Authors Posts by Pat Waring

Pat Waring

Pat Waring
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A wellspring of energy and an “Elders Bill of Rights.”

The Vineyard population is aging rapidly, bringing an array of challenges and concerns, but Islanders aren’t taking the unsettling news lying down. When the Rural Scholars, students from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, reported last October that the senior population of Martha’s Vineyard would swell dramatically in years to come, Island activists formed the Healthy Aging Task Force (HATF) to strategize ways to head off the challenge. The task force was developed as a sub-committee of the Dukes County Health Council.

A public meeting in November drew some 65 participants from across the Island, representing several dozen service agencies and providers. That session saw the creation of seven work groups along with a 20-member coordinating committee. Each group was charged with researching and developing responses for a single aspect of senior living.

A morning-long meeting last Thursday, May 22, at the M.V. Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven brought the groups together along with other interested community members to share their findings and map out action plans for months and years ahead.

Facilitated by HATF chair Paddy Moore, who is also a Dukes County Health Council member, and Peter Temple, executive director of the MV Donors Collaborative, the fast-moving meeting was carefully organized and kept to a precise schedule, employing slide presentations to emphasize facts, figures, and findings.

Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Ann Hartstein capped off the 3½-hour session, offering acknowledgement and inspiration, answering questions, raising ideas, and conveying the assurance that state government supports such local healthy aging initiatives.

“This is a wonderful celebration,” said Ms. Moore with a bright smile as she welcomed the crowd of nearly 100, pointing to the “wellspring of volunteer energy” and the progress underway.

“I believe that timing is all.” she added, saying this is the perfect moment for Vineyarders to prepare for challenges to come as the percentage of senior citizens grows.

Ms. Moore set the tone by introducing the task force’s “Elders’ Bill of Rights.” The nine-point document calls for seniors to enjoy a life that includes appropriate and affordable housing and transportation, the ability to fully participate in community activity, the choice of living at home or in a facility setting, receive high-quality care and make other decisions in later years, all in addition to being respected and valued by their community.

Mr. Temple recapped the warning from the Rural Scholars that the percentage of Island residents over 65 is growing rapidly. According to these projections, from 16 percent in 2010 the Island population of seniors will rise to 32 percent in 2030. The Island’s increase in older population is much more rapid than that of the U.S. or Massachusetts.

Projections show that the Vineyard’s percentage of elder residents will soon be surpassed only by that of Cape Cod, an area called by one observer, Mr. Temple reported, “Medicare by the Sea.”

Many of these older residents have low incomes and are living in homes that are isolated and not well designed or appointed for potentially changing needs and abilities.

Impacts will be felt everywhere, from the increased pressures on medical and mental health care to town services such as senior centers and EMTs. Adding to the challenges, Mr. Temple said, it is difficult to attract health care professionals and home care workers to the Island due to high living costs and limited housing options.

Before the worrisome predictions could cast a pall over the crowd, Ms. Moore introduced the work group presentations, providing varied responses to the challenges raised. Representatives of each work group outlined updates on findings and progress. Reports were clear, concise, rich with detail and optimism.

Reports made recommendations as common-sensical as exercise tailored to seniors, as useful as a centralized information system, and as ambitious as building a new, revolutionary type of nursing care facility and campaigning to change town zoning.

The work groups discovered, as the Rural Scholars did, that the Vineyard already possesses numerous services and programs that address seniors’ needs. In some cases, recommendations were for coordination, education, and adjustments so existing services would be better used.

The Community Engagement and Prevention group honed in on preventing falls, which are prevalent among older adults and can have far-reaching negative impacts on health and well-being. The group plans to institute of “A Matter of Balance” trainings on the Island. The peer-lead programs aim to lessen fears of falling, teach fall prevention and exercises to improve balance, strength, and confidence.

“Falls are the fourth biggest cause of death among the elderly, and our evidence-based workshop training on Matter of Balance can actually save lives,” Ms. Moore said.

Citing the importance of exercise, especially walking, and working with MV Commission staffer Chris Seidel and with support of the MV Chamber of Commerce, the group will soon make available online maps of all walking trails and pedestrian-friendly ways titled “Getting Around Martha’s Vineyard.”

A proposed “Seniors’ One-Stop Referral Service,” a centralized, web-based system, would provide comprehensive information on resources to guide and support elders, providers, and caregivers. Along with gathering and posting complete resource information online, the plan calls for establishment of an office with a staffer available full time to respond to telephone inquiries.

“Transportation is the thread that ties everything together,” said Leslie Clapp reporting for the Transportation Work Group. “If you’re isolated and lonely you’re not going to be very healthy.”

After surveying every mode of Island public transport and some on the Cape, the group aims to educate seniors on what is available. They also will strive to remedy several gaps that exist, such as travel to certain off-Island specialists and veterans’ services.

The Aging in Community group explored a new and promising model for small scale, personalized nursing facilities designed to look and feel like private homes. Fitting into residential neighborhoods, the Green House model offers private rooms, care based on a patient’s wishes, frequent direct staff contact, and could alternatively accommodate rehabilitation or assisted living programs.

According to the report, the Town of Edgartown has raised the possibility of including a Green House in a pending affordable housing development. With the aim of allowing seniors to remain at home whenever possible, the work group also will promote use of existing volunteer programs.

The Affordable Elder and Workforce Housing group intends to consult with town boards across the Island and push for zoning changes to allow accessory or “in-law” apartments which could accommodate an elderly family member, or a caregiver to help an aging homeowner.

Work is also underway to find ways to educate contractors on several simple design adjustments (e.g. wider doorways and halls, easy no-threshold doors, first-floor living potential) which could make new or retrofitted homes accessible, safe, and livable for older, wheelchair-bound, or handicapped residents.

More than one-third of Vineyarders now provide care on an informal basis to an older family member or friend, a number projected to rise to 55 percent by 2030. The Caregiver Support Work Group is exploring how to provide varied resources for those informal helpers from skills development to medical oversight and respite opportunities.

Funds will be needed to bring many of these ideas to fruition, but progress is underway. Ms. Moore announced a $5,000 M.V. Hospital Community Health Initiative grant towards the One Stop program. Anonymous gifts include: $2,500 for the Green House Feasibility Study; $1,750 for Matter of Balance Training; and $10,000 to fund a two-day consultation with the Altarum Institute’s Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness. The MV Donors Collaborative has contributed time of its executive director and other proposals are pending.

As the meeting ended Ms. Moore urged participants to share all they had learned with neighbors and friends, offer ideas, and consider volunteering.

“There is a lot of work to do,” she said.

Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs, Ann Hartstein, spoke to the group, and her remarks are here.

For complete slides from the May 22 presentation and additional information visit:

dukescounty.org/Pages/DukesCountyMA_HealthCouncil/DCHATF

or

mvdonors.org/documents/PresentationMay22.pdf

For information or to volunteer, contact Paddy Moore: mooreii@aol.com or 508-693-1627.

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Brenda Piland accepts donated clothes from Sandy Blythe. — Lynn Christoffers

Updated at 7:10 pm, April 30, 2014.

Along with the Island Food Pantry, Red Stocking, and free church suppers, a less familiar program in the community safety net assisting those in need is Clothes to Go. A ministry of the United Methodist Church, since 2009 this program has collected donations of new and “gently used” wearables from generous Vineyarders and made them available free to those who need them.

Clothes to Go, located in Vineyard Haven’s Stone Church, is open one morning and three afternoons a week in winter, one morning and two afternoons in spring. The schedule coincides with that of the Food Pantry, which operates in an adjoining room, making it one-stop shopping for many.

One recent afternoon, regular volunteer Brenda Piland sat at the front table sorting new donations. Wearing a red shirt and aqua fleece vest with dark tights, Ms. Piland looked businesslike and comfortable.

“Clothes to go!” she acknowledged with a grin, gesturing at her fashionable outfit.

Unlike its earliest days when donations were piled on tables for patrons to browse through, today the room is attractively organized like a consignment shop. Inventory is extensive, garments displayed neatly on shelves and racks. Shelving along the rear wall holds men’s and women’s shoes and boots; children’s items are sorted into cubbies. Slacks, jeans, shirts, sweaters, and jackets hang from freestanding racks. All are in good repair, and many have familiar quality labels.

Small bins hold hats and wallets; racks display neckties and belts. There are blankets, household goods, linens, towels, toys, and books.

The number of patrons varies. There may be a handful one day, more than two dozen another. But business is brisk and customers leave satisfied, with armloads or bags of useful finds.

Although patrons are free to choose what they want, amounts are limited. Signs announce: “10 Items a Visit,” “One Coat a Visit,” “Be mindful of others: take only what you need!”

The $10 or $15 collected in a donation pitcher each week goes into the Trinity Methodist Church Sunday plate.

People drop off donations often. That afternoon a woman brought several clean, colorful children’s tee-shirts. While some donors give one or two items, others arrive with boxes or trash bags, stuffed to bursting. This winter, a community member came with a stack of warm blankets, quickly claimed by delighted patrons. Volunteers once received eight bags of clothes from a single donor. Most contributions are in good shape but occasionally some cannot be used.

