step: At the register, she shot a “target.” This told the computer she was done. It showed her every item and the total cost. She paid with her card. Then out she went in jig time.

“Let’s say I don’t want to spend more than $50. I keep putting things in my basket and checking the total. Finally the total is $49.75. Then I spot the pineapples. They’re on sale for $2.50. A good buy. I want one! But it will blow my budget. How do I handle this?

“Simple. I review my purchases on the Scan It I and decide on something I can live without. The box of green tea, say. Click and I delete it from my list! Ads leave the tea behind. Then scan the pineapple and put it in my basket. My new total is $49.64. Problem solved!’

I stayed behind. I wanted some grapes and half a gallon of milk. I picked up a Scan It and started out. Nothing to using it. Now I saw other interesting features. On sale items, the device showed me the saving every time. I pushed another button and the device showed me six items on special sale for Scan It customers only.

One was a freebie: Muller Greek Corner yogurt with strawberries, 5.3 oz. I like yogurt. When I went for my milk, I picked up a container of it. Its price was $1.49. Who doesn’t like a freebie like that?

I discovered one more advantage. Some purchases can be embarrassing when you go and face a live checkout clerk. I’m sure you can think of some such items. Using the Scan It avoids that. No clerk will get to see what you’re buying.

It turns out that you can use your Ipad or Iphone or a device using Android to do the job.

Another thought: maybe the Scan It means so much to Debra that she would refuse to spend her money in any store without the device. If that is so, the Scan It gives Stop & Shop a strong competitive edge.

One thing I noticed on this whole experiment: I did not see any other customer using a Scan It. Remember, Stop & Shop has been offering the devices two years or more. How come such indifference? Is it because people are intimidated by the technology, which turns out to be so easy to use. I don’t know.

Got to tell you that I’ll use the Scan It the next time I go in that store. As I look back, I think it’s one of the best things in the retail food industry since the invention of the grocery cart back in the 1940’s, which I remember.

But I can look ahead, too. In 10 or 15 years, I see something else. No need for a Scan It. We’ll email our shopping list to our supermarket. If we’re not sure what we want, we’ll be able to examine each and every aisle of the store on our computer monitor. We’ll see every shelf close up, every item! We’ll type our selections on our keyboard and see how much they total! Then click “Send”!

At the store, a humanoid robot will assemble our order and put it on a truck which will take it to our door. I know Stop & Shop offers this service already, but with humans, not humanoids. But the humanoids are coming!

I won’t like shopping like that. I have other reasons to go to the big stores besides buying stuff. I like the exercise walking the aisles. And seeing people. So, so interesting.

Speaking of that, I know some folks found it very interesting to watch Debra tutoring me!

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Estuary Council of Seniors Partners with Local Car Dealer to “Share the Love”

Hayden Reynolds, his daughter, Lilly and his father, Gary; three generations of the Reynolds family, personally delivered Meals on Wheels in Lyme

Hayden Reynolds, his daughter, Lilly and his father, Gary; three generations of the Reynolds family, personally delivered Meals on Wheels in Lyme

The Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. Partners with Reynolds Subaru of Lyme, CT to “Share the Love” this Holiday Season.  Subaru’s “Share the Love” event helps deliver nutritious meals and compassion to Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Old Lyme, Lyme, Killingworth, Madison, Essex, Deep River, Clinton and Chester’s seniors.

The Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. is proud to announce it has partnered with Reynolds Subaru of Lyme this holiday season to deliver meals to seniors in all ten towns and to provide awareness of the funding needs for senior nutrition. Since June 2010, The Estuary’s senior nutrition budget has been cut $102,000. Last year the Estuary provided 60,000 meals to seniors in the ten town area. The “Share the Love” campaign kicked off on November 21st with the three generations of the Reynolds family participating. Hayden Reynolds, his daughter, Lilly and his father, Gary; three generations of the Reynolds family, personally delivered meals in Lyme. Reynolds Subaru has loaned The Estuary a Subaru car for daily meal delivery throughout the six-week campaign. The Reynolds family has been serving the shoreline for over 150 years, they started back in 1859 with horse drawn carriages, today the 6th generation of the Reynolds provides his community with Subaru’s for a safe and reliable all wheel drive vehicle.

Each week thereafter through the holidays Reynolds Sales, Parts and Service staff as well as local Rotary Clubs and the First Selectmen of our ten towns will also visit seniors delivering meals. Local Girl Scout and Boy Scout Troops from the shoreline towns are making holiday cards which they will deliver to each senior along with their meal and a Christmas plant the week before Christmas. Christmas plants are being donated by Clinton Nurseries and Grove Gardens of Clinton, Riggio’s of Essex, VanWilgens of North Branford and the Old Saybrook Walmart store. This local effort is part of the Meals on Wheels Association of America’s (MOWAA) participation in the national Subaru of America, Inc. “Share the Love” Event.

As one of the five Subaru “Share the Love” event charitable partners, the Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is awarding $200,000 in “Share the Love” grants to local Meals on Wheels programs that partner with Subaru dealerships in the fight to end senior hunger. The Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. is eligible to win a MOWAA-Subaru “Share the Love” grant of up to $35,000 to help provide hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors in all ten towns it serves. Hayden Reynolds is spearheading a “matching funds competition” and hopes that many other local businesses will join him. If you are interested in providing a tax deductible financial match or a partial match to the grant they hope will be awarded to The Estuary Council of Seniors please contact Sandy at 860 388-1611.

“We are honored to be part of ‘Share the Love’ for a fifth straight year,” said MOWAA Interim CEO, Larry J. Tomayko. “Subaru recognizes the importance of giving back to the communities it serves. Working together, MOWAA and Subaru are helping to provide more than just a meal; we’re bringing warmth and compassion to so many hungry and homebound seniors who would otherwise go without.” The Subaru “Share the Love” Event runs from November 21, 2012 to January 2, 2013. Subaru is donating $250 for every new Subaru vehicle sold or leased during “Share the Love” to the customer’s choice of one of five charities, including MOWAA’s Meals on Wheels. Over the past four years, proceeds from the Subaru “Share the Love” Event have provided funds to MOWAA to support its vision to end senior hunger by 2020.

The Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is the only national organization and network dedicated solely to ending senior hunger in America. MOWAA is the oldest and largest organization composed of and representing local, community-based Senior Nutrition Programs in all 50 states as well as the U.S. territories. MOWAA’s vision is to end senior hunger by 2020. To obtain more information about MOWAA or to locate a local Meals on Wheels program, visit the MOWAA website at www.mowaa.org

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Local Artist Joan Wallace Shows Paintings at Essex Library

Joan Wallace

Joan Wallace, a resident of Centerbrook, will be displaying representational paintings in oil at the Essex Library during the month of December. She is a member of the Lyme, Clinton, and Madison Art Associations, and has studied under distinguished painters including Hollis Dunlap, Diane Aeschliman, Jack Broderick and Jack Montmeat. All works are available for purchase. For more information contact the artist at 860-767-0477 or jmwall888@yahoo.com.

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Region 4 Teacher Contract has Salary Increas of 9.5 Percent Over Three Years

REGION 4-— A new three-year contract for teachers provides a total salary increase of 9.5 percent over three years, including 3.9 percent for 2013-2014, 1.7 percent for 2014-2015, and 3.9 percent in 2015-2016.

The contract for about 220 teachers in the Chester-Deep River-Essex school district has been approved by the union. The agreement was approved at a Dec. 6 meeting by three of the district’s four school boards. The Chester Board of Education, which governs the operation of Chester Elementary School, lacked a required quorum at the Dec. 6 meeting, with a Dec. 18 special meeting called to vote on the agreement which must be approved in separate votes by each of the four boards.

The votes at Thursday’s meeting were not unanimous, with some board members expressing concern about the total cost of the salary package after details of the agreement were presented by labor lawyer Kevin Roy with the Hartford firm of Shipman & Goodman. The agreement had been concluded in early October with assistance from a state mediator. While the local school boards for Deep River and Essex were unanimous in approving the contract, three members of the Region 4 Board of Education dissented after first asking for more time to consider the agreement.

Board member Ann Monaghan, a Chester Democrat, questioned whether the total salary package would “sit well”, with district taxpayers in the continuing economic slowdown. Wendy King, the chairwoman of the Chester Board of Education who is chairwoman of the combined Supervision District Board for 2012-2013, said  “these numbers are the best numbers we could have obtained,” without entering last and best offer binding arbitration. King said the binding arbitration process would cost the district up to $100,000 with no guarantee of a lower salary package. Monaghan later abstained from voting on the agreement, with board members Mario Gioco of Chester and Laurie Tomlinson of Deep River, both Republicans, voting no.

The salary increases will vary for each teacher, depending on what step the employee is on in the district’s salary schedule. About 25 percent of the district’s teachers are veteran educators at the top step of the salary schedule. The salary package includes step increases for 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, but no step increases in 2014-2015.

The agreement also requires teachers to pay an increasing share of their health insurance costs. The employee share under the district’s preferred provider plan would increase from the current 18 percent to 18.5 percent in July, 19 percent in July 2014, and 20 percent in July 2015. Employee shares under the health savings account option would rise to 15.5 percent in 2015-2016. Teachers volunteering for extracurricular activities, such as coaches, advisors and tutors, would receive a one percent increase in their annual stipend in each of the three years.

The overall cost of the salary package will vary for each school board depending on the number of teachers at the various steps on the salary schedule. For the Region 4 Board of Education, which governs the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, the cost increase over three years would be 9.12 percent. The salary package would be most costly for the Deep River Board of Education, 11.3 percent over three years. The total increase would be 9.65 percent for the Essex Board of Education, 9.39 percent for the Chester Board of Education, and 9.34 percent for personnel providing shared services for the supervision district.

The current contract which expires June 30 was part of a two-year wage/salary reopener that was provided under an agreement first negotiated in 2009. The salary reopener negotiated in the fall of 2010 with help from a state mediator provided a one-half percent general increase for 2011-2012, with a two percent increase for teachers at the top step. For the current year, there was a one-half percent increase for teachers at the top step, with basic step increases for all other teachers.

If the agreement is approved by the Chester school board on Dec. 18, it must then be posted with the town clerks of each town for 20 days, a period during which the board of selectmen of each town could decide to challenge the agreement and send it to a town meeting vote. Such a challenge has never occurred in previous Region 4 contract negotiations. Negotiations would move to binding arbitration if the agreement is not approved by the four school boards.

Deep River First Selectman Richard Smith said Friday he believes the raises provided under the contract are “pretty high,” and “front loaded” to have a major impact on the budgets and tax rates for 2013-2014. Smith said Deep River selectmen would discuss the contract at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

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Amateur Photo Contest Invites Photos of Local Scenic Countryside

2011-2012 second place winner in cultural historic category – by Skip Broom

Local conservation groups are inviting amateur photographers to focus on the celebrated and scenic countryside of Lyme, Old Lyme, Essex, Salem, and East Haddam and submit their photos to the Eighth Annual Amateur Photo Contest.

The Conservation/Land Trusts from each of those towns are sponsoring the contest. All amateur photographers are welcome to enter the contest regardless of what town they reside in.

This contest is being funded with the generous support of Lorensen Toyota, Oakley/Wing Group at Smith Barney, Evan Griswold at Coldwell Banker, Ballek Garden Center, Essex Savings Bank, Murtha Cullina LLP and ChelseaGroton  Bank.

Judges will award $100, $75, $50 and $25 cash prizes for each of the following categories:

  • Landscapes/Waterscapes
  • Plants
  • Wildlife
  • Cultural/Historic
  • Any subject for Young Photographers, below age 15

In addition to the above noted prizes, a special $100 award will be given in memory of a former contest judge, John G. Mitchell, for the best photograph that promotes and supports our environment and biodiversity. “As a former editor at National Geographic, John dedicated his career to writing about the environment and conservation and so the award is for the best picture reflecting that subject” explained Tony Sullivan, the conservation trusts’ spokesperson.

“We are delighted by the caliber of the judges we have been able to attract for this year’s contest,” said Sullivan.

