Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.
Knitworks in Vineyard Haven was cozy and welcoming as several women arrived on a chilly Tuesday evening for their weekly drop-in knitting group.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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!
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.
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.”
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; email@example.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; 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. email@example.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, firstname.lastname@example.org; 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, email@example.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!”
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.”
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.
Lucid 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.”
Ms. 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.
Norma and Edson Rodgers Norma Norton of Edgartown and Edson Rodgers of Vineyard Haven were teenagers on July 4, 1954. When the Edgartown Fourth of July parade approached, Norma ran out for a look and her life changed forever. Now, more than 50 years later, the romance that began that day has endured for the Edgartown couple.
A retired Navy musician and music instructor, Mr. Rodgers, trumpet in hand, is a familiar musical presence at many events. He is a summer tour guide and both are active at Trinity Methodist Church.
“Edson, a trumpet player, was marching with the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps. Norma worked summers in the Edgartown telephone office. That day she took her break and walked out to Main Street to see the parade pass by,” wrote Ms. Rodgers in a reminiscence for the Times.
“As she stood there Edson stepped right out of the parade line and asked her to go on a date with him to the movies. They were 15 when this happened, and now they have been married 53 years.”
“I had noticed him. Edson was a friend of my friend Porky Francis,” said Ms. Rodgers. “I told him, ‘I like your friend. I’d like to meet him.’ But I was surprised. I didn’t know he was going to do that at the parade.”
They dated during high school. Then Edson joined the Navy and left for Washington, D.C. to attend the Naval School of Music. Norma enrolled at Chandler School for Women in Boston.
“He would come see me. We decided we needed to get married.”
Norma and Edson were married on Dec. 26, 1960 at the Whaling Church where her grandparents and parents had been married.
Both only 21, the newlyweds boarded the Islander for their honeymoon trip. They headed to Pensacola, Florida where Edson was a Navy musician. That began a life with the Navy that took them from Florida to Washington D.C., Virginia, and finally Newport, R.I. Ms. Rodgers worked for the Navy Relief Corps caring for children.
“We had four children and enjoyed them,” said Ms. Rodgers about some of the best parts of their married life. “I’ve always liked going to his concerts. And we enjoy doing a lot of things together, going to the beach, going fishing.”
“I think it was right away when we realized we were in love, when we met at 15. We never forgot about that. We never forgot about one another.”
Today they live the old family home where Ms. Rodgers grew up, once owned by her grandfather, Orin Norton. The house is only steps from Main Street and the parade route where their story all began.
Greg and Heidi Pachico Once carefree high school sweethearts, Heidi and Greg Pachico of West Tisbury now are busy parents of two with demanding jobs and responsibilities. But they still enjoy being together. They celebrated their eighteenth wedding anniversary Monday, Feb. 3.
Greg is Manager of Cronig’s Meat Department where he has worked since 1984. A longtime member of the West Tisbury Fire Department, he has just been named Assistant Fire Chief. Heidi works at Conroy Apothecary and is training to become a certified pharmacy technician.
Heidi Estrella and Greg Pachico of West Tisbury got together in 1988 as students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. She was a freshman, he a junior. They had met through Heidi’s older brother, Manny Estrella, IV.
“He was my friend. Heidi was the little sister, always being around,” laughed Greg.
Spending time with groups of friends, the two saw a lot of each other.
“We’d always hang out after school, and often played basketball. She and her friends were into sports as well,” Greg recalled.
Things changed when friends began talking. “I heard people say ‘she likes you.’ ‘Oh, I like her too,’ – that old high school stuff.”
“Once we found that out we started talking together more. And it just kind of grew from there.
“She was always a very attractive girl to me. We had common interests, especially sports. That was the biggest commonality. But I never really thought about her because she was my buddy’s sister.
“She was my type. But it just wasn’t thought about because of that friendship. But Manny was fine with it.”
They dated through high school, “just hanging out at each other’s houses, going to dinner, the movies.” They shared their love of sports. Heidi played soccer and basketball; Greg was on the baseball team.
Then they split up. Heidi headed to Endicott College in Beverly. Greg remained on the Vineyard.
“We got back together while she was still in college, in 1993, the year she graduated. We kind of knew at that point it was each other we wanted to be with.”
Heidi and Greg were married in the midst of a blizzard on Feb. 3, 1996 at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Edgartown.