“We do quality control,” said organizer Jennifer Wey Fiore. “We want donations, but we don’t want people to donate things they wouldn’t wear.”

Ms. Piland said that although the racks and shelves are well stocked, turnover is high. A constant supply of replacements is needed. Unlike many second-hand programs, Clothes to Go accepts out-of-season clothing. Thanks to available storage space in the church basement, garments not suited for immediate use are packed in bins to be offered later.

“The Clothes to Go ministry is one of the few places on Martha’s Vineyard where people with financial challenges can go to get clothing free of charge,” said the Rev. Robert Hensley of Grace Episcopal Church. “It is convenient to those who use the food pantry, being housed at the same location.

“The Island Clergy Association is very grateful to have a central location to which our clothing collections can go for distribution to our neighbors who need them. It is also a major help to the clergy, who have a specific location to send people for assistance.”

Mr. Hensley is especially aware of local needs as he works closely with the Island Homeless Outreach ministries through the clergy association.

Jennifer Wey Fiore, a social worker and busy mother of two teenaged boys, came up with the idea for Clothes to Go in 2009. She was inspired by her grandmother who ran a similar free clothing program at her Boston-area church. A member of Trinity Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, Ms. Fiore said she was aware of the need here, especially from her experience working on the Island for the Massachusetts Department of Families and Children. She asked herself, “How can our church help?”

Clothes to Go got underway with the support of the Rev. Richard Rego and many other helpers in the congregation.

In the beginning it was “like a pop-up,” Ms. Fiore said.

Volunteers would unpack donated clothing, laying it out on parish hall tables early Saturday morning. That afternoon they would store the goods to clear the room for Sunday.

It quickly became clear that a permanent space was needed where displays could remain set up and patrons could come more often. The program moved to the Stone Church in the spring of 2010. At first volunteers made do with big tables for clothes, but soon they acquired donated racks, shelves, and bins.

“Everything we have was either built by volunteers or donated by local businesses,” said Ms. Fiore gratefully. “Everything is donated. We don’t spend a dime!”

Murray’s of the Vineyard gave racks and hangers when going out of business. Stores occasionally donate merchandise that hasn’t sold. Churches and schools have had clothing drives. Students volunteer to fulfill community service requirements. And Ms. Fiore reported that recipients sometimes return to donate or help when they are able.

Ms. Fiore said she is glad to be next door to the Island Food Pantry to make it easier for patrons, and she has received invaluable support and advice from its director, the Rev. Armen Hanjian.

Volunteers staff the facility during operating hours, and a monthly workday is held when volunteers do an overall cleanup, sort donations, pack out-of-season clothing, and other chores.

“It’s quick work and it’s fun,” said Ms. Fiore.

Ms. Fiore is convinced that this program is needed by many Vineyarders who are just trying to get by. She said it is not just the very poor who need help clothing their families.

“I raised my kids here, I know the cost of living,” Ms. Fiore said. “As a full-time social worker I see families every day trying to make ends meet.

“We see all ends of it here at Clothes to Go. We see people who are down and out, people who are struggling with finding stable housing, struggling with substance abuse. And we see families who are working, working hard.”

Ms. Fiore said that occasionally concerns arise about people taking more than their share, or using the program when they don’t really need it. But she remains determined to keep Clothes to Go open to all. There are no eligibility requirements, no application forms, means tests, or references.

“That would exclude people in our community,” Ms. Fiore said, adding that she wants the program to be open-hearted. “I don’t want to be the one to judge.”

She said that although Clothes to Go is a church-initiated program she wants people to know “it belongs to the community.”

“The aim is to have a place where all parts of the community can come and mingle together,” Ms. Fiore said. “I want it to feel accessible to everybody.”

Clothes to Go spring hours: Mon., Wed. 2 to 4 pm, Sat. 9 to 11 am. Volunteer work days: Saturdays May 17, June 21, 3 to 5 pm. Stone Church, Church St., Vineyard Haven. For info, call 508-693-4424.

Alyssa and Nayelli Vieira planted their own cranberry bean seeds, and learned how the beans were used in early times. — Photo by Danielle Zerbonne

Bright sunshine and warm temperatures set a summertime mood as the Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs got a head start on the season Saturday. The “Early Earth Day Celebration” offered an opportunity for serious gardeners and green-thumbed dabblers alike to enjoy a planting preview.

Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.
Joyce Brigish tended to seedlings.

Formerly the Community Solar Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, familiarly known as “COMSOG,” the greenhouse was bursting with enthusiastically growing things. Along with tiny seedlings there were full-grown greens that thrived in the indoor warmth all winter.

Beginning with its annual Mother’s Day Sale on May 11 and throughout that month, the greenhouse will offer these lovingly grown organic seedlings to home gardeners. The selection rivals that of a commercial nursery, and it includes lettuces and other greens, squash, cucumbers, and more. Heirloom tomatoes are a specialty along with conventional specimens.

“We have the most heirloom tomato varieties of any place on the Island by far,” Said Thalia Scanlan, Master Gardener and longtime board president.

Sungold tomatoes.
Sungold tomatoes.

Ms. Scanlan pointed proudly to the extensive list of peppers both hot and sweet, and a large variety of eggplants from the traditional Black Beauty to Asian, Italian, and other types. Flower seedlings and herbs will be for sale, and lush blooms in hanging baskets.

Outdoors, fascinated children clustered around a table as Diane Sylvia guided them in planting their own little pots of cranberry bean seeds. Along with the delight of real gardening, the children learned how the beans were used in early times.

Youngsters took their potted seeds home, excited to tend them and watch the beans sprout. Ms. Sylvia handed out fact sheets and even a traditional recipe for bread pudding baked in a pumpkin shell.

A retired math teacher, Ms. Sylvia is greenhouse manager. She was named to the post after having been an active member and volunteer for some time, even maintaining a blog and Facebook page for the facility.

At another table, Laurisa Rich shared information about rain barrels, a boon for environmentally minded gardeners. Ms. Rich, who organizes rain barrel sales for the Lagoon Pond Association, said these big green vats gather valuable, nutrient-rich water and can be equipped with a hose.

Herbs and pink and red geraniums soaked up the sunshine, and blooming daffodils welcomed visitors at the greenhouse door.

Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.
Gail Tipton stocked up on Swiss Chard.

Drawn by the promise of spring, people came to browse, buy, ask questions, or help with chores. Those who wanted the pleasure of getting their hands dirty could transplant seedlings or plant seeds for blue or golden Hubbard squash. The squash plants, Ms. Sylvia said, serve as “decoys” to lure pests away from other vines. Another volunteer happily grabbed a rake and got busy tidying the grounds, while a little girl wielded a big watering can.

Behind the greenhouse, the garden plot was still at rest, but soon it will be planted. By mid-summer the garden provides an abundance of flowers and vegetables sold to members and at the Oak Bluffs Open Market. Specialties include lemon cucumbers, and okra that is hard to find here.

“People come just to buy okra,” said Ms. Sylvia.

Volunteer energy keeps the greenhouse thriving throughout the seasons as it has for many years. Members lend a hand all during the winter, sprouting and tending plants, then gear up production as springtime nears. Springtime sales of young plants are an economic mainstay and summer flower and produce sales bring needed revenue too.

Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.
Yarrow seedlings are ready for spring.

At $30 for individuals, $35 for couples, membership fees are modest. Members are invited to volunteer and may purchase produce and plants at cut rates. A big benefit is picking greens year-round. There are more than 200 members on the roster, including some three dozen faithful volunteers. Others pitch in when possible.

During chilly months volunteers gather for a Wednesday chore day. After a busy morning tending plants they enjoy a potluck soup lunch with salad made from freshly picked greens growing close at hand.

According to Ms. Scanlan, doing chores in the greenhouse’s tropical atmosphere during cold winter weather is a delight, not a burden.

“It’s a very restorative kind of thing,” she said. “It’s a healthy thing. There’s nothing quite like it. In the winter you slog through the cold ugliness then you open the greenhouse door and you’re in another world. It makes you feel ‘we can get through this. It’s not a problem.

“It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work.., but that’s the joy.”

Organizers changed the facility’s name from the familiar “COMSOG” last year when the greenhouse celebrated its 30th anniversary. The change was an effort to bring the greenhouse into the public eye and let people know more about activities and opportunities.

A bright new green sign stands at the New York Avenue entrance and the jaunty artwork is echoed on a bright brochure. “Come Grow With Us,” is the message, “Learn, Grow, and Connect,” the motto.

Ms. Scanlan said the name change has had a revitalizing effect. “It is catching on and there’s a feeling of new energy,” she said. “People are really responding. There’s quite an upbeat feeling.”

Everything's blooming at Vineyard greenhouses. — Ralph Stewart

While we wondered if winter would ever end, elves at local greenhouses have been busy with seeds and seedlings; cleaning and refurbishing shops, grounds and display areas and stocking soil, fertilizer, potted plants and shrubs ready to burst into bloom.