The three independent judges are William Burt, a naturalist who has won acclaim for his books of wildlife photography: Rare and Elusive Birds of North America, Shadowbirds, and his recently released Marshes: The Disappearing Edens. Amy Kurtz Lansing, Curator at the Florence Griswold Museum and a Yale University doctoral candidate in the History of Art. She is also the author of Historical Fictions: Edward Lamson Henry’s Paintings of Past and Present. Rudy Wood-Muller, a photographic illustrator and designer. His first large exhibition was at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and was followed by numerous other shows, including a one-man show at the Rochester Institute of Technology. A group of his photographs have been selected to be part of the Permanent Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“We’re expecting to see some wonderful photographs from our contestants,” said Sullivan.  “Lyme, Old Lyme, Essex, Salem and East Haddam are among the most beautiful places in Connecticut.  The landscapes and seascapes here turn up repeatedly in the great paintings of the American Impressionist movement.  We think photography is another way to remind ourselves of what we have, and to show how important it is to protect and preserve that heritage.”

The deadline for submitting photographs is January 31, 2013. For questions, entry forms and a copy of the contest rules, send an e-mail to landtrustphotos@yahoo.com. To see last year’s winning photos, go to http://landtrustsphotos.shutterfly.com/

 

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The River Fix for Fatal Attraction

With a salmon hatchery program no longer clouding issues, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and directors from CT, MA, VT and NH have a singular opportunity to redeem the Connecticut River restoration.  They’re currently making choices for restoring migratory fish north to Bellows Falls, VT, begun under the 45 year-old New England Cooperative Fisheries Compact.  The decisions stem from the 1965 Anadromous Fish Conservation Act.  They’ll seal this ecosystem’s fate at four federally-licensed dams and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station until 2058.

US F&WS’s Region 5 Director Wendi Weber, John Warner, and Ken Sprankle will join National Marine Fisheries’ Daniel Morris, Julie Crocker, and MA Fish & Wildlife’s Caleb Slater in making the decisions—with input from state directors.  Their 1967 mandate is restoration of shad and herring runs to offer the public “high quality sport fishing opportunities” and provide “for the long-term needs of the population for seafood.”

Sadly, in 1980 their predecessors abandoned two miles of the Connecticut to the power company operating at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain.  By allowing privatization of the river at mile 120, they killed chances of passage success for millions of American shad barred from spawning at Greenfield, Gill and Northfield, MA, right to the foot of Bellows Falls at Walpole, NH at mile 172.  Unwittingly, they also continued the decimation of the ancient spawning grounds of the river’s last, 300, viable federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Instead of mandating river flows and a direct route upstream to a lift at the dam, they acquiesced to diverting migrants into a power canal.  That Rube Goldberg–a three-trick knot of currents and ladders, proved an utter failure to the hundreds of thousands of shad moving upstream annually through elevators at Holyoke Dam.  There, via a lift built in 1955, 380,000 American shad streamed north in 1980.  It’s the East Coast’s most successful fish passage; it by-passes the city’s canals.

Half or more of those shad swam upstream; but foundered in the treacherous Turners Falls complex.  At the dam, just as today, some depleted their energies by treading water for weeks—washed back and forth by a power company’s deluge-and-trickle releases, finding no elevator or upstream entrance.  Many eventually turned back, only to be tempted by spill from their power canal.  Fish unlucky enough to ascend the ladder there found a desperate compromise.  Over 90% wouldn’t exit alive.  Just as today, alien habitat and extreme turbulence overwhelmed them.  Only 1-in-100 emerged upstream.  For the rest, a turnaround spelled almost certain death in turbines.  Others lingered for weeks in an alien canal environment, until they expired.  Just as today.

This year over 490,000 shad passed Holyoke.  Half or more attempted to pass Turners Falls. Just 26,000, or 1-in-10, swam beyond the dam–a percentage consistently reached in the 1980s.  This is described as “success” by US Geological Survey Conte Lab scientists, Dr. Alex Haro and Dr. Ted Castro-Santos, after fourteen seasons of canal study.  In work garnering annual power company subsidies, they’ve attempted to model that canal is a viable migration path.

I interviewed Dr. Haro in 2007, subsequent to a 1999-2005 study finding shad passage at Turners Falls had plummeted to “one percent or less” directly on the heals of Massachusetts 1999 energy deregulation for the Northfield Mountain-Turners Falls’ complex.  I asked why passage had failed there, “I wouldn’t call it failure,” Haro replied.  Fish passage saw no significant rebound until 2010, when the effects of GDF-Suez’s Northfield Mountain plant were stopped cold for 6 months—sanctioned by the EPA for massive silt dumping.  Likewise, Dr. Castro-Santos’s claims to passage of one-in-ten fish as progress seem deeply troubling when his findings, after 14 years, are just now revealing shad dying “in droves” in that canal, “We don’t know why.”

In 1865, James Hooper, aged 86, of Walpole, NH reported: (from The Historical Society of Cheshire County (NH) “The area just below Bellows Falls was a famous place for catching shad because they gathered there but did not go up over the falls. The fish were caught with scoop nets. One spring Hooper helped to haul out 1300 shad and 20 salmon with one pull of the net.”

Citizens upstream of the 1798 Turners Falls Dam need not accept the dead shad runs and severed ocean-ecosystem of the last 214 years at a dam operated to cull price-spikes from the electricity “spot market.”  An 1872 US Supreme Court decision against owners of Holyoke Dam mandates passage of the public’s fish.  Nor do citizens from Old Saybrook, CT to Bellows Falls have to accept endangered sturgeon, a lethal canal, and a dead river at mile 120.  After 32 years of fatal attraction at Turners Falls, its time to stop steering fish into a canal death trap.  Holyoke proves that’s possible.

Karl Meyer lives in Greenfield, Mass.  He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He can be contacted at karlm@crocker.com

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Region 4 Approves 2013-2014 School Calendar with Shortened February Vacation

REGION 4— The school district has approved a 2013-2014 school calendar that cuts the February winter break while holding classes on Veterans Day and restoring the Columbus Day holiday. The calendar, along with some minor revisions to the calendar for this year, was approved Thursday by the Supervision District Committee.

The committee unanimously approved a calendar option that was endorsed last week after lengthy discussion by a calendar subcommittee. The 2013-2014 calendar will continue to recognize the two autumn Jewish holy days, which was done for the first time this year, while making the second Monday in October Columbus Day holiday a day off for students but a professional development day for district staff. School was in session for Columbus Day this year. In 2013, school will be open for the first time on the second Monday in November Veterans Day holiday.

In the biggest change, the 2013-2014 calendar will reduce the February winter vacation to just two days, Feb. 17, which is President’s Day in 2014, and Feb. 18. The reduced break will start early for students with a half-day professional development day on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. The school year would end on June 11, 2014, depending on the number of days lost to weather events.

The major point of discussion for the calendar committee last week was whether to hold a half-day session on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, the day before Thanksgiving, and add one additional day to the February break, or whether to have the day before Thanksgiving off, as was done this year. The committee decided that with absences increasing on the day before Thanksgiving, students would gain receive more instructional time by having that day off and attending class on the Wednesday in the winter break.

In a minor change to the current calendar, there will be a one-half-day session on Friday Jan. 18. This would open up one additional snow cancellation day in a year where a full week of school has already been lost to Storm Sandy.

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Village Street Bridge Reopens in Deep River

DEEP RIVER— After a six-month closing for construction, the Village Street bridge was reopened to traffic Thursday afternoon. The bridge over the Deep River, located on Village Street behind the Deep River Library, was closed for the reconstruction project at the end of May.

First Selectman Richard Smith said Friday he is pleased with the bridge replacement that was done by Brunelli Construction of Southington. Engineering design work for the new bridge was done by Jacobson Associates of Chester. The price for the bridge construction was $1.11 million.

The project was funded under the Local Bridge Program, with federal funds covering 80 percent of the total cost. The town was required to pay 20 percent of the project cost.

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Essex Library Membership: A Perfect Holiday Gift

What is smarter than a smart phone, more enduring than a dozen cookies and classier than a Chanel handbag? The answer is — a gift membership in the Essex Library Association, the perfect holiday gift!

Membership in your local library is a truly meaningful, lasting gift for family and friends. Long after the other holiday offerings are used and set aside, a library membership keeps on giving, because it keeps the library thriving. Membership matters because it provides funding to keep the library doors open, the children’s and adult programs lively and relevant, and the shelves stocked with the best new books, audio books and DVDs.

Beyond that, a gift membership makes both the donor and recipient partners of Essex Library in promoting reading, lifelong learning, community spirit, and civic pride. What better gift could there be?

Membership is available at levels from $35 to $1,000. And membership does have its perks! Each level of ELA membership comes with an attractive and functional ELA keepsake, including magnets, mugs, totes and boat bags, plus a special treat for children. The recipient of membership will remember your thoughtful gift and your support of the library for years to come. Your donation to the Library is also tax deductible. Drop by the Essex Library to see the pretty gift baskets, and finishing your holiday shopping in one stop.

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The Essex Garden Club Decorates and Donates

In the spirit of the holidays, the Essex Garden Club has once again decorated the merchant window boxes and doorways of Essex with a variety of evergreen cuttings provided by members and other generous donors from the community.  A special attraction is The Silent Policeman, decorated by DeeDee Charnok and Gay Thorn.

During the Club’s annual holiday festivities, Club members collected 276 lbs of food for the Shoreline Soup Kitchens and delivered it to the Westbrook Pantry. This amount of food is the equivalent of approximately 200 meals.  Given that this donation exceeds last year’s by more than 4 times, a hearty thank you goes to Janice Atkeson and her volunteers for their efforts.

The Essex Garden Club extends its best wishes to all the residents of Essex Centerbrook  and Ivoryton for a healthy and happy holiday.

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Public Hearing on Proposed Chester Poultry Regulation Postponed to Jan 10

CHESTER— An anticipated need for a larger room has led the planning and zoning commission to postpone a public hearing that had been set for Thursday on a proposed zoning regulations that would limit the keeping of some poultry on residential property. The public hearing on the regulation proposed by local residents John and Bonnie Bennet is now set for Thursday Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the all purpose room at Chester Elementary School. The public hearing was to be held at the Chester Meeting House on Liberty St.

Bennet, a lawyer with an office in Essex who is the long-time town attorney for Chester, has proposed a revised regulation that would broaden the definition of poultry to allow the continued keeping of hens, but prohibit keeping of roosters, capons, or  any other fowl that “crows, screeches, squawks, or makes similar sounds.” Another section of the proposed regulation would prohibit keeping of “any animal, as a pet or otherwise,” that “howls, barks, brays, bellows, calls, screeches, squawks or makes other sounds during the day or night at frequent and/or extended periods of time so as to be a nuisance to one or more persons occupying a house or houses in any immediate neighborhood thereby preventing such person or persons from the comfortable enjoyment of their home.”

The proposed regulation is clearly generating opposition among many residents, with signs posted around town urging the commission to “keep Chester chicken friendly.” It was the anticipation of a large crowd that led to the rescheduling of the public hearing to a larger meeting room.

See related story

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Essex Savings Bank Names Lisa Berube Officer

Lisa M. Berube appointed as Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager of the Chester office of the Essex Savings Bank

Gregory R. Shook, President & CEO of Essex Savings Bank, is pleased to announce the addition of Lisa M. Berube as Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager of the Chester office located at 203 Middlesex Avenue, Chester.

Lisa held numerous positions in banking since the 1990’s, and most recently served as Branch Manager at the Chester Branch of Bank of America.  Prior to that, Lisa held various NASD licenses and served as an Investment Representative.  Lisa attended Middlesex Community College and also the New England College of Finance.  She is very active in the local community.  She is a member of the Deep River & Chester Lions Club, she serves as treasurer for the Salvation Army Mid-Middlesex County Service Unit, she is a member of the Mount Saint John Gala Committee, and is a past member of the East Haddam Ray Board.

Essex Savings Bank opened its sixth branch on December 3, 2012.  The branch is located within the Chester Town Hall building.  Lisa will be joined by the following staff members – Sarah May, Karyn Shultz, Isabel Roberge, and Jennifer Frohlich.

Essex Savings Bank is a FDIC insured, state chartered, mutual savings bank established in 1851.  The Bank serves the Lower Connecticut River Valley and shoreline with offices in Essex (2), Chester, Madison, Old Lyme and Old Saybrook.
Financial, estate, insurance and retirement planning are offered throughout the state by the Bank’s Trust Department and subsidiary Essex Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC.  Investments in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and annuities are not FDIC insured, may lose value, are not a deposit, have no Bank guarantee and are not insured by any Federal Government Agency.

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Local Tissue Donor to be Honored in Rose Parade

Robert Novak, Jr.