“A lot of people had a hard time getting to the wedding, including Heidi. She was almost an hour late. I’ll never forget it.”
The bride had slipped in the snow leaving her parents’ home and had to have her dress put back in order.
“It’s not a good feeling when you’re the groom standing in front of the church with everyone looking at you,” said Greg with a chuckle. At last, Heidi arrived and the wedding could begin.
Afterwards, some 150 family members and friends made their way through falling snow for a reception at the Atlantic Connection. The storm didn’t stop the couple’s honeymoon plans.
“We rented a limo to take us to Boston. We were the only vehicle on the boat. What a weird feeling that is!” They flew off the next morning for Florida to begin a 10-day cruise and a week at Disney World.
The Pachicos built a home in West Tisbury in 1997. They have two daughters, Amanda, 14, and Andrea, 11.
Is Greg surprised that it’s been 18 years since they got married?
“Absolutely! All the time. The kids make you realize that by how old they are already. It doesn’t seem possible. It’s unbelievable how the time just flies!
“We enjoy each other’s company,” said Greg, “We’re not really outgoing people, we don’t go out and socialize a lot. We hang out together and with close-knit friends.
“It’s true love, I guess you’d say. We’re each other’s best friends.”
Judy and Stephen Nichols
During their 57 years of marriage and five children Judy and Stephen Nichols of Vineyard Haven have had their share of ups and downs, but plenty of love and good times too. Judy is retired from 20 years as M. V. Hospital Emergency Room receptionist and an active member of Grace Episcopal Church. Steve, an officer at the Edgartown Court House and school crossing guard, retired after years in the trucking business.
“I met Steve through his sister, Anne. I was chums with her in school,” reminisced Ms. Nichols. She had come to the Island from Rhode Island at 13 to live with her grandmother, Hilda Cottle Stevens, and great-grandmother, Nellie Cottle.
“He was four years older. I met him in the old A&P.
“I went in to get hot dogs and he waited on me. I should have kept running,” she laughed.
They socialized with friends but didn’t go out on dates alone together.
“He went into the Army, stationed in Dachau, Germany. He was a Morse Code radio operator. When he came home he started working for Carroll’s Trucking. Then we started dating.
“Steve kept calling me. We’d go out to the movies or bowling. The big thing was to go to the diner for an ice cream soda.
“It was those big blue eyes. That’s what did it! And he’s a very good dancer. He could jitterbug with the best of them. And he went to church every Sunday.
“One night he handed me a diamond he got at McInnis Jewelers. We set a date. The rest is history.
“We were married on July 9, 1956 at Grace Episcopal Church. The Rev. Thomas Henry Lehman married us. It was a small wedding, the reception was in the church. My grandmother and neighbors put everything together. Leona White made our wedding cake.
“Steve has always been a hard worker. He’s a good father. He’s always been willing to travel — and we went everywhere! We had good times! Even when I was 17, I felt that when I get married, this is for life. I’m going into this for the long haul. And I am, and he is.”
Penny Wong and Aguimar Carlos
Penny Wong’s father is Chinese, her mother a New Englander and she grew up in Connecticut. Her husband, Aguimar Carlos, comes from Minas, Brazil. Although their backgrounds are diverse they have successfully negotiated these differences during 20-plus years of marriage.
Ms. Wong is director at Grace Preschool and Mr. Carlos principle owner of Ride On Mopeds in Oak Bluffs. They live in Vineyard Haven.
“It was in 1989, just before my senior year at Connecticut College, and my friend had invited me to come live and work on the Island for the summer. I got a job waitressing at The Golden Dragon/Subs Ahoy in Vineyard Haven.
“Back then, the restaurant was much nicer, with many local people coming in for lunch and live jazz every Monday night. It was a colorful place to work. The owners, the Kims from Korea, worked at the counter; the Chinese men who spoke both Cantonese and Mandarin cooked the main meals worked in the back, and in the middle were two brothers from Brazil who made subs and fried food.
“One of the brothers, Aguimar Carlos, and I spent a lot of time talking during the down times when the place was not that busy.
“We often talked about how difficult it was for him to be a new immigrant and be so far away from family, a situation similar to what my own father had been through when he came to the U.S. at 16 by himself. I immediately saw a caring and determined individual, which was what attracted me to him.