Ashley Lister at Donaroma's.
Ashley Lister at Donaroma’s.

Most nurseries opened quietly last month for those intrepid gardeners who wanted to get a head start on the season. These days, they are buzzing with preparations for Palm Sunday on April 13, which for many Islanders is the unofficial “grand opening,” when the spirits of plant lovers are lifted by displays of early spring flowers, the smell of warm soil in greenhouses filled with young growing plants, that long-awaited breath of spring. It is indeed a time to awaken from the winter doldrums and begin dreaming of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and the warm days ahead.

All nurseries carry conventional and organic soils and fertilizers, pest control products, gardening tools, containers, and paraphernalia. They offer a variety of special discounts and bargains to tempt the green-thumbed customer.

Vineyard Gardens

Palm Sunday Open House: 11am to 2 pm; free plants, refreshments and Easter Sunday Egg Hunt (1 pm).

What else: Saturday morning (11 am) free lectures range from starting plants from seed to vegetable gardening, lawn care and maintenance and more. Saturday hands-on workshops teach how to prepare seeds and seedlings, and bring them home to plant ($20 fee).

What’s new:  Greenhouse attached to front shop; Amish-made Adirondack chairs.

What’s special: Each week, a special plant is offered at a 20-percent discount.

“Please stop by for a breath of spring,” says Chris Wiley, co-owner with husband Chuck. “The greenhouses are full and gorgeous.”

484 State Road, West Tisbury. VineyardGardens.net, 508-693-8511

Middletown Nursery

Palm Sunday: Family Fun Day visitors can plant a mini-strawberry or flower garden.

What else: Free seminars with organic gardener Roxanne Kapitan, “The Backyard Vegetable Garden from Seed to Harvest,” begin April 19, 1-2 pm. Topics include composting, building organic soil, and maximizing garden yield.

What’s new: remodeled the shop and creation of parklike display grounds with educational displays and new plants.

What’s special: the Island’s exclusive Husqvarna Dealer offers power tools and equipment. “Yard Sale” discounts are offered through April 19.

“We hope for a beautiful Easter Sunday and invite families to join us from 10 am to 1 pm for an Easter filled with the colors of spring,” said manager Steven Elliott.

680 State Road, West Tisbury. (508)696-7600

Jardin Mahoney

Easter season: Easter Cookie Decorating party for the kids on Easter Sunday, 9 am-3 pm.

What else: Lush tropicals and indoor hydrangeas, tulips, daffodils and even aromatic herbs welcome visitors into the big greenhouse. Also, fruit trees including apple, pear, plums, and cherries and berry bushes.

What’s special: Sale on blueberry bushes while supplies last.

Wandering the grounds makes for a nice spring walk and the garden center stocks everything you need to get outdoors and start digging.

45 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. jardinmahoney.com, (508) 693-3511.

Donaroma’s

Palm Sunday: 10 am-2 pm, Donaroma’s welcomes guests with cut daffodils for all; Easter Sunday from 10 am-2 pm.

What’s new: Easter Lilies and hyacinths; early blooming shrubs like lilac, forsythia, and dogwood.

What’s special: A spring sale runs April 11 to 13; weekly specials for landscapers only.

The spacious florist shop and greenhouse is bursting with cheerful Easter decorations, plant baskets, bunnies, butterflies, and chicks.

Upper Main St., Edgartown. Donaromas.com; (508)627-3036.

Heather Gardens

Palm Sunday (8:30 am- 3 pm) open house featuring free plants, warm refreshments, and sweet goodies.

What else: According to owner Mike Saunier, the nursery features the Island’s largest selection of locally grown, hand-seeded annuals in six-packs.

What’s new: Expanded variety of shrubs.

What’s special: one greenhouse filled with lush tropical houseplants and the tiny potting shed offering antique garden collectibles.

“We have the same friendly staff as in previous years who are always eager to help,” said Mr. Saunier, echoing the welcome of all Island nurseries.

377 State Road, West Tisbury. heather-gardens.com, (508)693-1467.

This story was updated on April 14, 2014, to correct a mistake in the Middletown Nursery section. Steven Elliott was mistakenly identified as the owner of the West Tisbury nursery. John and Heather Hoff have owned the business for five years. Mr. Elliott is the manager.

Ruth Stiller’s recipe for Matzoh Balls is a treat for the holiday week. — Flickr.com/megabeth, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Ruth Stiller's matzo ball soup is a family favorite.
Ruth Stiller’s matzo ball soup is a family favorite.

Ruth Cronig Stiller has rich memories of Passover feasts, surrounded by her big family in the same Vineyard Haven home where she now lives. But even as a young adult, she never got to try her hand in the kitchen

“My mother never let us help in the kitchen,” said Ms. Stiller. “She cooked for the whole family. She was happy to do it.”

She and her siblings worked at the family business, Cronig’s Market, Ms. Stiller explained. The kitchen was her mother’s domain.

Then, as today, Matzoh Ball Soup was Ruth Stiller’s favorite part of the festive meal.

“I would just as soon live on that and nothing else,” she said.

In time, Ms. Stiller married, had children, and began hosting her own Passover Seders with a dozen or more at the table. She became known among relatives and friends for her exceptional soup, especially the matzoh balls themselves.

Ms. Stiller, who will turn 92 in June, is modest about her culinary skills – “I’m not an adventurous cook,” she said. A working woman for decades until age 86, she spent limited time in the kitchen. But she loved to cook for Passover, and has a collection of Jewish cookbooks she consulted.

She said Matzoh Ball Soup recipes vary widely. Some cooks make a hearty mixture, adding chicken pieces and a variety of vegetables. But not Ruth Stiller.

“The kids were young. They didn’t want a bunch of stuff in their soup. Kids like simple food,” she recalled. “I like food to be simple and plain.”

“People loved the soup, but it was so easy,” she said with a chuckle.

Ms. Stiller in her cooking prime would make delicious fresh chicken broth. But her magic touch was with the matzoh balls.

Never quite certain what made her balls so fluffy, buoyant, and delectable, Ms. Stiller suspects it was brief and careful beating. “They need some loving attention, I think.”

Ms. Stiller recalled one Passover when her aunt brought a soup. As the younger, far less experienced cook, Ms. Stiller was a bit embarrassed that her own soup was so good, her matzoh balls so light and fluffy, compared to her aunt’s which were “tough and hard.”

Despite the accolades she received, Ms. Stiller insisted that matzoh ball consistency is a matter of individual taste, and not everyone likes the fluffy variety, including her husband. “The kids and I liked them light, but he liked them tough!”

Now the sprawling family that once crowded the dining room, eating on wall-to-wall makeshift tables, is much smaller, with children grown, relatives moved off-Island, older generations passed away. Ms. Stiller and her daughter Gayle join other Island families for the Community Passover Seder at the M.V. Hebrew Center. Although her favorite, most memorable Seders have always been the large family gatherings of the past, Ms. Stiller thoroughly enjoys the communal event.

“It’s fun to be with a big crowd,” she said.

Gayle Stiller has taken an occasional turn at making the traditional soup. She said that despite the simplicity of the recipe, “You have to be careful you don’t overbeat the balls or they get too heavy and tough. When you plop them in the broth they don’t rise to the surface. You end up with indigestible matzoh balls.”

Offering high praise for the delicacy of her mother’s matzoh balls and mouth-watering broth, she said the question of who makes the best soup for Passover often leads to friendly competition in many families.

“It’s a matter of pride to have the better Matzoh Ball Soup,” she said.

Highlighting every Passover menu, the soup features succulent balls of matzoh meal, eggs, and various seasoning. The meal is made by grinding matzoh, the unleavened bread eaten during Passover week when consuming leavened products is forbidden by Jewish law.

Gayle recalled with amusement a Passover Seder held years ago at Anthony’s Restaurant (later Lola’s and Hooked) beside Farm Neck Golf Course. The kitchen staff was clearly unfamiliar with traditional Jewish cooking, especially matzoh balls.

“Here we were at a golf course, and they were like golf balls, so tough you couldn’t get your spoon through them,” she laughed.

For the younger Ms. Stiller, her favorite isn’t the traditional soup but the matzoh itself.

“The first bite of matzoh when we’re doing the Seder always tastes so good,” she said. “It’s so meaningful and symbolic. It’s the unleavened bread. Another year’s gone by and here we are, celebrating again.”

Ruth Stiller’s recipe for Matzoh Balls

2 eggs

matzo meal

1 tsp.salt

2 eggs, beat whites stiff first, add 1 teaspoon salt. Add yellows (yokes) and beat. Add 5 level Tbs. matzoh meal. Let stand for 20 minutes. Then add matzoh meal until it is formable into balls. Wet hands, make balls and put in simmering soup. Makes about 8 balls.

From What’s Cookin? published by the Jewish Welfare Federation of New Bedford,  1968.

