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HOME January 2009

A Home for Life Coaxing the Sublime From the Neglected

Polling Your Neighbors And the Voters Came

A Builder’s Masterpiece In Greenfield Hills

Home of the Month Built for Today ... with Yesterday’s Charm Wilton

The Darien Times The Ridgefield Press The Weston Forum The Lewisboro Ledger

David Ames photo

Greenwich Post New Canaan Advertiser The Wilton Bulletin The Redding Pilot

Vol. XIII, Number 1

A Hersam Acorn Special Section


Winter Sale

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January 2009


FROM THE SOMEWHAT NEGLECTED

Coaxing the sublime by Janis Gibson Usually, antique houses have been added onto over the years, expanding with the addition of children or other family members, or to meet the needs of today. The opposite is true of a 4,500-square-foot Federal Colonial, built in 1790, on Black Rock Turnpike near Cross Highway in Redding. A headline on the front page of The New York Times, October 21, 1956 declared, “A ‘House’ Divided: An Old School Makes Three Homes.” The story described how the former preparatory school – known as the Sanford School when it closed in the late 1920s, which then became the Ridgewold Inn, a vacation spot during the summer – had been divided, with the main section, built in 1790, staying in place. The wing that housed class rooms and dorm rooms was split and moved to three-acre sites nearby. The original structure remained on 2.9 acres. The parts were sold “as is,” and the article said that “buyers are expected to make improvements” – including plumbing and water connections, wiring, heating plants and septic, and the two moved sections needed kitchens. The See Neglected page 8

What began as a private school is now a luxurious home, beautifully restored.

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January 2009

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WINDOW I ON I REAL I ESTATE ■

Mortgages: Standards tightened, but money still available by Jane K. Dove Today’s real estate market is “a perfect storm” for would-be homebuyers. Declining prices, eager sellers, a wealth of inventory, and low mortgage interest rates all contribute. But many buyers believe getting a mortgage is an impossible task. “Not so,” says Terry Hastings, president of Hamilton Mortgage of Ridgefield. “Lenders have returned to ‘pre-boom’ standards, but mortgage money is out there for qualified buyers.” This is despite the fact that a mini-tsunami of change has overtaken the lending industry, sweeping away many of the lax underwriting practices and “exotic” products available during the real estate boom years. Tighter Standards “I work with 55 different banks and lenders to obtain mortgage financing for my clients,” Terry says. “Today, most require two years of income tax returns, your last two

months of bank statements, recent pay stubs, 20% down, and a credit score of over 680. This is a big change from just a year or two ago.” Terry says about 80% of lenders have gone back to the old “show me your paperwork” lending standards. Low Rates But although standards are tougher, the current low interest rates could finally breathe life back into the housing market. “As of December, interest rates were about 5% for a conventional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, and just above 6% for a “jumbo,” he says. “These rates are historically low and should attract buyers back into the market.” Terry says buyers need to overcome “the fear factor” when contemplating buying a home. “It’s true that we are not seeing the enormous home-price appreciation that took place from 2002 to 2006, but that does not mean that your home will not gain in value over the next several years,” he says. He cites a condominium unit in Casagmo in Ridgefield that sold for $124,000 in 1987, the year the previous real-estate downturn got underway. “The owner sold the unit for $75,000 in the early 1990s,” he says. “At the height of the boom, it was worth about $240,000. The latest appraisal was for $190,000, still well above the original purchase price.” Big Gains Now On Hold Terry says today’s homebuyers have to abandon the idea that the value of their homes is going to increase by double-digits, year after year.

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Many financial experts say such a phenomenon may never happen again. Therefore, homebuyers should take a longer view and see their homes as places to live, rather than a piggy bank or investment that is going to yield a quick return. Historically, home prices have gone up along with the rate of inflation, something in the neighborhood of 4% to 5% a year. Terry says this pattern will probably reassert itself. “Along with huge year-over-year price gains, the ‘flipping’ era is definitely over and done with for now,” he says. “The mortgage products that made flipping possible are not out there. Non-traditional mortgage products such as no-money-down and interest-only have largely faded from the scene. Even in special circumstances, lenders want a down payment of at least 3%.”

“Negative amortization mortgages are dead, as they should be. No- documentation mortgages are very limited, but a few are still available to some customers.” Overcome Buying Jitters Terry says most buyers in our area will be able to obtain a mortgage and should not be reluctant to buy. “Everything is now in their favor,” he says. “Most people I deal with are gainfully employed, have good credit, a down payment, and are financially stable. The decision to buy or not to buy should not be driven by what the media say about the housing market. It should be driven by what is in the financial best interest of the prospective buyer.”