“On my last night on the Island he finally asked me for a date. We went out for pizza at Bumpy Joe’s in Oak Bluffs and got lost riding around on his moped and that was it.
“For the next year we had mostly a phone romance and visited each other several times. I graduated from college and moved out here to live with him in 1990. I got a job working as a teacher at the M.V. Hospital Child Care Center and he worked as a moped mechanic.
“We’ve come a long way. We have been married for over 20 years and have an 11 year-old daughter, Lydia Carlos.
“We have made it this far because we have shown a deep interest and respect for each other’s cultures. I have learned Portuguese and have spent extended amounts of time in Brazil. He has attended all of my big family gatherings whether in Connecticut or in Chinatown in San Francisco. And it all comes back to we both have a good sense of humor and can laugh at our own families!
“When we were married my Chinese cousin sent us this poem, which speaks not only of the interaction between a man and a woman but the melding of two cultures also. I think it speaks perfectly of our last 24 years together:”
Twixt you and me
There’s so much emotion.
That’s the reason why
There’s such a commotion!
Take a lump of clay
Wet it, pat it
and make an image of me
and an image of you.
Then smash them,
and add a little water.
Break them and remake them
into an image of you
and an image of me.
Then in my clay,
there’s a little of you.
And in your clay,
there’s a little of me.
Kuan Tao-sheng (1262-1319)
How we got engaged Serenaded by the Vineyard Sound. by Jennifer Ferrie
I got engaged to my husband on MV in 2003 at the Navigator restaurant. We first visited the Island in 2001 as a couple and fell in love immediately. When my husband proposed he set it up with the restaurant so we would sit on the deck. He enlisted the help of The Vineyard Sound to serenade me as he proposed. We didn’t think to take any pictures but luckily a woman mailed me some shots that she took.
We love the Vineyard and continue to return year after year. We were most recently there in 2012 with our then 2.5 year old daughter. Introducing her to all of the great places that we love to visit was one for the memory books.
The holiday season is a whirl of activity, from shopping to celebrations, decorating to welcoming family and friends. And meanwhile work, community, church, and school schedules are as busy as ever. Throw in a snowstorm, some cancelled boats, shopping still not done as Christmas Eve nears, and no wonder it’s hard to remember what day it is.
Now that the season is winding down it’s time to get ready for a happy and well-organized 2014. Luckily, many colorful Martha’s Vineyard calendars are available to help us plan our schedules and lift our spirits with their captivating images.
The Vineyard Calendar by Peter Simon
Peter Simon never tires of finding great Vineyard locations and showing them at their very best, always with his own especially creative touch. Now in its 27th year, his calendar is as fresh as ever, a testament to the experienced photographer’s gift for seeing each scene anew.
Enticed by the cover photo, the top of the stalwart East Chop lighthouse against a dramatic sun-drenched yet partly cloudy sky, we are led through a pictorial tour of the Vineyard and its seasons, ever reluctant to turn the page because the current month’s photo quickly becomes a favorite.
Each photo is paired, as always, with brief words by an Island neighbor, or, as in this year’s quotes from T.S. Eliot and Albert Camus, a well-known non-Vineyard writer.
Mr. Simon’s January photo takes our breath away in the chilly air as cotton puffs of snow cling to dune shrubs beside a steely sea. Even the commonplace sight of children sledding at Tashmoo Overlook becomes a charming, old-fashioned scene, framed by pine branches. Furry alpacas huddle in the snow like super-sized stuffed animals then all at once — just as every year — Chilmark cherry blossoms burst forth despite the still cold air.
In a fortuitous catch, Mr. Simon shoots bright buoys on the Tisbury waterfront, their colors echoed by a rainbow far beyond. In close-up view, oak leaves in autumn become the “flowers” of the accompanying Camus quote.
For next December, Edgartown’s Town Hall is all aglow with Christmas lights, bringing us back to the present festive moment.
Wildlife of Martha’s Vineyard
This pint-sized wildlife calendar launched by Penny Uhlendorf is now 11 years old. With its photographs of Vineyard creatures both winged and furry in lovely natural settings, the calendar is always popular. Featured photographers are a mix of amateur and professional. All capture remarkable candid views of birds and other creatures in the wild.
The 2014 calendar is dedicated to Ms. Uhlendorf, who put it together for the past decade. She also secured the cover photo of a tiny Allen’s hummingbird, a rare visitor here.