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Lena Araujo Vanderhoop and her eldest grandson, Curtis Sayles. — Photo by Meg Higgins

“Hard working,” “generous,” and “always helping others” often come up when people talk about Lena Araujo Vanderhoop.

She is known among friends, family, and the many clients she has served as being big-hearted, cheerful, and determined to provide the best for those in her care.

Two months after undergoing emergency open-heart surgery, Ms. Vanderhoop is still struggling to regain her strength, unable to work for several months, and uncertain of what the future will bring.

Adding to her plight, her once steady employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) dissolved when the agency shut down. She hopes a job will be available when she is well enough to re-apply to the VNA under its new auspices. If that fails, she will seek private duty work.

Along with her recent cardiac problem, Ms. Vanderhoop lives with severe chronic diabetes and is blind in one eye. Released from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis after surgery, Ms. Vanderhoop spent time at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and with her sister in Pocasset before returning to her Edgartown home. Still recovering, she will begin cardiac rehabilitation in a few weeks — as soon as she is strong enough.

According to her niece Trish Moreis-Stiles, the VNA’s collapse caused her aunt a host of problems.

“Suddenly she had no income, no health insurance, no money coming in to help pay her bills,” Ms. Moreis-Stiles said. “One of the worst things to happen was not having the three to six months of short-term disability that she had counted on…. She was basically left with nothing after 24 years of service.”

Soon after Ms. Vanderhoop got home, her washer and car broke down. Fortunately, her brother got the car running. Friends called, did errands, took her to appointments. Her grandson Curtis Sayles, who lives with her, has helped immeasurably.

“Thank God for family and friends,” she said.

But the washer still needs repair, she is behind on bills, working out payment plans, and is relying on the Island Food Pantry, “until I get back on my feet.” She is unable to continue the work that has not only earned her a living but also brought her great pleasure and satisfaction.

Seated on the couch in her comfortable and tidy Edgartown living room, a smiling Ms. Vanderhoop seemed chipper, calm, and anxious to get well and go on with her life. She admitted that convalescence tries her patience, though her energy is limited: “I’m not used to just sitting around. I’ve got to be going, doing something.”

Ms. Vanderhoop was shocked when she went for routine medical tests and was told that she needed immediate heart surgery. “I never expected this of me,” she said. “I just thought I was short of breath and could keep going.

One of 18 children, Ms. Vanderhoop was born in Vineyard Haven on April 9, 1945, graduating from the Tisbury and Regional High schools.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so we made a lot out of nothing,” she recalled.

Her first job was at the Aquinnah Shop on the Gay Head Cliffs, where she worked for 17 years. She was married to Elmer Vanderhoop for 21 years. Living in Aquinnah they had two children, Melissa and Troy. For years she was active at the P-A Club and VFW, and has long been a faithful member of St. Augustine’s Church. When the couple divorced, Ms. Vanderhoop signed on with VNA and soon completed training and became a CNA.

“I have always wanted to take care of people,” Ms. Vanderhoop explained. “I wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t have the money to go to school. This was my way to do something similar.

“I really love working with the elderly and helping them do things that they can’t do on their own,” she continued. “A lot of times their families are off-Island or just don’t have the time to give them all the care they need.”

For two decades at the VNA, she brought comfort and well-being to many Vineyarders, and peace of mind to their families who knew they were so capably cared for. She was once honored as Massachusetts CNA of the Year.

“Lena Vanderhoop is just a marvelous, marvelous lady,” said Bob Holt of West Tisbury. He said Ms. Vanderhoop helped his older sister Betty Ann, who has many needs, to stay active, keep medical appointments, and even escorted her to Mr. Holt’s wedding in Falmouth last fall, which she otherwise could not have attended. “Lena is spectacular, I can’t say enough about this woman,” said Mr. Holt. Learning of her misfortune, he sent a check. “I wish I could do more for her.”

“People love Lena because of her sunny disposition,” her niece said. “People always refer to her as a ‘ray of sunshine,’ and say how sweet she is.”

She said her aunt is patient with clients, and uses laughter to win them over. Many look forward to seeing Ms. Vanderhoop because they know she really cares about them.

Nearly 20 years ago, Sharon Simonin of Oak Bluffs relied on Ms. Vanderhoop after her son, Austin, was born seven weeks early. Along with needing care for her tiny baby and three year-old daughter, Ms. Simonin had severe heart problems.

“I was blessed to have her in my home at a time when I was in need of someone as loving and caring as her,” Ms. Simonin said. “She was instrumental in my healing and taking care of my family.”

Now Ms. Vanderhoop needs a helping hand. Like many hard-working Islanders she has neither retirement funds nor savings to rely on. Although her work was steady, her salary was modest; she lived from paycheck to paycheck. Along with paying for basic living expenses, Ms. Vanderhoop’s medical conditions require that she purchase numerous prescriptions, including daily insulin. Even with Medicare, copayments for medications and office visits are daunting.

Her needs seem monumental, but her family and friends have faith that the generosity of the Island community is equally as huge.

This Saturday, April 12, the many Islanders who love, care about, and are grateful to Ms. Vanderhoop will have a chance to give back to her at a benefit dinner and auction at the P-A Club in Oak Bluffs. Starting at 5 pm, the event features a spaghetti dinner, music with DJ Mike “Smooth” Daniel, silent and live auctions, door prizes, and raffle.

Legendary auctioneer David Araujo, Ms. Vanderhoop’s brother, will use humorous arm twisting to reap the highest possible bids for a wealth of offerings, including Patriots tickets, hotel stays, gourmet meals, a fishing charter, and home maintenance services.

When told about the benefit, Ms. Vanderhoop protested. “I think it’s a good thing for other people. I don’t know if I deserve this or I’m worthy of that, but everybody tells me I am,” she said. “I’m not good with hand-outs. It’s hard because I’m so used to doing for everybody.”

She will be there to greet well-wishers and accept the generosity with her usual good grace and humility.

Ms. Moreis-Stiles, who is coordinating the benefit from her home in Virginia, said she is grateful for the outpouring of support, from friends’ help with event details to donations of valuable goods and services by individuals and businesses.

“People in our community know Lena, have had family members in her care, or know our family and want to do whatever they can to help,” she said. “I have absolutely been brought to tears by the Island response.”

Benefit Dinner and Auction, Saturday, April 12, 5 pm, P-A Club, Oak Bluffs. $15; $10 children (must leave by 8:30 pm).

If you cannot attend and would like to make a donation to the Lena Araujo Vanderhoop Benefit, send checks to P.O. Box 2647, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. For auction donations or more information, contact Trish Moreis-Stiles: 703-216-9619; stiles.family@verizon.net

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Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.

Knitter Martha MacGillivray tries on her mother Marcia's unfinished hat. — Photo by Susan Safford

Knitworks in Vineyard Haven was cozy and welcoming as several women arrived on a chilly Tuesday evening for their weekly drop-in knitting group.

Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.
Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.

A vintage Island home with a comfy lived-in feeling, the shop boasts several small rooms, each overflowing with yarns in every conceivable color and texture.
The skeins and balls include custom-dyed exotic fiber blends from around the globe and sturdy Island-grown yarns in natural earthy tones.

There are knitting needles of every size, crochet hooks, buttons, ribbons, miscellaneous notions, books, patterns, and fiber magazines.

Hand-knit sample items — scarves, hats, a toddler’s dress, a glamorous shawl, multicolor gloves, fluffy afghan — are displayed, examples of how the yarn can be used, inspiring even the novice knitter to give it a try.

Making the atmosphere especially enticing was the sweet aroma of a traditional chocolate babka baked by Liz Toomey, an assistant at the shop and experienced fiber artist who shares hosting duties for the groups with store owner Alix deSeife-Small.

An accomplished knitter and textile designer, Ms. deSeife-Small began the shop in 2010. Along with yarn and supplies, she offers classes and custom-made knitted clothing.

A tea kettle whistled softly and a bottle of red wine stood ready for pouring as knitters settled down at the round kitchen table, pulled out projects, and got to work.

Celine Segel, a web designer with MVOL, spread her vibrant orange lacework shawl out on the tabletop as she counted stitches. There was a chorus of admiring compliments from the others.

Close-up of Macia MacGillivray's knitted hat.
Close-up of Macia MacGillivray’s knitted hat.

Ms. Segel, who also designs chainmaille jewelry, said she originally learned to knit from her grandmother as a little girl growing up in France. Now 34, married, and settled on the Vineyard, she took the craft up again four years ago, when she was deeply missing her grandmother. Along with affirming that warm connection, Ms. Segel admitted knitting helps her sit still.

Two mother-daughter pairs were at the table. Stephanie Thibert, Ms. Toomey’s daughter and Toy Box staffer, was casting on green yarn for a hat pattern she had just discovered. Ms. Toomey was working on a scarf in a textural “linen stitch,” using a wool and silk blend.

Marcia MacGillivray, a familiar smiling face at the Toy Box for years, was pluckily knitting away on a creamy beige hat, while her daughter, Martha, was beginning a black and white alpaca one. Both were modest about their knitting skills, poking affectionate fun at themselves and one another.