See Window on Real Estate page 11

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

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HOME I MOANER ■

Learning curve by Ben Guerrero

Ben Guerrero

Late in the 1960s, inspired by a student film I saw on television, I convinced my mother to buy me a used Beaulieu 8 mm movie camera at a tag sale. I was going to do some animated films. I was going to become famous. Unfortunately, I soon found out that film animation took a great deal of discipline and patience, two alien concepts to the me of then and the me of now. I was able to assemble quite a body of work, the Beaulieu, or a series of other cameras, never far from my side. It pains me to report that a majority of the animated work disappeared into the vapor, but by the time I moved on to other obsessions – like the video camera – I had many, many reels of priceless images from my checkered past stored in an old cedar chest on a shelf in the basement. Then we went to Europe last summer. I decided that if I could find a small

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January 2009


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See Home Moaner page 23

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space and all sorts of nifty software, and, sure enough, it happily digested the Europe video, edited it and played it back. I could even “burn” a DVD, some of the time, when the new computer approved of my blank disk. I was eager to start working on the old family films, but I immediately discovered that while I was able to watch the DVDs, I was unable to immediately pull the contents apart to edit them. I had to download some sort of “freeware” to make that happen, and even then, I was required to magically know the right settings to apply to the program to make the results usable. There were calls to Apple, many trials, many errors, and finally I was going strong. But wait! This video data takes up tons and tons of space on my huge hard drive, so I went back to Cost Mo and bought myself a “Terror-byte” of extra space to store all this stuff. Then I finally sat down and started to edit all the hours of material. As with all modern software packages, there was very little documentation in the box. I tried to do what I wanted to do, but I was constantly hitting brick walls. On the Internet, teenagers, the front line of software education, posted “how-to” videos that made it look incredibly simple when they did it. In spite of copious notes, however, and watching the clip repeatedly, I just can’t quite perform with the same innocent aplomb as the slacker cyber-teens who make it look so damn simple.

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video camera that could fit in my pocket, I’d buy it and bring it along. After capturing the highlights of the trip, I could load all the footage into my computer and edit it into nice DVDs for future generations – future generations who undoubtedly will no longer have access to equipment to view the ancient DVD format. So I did and I tried, but my ancient Dell, sort of a Frankenstein’s monster of a computer – put together over the years from assorted harvested parts from the cadavers of other computers – proved to be incapable of handling the video files. Much of the video technology had been developed since the old Dell came off the assembly line. It was the electronic equivalent of trying to remove a lug nut with a dessert spoon. So, I finally broke down and bought a Mac. I have resisted the Apple product line because I have been hammering away on PCs for more than 20 years. I remember learning DOS commands and scoffing at the concept of a mouse. When Windows came out, I scratched my head, again perplexed. “Why would anyone need that?” I sneered sarcastically. But I gradually incorporated many of the technological advances into my daily life, and when I say daily life, I mean all day long, in my face. Even as a nurse, I do most of my work with a mouse in my hand, clicking away at health care. Then one day, right as I walk into “Cost Mo,” there is an offer to transfer all my old 8 mm films into DVDs! So I take them up on the offer and in a month I get the transfers back. Now I can edit all the old films into wonderful DVD Christmas presents! So, I sat down at the Mac. Virgin territory. All was very smiling and happy. The new Mac had buckets of

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Neglected continued from page 3

Janis Gibson

Wherever you look, there are details to delight, and the craftsmanship is outstanding,

seller was asking $36,500 for the 18-room main house, which was listed as having 13 bedrooms, and said it “would take about $10,000 to restore the house, which should make it worth about $65,000.” “The house was still listed as having 13 bedrooms when we bought it in 1999,” laughed Jim McAvey, “but eight of them were the old dorm rooms on the third floor.” Keeping the largest as a bedroom, Jim and his wife, Ann, use the other rooms for storage and special use. For example, one is outfitted as a gift-wrapping room and another serves as an exercise room. The bathroom on this level also houses the laundry. Living in Weston at the time, the McAveys purchased the somewhat neglected house as “a project,” and set about restoring it to its former grandeur. Whether by casual glance or in-depth walk-through, it is quickly evident they succeeded. In the foyer, most all of the spindles had to be replaced on the handrail, although the rail itself was intact. A wall was removed between the foyer and dining room, creating a welcoming openness, and a traditionally carved mantel was added to the fireplace. The nine-foot ceilings on the lower level also add to the feeling of spacious. The home, which is warm and inviting (thanks to Ann’s decorating skill), has six working fireplaces, one

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HOME Vol.XIII, Number 1 is a special section to: Greenwich Post, The Darien Times, New Canaan Advertiser, The Ridgefield Press, The Wilton Bulletin, The Redding Pilot and The Weston Forum in Connecticut, and The Lewisboro Ledger in New York • 50,000 copies published monthly • Jackie Perry, editor Jessica Perlinski, designer • Thomas B. Nash, publisher • For advertising information, call 203-438-6544 • For information on editorial submissions, call 203-894-3380 E-mail: home@acorn-online.com • Extra copies are available free at the Hersam Acorn office, 16 Bailey Avenue, Ridgefield, Conn. (behind the town hall) Copyright 2009, Hersam Acorn Newspapers, LLC