Deep River, CT – At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, December 12, Deep River  Town Hall will host an event to decorate a floral portrait of tissue donor Robert Novak, Jr.  On June 7, 2008, after winning a golf tournament with his father, 33-year-old Rob suffered an undetermined medical episode and died while driving home. Among those who benefited from his gifts of life were three infant boys.

At the event, Rob’s family, including wife Sage and daughters Grace and Natalie, will put the finishing touches on his floragraph.  Following this event, the portrait will travel to Pasadena and appear on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float titled “Journeys of the Heart” on January 1, 2013. Sage, Grace and Natalie will also be traveling to Pasadena for the Rose Parade and Donate Life Float official events.

The floragraph, a portrait made entirely of organic floral materials, will be one of the floral portraits that will appear on the Donate Life float to honor the lives of organ and tissue donors and the decision they made to give the gift of life by donating their organs. The floragraph is sponsored by CryoLife.

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Chester Planning and Zoning to Consider Limits on Keeping Chickens

 

Meeting Postponed to Jan 10, 2013

CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing Thursday on a petition from a local lawyer to change zoning rules on the keeping of chickens, specifically roosters and capons. The public hearing begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chester Meeting house on Liberty Street.

John and Bonnie Bennet, of 23 Story Hill Road, have petitioned for a change in the definitions section for poultry. John Bennet, who has an office in Essex, is the long-time town attorney for Chester and a frequent moderator at town meetings. Bonnie Bennet is a former Chester judge of probate.

The proposed change would define poultry as hens, and allow the continued keeping of hens on private residential property “in a manner which preserves the quality of life of the surrounding neighborhood.” The proposed new language would prohibit the keeping of roosters and capons, and any “fowl which crows, calls, screeches, squawks, or makes similar other sounds,” including “guinea fowl, peacocks or peahens, geese, parrots, macaws of similar calling species.”

An additional proposed regulation prohibits keeping “any animal, as a pet or otherwise, including fowl, which howls, barks, brays, bellows, calls, screeches or makes other sounds during the day or night at frequent and/or extended periods of time so as to be a nuisance to one or more persons occupying a house or houses in any immediate neighborhood thereby preventing such person or persons from the comfortable enjoyment of their homes.”

The proposed change appears to have generated opposition from some residents even before the public hearing. There are several small signs posted around town which highlight Thursday’s hearing, and call for “keeping Chester chicken friendly.”

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Trees in the Rigging Boat Parade Contest Winners Announced

Trees in the Rigging event organizers and boat parade participants from left to right are Jackie Russo-Boudinot of Flat-Bottom Girl; Fred Heine of Boatique USA; CRM Boat Parade Judge Dean McChesney; Bill Sullivan of PAtience, and Michael Melluzzo representing Following C. Not pictured is Cynthia Yerman of Defiance III.

Essex – On Tuesday, December 4, this year’s Trees in The Rigging organizers and participants gathered at the Connecticut River Museum to celebrate victory in the annual boat decorating contest.  The event, held on November 25 under the light of a full moon, featured festively-lit vessels passing in review in front of the Museum.  Out of a field of 14 participants in the judged competition, Chis and Casey Clark of Following C and Bill Sullivan of Patience tied for first place while Dave and Jackie Boudinot of Flat-Bottom Girl took second place, Cynthia Yerman of Defiance III was awarded third place, and an honorable mention was given to Two Coots in Two Kayaks.

Judges Dean McChesney, Pam McChesney and Chantal Lawrence were extremely impressed with the creativity and execution of this year’s contest.  So much so they came up even when deciding between the glorious green tree created by strategic lighting of the ketch Patience’s rigging and the dazzling display of lights and artistry that turned the 44-foot Following C into a floating snow globe.  Each first place team won a etched glass pitcher and glass set donated by the Connecticut River Museum.   The second place, 24-foot pontoon Flat-Bottom Girl was honored for its use of white lights to create a brilliant star atop a luminous tree and was awarded a $50 gift certificate and nautical cheese board set donated by Boatique USA.  The third place Defiance III was recognized for its conversion to Santa’s sleigh, complete with Rudolph’s red nose lighting the way, and received a nautical welcome mat donated by the Connecticut River Museum.  Two Coots in Two Kayaks was literally a last minute entry, popping their lighted rigs into the river and paddling up the tail end of the procession, names unknown. Trees in The Rigging is a community event presented annually by the Connecticut River Museum, the Essex Historical Society, and the Essex Board of Trade.

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Letter: The Year of the Role Model

To the Editor:

The Year of the Role Model is being celebrated in our community, and it has me thinking about an important role model from my own youth.  Mr. John Mills, my high school band director, had a profound influence on my development as a young person, one that I still feel today.  As I reflect on my time with him, I’m struck by something.  What stands out in memory is not so much what he said to us but how he conducted himself.  Somehow, without doing a lot of lecturing about it, Mr. Mills taught us all we ever needed to know about commitment and professionalism.  These critical traits have made an immeasurable difference in my professional life as both social worker and weekend musician.

Some 25 years later, I find his example offers me another important life lesson, one that hits closer to home.  What I do around my kids is at least as important as what I say to them.  In other words, “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t cut it.  If we want our children to act a certain way, there is no better teaching method than to role model that behavior.

Sincerely,

Brad Pitman,
Member, Tri-Town Substance Abuse Prevention Council

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Region 4 Schools Boards to Consider Three-Year Teacher Contract, School Calendar Changes at Meeting

REGION 4 — The Region 4 Supervision District Board of Education will consider a new three-year contract for district teachers, and proposed changes to the 2013-2014 school calendar, at a meeting Thursday. The session convenes at 7 p.m. in the library at John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River. The supervision district board is a large group comprised of all of the elected members of the Region 4 Board of Education, and the local school boards for Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

The agreement with the Region 4 Education Association bargaining unit was negotiated in early October with assistance from a mediator assigned by the state Department of Education. Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said last week the three-year contract that extends to June 30, 2016, has been approved by the teachers union. Levy said details of the contract, including salaries and benefit changes, would not be released until the Dec. 6 meeting.

Last week, a calendar committee of the boards gave a tentative endorsement to a proposed 2013-2014 school calendar that would again honor the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, make Columbus Day a holiday for students and a professional development day for teachers, and hold classes on the second Monday in November Veterans Day holiday. The proposed calendar would also cut the February 2014 winter vacation from a week to two days, including the required President’s Day holiday. Both the calendar and the teacher contract require approval from each of the four Region 4 school boards.

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Essex Planning Commission Abandons a “Public Access” Pathway to North Cove, in a Deal with Foxboro Developer

Attorney Terrance Lomme and Sciame Vice President John Randolph explaining their compromise plan to the Commissioners

The Essex Planning Commission has decided to junk its original plan to create a “public access” pathway, running down from Foxboro Road to the waters of North Cove. The pathway plan was originally put forward as a condition for the Commission’s approval of the development of 11 plus acres at Foxboro Point by a private developer, Frank J. Sciame, Jr. This original plan had been challenged by developer Sciame, and, separately, by a group of Foxboro Point neighbors, in state Superior Court.

Darker lines show new small viewing pocket agreed by the Commission

In place of the original plan, the Commission has now accepted a “compromise plan” with Sciame’s development company, which would create a new, small pocket park on Foxboro Road. The original “public access” walkway from Foxboro Road down to North Cove, once agreed to be the Commission, has now been completely abandoned.

Red lines indicate original Commission approved “Public Access” path to the North Cove

At the Commission’s recent November 27 meeting, Sciame’s counsel, Terrance Lomme, offered the Commission the compromise proposal. This proposal eliminates, totally, the “public access” walkway to the water, and puts in its place a small, pocket park off Foxboro Road.

Final Approval of Compromise Plan at December Meeting

The final acceptance by the Commission of the roadside public park proposal is expected to take place at the Commission’s December meeting. The measurements of the small, pocket park are 75 feet by 80 feet, with an overall size of 6195 square feet.

In contrast, the square footage of the now junked, public pathway to the water from Foxboro Road to North Cove would have required 21,500 square feet on the development site.

Not a single member of the Planning Commission raised an objection to the complete scuttling of the Commission’s original “walk to the water” proposal at the November meeting, at least in the public portion of that meeting.                 

Secret Commission Discussions of Compromise Plan

The Commission made its decision to junk the original “walk to the water” plan, and to replace it with a small pocket park, at a two hour Executive Session at its November meeting. The general public is excluded from attending Executive Sessions of the Essex Planning Commission.

Ironically, when the Commission’s “walk to the water” plan was challenged in Superior Court by the developer, as well as by a group of neighbors in a separate action, one of the grounds for the challenges of both was that the Commission had made its approval of the original plan in a manner that “deprived the general public the opportunity in listening to its reasoning …”

On this ground alone the developer and neighbors’ counsel asked the Superior Court to throw out the Commission’s original walkway to the water plan in two separate lawsuits.

However, in presenting its compromise proposal at the November meeting the developer’s representatives, who included Sciame Vice President John Randolph, did not say a word about objecting to the Commission’s Executive Session that considered the compromise proposal.

“Executive Sessions” May Violate State Open Meetings Law

Many open meeting advocates are troubled by the practice of local regulatory bodies, such as the Essex Planning Commission, who hold their key discussions of applications before them in secret, Executive Sessions. Some charge that this practice violates the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.

This Act, after all, provides that meetings of a “public agency … which is meeting “to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has jurisdiction” should be made at an open meeting. However, to date a legal challenge to the Essex Planning Commission’s practice of going into Executive Sessions to discuss important decisions has not been challenged in a court of law.

This issue aside, the Essex Planning Commission’s decision at its last meeting to join the developer in abandoning, completely, the Commission’s original decision to allow full “public access” to walkers to the waters of North Cove, and replace this extensive walkway with a crimped little park up along the road, is truly surprising.

How to Explain the Commission’s Retreat from Its Original Plan

One informed observer of the Commission’s evident determination to accept the developer’s compromise said that the Commission may have made such a decision, because it had doubts about the legal validity of the “public access” doctrine.

In fact, Essex Attorney John Bennet, who represents a group of neighbor interveners, has on a number occasions given impassioned speeches at Commission meetings, exhorting the Commission to accept the fact that “public access” has no legal validity.

If “public access” as a doctrine is on shaky legal ground, then recognizing a right of “public access” could be decided more on the basis of a developer’s civic generosity than on a firmly grounded, legal principle.

Other Elements of the Compromise Plan

In addition to retreating, radically, as to the reach of “public access,” the compromise plan of the developer was modified in a number of ways by the Commission.

One the developer’s suggestions called for the creation of new parking spaces for visitors along Foxboro Road. This proposal was totally rejected by the Commission. In fact, the elimination of new parking spaces on Foxboro Road might well have been welcomed by the developer, because it would mean fewer “public access” visitors at the proposed, pocket park viewing site.

Another restriction, insisted on by the Commission, was that the hedges around the small viewing area should not be higher than three feet. Also, no trees should be planted by neighboring land owners that would impede the visual sighting of the iconic Foxboro Point windmill from the viewing perch.

Foxboro windmill can be viewed from proposed pocket park

In addition, on the large conservation easement area that runs along the base of the development property, the Commission wanted no plantings or the setting up of lawn furniture and the like by adjoining property owners.

Finally, the developer is required to make a money payment of $120,270 to the town in connection with the development.

Future Looks Bright for Compromise Plan

It is widely expected that at its December meeting, the Essex Planning Commission will give its full approval of the compromise plan, as put forward by the developer, and modified in minor ways by the Commission.

Of course, Attorney Bennet’s lawsuit on behalf of the neighbors of the development would still be pending before the Superior Court, even after the Commission and the developer settled their dispute. However, since the neighbors are more spectators than principals in the actual development, it is questionable that they could hold up the entire project, just because they do not want any new neighbors.

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Essex Couple Receives Philanthropy Award from the CFCM

Herb and Sherry Clark Receive Philanthropy Award from the Community Foundation of Middlesex County

The Community Foundation of Middlesex County (CFMC) is pleased to announce the recipients of its first Philanthropy Award — Herb and Sherry Clark of Essex. The Clarks are being recognized for their longstanding spirit of giving, their extraordinary commitment to helping others throughout Middlesex County, and their leadership in promoting philanthropy each and every day.