Close-up of Liz Toomey's knitted scarf.
Close-up of Liz Toomey’s knitted scarf.

Martha, who works with young special needs children for an early intervention program, said they are making hats for gifts. Inspiration came when one of her brothers requested a hat this Christmas. Mother and daughter worked hard, but after three rejects, only one was “wrappable.”

“This is the beginners’ side of the table,” she quipped. “We only can do hats.”

Martha MacGillivray recalled knitting sweaters when her grown children were little. She picked up her needles again after moving to the Island where her mother and father, legendary fisherman Donald MacGillivray, have lived for years. “Now I’m here with Mom; it’s [been] our winter project.”

When Marcia’s hat was nearly done, her daughter modeled it, needles still in place, for all to admire.

Yarn-Knitworks-rolls.jpg

A day earlier, the Monday afternoon group gathered, begun by knitters who prefer daytime meetings. Sunlight filtered through the kitchen windows, making the yarn glow.

 Carole Early at the Monday afternoon group.
Carole Early at the Monday afternoon group.

Carole Early was triumphantly nearing the top of her navy blue “mutt beret.” “I combined two patterns,” she explained. A busy volunteer with Vineyard Committee on Hunger and the Island Food Pantry, Ms. Early started knitting 14 years ago.

Hospice grief counselor Susan Desmerais immersed herself in a cloud of fluffy mossy-hued yarn flecked with brilliant accents called “Spiceberry,” fast becoming a fashionable scarf.

At another Monday meeting, newcomer Ljuba Davis had just finished casting on stitches of gossamer soft mohair, “Primrose” pink with twinkling silver sparkles. It would be a scarf for her daughter. “She’s very soft and has tinkley laughter,” said Ms. Davis fondly.

Nancy Weaver’s attention was consumed by an elegant avocado-green cardigan. Finishing the sleeves, she left the table several times to consult with Ms. Toomey about a challenging stitch pattern.

Needles clicked, stitches were counted and recounted, dropped and retrieved, rows added up, progress measured, patterns studied with intense concentration.

“I like the company of other women,” said Ms. Desmerais. “There’s something about the rhythm of knitting that relaxes people. The conversation can be light-hearted but also can become very deep.”

Ms. Early agreed heartily. “But also if you get stuck with something, someone can show you.”

Susan Desmarais (right, with Ljuba Davis) said the rhythm of knitting relaxes people.
Susan Desmarais (right, with Ljuba Davis) said the rhythm of knitting relaxes people.

Conversation drifted from knitting to work, travel, family. Over the course of three meetings, women mulled the fate of the Malaysian airliner, joked about consulting Siri on their iPhones, critiqued several Island eateries, shared thoughts on Buddhism, changes at the VNA, a tempting tip about a French bakery in Falmouth, pictures of grandchildren. One member was nervous about a Boston medical treatment that week. Others offered encouragement, and began planning a celebration dinner out for when she returned.

“We talk about anything and everything,” Ms. Desmerais said. “We don’t gossip, though.”

All were unanimous that since conversation can be distracting, it’s smart not to bring complicated projects.

At all the meetings, eventually talk circles back to knitting again, especially when someone has a problem, question, or is confused about a next step.

“It’s all knit and purl, knit and purl,” Ms. Toomey said, reassuring the women that even the most elaborate and involved pattern is made up of those basic stitches. Learn to knit and purl, she implied, and nothing will be beyond your reach!

More knitting

There are many other opportunities on the Island for knitters and needle workers to get together for advice, support, and companionship. Drop-in groups are free.

At the Heath Hen Yarn & Quilt Shop off State Road in Vineyard Haven, knitters gather the first Tuesday of each month for an “Unfinished Project Night,” and a summer evening drop-in group meets weekly at Eastville Beach.

Fiber Folks of Martha’s Vineyard meets the second Sunday afternoon of every month, September to May, at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury. Handcrafters of all kinds, all levels are welcome (508-274-9696). Informal knitting groups are often held at Island libraries, senior centers, and elsewhere.

For the novice, or experienced knitter seeking to learn more, classes and lessons are offered at Knitworks, Heath Hen Yarn Shop, and Island Alpaca Farm in Oak Bluffs. Tuition is charged.

Information on groups and classes: Knitworks, 508-687-9163; Heath Hen, 508-693-6730; Fiber Folks, 508-274-9696; Island Alpaca Farm, 508-693-5554.

— Photo by Alison Shaw

I’ll admit it. I’m often stressed. Easily distracted. I worry. I get the jitters around doctors, airplanes, and spiders. Then there’s disorganization, clutter, and procrastination.

And I’ve been meditating for several years. I wonder sometimes if I might be the only person for whom meditation doesn’t “work.”

Meditation at Yoga Haven.
Meditation at Yoga Haven.

But I also get along pretty well with people. I stop to listen, and empathize. When someone pushes ahead in line, I catch myself being annoyed, then remember he has as much right to be there as I do.

I don’t scream and act out (mostly). I think long and hard before saying something mean or critical — usually I don’t say it at all. When I mess up with people, and I do, I try hard to make it right. Scary things are still scary, but not for as long as they used to be. I have learned that nothing stays the same; even the difficulties will change.

In the midst of my scattered-seeming life, sitting in a chair for 20 minutes, breathing, not having to think about bills, work, my dentist appointment, or all the fears and uncertainties of living is an oasis of calm.

When I stand up from meditation, things look more manageable. I find myself laughing at the cat, marveling at ice crystals on the trees and bluejays on the feeder. Savoring my coffee. Counting my blessings.

So, maybe meditation does work. Whatever your goal, whether spiritual growth, finding serenity, health and wellbeing, to improving your relationship with God, your kids, or yourself, there’s probably a meditation opportunity here on Martha’s Vineyard.

You may not change overnight. You may not become a saint, a seer, or a swami. But one day you may get through a family crisis without falling apart, avoid a controversy, accept criticism without turning defensive. You might laugh when the dog knocks the platter on the floor, the check bounces, the washer breaks. You may enjoy sitting in summer gridlock and even wave at your fellow drivers. And you’ll give your place in the Stop and Shop line to a harried grandmother, impatient vacationer, or cell-phone wielding teenager, and just smile.

It can help you make a more harmonious life. As meditator Rob Myers commented in our story: “It’s an ordinary and natural state of mind that can seem extraordinary to those of us who have tricked ourselves into thinking that having an over-active and frazzled state of mind is normal.”

“The mind chatter eventually quiets down. A centering and deepening begins which allows me to experience ‘the peace that passeth understanding.’ I bring the peace with me into my life’s experiences, responding to life’s situations with ease and grace rather than reacting out of emotion and judgment. I get to know myself better, and access to the inner wisdom is always there for me when I have the ears to hear.” — Cheryl D. Burns, student of Elliott Dacher, Zen meditation, Vipassana, Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, and more.

Thinking about trying meditation? Not sure which class or group is right for you? Here is a roundup of the meditation offerings on Martha’s Vineyard:

Meditation and Mindfulness with Elliott Dacher, MD
Elliott Dacher, MD, has offered a course in meditation each spring and fall since 2007. The eight-week series titled “Meditation and Mindfulness: Calming the Mind, Reducing Stress, and Optimizing Well-Being,” draws students from a broad range of experience, most with little or no meditation background. A large proportion establish a daily practice and report positive results in their lives. The spring series, co-sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, begins on Wednesday, March 26.

Dr. Dacher, for many years a practicing physician, developed an interest in the spiritual aspect of health and healing which lead to his interest in meditation. He now teaches meditation on the Vineyard and elsewhere.

Unlike other meditation resources here, this is the only program entirely dedicated to meditation training. Others offer practice opportunities with occasional teachings.

Classes meet one night a week in the Medical Staff Library of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Sessions begin and end with a short meditation. During group discussion, students ask questions or report on their experiences practicing. Dr. Dacher teaches on a specific topic each week, such as history and traditions of meditation, afflictive emotions, meditation and health, mindful listening, and meditation in the workplace.

Dr. Dacher provides step-by-step instruction in how to meditate, geared to the novice. Students are strongly encouraged to establish a regular daily practice, and he continually offers support and tips for this, emphasizing its benefits. Text for the class is Dr. Dacher’s “Aware, Awake, Alive,” a volume which he developed from a workbook he designed for teaching this class. The book includes a guided meditation CD.

Unlike some approaches to meditation, Dr. Dacher emphasizes that he does not recommend temporary relaxation as a goal. Instead, he urges the aim be “attainment of an optimal well-being, and an enduring inner-based happiness and peace achieved through study, reflection, and meditation practice, in both formal sessions and integrated into daily life.”

Dr. Dacher insists that meditation is the utmost means for alleviating the inevitable suffering in life. He teaches that while external circumstances often cannot be changed, one’s response to, and experience of those circumstances can be shifted through meditation practice.

“Meditation allows us to calm the overactive mind and rest in stillness. In this state of natural wellbeing, we have the opportunity to learn about the mind and progressively overcome its overactivity, stress, and mental distress,” he said.