Box 1019 Ridgefield, Conn 06877 203-438-6544

January 2009


in a bedroom that also has its own deck. There is a beehive oven in the crispwhite and soft-blue breakfast room, which originally served as the kitchen. The current kitchen is state-of-the-art with dual ovens and dishwashers, wine cooler, Jenn-Aire cooktop, and Sub-Zero refrigerator. The cooking island opens into a causal seating area, windowed on two sides, which offers wonderful views of the yard with its formal English gardens, tennis court, 20- by 40-foot gunite pool (which Ann and Jim installed), and putting green. There is a wide mahogany deck hugging this room, replaced three years ago, which can be accessed in two places, as well as from the living room. The flow provided was meant for entertaining. The 18-by-23-foot living room features a floor-to-ceiling bay window that was added when the connecting wing was removed in 1956. “We live in the back of the house,” said Jim, “and despite being close to the road, it is very private. It feels like an escape from the world.” The tall privet hedge that runs the length of the property (which appear as short bushes in a 1910 photo) adds to the feeling of seclusion. Ann and Jim did make one addition to the house, creating a cozy room with marble countertop in a space that used to house the building’s fire escape. A The wall between the foyer and the dining room was removed to create a welcoming openness. weathervane-topped cupola brings in light. It would serve nicely as a butler’s pantry or, as now, a collection showcase. Handpainted pottery, mementos of trips to Nantucket, are currently on display. ������������������� The window over the kitchen sink, which overlooked the yard before the addition, was replaced with a large oval window, and combined with the cupola helps bring sunlight into the kitchen. Four bedrooms and a family room occupy the second floor. Two of the bedrooms and the family room can serve as a suite for teenagers or an area for guests. When the bathrooms were updated, heated marble floors were added to three of them. The floors are a combination of hardwood and carpeting. “You have to remember that this building was a school and dorm,” said Jim. “When we moved in, what wasn’t wood was linoleum, so with everything else we were doing, we just carpeted over it. If someone wanted to look, I suspect wood floors might be found beneath everything else.” Design elements from its original construction remain, including the doors and hardware on several closets, and the “glory holes” over the fireplace in the den, which has faux-book wallpaper on either side of the fireplace. With their children now adults and off on their own, this 15-room house has become too large for Ann and Jim. For information, call Gail Lilley ��������������������������������������������������� Zawacki at Coldwell Banker’s Westport ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� office, 203-227-8424 or 203-2214430, or view.gailzawacki.com and click ��������������� ��������������� on My Listings. ■

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January 2009

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INTO I THE I GARDEN ■

Plant them ... pot and all by Donna Clark

Donna Clark photos

With devoted care, fuchsia will last into October.

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

This is usually the month to start an exercise and diet program. It’s the same every January ... here come the magazines with a new diet or walking program. This is the month I start walking, or riding my stationary bike, and cutting back on calories. This routine will last till the end of March when the gardening year starts and I’ll get all my exercise in a productive way. When you are working in the garden, time just flies by, and you get plenty of exercise and fresh air. Another benefit is a natural dose of Vitamin D from the sun. I received a sample of the new StrawPot, the first 100% biodegradable pot made from rice straw, coconut fiber and natural latex, and available in three-inch, five-inch and one-quart sizes. Come summer, be sure to look for these green pots at nurseries and other garden centers. All you need do is place the pot with plant right into the hole, and it will degrade quickly. Of course, the pots cost more than plastic, but they don’t end up in the garbage. Contact the company at thestrawpot.com. Keep in mind that these pots are sold only by the case. The Tutti Frutti series of Achillea was new last summer, and I planted several in the gardens I maintain. This series is a Blooms of Bressingham introduction that produces large, colorful flowers on sturdy, compact stems. I chose Apricot Delight, and it bloomed for almost the entire summer, at a height of 12 to 18 inches. I didn’t stake it, and had to prop up just a few stems when they were in full bloom. This plant did not do well in the gardens with sprinkler systems since Achillea prefers to be a little drier. This series also comes in Pink Grapefruit, Pomegranate and Wonderful Wampee. Don’t you just love those names? To answer questions about nonblooming hydrangeas, here’s some information from Lorraine Ballato at the Cooperative Extension office in Bethel. Even the Endless Summer hydrangeas did not bloom as much as they should have because we had so much rain. They put more growth into vegetative and not enough into flower production. Not much we can do about too much rain – maybe an umbrella over the plant? There is a new Vista Supertunia for 2009 that I will be trying out in my gardens. As you know if you are a regular reader, there is Vista Fuchsia and Vista Bubblegum, and now there is Vista Silverberry. They combine well but may also be used separately. This is the best petunia out there, because there is no deadheading and it also has fragrance. January 2009


Another new annual is a zinnia called Zahara. This is a short plant, growing to 12 inches, and it is comparable to the Zinnia Profusion series. These zinnias bloom with larger flowers and are the first ones to come in yellow and scarlet colors. They are available from my annual wholesaler, and I will certainly try this one. Do you love the hanging baskets of fuchsias as much as I do? I buy at least two of them in May and keep them going through until the heavy freeze in October. There is a procedure you need to follow to accomplish this, and I’ll gladly let you in on it. They need to be in partial shade, and you need to water them every day. Avoid putting them where they will get afternoon sun or heavy wind (such as hanging them from a tree). They need to be cut back when they start to get leggy and full of seed heads. Then feed them with a liquid fertilizer. You may need to cut them back a couple of times during the summer. It is a challenge, but with just a little special attention, they will continue to look beautiful. The girls who work with me enjoy sharing good books, and Virginia just passed one on to me that’s a good read – The Lost Gardens of Heligan by Tim Smit, published by Indigo, Orion Books in London. There was an article about it in The New York Times in 2005 (I guess it takes Virginia a few years to get through her reading list). It’s the story of the restoration of an 80-acre garden in Cornwall, England. I loved the book, and if I were going to England, I would visit this garden. It has a two-acre brick-walled vegetable garden, which is planted with seeds dating to 1905 and beyond. While exploring old greenhouses, the restorers discovered that one had been used to grow pineapples. They were grown in pits heated by decaying horse manure, which was laboriously shoveled in by hand – 30 tons of it – several times each season. The original estate was well maintained until 1914, when almost all the workers marched off to war in France. Reading this book reminded me of walking some of the old estates in Ridgefield. They had been submitted for subdivision, and I was on the Conservation Commission. Lillian Willis, another commission member, and I would walk through the ruins of the greenhouses and walled gardens and almost wish we had been born at an earlier time. ■