The Philanthropy Award was presented to Herb and Sherry during the Community Foundation’s 15th Anniversary Celebration on November 16, 2012. Joining more than 300 guests amidst a standing ovation, Cynthia Clegg, CFMC President & CEO, remarked, “the Clarks seem to have a sixth sense about who needs help and what issues in the community need to be addressed. The Clarks are quiet in their work, yet deliberate in taking action to help others and encourage all of us to do more, be more, give more.”

Herb and Sherry Clark are the embodiment of Philanthropy – through their actions and examples. They, indeed, live by the rule Philanthropy Matters. Philanthropy Works.

In further recognition of their lifelong commitment to the Middlesex County community and the Community Foundation, the award hereafter will be known as the Herb and Sherry Clark Philanthropy Award at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County.

The Community Foundation of Middlesex County is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Middlesex County. Its two-fold mission is: (1) to work with charitably-minded individuals and organizations to build permanent endowments and other charitable funds and (2) to support local nonprofit organizations through effective grant making to address community needs. Since its founding in 1997, the Community Foundation has provided 819 grants totaling $2.5 million nonprofit organizations for the arts, cultural and heritage programs, educational activities, environmental improvements, and for health and human services. For more information call 860-347-0025, email info@MiddlesexCountyCF.org or visit the website: www.MiddlesexCountyCF.org.

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Appreciation Dinner for Essex First Responders and Volunteers for Storm Sandy

Photo courtesy of Ed McCaffrey

The Essex Community Fund (ECF) thanked Sandy responders and volunteers on November 4th with a pasta dinner as a show of their appreciation for their time, dedication and commitment to our community.   For more information about ECF please visit:  www.EssexCommunityFund.com

 

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Region 4 Considers Proposed 2013-2014 School Calendar That Cuts February Vacation, Holds Classes on Veteran’s Day

REGION 4— The Region 4 school boards will consider a proposed 2013-2014 school calendar that cuts the February vacation week to two days and holds classes on the second Monday in November, Veterans Day holiday.

The revised 2013-2014 calendar received a consensus endorsement at a meeting Wednesday of a calendar committee comprised of members of the four district school boards. The group also endorsed minor changes to the current year calendar in an effort to prepare for possible snow cancellations this winter after already losing five days of school to Storm Sandy during the week of Oct. 29-Nov. 2.

For the current calendar, the committee endorsed a change to make Friday Jan. 18 an early dismissal day to allow for one additional snow cancellation day. The summer closing day is now June 24, but the graduation ceremony for the Valley Regional High School Class of 2012 remains fixed on Thursday June 20. Any additional snow cancellation days would be made up with days taken from the spring vacation week set for April 15-19.

The committee spent nearly two hours discussing, and sometimes differing, on a 2013-2014 calendar presented by Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy. The superintendent noted the calendar must accommodate the 180 school days requires by state law, and an additional five days for teachers and other staff required under existing union contracts. These must also be at least 18 hours for staff professional development activities.

The proposed 2013-2014 calendar again closes school on the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, though in 2013 this requires only one closing day for Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 5. The district began honoring the Jewish holidays this year in response to appeals from Jewish parents and students.

But the current calendar also opened schools on the traditional second Monday in October, Columbus Day holiday. Levy acknowledged there had been “a few comments” from residents objecting to holding classes last month on Columbus Day. For 2013, Columbus Day would be a day off for students, but a professional development day for staff.

The 2013-2014 calendar for the first time would open schools on the second Monday in November, Veterans Day holiday. Schools had been closed on Veterans Day this year. Levy said she would work with local veterans groups to present in school educational programs on the meaning of Veterans Day for 2013.

Another big change for 2013-2014 is the shortening of the February winter vacation from a week to two days, including Presidents Day on the third Monday in February. Levy said there is a trend in state school districts, including nearby districts using the Project Lean model calendar, to shorten the February break. She noted the winter months are “meat and potatoes time,” for classroom instruction. But some committee members, particularly Region 4 board member Jennifer Clark of Essex, contended the near eliminatiion of the February break would be a “big shock” for some parents.

Clark suggested holding school on Nov. 27, 2013, the day before Thanksgiving, and adding one day back to the February vacation. For the first time this month, district schools were closed on the day before Thanksgiving. Levy said this was partly a response to labor contracts that required Columbus Day as a holiday, but was also a response to high absentee rates on the day before Thankgiving that is usually a big travel day for some families. Schools had previously been open for only a half day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

After discussion, the committee endorsed the option of closing again on the day before Thanksgiving, and cutting the February 2014 winter break to two days, Monday-Tuesday Feb. 17-18 2014. The proposed 2013-2014 calendar that will be formally adopted by district school boards in the coming weeks also allows for an early summer closing in June 2014. Barring snow days or major storms, district schools would close on June 11 in 2014.

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New Chester Vegan Restaurant Receives Top Rating from the New York Times

Exterior of Chester’s new vegan favorite, 6 Main Restaurant

The 6 Main vegan restaurant located at 6 Main Street in Chester has been given a top rating by the New York Times. The newspaper puts the restaurants that it reviews into the following categories: Don’t Miss, Worth It, O.K., and Don’t Bother.

Chester’s 6 Main Restaurant was placed in the top “Don’t Miss” category, which was accompanied by a long culinary review that appeared in the newspaper on November 16.

“Artistry at Work in a Vegan Menu” was the headline of the Times review, which was written by restaurant critic Stephanie Lyness. In her review Lyness was effusive in her praise for 6 Main’s creator and manager, Rachel Carr. She wrote:

“Rachael Carr speaks modestly about her considerable talents, which turns things like walnuts and avocado into other things like chorizo and ice cream. She smiles broadly when I suggest that her skill, making great-tasting vegan and raw food, might be more difficult than ‘real’ cooking –  after all, making everything from scratch takes on a whole new meaning when you make your own sour cream. ‘You just put stuff in the blender, ‘she says. Right.”

6 Main Restaurant’s Rachel Carr, a rave review by the New York Times

The Times review goes on to report that before she created 6 Main Restaurant in Chester, Ms. Carr served as “the executive chef at the award-winning Cru Restaurant in Los Angles for six years, after which she ran the kitchen at SunCafe’, a raw food restaurant in Studio City.”

6 Main Restaurant Just Opened Last June

Ms. Carr opened her 6 Main Restaurant in Chester last June, and even before critic Lynees’ rapturous review in the Times, the restaurant had been a success. Still, as Carr is quick to acknowledge that by serving only vegan and raw food, “We are a different kind of restaurant.” However, she adds, “We are really happy how we have been received in Chester. People have really embraced us.”

More Times Praise for 6 Main’s Creator, Rachel Carr

Continuing with its praise the reviewer Lyness wrote, “But it would be a mistake to reduce Ms. Carr’s artistry to sleight of hand or mimicry. The forms are familiar — entrees on the often-changing menu also include a raw-food tostada and linguine, and vegan potpie, mole enchilada and beet burger. But her cuisine is unique, distinctive and exciting, eliciting rounds of ‘utterly delicious’ and ‘pretty fabulous’ from my (the reviewer’s) dining companions throughout the meal.”

Look what’s cooking at Rachel Carr at 6 Main Restaurant in Chester

The review continued, “Sometimes Ms. Carr’s renditions almost seem to have an edge over the originals. Whisper-thin, jicama ravioli wrappers contrasted appealingly with the creamy filling, and their fresh, delicate sweetness was delightful with the lively, tart and tangy sun-dried tomato-hazelnut Romesco Sauce,”

The review concludes, “But Ms. Carr’s skills are incontrovertible. She has managed to create a plant-based cuisine that is homey and elegant, satisfying, clean and beautiful without being fussy. And for sheer wizardry, one can only marvel at her flaxseed tostada topped with walnut-pepita ‘chorizo’ cumin-sunflower seed ‘frajols’ and cashew ‘crema.’”

Many Ingredients from a Farm in Old Lyme

Many of the organic ingredients that Six Main’s Rachel Carr uses at her restaurant are harvested from the Upper Pond Farm in Old Lyme. The farm is owned by Bill de Jonge, who also owns the Chester Bank building in which the restaurant is located and who is a principal investor in the restaurant, the Times reported.

The complete Times review of 6 Main Restaurant can be found on the newspaper’s web site.  The phone number is 860-322-4212 for reservations.

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Proposed Essex Zoning Amendments Would Ease Restaurant Restrictions While Banning Fast Food Establishments

ESSEX— The zoning commission has proposed two zoning amendments that would ease restrictions on any proposed new restaurants while separately banning chain fast food restaurants and drive-through windows in town. The proposed amendments, along with a series of revised and updated definitions, will be presented at a Jan. 28 public hearing.

Joseph Budrow, zoning enforcement officer, said Wednesday he has been working with commission Chairman Alvin Wolfgram on the proposed amendments for more than a year. One of the proposed amendments would remove provisions of the zoning regulations that have limited new restaurants in Essex for more than two decades.

The amendment would delete language in the regulations dating back to the 1980s that prohibit new restaurants on a corner lot, on parcels with 200 feet of a corner lot, and on parcels within 750 feet of an existing restaurant. These restrictions played a role in March when the zoning board of appeals rejected variance appeals for a proposed coffee and pastry shop in vacant space at 57-61 Main Street in the Centerbrook section.The board suggested it was up to the zoning commission to revise the rules on restaurants, rather than looking to the ZBA to approve variances of the regulations to open up vacant space for possible new restaurants.

“The commission decided this was something it would like to do,” Budrow said. He added the panel later next year would propose removal of another restaurant restriction dating to the 1980s that limits new restaurants in Essex to no more then 10 seats. This rule has also blocked proposals for new restaurants in recent years.

But while the commission is proposing an easing of some restaurant restrictions, the Jan. 28 public hearing will also include a proposed ban on any new fast food restaurants in Essex, along with a ban on new drive-through windows for either restaurants or banks. The only fast food restaurants in town are the Dunkin Donuts in Centerbrook, that has been in business for about five years, and a subway restaurant at the Bokum Corners shopping plaza. Three banks in town currently have drive-through windows for banking.

Budrow said Wolfgram had suggested the proposed ban on fast food restaurants and drive- through windows. He acknowledged the proposed blanket prohibition on these uses could generate a legal challenge.

The definition of a fast food restaurant, which is included among the proposed updates of definitions set for the January public hearing, would define a fast food restaurant as an establishment with over ten franchises in other towns that offers a “standardized menu” that customers order and obtain at a location separate the from tables where people consume food.

Budrow said the proposed changes for rules on restaurants are not prompted by any possible specific proposals expected in the near future, but rather are an effort by the commission to determine whether town residents support the proposed changes.

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How My Flight Suddenly Became a Train Ride

I expected to fly out of Bradley. But United Airlines decided I should start on Amtrak!

Here’s what startled me. I just bought a three-flight trip to California. It always take me three flights to get to my daughter Monique’s. But the first flight on that ticket suddenly turned into a ride on Amtrak!

I didn’t plan it. Didn’t want it. It happened automatically. Has this happened to you of late?

It was time to book my traditional flight to my daughter Monique’s for Christmas and New Year’s.

She lives in Morro Bay, CA. I’ve been making this trip every year for 20 years or so.

The trip invariably involves three flights. I did the usual. What millions of Americans do every day. I sat at my keyboard and went to a travel search engine.

First Kayak. Then Expedia. Like 99 percent of us, I checked for the best deal. And the best time of departure. And the best price. Those are the essentials. The rest means little to me. I believe that the big difference among main airlines is the paint jobs on their planes.

The tricky part are the times of leaving and arriving. California is three hours behind us, of course. But other factors weigh in.

My wonderful sister Lucie in West Hartford invariably picks me up and drives me to Deep River. A flight at 9 a.m. seems reasonable on the face of it. But we’re told we must be at the airport 90 minutes before our flight. Right? And it’s a ride of one hour door to door from here to Bradley. It’s one hour for Lucie from home to here. Allow 30 minutes for contingencies. And allow her one hour to get up and breakfast and dress.

That means she must rise at 5 a.m. She’ll do it, and willingly. Has done it often for me. But I try to make it more convenient. You’d think the same way, I’m sure.

That’s the problem at my end. My daughter Monique has a time problem at her end, too.

She and her hubby David have busy days. Must rise early. Not unusual for the third of my flights to arrive in San Luis Obispo at 10 p.m. Even later. Their home is a good 30 minutes of fast driving from the airport. Allow 30 minutes at the airport to greet me, get all my stuff and me into their car. Then 30 minutes to their home. My plane may be late. It might be midnight when we walk in the front door. Not good. I do my best to minimize that headache.