Advance registration required. Tuition $150 per person, $130 for YMCA members, $75 for hospital employees. Dr. Dacher’s “Aware, Awake, Alive,” $20. Iryna Demedenko, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, MVHmeditation@partners.org, 508-957-9479.

“Using a term such as ‘life changing’ seems so shallow in comparison to the impact meditation has on you once you commit. It is a calming stabilizer to accept, to be compassionate to all, and most important to be kind and compassionate to yourself; to remind you to truly follow the Golden Rule and to live an easier life. Once you understand and find this space, it reflects on everything else you do.” — Elaine Miller, student of Elliott Dacher.

Mindfulness Meditation Community of Martha’s Vineyard
The Mindfulness Meditation Community of Martha’s Vineyard sponsors a wealth of meditation and study opportunities year-round. The loose-knit group is coordinated by a five-member steering committee.

Chas deCapua, resident teacher at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, travels to the Island one Saturday each month to lead a morning-long class. A graduate of the IMS/Spirit Rock Teacher Training, he has offered meditation since 2001 and teaches around the country. According to the IMS website, his work is rooted in the Theravada Buddhist teachings of ethics, compassion, and wisdom, “practices which help develop awareness and compassion in ourselves, giving rise to greater peace and happiness in the world.”

Held at Howes House in West Tisbury from 9:45 am to 12:45 pm, the meetings draw some 25 to 30 participants. They sit in a circle, on chairs, cushions, or meditation benches. Mr. deCapua’s teachings are interspersed with practicing insight (vipassana, or mindfulness) meditation, defined by IMS as “the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness.” There is no fee, but donations are encouraged.

According to Kathy Fitzgibbon, steering committee member, this winter the group has been focusing on Lovingkindness (metta) Meditation. The meditator holds another or himself in his heart and mind with wishes of happiness, compassion, and wellbeing. This practice aims at cultivating an open and loving heart and allows one to experience connection with others.

Ms. Fitzgibbon observed that Lovingkindness practice can be challenging and revealing, especially when holding good wishes towards oneself or a stranger. She said it is unlike mindfulness meditation — in which one lets go of thought — since it entails concentration.

Sitting meditation sessions are held the first Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at Howes House, and the second Monday of each month, 7:15 pm, at the Island Co-Housing Common House in West Tisbury. An extended practice is followed by discussion.

A Book Study group meets the fourth Monday of each month, 7:15 pm, at Co-Housing. It begins with a 20- minute meditation, then discussion of a designated book, currently “The Wise Heart” by Jack Kornfield.“If you are interested, but unable to complete the reading, don’t let that stop you from attending. Your thoughtful presence is enough,” writes facilitator Jill De La Hunt in an informational flyer. Jill De La Hunt: 508-693-1440; Kathy Fitzgibbon: 508-693-1669; Sherm Goldstein: 508-627-2668. Insight Meditation Society: 978-355-4378; dharma.org.

“Sometimes I’m aware more quickly when I’m distressed. Then I take some deep breaths and notice what I’m thinking and feeling. Then I decide if I want to say or do anything, or let it go.” — Kathy Fitzgibbons, Mindfulness Meditation Community of M.V.

Centering Prayer
Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, developed Centering Prayer in the 1960s, a period when there was renewed interest in Eastern religious practices and meditation. It is based on Biblical scripture and Christian contemplative tradition. He has described Centering Prayer as “a way to present teaching of earlier times in an updated form, and a way to become closer to God.”

Centering Prayer sessions take place twice a week: Tuesdays, 2 pm, at the Good Shepherd Parish Center in Oak Bluffs and on Sunday mornings, 9:15 am, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown.

Participants sit in a circle as one member reads a short sentence or phrase from scripture. Then all is silent as they enter into a 20-minute meditation.

The second part of the one-hour meeting is dedicated to “Lectio Divina” or “divine reading” of Biblical passages. During several repetitions, participants are encouraged to listen, reflect, and respond to the words, enhancing their connection to God.

The Vineyard group began in approximately 2001. Peggy McGrath and Susan Kelly serve as co-facilitators. It is part of a large network of such local groups all across this country and worldwide.

Despite its deep Christian roots and Biblical content, Centering Prayer welcomes all to attend the peaceful gatherings, regardless of religious background. According to Ms. McGrath, Centering Prayer is a strongly ecumenical practice and often attracts those from varied faith traditions.

Centering Prayer itself is not unlike any other form of meditation. It entails sitting quietly and erect, maintaining silence for 20 minutes. Participants may choose to begin with a “sacred word” (such as God, Jesus, Mary, Love, Peace), returning to it as to a mantra, or simply follow the breath instead, letting go of thoughts and feelings that rise.

“All you’re doing is consenting to, opening to the presence of God,” said Ms. McGrath. “You are surrendering to a loving presence that’s beyond you.”

Members say they often discover the fruits of Centering Prayer appear later in their everyday lives. Ms. Kelly said she had initially doubted her ability to sit quietly for 20 minutes. “But it was amazing! You open up a space. Then you begin to observe your thoughts.”
Information: Peggy McGrath, 774-563-0875; margaretomcgrath@gmail.com; contemplativeoutreach.org.

“I discovered centering prayer in the mid 1990’s, during a difficult period. It was balm to my wound, and very soon it became an integral part of my daily life….During the 20 minutes of silent centering prayer, I surrender to the love and action of God in my heart. Over time, I have found this daily practice to be transforming.” — Peggy McGrath, Centering Prayer

Bodhi Path Buddhist Center
The Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in the peaceful West Tisbury woods opened in 1999. It is one of an international organization of Buddhist centers founded by Shamar Rinpoche, the Red Hat Lama of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Like the others, this local center takes a non-sectarian approach to Buddhism, focusing mainly on meditation techniques and guidance, augmented by teachings. These aim at taming the mind and deepening wisdom.

According to a Bodhi Path source, the purpose of exploring these methods and wisdom is to better understand and work with the mind and emotions, bringing kindness and discernment to everyday situations. Bodhi means “awakening,” Bodhi Path the path or way to awakening, enlightenment.

A meticulously renovated garage, the light, spacious meditation hall is a comfortable and inviting space for practice and teaching. Colors are warm and bright; there are cushions and chairs. Participants practice “calm-abiding meditation,” following the breath, counting if more focus is needed, until the mind becomes calm. The intent is to develop awareness, then other methods may be introduced. Sessions comprise 15- minute meditations with short breaks in between.

Lama-Yeshe-Drolma.jpg
Lama Yeshe Drolma.

Resident teacher Lama Yeshe Drolma usually spends three months a year at the center. She teaches on Sunday mornings, leads weeknight meditations, day-long retreats, and includes meditative Chi Gong in some sessions. Other respected Buddhist teachers from the same tradition sometimes visit, leading meditation and retreats. Topics have included death, dying and the bardos; bridging spiritual practice with everyday life; and in-depth teaching on meditation technique and practice. This summer, Lama Tsony, Lama Kunkyab, Shamar Rinpoche, and Trinlay Rinpoche will visit and teach, and Lama Yeshe will be in residence during August and September.

When no teacher is present, meditation is held three times weekly: Tuesday and Thursday, 6 to 7 pm, and Sunday morning, 10 to 11 am. A timekeeper maintains the schedule and an experienced meditator is on-hand to guide newcomers. Currently, a video by Trinlay Rinpoche on Shantideva’s classic, “The Way of the Bodhisattva” is shown as part of Tuesday’s session. Special programs are presented occasionally, such as a Yoga and Meditation class.

Meditation and teachings are offered in a secular manner. Some attendees have taken Buddhist vows, committing to cause no harm, develop compassion towards other beings, and to understand themselves better, gaining insight into interconnectedness of all. But one need not be a Buddhist to participate. The center welcomes anyone wishing to explore mindfulness training, regardless of spiritual background or religious affiliation. Participation is by donation.
Information: 508-696-5929; e-mail marthasvineyard@bodhipath.com; visit bodhipath.org/Martha’s Vineyard. Lama Yeshe’s teachings may be viewed at http://www.mvtv.org/mvtv-video-on-demand/ Bodhi Path.

“Having a meditation practice has offered me a way to become familiar with how I operate. When my mind calms down and settles, I get a chance to see clearly what drives me, and work with it. It can be challenging at times to manage all that comes up, both on the cushion and off, but being face-to-face with my tendencies gives me the means to see through them and adjust.” — Barbara Dacey, Bodhi Path Buddhist Center

The Mind/Body Connection
Decades of research in the fields of psychology, biofeedback, psychoimmunology, neuroscience, and micro-molecular biology have led to an emerging understanding of the impact of meditation practices on mind and body.

These include reduction and potential reversal of the symptoms of stress, improvements in attention deficit disorders, self-regulation of autonomic physiological functions — blood pressure, pulse, abnormal heart rhythms, bowel motility, and brain wave activity — the capacity to enhance immune function, the ability to alter brain physiology and structure, and most recently suggestions that meditation may affect both the aging process and the suppression/activation of genetic imprinting.