Dan Waters evokes January’s bluster with a portrait of two northern cardinals on a slender bare branch. On another snowy branch, Lanny McDowell’s little white-winged crossbill looks soft as a baby’s toy.
As noble and angular as the Crossbill is fluffy and cute, a sharp-shinned hawk photographed by Mr. Waters stands sentinel amidst ice. Jeff Bernier’s perky tree swallow looks positively exotic with blue-grey feathers.
Sarah Mayhew’s greater yellowlegs prances through shallow water, a ballerina en pointe. Her dramatic shot of a black skimmer shows the wide-winged bird gliding on the prowl, just above the water’s surface.
Birds are not the only stars. Naturalist and Times columnist Matt Pelikan contributes a prehistoric-looking purple tiger beetle, and a delicate eastern tiger swallowtail on a pink blossom. Tim Johnson gets up close and personal with a honey bee, and Mr. McDowell surprises a deer in the woods.
More than just pretty nature pictures, this calendar impresses upon the viewer the nobility and fragility of the many creatures who share this Island with us. The Felix Neck Advisory Committee now compiles the calendar, and sales benefit the wildlife sanctuary’s Natural History program. However, a note to buyers: the dates on the January page are off by one day, and corrected replacement pages are available at several vendor locations. Call 508-627-4850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year, as they have since 2006, Lisa Vanderhoop’s lovingly photographed dogs cavort through the pages of her annual Vineyard Seadogs Calendar. They will capture the heart of every dog lover from the very front cover — a dory piled high with fluffy baby golden retrievers.
Each month features personality-packed pups, some solo, some in pairs or motley groups — living the good dog’s life on Martha’s Vineyard. One-line quotations or phrases beneath each photo capture the mood.
“If you obey all the rules you miss the fun,” aptly accompanies the happily disheveled band of aussiedoodle puppies splashing at Lambert’s Cove Beach. A French bulldog boogie boards; others hurl themselves into waves, roll in sand.
Ms. Vanderhoop rose at dawn to snap the tranquil image of her husband, Buddy Vanderhoop, fishing with their young weimaraner, Wiley, at the Gay Head Herring Creek while an osprey soared overhead.
“How beautiful it is to do nothing, then rest afterwards,” muses the rag-tag crew of furry friends soaking up sun at “Squid Row” in Menemsha. Dark glasses on Keeper, the lounging golden retriever, add to the easy livin’ feel.
It will be hard to wait a year before turning to next December where young Newfoundland huggiebear, a fuzzy, funny ball of black and white fur, romps and tumbles on a snowy Aquinnah beach.
Vineyard Serenity Calendar
Photographer James Blanchard has gathered a year’s worth of peaceful and inspirational images for this new calendar. From beach to meadow to lighthouse to ocean, with wonderful light from changing skies at dawn and dusk, these are the kind of photographs that make the viewer say “Ahhhhhh…” and take a deep, probably well-needed breath.
Mr. Blanchard has pledged to donate $5 for every $20 calendar sold to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services for addiction recovery programs.
Another recent entry in the calendar market, the Vineyard Colors Calendar already has a following among those familiar with its nearly legendary beginnings. When economic pressures drove professionals Moira Fitzgerald and Yann Meersemman to deliver newspapers for a living, they made the most of the early-morning hours to take photos and post them online. Now some of these images are collected in a calendar.
In January we feel the silent chill as snow frosts empty Campground cottages. Horses watch the photographer warily across a snowy up-Island stone wall, barely touched by morning light.
That clear, early daylight is seen again and again, here accenting a white, flower-covered fence in Edgartown. The Campground is seen once again, now transformed in August, brightly colored, hung with lanterns in a photograph so fittingly titled “Grand Illumination.”
In a particularly striking shot, a nearly transparent full moon floats, just about to set, over sleepy Vineyard Haven village in early morning. For sheer lushness, turn to September’s photo, sunrise over Sengekontacket Pond, a truly “rosy-fingered dawn.”
West Tisbury poet Dan Waters enhances the months with spare and fitting quatrains, choosing his words for the right mix, at once light and thoughtful.
These 2014 calendars are available in various Island shops and can be found online. Many include dates for annual events, Island phone numbers, and other useful information.