Of course, the search engines offer flights that range from the ridiculous to the absurd. One such offered a departure at 2 a.m. and a price of $940. That’s in economy. Come on!

I went to a third search engine. CheapOair. Had never heard of it. Typed in the usual. Kind of flight: economy. Departure: Bradley. Destination: San Luis Obispo. Some in my family travel a lot. They tell me the best days from my point of my view are Tuesdays and Wednesday. So, I type in Wednesday.

Bingo!

I hit a grand combo. Departure: 9:10 a.m. Arrival: 9:05 p.m. On United Airlines. United is fine. With the usual three flights. The first to Dallas. The second to Los Angeles. The third to San Luis, as the folks there call it. Price: $395 one way.  That seems high to me, but with the huge price rise in gas and other things, I find it acceptable.

CheapOair Air tells me my purchase is non-cancelable. But that’s a routine notice nowadays. I buy the flight with my credit card.

I always buy this flight one way. No, I’m not migrating to California in my old age. After New Year’s, I always take Greyhound south to milady Annabelle’s. (For the record, I like Greyhound! Some folks call me nuts. But they should try Greyhound, too!)

She lives in Newport Beach, an hour south of L.A. I’m there with her till early April. She comes east to Connecticut when the weather warms up here. That, too, has been our routine for nearly 20 years.

So, in late January I sit at my computer again and play the Search-Engine Game again, but in reverse.

 

My flight confirmation from CheapOair arrived within minutes. Shock! I had specified Bradley as my departure airport, remember? CheapOair was telling me that my first flight would not be a flight. It would be a train ride! From New Haven to Newark! In Newark I would board a flight to San Francisco rather than Los Angeles. Then on to San Luis, arriving at.  Excellent!

But the train ride! I like trains. Have taken many, including a long one all across India and one all the way up from Singapour to Kuala Lumpur. But out of the question for a 3,000-mile trip across the USA.

I consider myself an experienced air traveler. I had never run into a situation like this. I recognized that a train on a short run like this might be a good idea. Lucie would not have to drive 80 miles or so to get me to the airport. I would avoid that awful take-off-your-shoes-please hassle at the airport. And all the waiting.

But, how to get to New Haven? Well, I have a friend who commutes to New Haven to work. I could bum a ride from her.  But she boards the train in Old Saybrook. Fine, though that would add an extra charge. But how would I get from the train station in Newark to the airport? Would there be a shuttle? How long would that take? In heavy traffic, might I miss my flight? That would add an extra expense, too.

I found an 800 number for CheapOair and called it. I got a man in India. I’ve been to India twice and have Indian friends. I can detect Indian English at the first word. I like Indians.  So not a problem. Furthermore, I admire Indians and Filipinos and Peruvians who man our off-coast call stations nowadays. They do a wonderful job at work that is truly daunting. Imagine having

I explained my surprise at the train ride. Told him I wanted a plane ride, not a train ride. Said to him, “I have never experienced this before!”

“I am sorry, sir,” he said with the greatest politeness. “One minute, please.” Well, it turned out to be several minutes. But I understand that, too.

He came on again. “I have canceled your flight, sir. I am returning what you paid to your Visa account. But you will be billed $14. That is for canceling your flight.”

“Please waive that $14 charge. Not fair. That train ride was a total surprise. How would you feel in my situation”?

“I am sorry, sir. Our rules prohibit that. Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

“No, thank you.”

That was that. I’d re-book again as soon as I had time. No rush. A day or two would make little difference.

But! As it turned out that train ride was indicated when I downloaded all those original details. In my rush, I did not notice that little item. I take the blame.

That evening I called Annabelle and told her the whole story. She was dismayed. She is an experienced air traveler, too. And had worked a long time as a travel agent. Things have changed enormously since those days but she’s still savvy. And my word “dismayed” was the right word.

“Oh, John, you should not have canceled! That was a better deal. In more than one way.”

“Yes, I know. But the problems. How to get from Newark to the airport…”

“The train goes right on to the airport. It’s just a few minutes farther along the track. Nothing to it! In fact, you and I did that once. Right from Old Saybrook to Newark. When we flew to Italy!”

I blushed. I actually blushed. But she could sense it way out there in California. I am sure. Of course! She was right. Now I remembered!”

“Call them back!” she told me. “See if you can re-book that flight.”

I found that 800 number again. I made the call. Got an Indian lady this time. Definitely young, but yes, a lady.

“I understand, sir. I’ll be glad to help you if I can. It will be a minute or two, please.”

Finally she returned to me. “Yes, that flight is still available. But the price has risen. It is now $444.

Shall I book it for you?”

“Is it available on Tuesday rather than Wednesday?” I have found that sometimes a one-day difference can change the price significantly. I’m a retiree. Such a change would not be a hardship. Nor for Monique and David in California either, I was sure.

She went offline for another “minute.”

“Yes, it is available. The price will be your original price, $395. But you will fly to San Luis Obispo from San Francisco instead of Los Angeles. And your new arrival time will be 7:54 p.m. Is this satisfactory?”

“Yes!”

That airport change would be insignificant. Anyway, I wouldn’t get to see either of those cities. Maybe just a few lights down below if I happened to be sitting at a window on the right side of the plane. The new arrival time would make it easier for Monique and David. And me, too.

“Please book that flight for me, Mam. Thank you very much for your help. You’ve been very good.”

“My pleasure, sir.” Soon she came back on. “Your new travel arrangements are confirmed, sir. You will receive an onli. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

An idea had come to me. I said, “As you know, I had to pay a $14 penalty when I canceled. Can that be refunded to me now?”

“Let me see what I can do, sir. One minute, please.”

She came back on. “I have just returned $14 to your Visa account. All this will be confirmed to you. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“No. I am very happy. Thank you.”

And that was that. Remember, that was a “non-cancelable deal.” I have to salute CheapOair. Don’t you agree?

Talk about coincidences. Two days later, in the New York Times, I read a long article about airline flights with railroad legs. Its headline was “Train or Plane? More Travelers Choose Both.” “Choose” was the right word only if they noticed the train ride on their ticket and approved.

It explained this whole new business was a common practice in Europe. Big cities there are much closer together. Trains travel much faster and more frequently. Yes, it’s a new practice here in the U.S. But becoming popular because easier and more convenient in some ways. Yet not commonly available because we have few railroad stations located within practical distances of major airports.

I have questions about all this, of course. United lost the first of my three air trips to Amtrak. Is United happy about that? I wouldn’t think so. Also Bradley International lost me as one of its passengers. Is Bradley happy about that? I wouldn’t think so. Is Amtrak being paid by United? Or CheapOair? I don’t know. But it’s all so interesting.

Please note: some of the small details above, of flight times and prices and such, may be off a bit.  I am writing this from memory.

We know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, so is progress.

I’ll try in time to bring you up to date on how all this works out.

So now you know. Take a careful look at the tiny details the next time you okay a multi-flight trip. Before you book it!

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Frostbiters Collect a Boatload for Shoreline Food Pantry

(left to right) Frostbite Yacht Club members Mark Kondracky, Terry Stewart, Roman Daniels, Travis Carlisle, Kyle Fasulo and Annie Hughes help fill a 420 boat with food donations for the Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantries in Old Saybrook.

Essex, CT – In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when all was back to normal for Frostbite Yacht Club sailors, the group decided to do their part for those in need.  A non-perishable food drive was organized by the club’s high school 420 fleet and held on November 11, resulting in a boat load of donations being delivered to the Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantries in Old Saybrook.

The Frostbite Yacht Club, open to any sailor age 15 and older, is a volunteer organization that hosts multi-week race series in the late fall and early spring.  For more information, go to www.fbyc.org

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Civic Group Tackles Improvements to Essex’s Gateway, the Beloved “Sunset Pond”

Piles of dirt along the pond’s north shore, which will be removed next spring

A group of civically motivated citizens of the Town of Essex have embarked on a major effort to upgrade the Town of Essex’s gateway to visitors and residents alike, the town’s much loved Sunset Pond.

Over the years, unfortunately, this unique property has quite literally gone to seed. Along the north side of the pond, facing West Avenue, mud and debris was painfully prevalent. Also, invasive weeds were growing without control around the entire perimeter of the pond.

In addition, the west side of the pond was overgrown with weeds, and the existing paths along the pond’s edges were overgrown for lack of maintenance. Needing clearing as well was the heavy scrub overgrowth at the west side corner of the pond.

                        To the Rescue, “Friends of Sunset Pond”

As a result of these shameful conditions at the town’s major point of entry, a group of motivated citizens decided to do something about the situation. To do so they formed a group called the “Friends of Sunset Pond.”

Members of the “Friends” include Geoffrey Paul, the head the Paul Foundation;  Jim Godsman, who has assumed the role of the group’s spokesperson; Rick Audet, Director of Essex’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as other concerned citizens.

Sunset Pond spokesperson Jim Godsman outlines the Sunset Pond renewal plans

To date the Friends of the Sunset Pond have raised $30,000 for pond improvements, according to Godsman. $20,000 of this amount has been given by the Paul Foundation, and $10, 000 has come from civic minded citizens and organizations. The Paul Foundation, incidentally, owns the property on which Sunset Pond is located, and it leases the pond and its surrounding shores to the Town of Essex for recreational purposes for $1.00 a year.

The First Phase of the Clean Up of Sunset Pond

At its March 13 meeting the Essex Wetlands and Watercourses Commission gave its final approval for the Friends of Sunset Pond to take steps to upgrade and renew Sunset Pond.

In response to this approval the Friends in a first phase addressed some long overdue maintenance issues, and to clean up generally the pond. As part of this phase, which is presently underway, steps are being taken to restore the banks of the pond to their original parameters.

Also, mud and debris along the northern shore of the pond, which is visible from West Avenue, have been stacked up along the pond’s banks and after drying and debris removal, will be graded, webbed and seeded. Then, next spring in March 2013 the soil will be placed along the banks of the pond.

The Second Phase of the Pond’s Renewal and Renovation

The second phase of the pond’s renewal has been called by the Friends of Sunset Pond, “The Vision.” Although at this point, The Vision “is a concept that is totally unfunded and speculative,” Godsman notes. However, this second phase of the Pond’s  future may include the construction of a walkway around the entire perimeter of the pond, as well as the introduction of new landscaping, plantings and other attractive amenities. “We are exploring The Vision both in terms of resources and plan options,” Godsman says.

However, under neither present nor future plans will the existing trees along the east side of the pond be removed.

The end result of the two phases, according to spokesperson Godsman, will be that, “visitors and residents will have a much improved visual entry to the town.” He adds pointedly, “This will require the development of a solid professional plan that is environmentally-friendly and attractive as an investment to external governmental and philanthropic institutions.”

In short, more fund raising efforts will be required to renew and maintain the pond in top condition.

A Late Arriving Crane Slowed the Effort    

In any construction project, no matter how worthy, and how much desired by the public, there always seems to be a glitch. The glitch in the case of the renovation of Sunset Pond was that the gigantic crane that was to lift the mucky soil along the north shore further upland was late in arrival. The crane was scheduled to appear in August, but it did not show up until October.

The crane, whose late arrival pushed renewal steps back to March 2013

This meant in turn that drying mounds of earth are now visible along the north shore of the pond facing West Avenue.  Furthermore, although they may be trimmed a bit in height, these mounds of earth will remain visible throughout the winter months. However comes spring in 2013, the dried soil will be carefully placed along the very visible north shore of the pond.

Winter Activities to Continue During the Pond’s Renewal

Even though the pond’s north shore along West Avenue may visually leave something to be desired during the coming winter months, ice skating will be permitted off the pond’s south shore. Then, next spring more improvements will come into place, and down the line activities such as fishing, picnics, exercising, and even special fun events, such as regattas for children and fishing derbies will be the rule at “Sunset Pond.”

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Essex Town Meeting Approves Annual Town Report, Board and Commission Appointments

ESSEX— Voters at the annual town meeting Monday approved 20 board and commission appointments, along with the annual town report for the 2011-2012 fiscal year that ended in June. Only a dozen residents turned out for the town meeting that he held each year on the third Monday in November, unanimously approving all resolutions in less than 15 minutes.