Window on Real Estate continued from page 5 Prospective buyers need to make informed decisions based on their own personal financial circumstances, Terry says. “The newspapers and television have a gloom and doom approach that keeps many buyers out of the market. This is too bad, because people that buy now will be very happy with their purchase several years down the line.” In addition to buying a home, now is the best time in several years to refinance an existing mortgage, Terry says. Statistics show a recent spike in home refinancing because of the sharp downturn in interest rates. “If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage or a fixed rate mortgage at 7% or so, now is the time to refinance,” he says. “Depending on the size of your mortgage, you can save substantial amount and significantly lower your monthly payments.” Hamilton Mortgage, 724 Danbury Road, 203-438-9445. ■

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Achillea Apricot Delight is a large, sturdy plant that blooms throughout the summer.

January 2009

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Built for tod with yesterda

LOCATION: This architecturally design well situated on a spacious, level lot in W PROPERTY: Set back from the road on t of mature trees, a picturesque stone wall, cular drive. HOUSE: There are many outstanding fea home, beginning with the welcoming wra custom details include vaulted and nine-f bow/bay windows. On the main level is a room, family room with fireplace, den, ea with stone floor, and screened porch. On room with walk-in closet and bath, two b closets, a fourth with walk-in closet, and There are two half- baths. GARAGE: T PRICE: $2,3 REALTY: R Agent: Debo Photography


day ... ay’s charm

ned cedar-shake Colonial-style house is Wilton. two acres, this home has a backdrop lush gardens, tiered patios, and a cir-

atures in this Craftsman-designed aparound porch. Moving inside, the foot ceilings, hardwood floors and a living room with fireplace, dining at-in kitchen with pantry, sunroom n the second level is the master bedbedrooms with baths and walk-in a great room with a cathedral ceiling.

Three-car attached. 395,000. Realty Seven Inc. orah Estes, 762-5548. y: David Ames.

Home of the Month: January 2009


What sets J. Tallman Builders apart is its devotion to every aspect of construction, from floor plan, cabinetry and fixtures to choice of materials, family preferences and follow-up oversight. The company’s management skills and precise planning make it a great example of ‘the best costs less.’

A masterpiece of the builder’s art IN GREENFIELD HILLS by Lois Alcosser This is not just a magnificent property with specimen trees. This is a specimen house – an example of an extraordinary builder’s philosophy based on uncompromising excellence and a responsibility for continuity in the builder/ owner relationship. What sets J. Tallman Builders apart is its devotion to every aspect of construction, every inch of the way: floor plan, room size, ceilings, entries, cabinetry, fixtures, choice of materials, family preferences, follow-up oversight. Every aspect reflects a breadth of experience and taste. For example, J. Tallman Builders has its own mill, which produces all the cabinetry and mill work, and they have developed specific, exclusive software to give clients 24-hour access to every detail of construction. The home at 3926 Congress Street, in the elite Greenfield Hills area of Fairfield, epitomizes the artistry of the Tallman team, which has been together for 30 years, producing outstanding Fairfield County homes ranging from authentic early American reproductions to contemporary designs. This particular 10-acre property includes a main house with a new interior, renovated three-bedroom cottage, pool pavilion and new post-and-beam barn. Each element offers the aesthetic delight of handcrafted, traditional details combined with the most advanced technology.

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

Imagine this. You’re brushing your teeth in a luxurious marble radiant-heated bathroom, and in the mirror there’s the day’s TV weather report. Or this. You’re in bed in the master bedroom suite, overlooking an expanse of gardens and listening to Mozart, while your son, in his room, is listening to his favorite rock band – typical J. Tallman touches to provide everyday pleasure. Add a state-ofthe-art media room, four-season sunroom, pool house/spa, kitchen with fireplace, humidity-controlled wine cellar, exercise room, and much more. The classic beauty of this home is tangible upon opening the front door. The first thing you notice is the beautiful entry floor, a hand-stenciled inlaid pattern created by Mr. Tallman’s daughter, who is well-known for her faux painting, which is also seen in the subtle, linen-like dining-room wallpaper and the Venetian-textured wall of the entry powder room. There is a butler’s pantry that’s as complete as a kitchen, but the actual kitchen is a story in itself – white Carrara marble counters and island, with Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances artfully concealed behind custom cabinetry. The kitchen is part of a spacious family room, with built-in desk and cabinets, fireplace, and a stunning view. It’s a Tallman response to the universal desire for cooking and conversation to be together.