We are at the early stages of documenting through modern science the age-old experiential findings of the Yogis.

How does a change in something as intangible as the mind cause physical change? When an individual gains progressive stability in meditation, there is a calming of the overactive mind, and with that a corresponding slowing and balancing of the body’s physiology.

This can be a result of the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, alterations in hormonal activity, and increased levels of neuropeptide messenger molecules. Each of these changes has a cascading effect on complex body mechanisms.

What ancient Yogis, modern scientists, and common sense assert is the timeless wisdom of the mantra of our ancient Greek ancestors: ‘sound mind, sound body.’” — Elliott Dacher, MD, meditation teacher, author: “Aware, Awake Alive,” “Integral Health,” “Whole Healing”

“Learning, living, and practicing meditation has made me a better human being. Meditation helps me think more clearly, gives me more patience, enables me to see things from different perspectives. It has allowed me to live life more gracefully. — Donna Goodale, student of Elliott Dacher

More Meditation Opportunities

Wednesday Drop-In Meditation Group: Sustaining and Growing Our Meditation Practice”This group welcomes all meditators or those without experience interested in beginning a practice. The 90-minute session held at the Martha Vineyard Hospital’s South Side Conference Room begins and ends with a 20-minute meditation. Discussion focuses on readings.
Every Wednesday, 6–7:30 pm. Free. Donna Goodale, coordinator: 508-939-1118.

Meditation and Discussion: Saturday Morning Community Drop-In Program
Elliott Dacher, MD, presents three Saturday morning lecture demonstrations this spring on “Focus: creating a healthy mental and physical life in the midst of the everyday realities of daily living.” Meditation instruction, guided meditation, teaching, and discussion. No experience required. Co-sponsored by the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Saturdays, March 22, April 19, May 17, 9:30–11:30 am. YMCA of MV, Oak Bluffs. Free. 508-696-7171; ymcamv.org.


“Shake a glass full of muddy water and one cannot see through the cloudiness. Set the glass down, let the mud settle and become still, and the clear water appears. It was there all along, just obscured. Our mind functions similarly. The meditative path has the potential to calm the obscured mind, allowing the space within which to experience innate wisdom. A natural expression of this wisdom is compassion and love.” — Martha Flanders, Bodhi Path Buddhist Center

Meditation: “Yoga for the Mind”
Taught by Todd Alexander at the Martha’s Vineyard Yoga Center in Oak Bluffs, this class offers an introduction to various types and styles of meditation, and an opportunity to deepen practice for experienced meditators. All are welcome. Class includes positioning and breath work, occasionally walking meditation. Sessions begin with a brief talk, followed by meditation, discussion, and final meditation.
Wednesdays, 5:30–6:30 pm, through June 1. $6 suggested donation; all proceeds go to Smile Train. 508-237-1861.

Pranayama and Meditation
Vanessa Kent provides an exploration of Pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) both invigorating and calming, and instruction in a variety of meditation techniques, including seated and walking meditation, guided savasana, japa (using a mantra and prayer beads) and more. All levels welcome. No experience necessary.
Saturdays, 9:45–10:15 am, year ‘round. Martha’s Vineyard Yoga Center, Oak Bluffs. Free, donations welcome. 508-237-1861.

Meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Mindfulness Coaching Consultation
Jackie Clason facilitates a meditation group in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh with whom she has studied for nearly 25 years. The group meets during most of the year on Wednesday evenings in Chilmark. Free.
Jackie Clason also offers one-on-one mindfulness coaching sessions, often in conjunction with her homeopathic practice, “to help people use qualities that are cultivated with meditation and general mindfulness to help them deal with their own difficult emotions, physical pain and anxiety, etc.” Available year ‘round, in person, by telephone or Skype.
jackie@clasonhomeopathy.com, 508-693-7091

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Patient Guided Relaxation and Meditation
Len Bernstein, an experienced meditator and hospital staff member, is available to provide private guided relaxation and meditation sessions to patients during their hospital stay upon request. Sessions take place in the patient’s room. There is no fee. Details about this service are included in the patient information packet.
508-957-9898.

Meditation & Recovery
A discussion group in the tradition of integrating the 12 Steps of Recovery and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, with an emphasis on sitting meditation. Loosely affiliated with the Buddhist Recovery Network, meetings are open to anyone interested in how the practice of meditation can deepen and strengthen progress on the spiritual path of recovery.
Every Thursday, 6:45 – 8 am. Nathan Mayhew Seminars, Fanny Blair Hall, Greenwood Ave. and North William St., Vineyard Haven. 508-696-9479, sit.stay.heal.bow.wow@gmail.com; buddhistrecovery.org

“The biggest challenge is in being true to the new consciousness that inhabits my awareness. I don’t want to make it a fetish. I don’t want to pretend it does not exist. I am learning how to move together with it as a dancing partner, until I am like the shadow of this new consciousness, attached at the feet, as I move through the room.” — Michael West, student of Elliott Dacher

Sunday Yoga Devotion Class
Sherry Sidoti leads a class in dynamic meditation at Yoga Haven from 10-11:30 am each Sunday. “Sometimes we just sit, sometimes we chant, sometimes we dance or shake,” she reports. There are also occasional straightforward seated meditation meetings. All schedules are at yogahavenmv.com.

Zen Tradition Teaching
Guest teacher Billy Meegan shares insights from the Zen tradition.
Saturday, April 19, 9:45 am – 12:45 pm, Howes House, West Tisbury. Sponsored by the Mindfulness Meditation Community of Martha’s Vineyard. No fee. Donations welcome. 508-693-1669.
Relaxed Body, Open Mind, Deep Rest”
Experienced Kripalu Yoga Teacher, expressive movement therapist, and shamanic healer Martha Abbot leads weekly classes at The Yoga Barn in West Tisbury. The hour-long sessions begin with gentle stretching and movement to release tension, followed by 15 minutes of relaxation and 15 minutes of meditation. “The class provides a wonderful sanctuary in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, to receive nourishment for body, mind and spirit,” says Ms. Abbot.
Wednesdays, 11 am–12 noon, The Yoga Barn. Chilmark. $17. Co-sponsored by ACE M.V. through April 9. Class may resume after that date. Yoga Barn: 508-645-9642; mvyogabarn.com. Martha Abbot: 508-645-2735, spiritmovesyou@gmail.com

“One of my favorite quotes that Wendy Chabot shared was ‘don’t believe everything you think.’ The lesson is that much (if not all) of human suffering occurs in the mind. The things that happen to and around us are inherently neutral, while how we experience and react to them is really up to us. Anxiety and depression are really just negative thought patterns that we have fallen into. They are habits, and like any habits, they are formed through repetition, but can also be replaced. The insight that you can control your own thought patterns to be more positive is very empowering.” — Dr. Deborah J. Mayhew, student of Elliott Dacher and Wendy Chabot

 

 


On Sunday morning as sunlight glinted off the newly fallen snow adding an air of magic to the day, Windemere nursing home was all a-twitter, filled with excitement as something unusual was about to happen.

When Jade Bennett and Joseph Rock began planning their wedding there was one special person Jade was determined to have present: her grandmother. But Edith Bennett, nearly 93, had recently moved to Windemere nursing home and was unable to go out.

“That drove the whole decision,” recalled Joe. The wedding would be at Windemere.

Staff members were gracious, welcoming, and helpful, said Jade. “They told me that this is my grandmother’s home, and that they would love to have the wedding there.”

After a nine-year relationship, a five-year engagement, and two daughters, the couple wanted to plan a wedding their way, emphasizing those things most important to them. Family tops the list for bride and groom alike.

It was only natural to plan a small wedding with Grandma Edith an honored guest.

“The wedding is a way for Joe and I to express our gratitude to her,” said Jade. “To thank her for everything she has done for us. Without family, we are nothing, and to me, Grandma means family.”

The couple also dedicated the wedding to Joe’s mother, Ann Elizabeth Rock-Theroux, who recently died. Even the glass cake plate was meaningful, having belonged to her.

“I don’t remember ever having a wedding here,” mused staff member Diane Jackson, as intrigued residents watched preparations. ‘We’ve had a lot of things, but we haven’t had a wedding. It’s so nice they can do that!”

Edith Bennett with great granddaughters Madison and Grace Bennett.
Edith Bennett with great granddaughters Madison and Grace Bennett-Rock.

Madison and Grace Edith Bennett-Rock, Jade and Joe’s little daughters, ran up and down the corridor in red patent leather Mary Janes. Rosie Levesque, six, daughter of bridesmaid Sarah Levesque, joined them, all in red dresses, sparkling sequins, frothy tulle.

Bride and bridesmaid took over the beauty salon for last-minute primping, assisted by Sarah’s daughter, Shannon. The beaming groom greeted guests and kept an eye on the little girls.

Friends and family arrived breathless and rosy-cheeked from the snow, many wearing boots with their wedding finery. Several babies attended, watching from their parents’ arms with bright-eyed fascination.