This year’s annual town report is dedicated to Herb and Sherry Clark, a local couple that have engaged in numerous philanthropic efforts that have included preservation of the Centerbrook Meeting House, and the Ivoryton Playhouse in 1978.

Nearly all of the board and commission positions confirmed Monday were reappointments of serving members. The appointments include Richard Helmecki and Kathleen Tucker for the conservation commission, Susan Uihlein and Larry Shipman for the zoning commission, Ralph Monaco and Linda Herman for the planning commission, and Nancy Arnold for the inland-wetlands commission with Jim Leo as commission alternate.

Also Paul Greenberg and Alexander Daddona for zoning board of appeals with Lynn Faulstick as ZBA alternate, John Beveridge, Edward Cook and David Winstead for economic development commission, Wally Schieferdecker and John Senning for harbor management commission, and Cathy Bishop and Thomas Clerkin for parks and recreation commission with Virginia Willetts as commission alternate. John Malloy was confirmed for the tree committee.

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Holiday Train Show Steams Up Re-Opening of Connecticut River Museum

Skye Roberts and Zachary Dobbs discover one of the scavenger items hidden in the layout of the Holiday Train Show exhibit now open at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.

Essex, CT – – What a difference a week makes!  That was the sentiment at the Connecticut River Museum as doors re-opened to the public on Friday, November 16, just in time for the scheduled debut of the 19th Annual Holiday Train Show exhibition.  After Hurricane Sandy dumped a foot of water throughout the first floor of the 1878 steamboat warehouse building, best expectations were to be open in a very limited capacity for the new exhibit.  But with plenty of scrambling and team work, all is up and running with the exception of the Boathouse gallery and education center. Museum officials hope to have that restoration work completed within a few weeks.

Members’ were invited to a sneak preview of train artist Steve Cryan’s locomotive extravaganza on Thursday evening and seemed impressed with this year’s display featuring 12 operational model trains running on over 26 feet of creatively set track.  The Connecticut River flows down the center of intricately detailed scenes including the Museum’s steamboat warehouse building and dock, Goodspeed Airport, Schooner Mary E, the Lady Catherine cruise ship and other River Valley landmarks.  A scavenger hunt challenges visitors to find a list of hidden surprises while young children can get hands on at an American Flyer and Lionel Train display designed specifically for toddler-size enjoyment.  Sponsored by Liberty Bank, The Safety Zone and Valley Courier, the exhibit is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 AM to 5 PM through February 10.  For more information, call the Museum at 860.767.8269 or go to www.ctrivermuseum.org.

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Chester Seeks Bids for Second Floor Renovation at Town Hall

CHESTER— Town officials will open bids on Dec. 13 for a renovation to the second floor of town hall that would be funded by the insurance payment for the collapse of the former community center building on Route 154 in February 2011.

The board of selectmen voted at a meeting last week to seek bids for the town hall work, while dropping an earlier idea to use some of the insurance proceeds to pay for a 750-square-foot parks and recreation storage structure at Chester Elementary School. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said cost estimates for the storage addition were over $200,000, and would have used too much of the total available funding. “It did not make economic sense ,the cost per square foot was too high” he said.

The second floor renovations designed by Jackunski & Humes Architect of Berlin would create a larger meeting room to accommodate up to 65 people, along with changes to some of the offices on the second floor. The larger meeting room would reduce the need to use the historic Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street, particularly for less well-attended town meetings and board and commission meetings.

Meehan said $260,000 is available from the community center insurance settlement.  He said selectmen are “optimistic” the second floor renovations can be fully paid for with the available funding. Meehan said additional storage space for parks and recreation would be created at Cedar Lake, where the town sponsors a summer program, and in the renovated second floor of town hall.

Meehan said the board of selectmen has the authority to direct the insurance funds for the second floor project without a requirement for further approval from a town meeting. Work on the second floor renovations is expected to begin during the coming winter months.

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Essex Awarded $471,500 State Grant for Town Hall and Park Improvements

Needed repairs to Essex Town Hall parking lot (photo by Jerome Wilson)

ESSEX –– The town has been awarded a $471,500 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for a series of improvements to the town hall property and the abutting Grove Street Park.

The grant, which the town applied for over the summer, was announced in a visit late last month by Gov. Dannel Malloy. The project includes repaving the town hall parking lot, including a section that remains unpaved, reconstructing the tennis courts at the adjoining park, constructing a new handicapped accessible children’s playscape at the park, and improving the crosswalk across Grove Street to the Essex Library.

Restructuring of Essex tennis courts (photo by Jerome Wilson)

First Selectman Norman Needleman said this week the project would be coordinated by members of the economic development and parks and recreation commissions working with Highway Department Foreman David Caroline. There would be no formal building committee. Needleman said the improvements, which are expected to be completed in 2013, would create “more of a feeling of connectivity,” between the town hall/park property and the library.

Improving crosswalk from Town Hall to Essex Library (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Essex has been awarded several STEAP grants since the program began in 2002, with the grants funding the public restroom at Essex Town Park, new streetlights, sidewalk and street improvements in Essex village and Ivoryton, and a new boat launch on the Connecticut River at the end of Main Street.

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Community Music School Honors Supporters

Pictured (l-r) are Rev. Ken Peterkin, First Congregational Church; Gail Morris; Steve Haines, Centerbrook Architects; Andrew Morris; and Mike Hart, Chad Floyd, Ed Keagle and Sue Wyeth of Centerbrook Architects

Community Music School recently recognized longtime supporters at its 2012 CMS Champions Award Breakfast held at Water’s Edge Resort & Spa in October.  Honorees included Centerbrook Architects and Planners , Gail and Andrew Morris, and First Congregational Church of Essex.

Community Music School presents the Champions Awards annually to those who have supported the School and its mission and who strive to improve our community through the arts. Since 1983, CMS has offered innovative music programming for infants through adults, creating a tradition of providing quality music instruction to residents of shoreline communities.

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Essex Community Fund Seeks Grant Applications

Grant applications for 2013 awards are due December 15th.  Grants are open to any non-profit organization that serves the needs of the residents of Essex, Centerbrook and Ivoryton.  You may obtain an application online at www.essexcommunityfund.com.

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Essex Holiday Stroll Promises An Authentic New England Shopping Experience

Essex Board of Trade Holiday Stroll Organizers (l-r): Donna Torza of Bell Flower Antiques, Emmy Cline of Scensibles , Mark Bombaci of Page Taft-Christies Real Estate, Judy Heiser of Essex Board of Trade and Jim D’Alessio of J. Alden Clothiers.

Essex, CT – Unplug the Muzak, boycott the mall traffic and head to Essex Village for the Essex Board of Trade’s Annual Holiday Stroll, a quintessentially New England shopping experience taking place on Saturday, December 1 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

In addition to special savings and festive refreshments at participating shops and restaurants, free gift wrapping will be provided at Page Taft – Christies Real Estate with donations benefiting the Essex Community Fund.

Free horse-drawn carriage rides through the heart of the village will be offered from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm while the Hilltop Barbershop Quartet will perform at various locations from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm.  Then at 4:00 pm, the Grace Notes Handbell Choir will perform in front of the Griswold Inn, leading up to a performance by the Coast Guard Academy Idlers and tree lighting in Griswold Square at 4:45 pm.

It is a day filled with holiday memories in the making and made possible by events sponsors Wells Fargo Advisors, Peck and Ficarra Attorneys At Law, Scensibles, Valley Courier, Hudson Paper and the Griswold Inn. Free parking is available on village streets, in designated lots and at Essex Town Hall.

For more information, go to www.experienceessex.com or call the Essex Board of Trade at 860-767-3904.

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Consultant Hired to Study New Deep River Firehouse Option

DEEP RIVER— A consultant’s study of the option of building a new firehouse on the existing site is the next step in a more than five year effort to upgrade the 51-year old main firehouse at the corner of Union and West Elm streets.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the town has hired Noyes-Voght Architects of Chester to study the option of constructing a new firehouse that would use more of the site of the existing firehouse, a step that would include a phased demolition of the existing building that was built in 1961. He said the idea under study is to use an area to the south of the existing 5,084-square-foot firehouse to construct a new and larger facility.

Smith said the initial goal is avoid demolition of a two-story house on an abutting parcel at 57 Union Street that was acquired by the Deep River Volunteer Fire Department in 2007. He noted that objections to removing the house, which is currently rented out by the department, may have been a factor in the most recent narrow referendum defeat for a firehouse renovation and expansion project.

A $2.4 million plan to renovate and expand the existing firehouse was defeated on a 347-312 vote in a July 2010 bonding referendum. A more costly renovation and expansion plan failed by a much larger margin in a November 2007 referendum.

A preliminary report from the firehouse project study committee last January had raised the possibility of constructing a new firehouse on a 14-acre parcel on the north side of Route 80, near the Platwood Park area. The January 2012 report had estimated the cost of constructing a new and larger firehouse at about $2.8 million, an estimate that did not include any land acquisition cost.

Smith said last week he did not favor an alternate site for the new and larger firehouse because of the need to maintain fire equipment at a different location during much of the construction, and questions about what to do with the existing building.

Smith said the consultants would prepare a “site plan” for a new and larger firehouse that would use more of the property, but avoid demolition of the house on the abutting fire department owned parcel. He acknowledged the study could lead to the conclusion a new and larger firehouse could not be built without removing the nearby house. “We need to get to the next step,” Smith said. “We’ve got to find out if it in fact works.”

Smith said the consultant’s report should be completed by January for discussion at a joint meeting of the board of selectmen and board of finance. Smith said there is a consensus among the two boards to try to resolve the fire department’s space and facilities needs in 2013.

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Transportation: High Speed Rail in Japan

I am just back from two weeks’ travel in Asia where I have seen the past and the future of the world’s best high speed rail.  This week, my thoughts on Japan and next week, China.

It was 1964 when the Japanese introduced the world’s first “bullet train”, the Shinkansen.  Using a dedicated right-of-way (no freight, no slow trains), the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Osaka today carries over 150 million passengers a year at speeds up to 190 mph… not the fastest in the world, but easily the busiest.

Now on its seventh generation of equipment, I rode the Nozumi Express from Tokyo to Kyoto and was amazed at the service.  Like Grand Central Terminal, Tokyo’s main downtown station is a dead-end.  As trains arrive, passengers disembark and uniformed cleaning crews have about ten minutes to clean and freshen the equipment for the next run.

The Nozumi runs from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 314 miles, equivalent to the distance between Boston and Baltimore.  And it makes that journey in 2 ½ hours with trains every five to ten minutes!  Each 16 car train can carry up to 1300 passengers in first (“Green”) class (two by two seating) or second class (three by two… the Japanese are small).

Compare that to Amtrak with hourly Acela service in six car trainsets holding 300 passengers total.  Acela’s fastest run from Boston to Baltimore is just shy of six hours with an average speed of 90 – 120 mph.

The Japanese trains are so fast there is no need for a diner or bar car.  Instead, passengers can buy an “ekiben” boxed lunch from dozens of stores at the station.  Because all seats are assigned, passengers que up at the exact spot on the platform where their car will stop, awaiting permission to board.  When the cleaning crews finish, the doors open, passengers board and the train departs… always on time, and to the second.

As the conductor collects tickets, he bows to each customer.  Train crew passing through the cars always turn and bow to the passengers before going to the next car.  The ride is so smooth as to not be thought possible.  And arrivals and departures are to the second with average dwell time at intermediate stations no longer than 90 seconds.  And, of course, there is free Wi-Fi during the entire journey.

The first class fare on the Nozumi Express between Tokyo and Osaka is $186.  On Amtrak’s Acela, the Boston to Baltimore ride costs up to $279 for business class, $405 in first class.

Japan’s Shinkansen is the grand-daddy of high speed rail, but still among the best.  Next time I’ll tell you about the newest, and to my thinking, the world’s best high speed rail… in China!  And I’ll recount my 11 minute ride on the world’s only commercial maglev in Shanghai.

 JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 21 years.  He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM.  You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct .  For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Surviving Hurricane Sandy

Which candle do you think gives better light?The big one, right? That’s what I thought, too.

Yes, Sandy taught me a big lesson: how much light does one candle give? Oh, not as the centerpiece during dinner. And not on a birthday cake. In the pitch dark! For hours. I had no idea. It was an illuminating lesson. (Pun.) But not an illuminating experience.

History story tells us that one horsepower is the power of one horse. No idea what horse was used to figure that—its size or breed or age or gender or anything else. But it doesn’t matter.