January 2009


Upstairs is the master bedroom suite with a dressing room/closet the size of a small room, fireplace and balcony. Luxurious, but not flamboyant (another characteristic of J. Tallman), providing generous space without being uncomfortably overwhelming. Three guest bedrooms have their own distinctive bathrooms, and there’s also a bedroom suite with private bath for an au pair, special relative or guest, or a playroom, with a separate back entrance. Philip Halligan, who has been managing the property for 20 years, knows the history of every tree, bush and flower. He’ll also tell you the history of the stone wall surrounding the backyard – “the flattest area in Fairfield County.” It’s not just a stone wall. There are openings leading to pathways and boardwalks through the woods and orchards to explore nature in your own backyard. The Congress Street house is one of the most notable examples of J. Tallman Builders’ creativity, which gives each client a full-time project manager who is available from start to finish. In-house coordinators assist with every detail, be it the choice of plumbing fixtures, decorative hardware or lighting. Sub-contracting, deliveries and construction are supervised daily, so that time is utilized most efficiently. This line of communication results in projects that run smoothly and finish within budget. J. Tallman Builders’ management skills and precise planning make it a great example of “the best costs less.” Signature details from doorknobs to skylights, coffered ceilings to breezeways all add up to what deservedly may be called a masterpiece of building. For more information, call Julie Vanderblue, Christie’s Great Estates, 203-2576994 or visit vanderblue.com; or Michelle Smith at J. Tallman Builders, 203-2541971, jtallman.com. ■

Handcrafted traditional details are on display in the new post-and-beam barn.

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RACKING I ONE’S I BRAIN ■

New drinks raise spirits during downturn by Tim Murphy House-infused liquors; the Spicy Peach; cocktails incorporating hibiscus, jasmine, oolong and chai; pomegranate with anything; locatails; miso lagers ... all intriguing, but all so 2008. As 2009 dawns, it’s time for mixologists to devise concoctions that capture the nation’s zeitgeist. And with the economy on everyone’s mind, here are seven creations to try sometime before Oct. 29, the 80th anniversary of the stock-market crash that set off the Great Depression. The Purple Housing Bubble Ingredients: Grape vodka, champagne, grape juice, ice pick, dry ice. Directions: Mix vodka, champagne and grape juice together in a glass. Use ice pick to shave off dry ice. Continue adding dry ice until drink bubbles over side, leaving glass 5% to 8% empty. Add considerably more dry ice if serving in Florida or California. Madoff Margarita Ingredients: None of your own needed.

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Directions: Borrow coarse salt and some ice cubes from a neighbor. Ask another neighbor if they have a spare blender, some triple sec, and two six-ounce cans of frozen limeade concentrate. See if an acquaintance has a favorite brand of tequila and ask them to buy you a bottle as an early birthday present. Combine tequila, triple sec and limeade concentrate in blender. Put ice cubes in blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a glass with salted rim. Serve 10% of margarita to first neighbor. Encourage them to rave about drink at country club, book club, PTA meeting, etc. Repeat directions using new contacts, then new contacts after that, and so on. Best enjoyed while wearing bathrobe and slippers, but drink responsibly: Remember to lock penthouse door. Will eventually serve $50 billion, and then possibly 10 to 20. The CDO (Collected Drink Offering) Ingredients: One large pitcher, enough storage/refrigeration room for several good-sized vats, lots of nights out and party invitations. Directions: Attend as many happy hours and social gatherings as possible over a two-year period. Notice when people have finished their drinks and pour any remaining liquid into pitcher before bartender removes glass. Don’t worry about mixing. Once pitcher is full, return home and pour into vat. When vats are full, market CDO as next big exotic drink and sell at various price points. Likely to prove popular with bank executives and formerly emerging countries looking to emerge again.

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

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Big Three Side(of the road)car Ingredients: 1 oz. Cointreau, 1oz. brandy, 1 oz. lemon juice. Directions: Disregard suggested volume of ingredients, which are used primarily in Tokyo Efficient Sidecar. Shake 400 gallons of Cointreau, 600 gallons of brandy and 3,000 hectoliters of lemon juice with ice and strain. Hire liquid conversion expert at $500 per hour to explain what hectoliter is and still remain unsure. Strain into cocktail glass that holds 4.5 ounces. Hire clean-up crew at $300 per hour to mop up large spill. Repeat over and over until bankrupt. Stock Market Shot Ingredients: Some friends, a working television with cable, whisky of choice, several shot glasses, cell phone. Directions: Gather with friends right after work and watch CNN, Bloomberg TV or Jim Cramer’s Mad Money. Do shot of whisky every time you hear the following phrases: Asset-backed securities, subprime meltdown, toxic debt, creditdefault swaps, stimulus package, rising layoffs, Wall Street to Main Street, liquidity crunch. Do two shots whenever you hear “heading toward another Great Depression.” Drink entire bottle if Cramer says, “We’re still in a bear market.” Use cell phone to call in sick the next day.