Windemere’s recreation room was transformed into a wedding chapel. White bows and flowers adorned the chairs; a rose-covered arbor sparkled with white lights.

Madison, seven, strewed red and white petals, followed by Sarah in Valentine’s red. Tom Bennett, Jade’s uncle, escorted her down the aisle as Pachelbel played, shutters clicked. Elegant and poised in flowing white gown and veil, Jade was attended by Grace and Rose.

“Doesn’t she look beautiful?” said the proud uncle to the admiring crowd.

Bride and groom faced one another before the arbor, children beside them, Grandma Edith in a place of honor nearby.

A big part of Jade’s life since childhood, Mr. Bennett received a one-day commission to perform the ceremony.

“Love is in the air here among our families and friends, and nothing could be better,” Mr. Bennett began.

“Life without love is like a tree without fruit…” he said, quoting Kahlil Gibran, then shared the couple’s thoughts: “A good marriage must be created…It is remembering to say ‘I love you’…standing together and facing the world…not looking for perfection in each other…It is not marrying the right partner; it is being the right partner.”

The vows were short, sweet, and heartfelt. Rings were exchanged, Joe and Jade pronounced man and wife.

Grace, six, stood straight and confident to sing “You are My Sunshine.” The guests broke into joyful applause.

“And now, wedding cake for all…coming up!” announced Mr. Bennett, as Doreen Grant prepared to serve her home-baked Boston Cream Pie.

“Grandma has a sweet tooth, so that is why we are having cake right after the ceremony,” Jade said.

Edith Bennett sat enjoying cake, coffee, and the attention of many well-wishers. She proclaimed the wedding “Beautiful!”

“She’s a wonderful girl. I’m so glad she’s got Joe,” said Ms. Bennett. “They seem to be very good together, they seem so compatible. That’s why they love each other. That’s how it should be.”

Born in Stoughton in 1921, Edith Drake Bennett came to Martha’s Vineyard as a child with her eight siblings when her father got a job working for George Flynn at his Edgartown farm. She attended Edgartown High School, raised four sons and a nephew in a tiny home, waitressed for years at the Harbor View Hotel, the Edgartown Yacht Club, and elsewhere. She held big family dinners, took in relatives or friends down on their luck. The Episcopal Church was a mainstay; she sang in St. Andrew’s choir.

“She was always singing, she knew how to tap dance, and had a great sense of humor,” recalled Tom. “She was always trying to keep her spirits up, and everyone else’s spirits up.”

Jade grew up on the Vineyard. For a time, she and her brother, Nathan, lived with aunt and uncle Carol and Tom Bennett, who were like parents to the siblings. Their three sons “treated her like a sister,” she said appreciatively. Graduating from the regional high school, Jade met Springfield native Joe Rock while she was attending Westfield State College. On their first date they attended the Eastern States Exposition — “and the rest is history,” said Jade.

“Weddings can be expensive and splashy,” commented Joe later, “but we decided to just do what makes us happy.”

Along with gathering cherished family together, part of that was planning a low-key wedding night. The two were looking forward to a quiet evening at home alone while their daughters had a sleepover with Joe’s sisters. This week they begin building a modular home on property acquired from Jade’s grandmother.

Their more glamorous honeymoon is next month, a 10-day Caribbean cruise, thanks to the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank where Joe works. He won the generous travel voucher in a drawing, after having successfully lost weight to qualify.

There were photos after photos, plenty of cake, hugs and congratulations all around.

“Everyone was relaxed,” commented Carol Bennett, gazing fondly at her niece. “That makes it so much nicer.

“I think the best part is when they kissed,” said Madison, “and when my sister Gracie sang.”

Then newlyweds and guests were off to a reception at the Square Rigger restaurant where Jade and Sarah work, hosted by family friends Tony and Doreen Rezendes, the restaurant’s owners. Edith Bennett remained at Windemere, relaxing after the busy festivities.

But she wouldn’t miss out on all the fun.

“Grandma has always loved the food at the Rigger,” said Jade. “She made me swear to bring her back some of their famous stuffed mushrooms.”

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Holly Nadler spoke on lucid dreaming while Thad Harshbarger, Judy Hartford, and Nikki Patton listened in. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

We Islanders rejoice when January arrives. Plenty of down time to catch up on pesky household cleaning projects, get taxes done early, read those good books, learn new recipes. By February the closets and cellars are still a mess, bestsellers, tax forms, and cookbooks gathering dust. Even the Olympics, Downton Abbey, and Netflix hits have grown as boring as our own company.

Leave it to Holly Nadler, the sparkling-eyed author, journalist, former bookstore owner, and spiritual searcher, to come up with an effervescent antidote to the Vineyard February blahs.

Her new program, the “Curious Minds Forum,” takes its subtitle from Shakespeare’s ”Hamlet”: “Everything Under Heaven and Earth Undreamt of In Horatio’s Philosophy.” Meetings are at the Oak Bluffs Library, the second Thursday of each month, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm.

The forum, or salon as Ms. Nadler prefers, aims to bring people together to explore with an open mind a variety of subjects esoteric, mysterious, even wild. Ms. Nadler promises, “a little woo-woo.”

Small wonder that Ms. Nadler is excited about such ideas. She developed the popular Ghost Walking Tours. A 20th Anniversary updated edition of her book, “Haunted Island,” with six new chapters, comes out in August.

Thad-Harshbarger_Judy-Hartford.JPGLucid Dreaming was the topic last Thursday. Despite the cold and soggy night, the gathering drew a small but engaged audience. Members joined a panel of creative, thoughtful Vineyarders to discuss, explore, and share experiences.

Panelists included Niki Patton, a playwright, writer, and astrologer; writer, editor, and illustrator CK Wolfson; clinical psychologist Thad Harshbarger, Ph.D.; and Clark Maffitt, musician and actor.

According to Ms. Nadler, in lucid dreaming, a person becomes aware, while asleep, that he or she is dreaming. Some even can change the situation or outcome once they realize it is not really happening.

Ms. Nadler recounted an intricate lucid dream and her “rather astonishing” experience of realizing she was actually asleep. “All of a sudden there’s this astounding realization that you’re in a dream,” she recalled.

At that time, Ms. Nadler meditated regularly. She believes, as experiments have shown, that meditation can cause changes in the brain. “When you keep up a devout meditation practice…things start to happen,” Ms. Nadler said.

Panelist CK Wolfson recalled a recurring lucid dream when she was a child in which she felt overwhelmed. Realizing she was asleep, she would tell herself to wake up, or create a better dream ending. “It pleased me to feel a sense of my own impact on my life,” Ms. Wolfson recalled. “It was empowering.”

Jason-Lew_Cynthia-Wolfson.JPGMs. Wolfson said she no longer remembers dreams. But she sometimes feels a barely-noticeable hint of a thought or sensation during the day and suspects that it comes from a dream. She added that when walking with her dogs, she often finds herself in a dreamlike, relaxed state in which subjects rise to consciousness, and issues resolve themselves.

Clark Maffitt spoke of fascinating dreams containing numbers — phone, license plate — with no clear connection to his life. There was a conversation with a friend who had died, a poem he felt compelled to wake up write down immediately.

“Think of dreaming as unconscious thinking,” said Thad Harshbarger. “Stuff gets thrown together.” He said dream elements occur in unusual ways, unexpected order.

Dr. Harshbarger, who sometimes works with dreams in treating patients, detailed his lucid dream, an anxious experience of being in his former office, surrounded by strangers dressed and behaving as he had in the past. As the dream grew more unsettling he realized: “This is just a dream!” and that he could change it. Like some others, Dr. Harshbarger finds anxiety can trigger lucid dreaming.

Though lucid dreaming was the focus, animated conversation ranged widely, touching upon Shamanic journeying, Bardo (the intermediate state between death and rebirth) from “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, and more.

Upcoming forums feature “Astrology: Truth or Fiction” with Niki Patton presenting, and Kristen Henriksen on shamanic healing. Future topics may include ancient healing practices, levitation, premonition, astral projection, and more. “Poltergeists vs. Ghosts” will highlight the work of Pilgrim Paranormal, a group from Plymouth. Ed Merck, “entrepreneur turned sailor turned author” according to Ms. Nadler, will explain “The Presence Process,” a meditation practice.

Ms. Nadler hopes to bring a Buddhist teacher to discuss beliefs about reincarnation. One evening will be dedicated to stories of Islanders who have experienced “close encounters of the third kind.” UFOs and metaphysical properties of LSD may be on the agenda too.

“Audience participation is welcome,” said Ms. Nadler, “as is healthy skepticism, with the program’s core belief that curious minds are open minds.”

“I’m after an open discussion of all things theoretical, metaphysical, and cosmological where people free to throw anything into the mix,” she added. She is happy to receive suggestions for future topics.

Participants chatted long past the 7:30 ending, leaving only when library staff threatened to lock them in. They headed out into the damp chill, warmed by thought-provoking conversation, home to sleep, perchance to lucid dream.