Now how about one candlepower? Well, if 1 hp. is the effort put out by 1 horse, then 1 candlepower must be the light put out by 1 candle. Wouldn’t you agree?  But in practical terms, how much is that?

During the hurricane I learned the hard way. It’s shockingly, disappointingly little. Yet it’s mostly with candles that I managed to get through the three days of that ordeal. Excuse me, the three nights.

Like everybody else hereabouts, I made many preparations for Sandy’s hugely publicized and awesome arrival. One was to buy a couple more flashlights. Another was to dig out my stash of candles. I have a shoebox full, candles big and small, candles never used and candles partly used. Flashlights are more convenient, but candles have more staying power. And Sandy might knock out our power for days.

I live at Piano Works in Deep River. It’s called that because our big 4-story brick building was the high-tech center of the piano industry a hundred and fifty years ago. Mine is one of about 60 condos in the building. I live alone most of the time. I was alone during Sandy.

As we all know, Sandy hit our area with a huge wallop. Worse even than the unforgettable hurricane of 1938. Which I remember, by the way.  We were lucky at Piano Works. The gusts of wind were huge. I could see that just by peering out the window. Even at night. But with my eyes closed, I couldn’t even know Sandy had hit. Our big brick building had survived many big storms over the years.  I felt it could take anything Sandy threw at it, it seemed.

The worst that happened to us at Piano Works is that we blacked out. Everything electrical that we possessed went dead. Speaking for myself, that meant my lights, heat, telephone, TV, radio, stove, fridge, TV, computer, clocks, on and on. Same for you, undoubtedly. I didn’t list them in any special order. Except for the first. My lights. To me that was the most critical.

I took extra pains to prepare for the loss of my lights. I moved anything possible to trip over well out of the way. Footstool, piles of books, hassock, wastebaskets, magazine rack, bathroom scale. To trip and fall could be catastrophic. And I placed candles strategically here and there. A big fat one on my dining table. Another big one by my kitchen sink. Another in the bathroom. Smaller ones here and there also. I had plenty. Why not? I also put matches next to each one. I wouldn’t have to fumble for a match if one of my candles went out.

I own three fire extinguishers. I placed them strategically also. I also placed jars of water here and there. Water is fire’s natural enemy, right? Remember the Grear Chicago Fire and how that started when a cow knocked over a lantern in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn? I didn’t want one of my candles to cause the Great Piano Works Fire! This was no time to be lazy. Prepared I would be!

I also placed my flashlights with care. My condo is on two floors. I placed one at the top of the stairs I’d have to use to get out. Another by my bedside table. And so on. And I kept one in my pocket all the time.

Well, Sandy struck. What for me had been about 16 hours of light per day—daylight and electric—and 8 hours of dark suddenly became 12 and 12. Thanks to my planning, my 12 hours of dark included 4 hours of dark that were enlivened by tiny flickers of light from my candles throughout my apartment. The place looked nice and cozy. I thought, If only I had somebody to share this with!

But the candles made me nervous. True. Especially those out of sight. So, I blew out the candles that I couldn’t see from my living room. I sat in my favorite rocker there. Better not waste candles. Sandy’s aftermath might last a long while.I kept only two going. The big one on the table. And a small one on the table by my rocker.

The big one was 10 times bigger than the small one. The small one was the size of a votive candle. In fact it was a votive candle. If you’re not familiar with that, imagine a cupcake. A small cupcake.

The change in the room was dramatic. Dim! It took me a while to adjust. Now my place looked gloomy. And this gloom was emphasized by the sudden loss of something very important in my life. Music.

I realized more than ever how much of my day is brightened by music. I realized that I have music playing just about all the time. This was now so quiet. So still. So uncomfortable.  “Gloomy” was definitely the right word. But one thing surprised me after a while. The two candles gave me enough light to function in the most basic way. I could walk safely. I could eat okay—could distinguish tell the salt shaker from the pepper shaker.

But know what? The small candle gave off more light than the big fat one. I kept checking one against the other. It was true. Both had wicks the same size. The big one was made of red wax. As the flame sank deeper in the wax, it left a ring of wax that got higher. True, this ring turned translucent pink. Very pretty. Very romantic if romance happened to be key. Not this evening. Not for me alone.

But that ring kept the light from spreading sideways. The small candle was white wax. White wax reflected the flame better. As it burned lower, it left a much smaller ring of wax. I didn’t understand why but the flame always stayed level with the brim of the ring. It didn’t sink down into the wax like the other one. So it gave off more light sideways. Who would have bet on that? I was intrigued. I decided to experiment. For an hour, I would not use the flashlight I had on me. I would live by the light of these two candles. That’s all. Regardless of what I had to do in my condo.

Now I had to go to the bathroom. I chose the big candle. That made sense. (This was before I measured its output against the baby candle.) I had placed it in a saucer.  I picked up the saucer and headed toward my dark bedroom. The bathroom is off the bedroom. I moved gingerly. Oops!  The candle nearly slipped off the saucer. Imagine if it had fallen onto the carpet. Imagine if it had started a fire.

A lesson learned!  I clasped the saucer so my fingers keep the candle firmly in place. No chance of it falling. But now I noticed something else. The candle did not cast light on the floor. The floor was dark. Too dark.  And dark might conceal danger.  I put the candle and saucer back on the table. And picked up the small one. It was in a small glass of clear glass. My fingers could hold this one much steadier. Safer. But it didn’t cast light down, either. What to do?I held it slightly canted. That helped. But I risked dripping hot wax onto the carpet. I tried holding the candle much lower—down at the level of my knees and tried to walk that way. Awkward. Very awkward. Very bad.

So? I placed the candle right down on the carpet. Off to one side of my path, out of the way, but halfway to the bathroom.  The light was faint, but it made a big improvement. I could walk to the bathroom and back—in fact—anywhere in my living room—without fear of tripping. And with my hands free. Which meant I could carry something.

To test the light cast by the candle, I walked to my bookcase on the far wall. And searched for a certain book. It took me a minute but I had enough light to locate it. But not really a fair test. I knew approximately where the book was, and what size it was. But still. I was learning.

I was hungry. I hadn’t had supper. I picked up the big candle and placed it on the work counter I have across from my sink and stove. That is, right next to my fridge. And I placed the small candle by the sink. I already had a candle there, but it was dead now. I moved it out of the way.  I shifted both candles with their flames burning.

What to eat? I wanted something substantial. I picked out a can of baked beans. But no way to heat them. I remembered Vinnie—more about him in a minute. I opened the can, poured out half for myself, found some raw carrots and celery in the fridge that I had pre-cut into small pieces. I picked up a spoon and dug into my cold beans.

Now about Vinnie. Important for you to know about him.  Twenty-five years ago I had bought a big, 4-story brick building in Worcester. Bought it at auction. That was what I call the Real Estate Chapter in my life. I had read a book, “How to Make a Million Dollars in Real Estate in Your Spare Time.”  The book impressed me. I already had a going business. But I had a bit of spare time. And I liked the idea of making a million. I put what the book taught me into practice. Buying that empty, boarded-up building was part of that chapter in my life.

Suddenly I owned the building. Wasn’t sure what to do with it. Decided to convert it into condos. The condo craze was catching on. Hired an architect. He drew a plan. I converted the building into a new office for myself on the first floor, and eight condo apartments—two on each floor—above.

A big project. I had to assemble a work crew. The work started in late October, stretched all through the winter. A frigid winter. No heat of any kind in the building. The crew pounded away. Five rugged guys.

At noon they’d break for lunch. Would gather in one empty room in that great big building. Open their Thermos chests. Pick out hot chili, or beef stew, or whatever. Sit side by side on the floor, their backs against the wall, and eat. There in that frigid room. So cold that you could see your own breath. They’d also bring coffee and enjoy that with a donut or slice of pie.

Not Vinnie. He never brought a Thermos chest. He was 32 or so. Married with two kids. A good worker. He brought just a can of baked beans. A big can. He would plunk down next to the others. Open the can. Dig in with his spoon.He kept it next to the fat carpenter’s pencil in his overalls’ bib pocket. And eat his beans. Cold. Right down to the last bean and the last bit of juice. Didn’t even bring something to drink.

He worked for me five days a week, and brought a can of beans, same brand, every day. And ate the beans contentedly. With great relish. Just the beans. No bread. No veggies. Nothing else. He took a lot of kidding. It didn’t bother him. He’d give it right back.
“This will keep me goin’ nice all afternoon. You fellas should do the same. So easy. Saves lotta money. These beans are cold, sure, but they keep me nice and warm. You guys should do the same. But you’re too dumb! And hey, this makes it easier for my missus!”  I’d stop by now and then to say hello and check their progress. I saw this strange scene many times.

Now as I sat eating my own cold beans, I thought of Vinnie. He was right. This wasn’t a bad meal. Not bad at all. I had my veggies. A couple of ginger snaps plus a glass of milk.  The fridge wasn’t working but the milk wasn’t bad yet. And a crisp apple to bite into. Those beans would keep me warm.

Vinnie had taught me a lesson. The right attitude is all-important. Besides, I didn’t expect to have to eat cold beans five days straight as he did. I hoped not!

I hate dirty dishes in the sink. The water was still running, thank God. What a blessing. I washed everything and tidied up. The two candles gave me enough light. I enjoyed the dancing flames.

Came time for bed. I love to read for 15 minutes or so in bed before I turn off the light. I’m a creature of habit. I admit it. I decided to carry on my candle experiment. I blew out my big candle. Set up my small candle, still lit, on my bedside table. As close to the edge as I felt safe. So I’d be close to the candle. Changed into my pajamas and crawled in. It felt so good. I picked up—Noel Perrin’s “Solo,” which I was half-way through.

Perrin wrote terrific essays. He died about 10 years ago. Was a professor of English at Dartmouth up in Vermont. Was a city guy but bought an old, tired farm in the nearby village of Thetford. And took to farming. Got very good at it. Loved it. Became interested in energy conservation and environmental protection. Was fascinated by it. As a  hobby, studied it in depth. He was an expert of Robert Frost and his poetry, but started teaching this environmental stuff on the side at Dartmouth.Very avant-garde guy.

Heard of electric cars. This was some 30 years ago. Decided to buy one. Went to California to a small outfit that was turning out a few. Bought one. It could get only 40 miles or so on one charge. Installed solar panels on its roof as a booster when the sun shined. And decided to drive his new car—he named it Solo—clear across the country right home to Vermont.
A wonderful adventure. He had a hard time. The mountains were formidable. He actually had to buy a truck and tow Solo along some tough stretches. But finally home, he used Solo to commute to his classes at Dartmouth. Installed a solar panels on top of his barn to keep Solo’s batteries charged up. What a story!

Now I opened “Solo” to Chapter 9. Hard to see the type. I edged closer to the side of the bed. As close to the candle as possible. Still not good. I got up, and now using my flashlight, went to my pantry. Ripped off a piece of aluminum foil, then stapled it to a plain, manila office file. I propped up this reflector behind the candle, kept shifting the reflector for the best light on the bed.
Got back into bed, opened “Solo” again. The reading was tough going. I strained. Finished the chapter. But enough is enough. I closed the book and blew out the candle and pulled the covers way, way up. The room was definitely cool now. I pulled the covers right over my head. Wonderful.

I thought of Abraham Lincoln. How as a young guy he would study law books at night in his small, rough house. Study them by candlelight, mind you. Night after night, after a day’s work farming. And how he became the great man that we all admire.
I also marveled at the thousands of generations of people over countless centuries who were born and grew up and worked and lived and died with only natural daylight, so to speak. Oh, they had the light of the fire in their hearth, at night. That’s all. Firewood was precious. They used no more than they had to.

Candles were enormously expensive. And rare. Only the very rich could afford them. These folks got up just before the sun rose in order to make the most of the daylight. And went to bed quite soon after the sun went down. They stayed in bed far longer in the winter than the summer. Had to. They accepted that. No other choice. They knew no other life.

Imagine the world as a big onion. A huge, huge onion. Imagine that onion as the history of the world. Of mankind. And think of this: That thin, flimsy outer skin represents the only period of time in history when we have had real, reliable, effective artificial light, available by flicking a switch. All those generations of people under that outer skin never had it. Couldn’t even imagine it. Their first big break-through was spermaceti oil, from whales they pursued across the oceans. And that was only two centuries or so ago.