Absinthe An Explanation Ingredients: Train ticket to Manhattan, most recent 401(k) statement, unopened. Directions: Take train to Manhattan and head to one of various bars, many on Lower East Side, now legally serving absinthe, an anise-flavored drink banned domestically from 1912 until 2007 because of its purported psychoactive properties. Have bartender prepare several flaming absinthe shots. Drink rapidly. Unseal 401(k) statement and look for Total, which appears under current balance. Hope you actually are hallucinating. Recessionary Rum & Coke Ingredients: 1.5 ozs. rum, 5 ozs. cola, one faucet. Directions: Put rum away before using. On second thought, don’t open cola either. Take out regular drinking glass. Place under faucet. Turn on cold water. Add ice if needed. Don’t even think about adding slice of lemon. Splurge by sipping through straw on payday only. ■

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

17


A home for life by Wyn L. Lydecker

Wyn L. Lydecker

Alyssa Israel chats with Ev Gidley at Palmer’s Market in Darien about Aging in Place, a program to keep seniors in their homes for as long as possible.

Estelle Watson has lived in Darien all her married life. She and her husband raised their four children in the town, sending them through the public schools. Even though Estelle has witnessed many changes over the past 60 years, she isn’t about to leave the community any time soon. “Despite the differences between ‘then’ and ‘now’, Darien is still the friendly small town that says HOME. I’m here to stay!” she wrote in an e-mail correspondence. Estelle is more confident in her ability to remain in her home because of a new organization called Aging in Place in Darien (AIPD). “How comforting to know that there is a resource like Aging in Place to help,” she said. AIPD is a pilot program, run by the Community Fund of Darien, that is designed to help seniors who want to remain in their homes as long as possible.

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

– Complete Excavation Services – Drainage Systems – Driveways – Lawn Installation – Masonry/Stonewalls – Walkways/Patios – Material Delivery – Trees/Shrubs – Complete Landscape Services

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Similar groups, predominately independent nonprofits, are springing up in our immediate area. Greenwich has At Home in Greenwich, New Canaan has Staying Put in New Canaan and Northeast Westchester has ALOFT. Ridgefield, North Stamford and Westport are now all in the planning stages for creating nonprofit groups with nearly identical missions. Fairfield County also has some older agencies that have been helping seniors for decades. These include Senior Services of Stamford and Southwestern CT Agency on Aging. The sudden increase in nonprofits to help seniors remain at home is part of a national movement that reflects the longevity revolution, demographic trends and evolving attitudes. Dr. Robert Butler, a leading gerontologist, notes that the human life span increased by 30 years during the past century. With Baby Boomers entering retirement age, nearly one in five Americans – 71.5 million people – will be over age 65 by 2030. And according to an AARP survey, 80% of people over 55 would prefer to stay in their homes as they age. News about the desire to stay put spread rapidly after The New York Times ran an article in 2006 about Beacon Hill Village (BHV), a nonprofit in the Beacon Hill and Back Bay areas of Boston that was started by older residents to create a virtual retirement community within the existing wider community. BHV achieves this goal by acting as a concierge service, connecting seniors with the services they need and providing organized social activities. BHV charges annual membership fees and conducts fund raising to support its infrastructure.

Aging In Place Aging in Place in Darien started after members of the Human Services Planning Council (part of the Community Fund of Darien) read about BHV and created a task force to look into how well seniors in Darien were already being served. The task force conducted seven focus groups with 65 seniors to discover their needs and attitudes. It then held a summit of service providers to determine the current means for meeting those needs and created committees to address the gaps. The group decided not to follow the Beacon Hill model. Instead, membership is free, and the program uses a part-time coordinator, Alyssa Israel, who works out of the Community Fund’s offices. Temporary funding comes from the Community Fund. Alyssa, who is a public health professional, said, “I just love this job because I love to help people, and seniors in particular. I enjoy talking to seniors and learning from their experience. This is such a tremendous and exciting community effort. I think Aging in Place is sure to be a success because we have over 40 people involved from agencies and the community who meet regularly and volunteer See A Home for Life page 22

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POLLING YOUR NEIGHBORS

And the voters came by Polly Tafrate How hard could it be? I asked myself when I contemplated volunteering to work at the polls on Election Day. The people sitting behind long cafeteria-type tables, their ice chests and thermoses lined up against the wall behind them, made being an election inspector look easy. And the stipend they’re paid must add to their willingness to track voters as they sit in a school gym or firehouse for 16 hours. Like the rest of the nation, I was excited about this presidential race. It was going to be an historic one, and for two states it would be doubly so. For New Yorkers this would be the last year of the lever-pull machines, and for those living in Connecticut, it would be the inauguration of optical-scan voting. I was picky, wanting to work only at a polling place in my hometown of Lewisboro. I was assured of this at the two-hour training session I attended in June. It did occur to me then, with the election six months away, that I might forget some of the rules and regulations, so I started taking notes in the thick instruction manual we were given. It was the “what-if ” situations that were causing me angst. Given that recent elections have hung on a chad or two, I didn’t want to be working in a district called into question. At the completion of the course, we were sworn in before taking a written test.

C A R P E T I N G • N AT U R A L S T O N E

The Saturday before the election I attended a shorter inspection class meeting. Most of the people there appeared to have worked at the polls before, but New York state requires everyone to attend yearly trainings. On Election Eve, I looked over my materials. I was ready, or so I thought. Here’s how the day went. 5:30 a.m. Arrive at the polls to set up. Three districts are voting in this school gym. A large, red bag on my table contains all the materials we’ll need – keys to open the voting machine, signs to post inside and outside the school, an American flag to hang, two poll-roster books of registered voters, the sample voting machine, stacks of sample, affidavit and emergency ballots, tacks, tape, pens, Post-it notes, stickers saying “I voted,” other stickers entitling the voter to a free Starbucks coffee, and, thankfully, a thick loose-leaf reference manual, three times as thick as the one we were given. By law there must be two registered Republicans and two Democrats working for each district. Assigned to my table were two beautiful young women not far removed from teenagehood, a gal whose sister went to school with my son, and me, the grandmother of the group. 5:45 a.m. Panic! A line is forming outside. My training floats out of my brain – no time to consult the manuals. An inspector from across the gym sees my distress and helps me open the machine, and set the number counter.

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

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6:00 a.m. Bombardment! A mass of people, looking like they have a train to catch, flood the gym. The air becomes electric as we sign them in, record their name, address and voter number and send them to the right booth. 6:30 a.m. A gentleman arrives with donuts and coffee for all the workers. We thank him for his generosity but are too busy to give him the praise he deserves. 7-8 a.m. Rush hour is over. A steady stream of voters appears, but the frenzied feeling of the past hour dissipates. The four of us become a team, each doing our jobs – one has the roster book A-L, the other M-Z, the third one is the recorder ,and the fourth monitors the voting booth. 8-9 a.m. Enough time for a cup of coffee, a donut. Nirvana! 10:10 a.m. The 200th voter registers. Someone finds our name tags in the bottom of the red bag. We slap them on our chests. 10:45 a.m. No one. I cross the gym to vote in my district before we get slammed again. 11 a.m. I relieve the gal doing voting-booth duty so she can drive to her district to vote. I learn the intricacies of her job, the most important thing being to check that the number on the machine matches the one on the post-it note the voter hands me. There are also several new voters who need instructions on how to work the machine and a handful who want assurances that when they finish voting and pull the lever back to open the curtains, their vote won’t be negated. The ballot this year is short. As I stand outside the booth, I appreciate hearing the steady clicking of the levers. Those who take many minutes must have waited until inside to decide whom to vote for or else they’re reading the hard- to-understand amendment. 11:30 a.m. Seems like late-afternoon – 10 hours to go. The voters continue to trickle in which gives me a few minutes to chat with people I haven’t seen or thought about in years. 12 noon Few voters, so I slip away to go home, get something to eat and walk my dog. 12:30 p.m. Back at my post. The most frequently asked question hasn’t changed. After “What district do I vote in?” the voters want to know if we’ve been busy today. 1:30 p.m. The only news of the outside world is what we’re told. There are multihour waits at city polling places. We’re happy to be working here. 2:30 p.m. Fifty percent of the people have voted, which means that this district has surpassed its prior day’s-end record. For us, it’s now easier to locate voter’s names in the book as the pages are half full. Our alphabetizing skills were challenged this morning, trying to find the right name on the right page while the voter hovered over us. 3:30 p.m. Thirteen voters in the last hour. Time to dig out my magazine and Halloween candy. ���������������������������������������

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4:30 p.m. A burst of voters. Again, a line in front of our table. 5:15 p.m. Voter number 400 signs in. I’m becoming aware of two trends which please me – one is the number of people who thank us as they leave, and the other is the ethnic diversity of people living in this small town. 6 p.m. “Here come the suits,” one of my co-workers says, as the energy level in the gym escalates. She’s referring to the commuters. Throughout the day many people took their children into the booth with them; this bunch is no exception. 7:30 p.m. No voters. One of my co-worker’s dad delivers ham and cheese sandwiches he’s made. Delightful! 8 p.m. One hour left. This reminds me of waiting for the Times Square ball to drop on New Year’s Eve. 8:55 p.m. One last voter casts ballot number 498. 9 p.m. The doors are locked, the polls are closed and at last we get to see who won in our district. We unlock the counters on the back of the machines. One of us reads the number, another watches, the third records, the fourth watches. Voters had a choice of nine parties – Democratic, Republican, Independence, Conservative, Working Families, Socialist Workers/Right to Life, Socialism and Liberation, Green, Libertarian/Populist. The first five had a choice of Obama or McCain, and these votes must be tallied. The other four candidates each received a few votes. We have no writeins. Our group leader calls in the totals to headquarters while the rest of us stuff everything back into the red bag being careful to fold the flag in the military fashion. Then it’s time to close the doors of the voting machine, crank it down and cover it. We comment on what will become of these dinosaurs. 9:30 p.m. We’re done! On the drive home the radio informs me that New York State has gone to Obama. “Already?” I say aloud. 9:45 p.m. I watch the results on TV, but before long the TV is watching me. I awake with a start when I hear Brian Williams say, “For the first time since the Kennedy’s, there will be young children in the White House.” I’m glad to have been a part of this historic election and suspect that next year it’ll be easier. One thing I do know for certain, though, is that being an election inspector isn’t for sissies. ■