The next morning dawned gray. I looked out the window. The branches of the big trees were hardly moving. All the predictions were that Sandy’s powerful landfall would happen last night. I walked to the window. The storm seemed over. Could it be?
I had in mind only one thing. To get to Cumberland Farms the minute it opened. Gas would be running out. I wanted to tank up. Cumberland Farms was closed tight. An employee at the door said. “Go to Cumberland Farms in Centerbrook. They got gas. But don’t wait!”

I rushed there. It was jammed with cars and people. I did manage to tank up. Inside, I got a hot coffee. I had to wait in line for it.
Paying the clerk, I said, “What are you going to run out of first? Gas? Or coffee?” He managed a laugh. “We’ve got plenty of coffee. But gas? Not sure. We get our gas out of New Haven. And that don’t look good!”

I kept busy throughout the day, at this and that. I ate a cold lunch. Not the beans, by the way.n As night fell, I thought of supper. By then I remembered that somewhere I still had a one-burning propane camping stove left over from my camping days.  Plus a can of propane. In fact, two. They were small, but I wouldn’t waste.

Propane is notoriously dangerous. Where to set up the stove? I tried here and there. Finally I placed it right in my kitchen sink. That seemed safest. I put one of my fire extinguishers right next to it. And put a match to the nozzle. The stove fired up instantly–it  hadn’t been used in 15 years! Carbon monoxide can be a killer. But I planned to use it only 15 minutes. I didn’t even consider finishing my can of beans. I made myself a thick, hearty soup. Based on ramen noodles, I admit. Ramen noodles—that’s another great invention. I added chunks of tofu and spoonfuls of beans. Added chopped-up carrots and celery and some leftover cooked turnip and peas. Delicious!

The evening was young. I remembered Bob Johnson’s invitation. There are friends, and there are good friends. Bob is a good friend. We’re about the same age  tut have different backgrounds and that keeps things interesting. I knew Bob had electricity. “Come on over,” he told me. “Don’t be bashful.” Bob is a clever guy. He had anticipated. He has a big portable electric generator and he had it going.  He had lights, heat, the whole works. And I had just candlepower, so to speak..

I drove over. His lights were on. The only one lit up on the street, it seemed.  My arrival was a surprise, of course. But he gave me a great big “Hello! Come on in!” Our big topic was Sandy, of course. He was following the hurricane via the Internet!  progress.  He told me, “Just another hour or  so and we’ll really get walloped!” Scary! We talked and talked. He invited me to check my emails, which I did. How generous. I returned home. The wind was picking up. Trees and branches were swaying. It will be an awful night, I kept thinking.  Sandy was about to hit!

I lit only one tiny candle. It was time for bed. I pulled the covers up high over me.  Some light came in through the window. The branches were going crazy.  I kept thinking, What will it be like out there in the morning? In minutes I was sound asleep.
At dawn, I looked out first thing. How bad it was it? No shrill wind. Hardly and wind at all. No rain. The trees were still. Plain exhausted, I’m sure. This was the third morning—the height of the storm.! The storm seemed over. Gosh!

I had backed-up errands to do in Saybrook. I lost no time. I cleared my windshields of leaves and took off. Deep River was dramatically quiet. Few people out. On I drove.  I braced myself for Old Saybrook. The damage must be awful. But downtown was fine. I stopped by Burger King. Many people ahead of me. I heard about the huge damage along the coast. Two hundred people again had taken refuge in the high school gym for the night. I did my errands.

Then on to the Acton Library. It had been shuttered, of course. Now it was jammed. The parking lot was full. Every seat inside was taken. I understood. What’s more pleasant than a nice, welcoming library under harsh circumstances like these? I spent a long time there. Then I rode around a bit. I saw branches down. A tree or two. People were already out, raking and picking up. I drover closer to the coast. Much more tree damage. But I didn’t get to see any of the destruction and incredible that I later saw in the media.

It was nearly 6 when I returned to Deep River. A few lights were on, but isolated. These folks must have generators going, too. Cumberland Farm was dark.  The Town Hall had lights on but was closed.Our Deep River Library had lights, too, but also closed. But those lights boosted my hopes for Piano Works.  Then Piano Works appeared. A big black hulk, totally lifeless, against the night sky.

How could I explain that, with so many other lights on in town? I could not. What to do? I picked my way along the pitch-black hallway to my apartment with the narrow beam of my flashlight. Home, I lit a candle. Then another. What now? I was hungry. I lit my small burner and made myself a really decent supper.

The thought of  spending the long evening alone here by candle-light had lost its appeal. And I thought my experience with the candles might interest you. I decided to write it up for you. But where?  Impossible here. I blew out the candles, turned on my flashlight, and got to my car. And drove to my friend’s, Bob. His light would be aglow, of course. I brought along my laptop. He could watch TV. I’d sit in a corner and write this for you while it was fresh in my mind.

I was at Bob’s in five minutes. The whole house was black! What a disappointment. He must be at his son’s, Bob. What now? I really wanted to write this. To Burger King in Saybrook! It would be open. I even knew where I’d sit with my coffee.  There was a table and a chair at the far back—right next to an outlet. I could plug in there. Good. I needed an outlet. My netbooks battery would die in a jiffy.

I made my purchase and hurried to that favored table. Oops! A young guy was sitting there, his computer going, and it was plugged in. But it was a double outlet. Maybe I could plug in to the second outlet. But he had had something else connected there, too.

What frustration. A new idea. I returned to my car, put my laptop in it, and picked up a pad and pen. Chose another quiet corner. And began writing this the old-fashioned way. Longhand. And got it written. Well, in draft form.

By the time I was finished, it was bedtime.  I looked back. The young guy was gone. Maybe long gone. The plug was available. I had never noticed. So engrossed. I’d still have to type this. When power returned. That might be a few days off. Home I went. I expected nothing new. The same cold, bleak blackness. But! Piano Works had lights on. Not only at the front door. In many windows here and there. Wow! I Inside, the corridors were lit! had power in my place! I flipped on lights. Turned up the thermostat. After three days, life was back to normal. Hallelujah!

My experience was irritating. Yes, definitely. But I was so much luckier than so many others.  Some friends went without power for another two days.  And so many other folks suffered so much, as we know. Experienced devastating losses of property. Face a long struggle and severe financial challenges to fully recover.  If they all eventually do. Maybe you are one. I hope not. Two blessings.  One was that our local water supply did not seem affected. Mine ran strong and clean. And we didn’t have a severe cold snap. Like this recent one. That would have made Sandy even tougher.

And it made me appreciate Thomas Edison as never before. He gave us the modern electric bulb. How marvelous. Sandy reminded me of that. He gave us 100-candlepower bulbs! 200-candlepower! And with little risk of fire!

As I think back, Sandy taught me more than just what one candlepower is. I’m grateful for that.

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Essex Town Meeting Approves CRRA Lease and Police Budget Overrun

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday approved a new 15-year contract and a lease agreement with the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA), and a $106,574 overrun in the police budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The town meeting, held amid a developing early season snow storm, attracted only a handful of residents. All of the agenda items were approved on unanimous voice votes.

The resolution involving agreements with the regional trash authority included a new 15-year contract with CRRA for disposal of solid waste and recyclables, along with a new and updated agreement with CRRA for lease of a town parcel that houses the solid waste transfer station that serves a nine town region. The existing contract and lease agreement with the authority is set to expire later this month.

Under the agreements negotiated by First Selectman Norman Needleman and members of the sanitary waste commission, the town will receive up front payments totaling $229,721 for unpaid rent on the transfer station site, located on Dump Road off Route 154, along with several years of unpaid host town benefits that were promised when Essex agreed to be the host town for the authority’s regional transfer station.

The regional transfer station, which serves nine area towns in the former Connecticut River Estuary regional planning area, opened in the late 1980s. The facility compacts solid waste and collects recyclables from the area towns for compacting and trucking to the CRRA incinerator and collection site in Hartford.

Along with the back payments, the town will receive $15,000 per year in rent for the regional transfer station site, and a host town benefit of .54 cents per ton for each ton of material processed at the facility. The amount of the host town benefit would vary from year to year, but would have totalled about $37,000 from the 2012-2013 year. Essex would still be required to pay the authority a $59.50 per ton tipping fee for solid waste and recyclables from the town that are processed at the facility.

The $106,574 overrun in the 2012-2013 police budget resulted largely from overtime, including all of the overtime for a second resident state trooper that was retained in 2011 when the force of local police officers was understaffed because two officers were on leave for various reasons.

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Democrats Carry Chester, Deep River and Essex Despite Senate Loss for Crawford

AREAWIDE— Led by the Obama/Biden presidential ticket, Democrats carried all races on the ballot Tuesday in Chester, Deep River, and Essex, despite narrow margins in the 33rd Senate District race that contributed to the defeat of Democratic nominee Jim Crawford.

Crawford, a former teacher and state representative from Westbrook, lost to Republican nominee Art Linares Jr., a 24 year-old businessman and former U.S. Senate intern, in a race where Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag pulled nearly 10 percent of the total vote. Linares, also a Westbrook resident, carried seven of the 12 district towns, including Clinton, Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Lyme, and portions of the district in Old Saybrook. Crawford carried Chester, Deep River, Essex, Portland, and Westbrook.

The unofficial final result, including Colchester numbers that were not available Tuesday night, are Linares- 26,896, Crawford- 21,220, and Schlag- 4,316. Crawford carried Essex by only a single vote, 1,750 for Linares to 1,749 for Crawford, with 243 votes for Schlag. The vote in Chester was Linares- 795, Crawford-976, and Schlag-229. In Deep River, it was Linares-1,052, Crawford-1,079, and Schlag-195.

Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller carried the three area towns on his way to winning a full term in the 36th House District over Republican Vince Pacileo. Miller, a former four-term first selectman of Essex, had 2,210 votes in Essex to 1,588 for Pacileo, also a former town selectman. The Chester result was 1,315 for Miller to 676 for Pacileo. In Deep River, it was 1,419 for Miller to 894 for Pacileo. The total result was 7,105 for Miller to 5,352 for Pacileo, with Pacileo carrying Haddam.

In the presidential results, Democrats Obama/Biden carried Essex, with 2,230 votes for Obama/Biden to 1,701 votes for Republicans Romney/Ryan. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had 29 votes. In Chester, it was Obama/Biden-1,380, Romney/Ryan-707, and 16 votes for Johnson. In Deep River, it was Obama/Biden-1,479, Romney/Ryan-932 and 16 votes for Johnson.

Democrat Chris Murphy carried the three towns in the U.S. Senate race. for Essex, Murphy-2,060, Republican Linda McMahon-1,650 and Libertarian Paul Passarelli-94. For Chester, Murphy-1,270, McMahon-711, and Passarelli-53. For Deep River, Murphy-1,354, McMahon-984, and Passarelli-63.

Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney carried the three towns to win a fourth term in the 2nd Congressional District. In Essex, it was Courtney-2,418 votes to 1,293 votes for Republican challenger Paul Formica. In Chester, Courtney-1,481, Formica-481. In Deep River, it was Courtney-1,629, Formica-658. Green Party candidatre Colin Benett had 38 votes in Essex, 45 in Chester, and 43 in Deep River. Libertarian Roger Reale had 49 votes in Essex, 18 in Chester, and 25 in Deep River.

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State Representative Phil Miller Wins a Full Term; Saddened by Running Mate’s Loss

State Representative Phil Miller smiles wearily at his victory celebration on Election Night at the Griswold Inn in Essex

Although State Representative Phil Miller won his race by a comfortable margin, the fact that his running mate for State Senator, Jim Crawford, lost, cast a pall over his own victory. In beating his Republican opponent, Vin Pacileo, Miller won with a comfortable margin of over 1,700 votes.

Early totals had Miller receiving 7,083 votes to Pacileo’s 5,344 votes. In his 36th House district race Miller carried the towns of Essex, Deep River and Chester. However, he lost Haddam to his Republican opponent.

Looking ahead Miller said that among other environmental issues, he would work to clean up existing pollution sites in the state. Miller is presently the Vice Chair of the House’s Environmental Committee. He said that at the next session he might attain the post as Chair of the committee.

Miller also said that he had no regrets about his sending out a letter to constituents during the campaign, pointing out that in the 33rd district State Senate race that a vote for Green Party candidate Melissa Schlag could lead to the election of the Republican candidate.   This is of course exactly what happened.

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