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

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A home for life continued from page 19 their time to support the program. Without any advertising, we’re already signing up members simply because word is spreading.” Alyssa said people are becoming members even if they don’t need any services but would like to volunteer to help others. However, she’s also getting calls for transportation and handyman services. Alyssa has a list of volunteers and professionals who do the handyman work, and she refers people to the Red Cross and Gallivant for transportation. The Darien Red Cross drives seniors and disabled people to medical appointments at no charge. Gallivant is a van that takes Darien’s seniors and the disabled anywhere in the local area on weekdays. Alyssa will also confidentially connect seniors in need with Darien Social Services. Staying Put In New Canaan People in New Canaan, however, decided to follow the BHV model, even purchasing a copy of the Beacon Hill business plan. Drs. Charlotte and David Brown started working on Staying Put in New Canaan two years ago because they wanted to keep seniors from becoming isolated. Staying Put encourages people to get out and become engaged in the community. It also helps seniors to be confident about finding the help they need. Charlotte has worked hard to make Staying Put a reality because she shares the same motivation as others who want to remain in their homes. “I love New Canaan because it’s full of nice and intelligent people. People love their homes.

They know where everything is. It’s just easier to stay put,” she explained. And Staying Put in New Canaan makes it possible for seniors to realize this goal. “When I was manning the phones at Staying Put, a man called who needed a plumber. We gave him a name from our vetted list,” she said. “Someone else called to get a Life Line, and we connected her. This just makes things easier.” Pat Stoddard, who volunteers at Staying Put, explained that they built their organization in a grass roots fashion by conducting focus groups and holding meetings. Their research showed that people wanted an association that would provide transportation alternatives, handyman services and ways to be active socially. People also needed to be able to call for referrals to a vetted list of professionals. So far, over 230 people have signed up, paying $360 annually for a single membership and $480 for a couple. But membership dues only cover 40% of program expenses, so the agency also does fund raising. About half the members have taken advantage of the services, but many have joined because they know they’ll need help in the future. Right now, they enjoy the social aspects and giving back by volunteering to drive other members or working at the Staying Put office. Most are able-bodied and able-minded and partake in activities, such as early-bird dinners in restaurants or events at the Silvermine Guild. At Home In Greenwich Like New Canaan, At Home in Greenwich follows the Beacon Hill model of paid memberships, which is supported by fund raising. Lise Jameson, At Home’s executive director, explained to me that “some people joined early on because they are visionaries and saw the need for this service in town. Those who fol-

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HOME, a Hersam Acorn special section, Ridgefield, Conn.

January 2009


lowed were people interested in gaining a social network in town – their friends had moved, died or the members worked in NYC and were retiring to Greenwich full-time.” She and the nonprofit’s president, Marylin Chou, said that At Home provides some services no one else provides: accompanying a member to the doctor and taking notes, picking up a bag of dog food, calling to check in, providing safe, reasonable referrals for a variety of things, case management, an extra set of hands, and a social network. “We’ll send in volunteers, appropriate town service and think out of the box,” said Marylin. “As one member told me, ‘At Home in Greenwich offers peace of mind. I feel better because I know you are there.’ Another said, ‘You think of things I would never think of.’” It’s word-of-mouth stories like these that help these organizations grow organically. Their biggest stumbling blocks are attracting seniors who do not think they need help. My friend Gertrude recently said, “I’m trying very hard not to age in place. In fact, I work on it everyday. I walk two miles. I swim and I do exercises.” While she’s heard of the new nonprofits, she claimed, “I’m not ready for services yet.” In fact, Gertrude is busy helping friends get to doctors’ appointments, or making meals and taking them over despite the fact that she has been retired for over 25 years. ALOFT In Westchester Many seniors are joining the new nonprofits simply because they want to remain in the homes they love. Bea Rieser, who has lived in Bedford for 40 years, joined ALOFT for just that reason. ALOFT, an acronym for Active Living Over Fifty, serves seven small towns from Mt. Kisco to Lewisboro. Bea told me that she is remaining in Bedford because “it takes years to adjust to a new community. Staying where you are gives you space for grandchildren. A house is for many older people a sense of self, a sense of identity. We want to stay in the home we’ve created. We’ve built a nest.” To learn more about services for seniors in our area, visit the blog www.agingwithgrace.blogspot.com. ■

Home Moaner continued from page 7 But, time is at once my enemy and my friend, and through trial and error and starting over a million times, I was able to put together a handful of modest, finished (albeit embarrassingly unprofessional) video Christmas gifts that will bring cheer to the loved ones on my Christmas list. Now I simply open the DVD-creating software and ... It won’t open. Unlike Windows, where you get the little hourglass, pouring endless sand through itself for eternity, Mac users get what the Internet geeks refer to as the “spinning beach ball of death.” It was this icon that sat on my Mac desktop until sometime this morning, when the program finally opened and I was able to start burning my hard labor into stocking stuffers. So, I insert a disk, push the button and the new Mac spits it out – like a mouthful of bugs. Try a different disk – ptooee! – more, more, nothing, nothing. More trips to the Internet chat rooms, long hours on hold to tech support. Nothing, nope. Not a clue. If I hurry, they might still have those fuzzy bedroom slippers at Cost Mo. I’ll need a bunch. An error has occurred at this part of the column. It will shut down now. ben. guerrero@sbcglobal.net. ■

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January 2009


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