A music lover who delights in lifting her voice in song, it is little wonder that Mary-Jean Miner’s Christmas celebration rings with the joyful noise of carols. She launched her annual Nog and Song gathering in 1981 when she and her late husband, the Rev. Ken Miner, lived in Scituate.
“Several of us who sang in church choirs and the local Choral Art Society mentioned that we would like to get together and sing music that we wanted to sing,” Ms. Miner recalled. “I offered to make eggnog and have the group over.”
A festive musical tradition was born. The party began with 19 friends joining in nog, song and socializing. Over the years the group grew. Nog and Song has celebrated the season every year since, missing only one when the Miners had no piano.
The Miners moved to the Vineyard in 1991 when Ken was appointed pastor at the Trinity Methodist Church in the Campground. Nog and Song arrived with them.
Musical, fun-loving Vineyarders were quick to embrace the festivity. Many longtime Nog and Song followers continue even now to make the yearly trip from off-Island. For many years some brought a ham, dried peas and other ingredients, so Ms. Miner could make pea soup to serve the following evening for those who stayed over. She still prepares breakfast the next morning.
One year it stormed. Boats were cancelled. But the party went on with a handful of Vineyard guests. After her husband’s death in 1997, Ms. Miner kept the party going, lifting spirits for all who missed him. Numbers range from 30 up to 72 revelers crammed into the small house.
Ms. Miner cooks specialties and concocts her signature fluffy egg nog for the event, offering one non-alcoholic bowl, the other deceptively potent. The round dining table is laden with a potluck extravaganza of festive foods.
Along with jollity, non-stop conversation, and laughter, the party has a sweet, old-fashioned flavor. Ms. Miner’s cozy Vineyard Haven home glows with Christmas lights and candles. The tree is abundantly trimmed with colorful family ornaments. Friends cluster closely around the piano, joining in song as pianist friends play the old familiar carols.
With guests from Ms. Miner’s musical groups – Island Community Chorus, Federated Church choir, and Vintage Voices – the singing soars, strong voices encouraging those less confident.
“We have had grandkids and other babies arrive in carriers to spend much of the evening sleeping,” said Ms. Miner. “One of those babies came her first Christmas, when we lived in the parsonage in Oak Bluffs. Several years ago, she came again, with her mom and a friend from high school. Everyone loves to make music at holiday time, it seems!”
Sylvia Metell’s big family party
Sylvia Metell’s big family party is very different from the Christmas celebrations of her childhood. But it continues the tradition of bringing the extended family together.
Every mid-December for the past 30 years, Ms. Metell has welcomed up to 50 relatives of all ages to her home. Along with her five siblings there are cousins, children, and grandchildren who range from seven years to six months old, and her daughter Sarah is expecting in March. Ms. Metell’s mother, Fortunata “Nata” Metell, a smiling, sparkly-eyed matriarch is an honored guest.
Relatives arrive early at Ms. Metell’s Oak Bluffs home for the late Saturday afternoon party. Some gather in the kitchen to cook and bring potluck dishes. The buffet features baked ham, and plenty of appetizers and sides. Spinach balls, creamed chipped beef, stuffed mushrooms, and sweet pumpkin-cream cheese rolls are favorites.
“It’s all those nasty things you wouldn’t eat normally,” laughed Ms. Metell. “We’re a health-conscious family, but when it comes to the Christmas party all those things come out of the woodwork.”
Her mother’s macaroni and cheese is a staple with the children. Recently one brother brought fried turkey, an instant hit.
Like many others, Ms. Metell said that although the food is delicious the real focus of the party is family. Many who attend live on the Island, but a number who live elsewhere see each other only at this gathering.
“The party was designed to get the family together,” Ms. Metell said. “My Mom always instilled in us the importance of family.”
Along with feasting and catching up on news, the guests play games, enjoying friendly family rivalry. In earlier years there was a piñ;ata and treasure hunt for children. The relatives relax by the fireplace and Christmas carols play.
Ms. Metell recalled with fond nostalgia the family celebrations years ago when older relatives, now departed, would go caroling with their guitars and fiddles, singing traditional Portuguese Christmas songs.
“I couldn’t wait to get old enough to go along with them,” she said. “That inspired the tradition I’m carrying on now.”
Ms. Metell still mourns the loss of her uncle Louis “Siggy” Paiva who played the guitar and sang – “He knew the words to every song.” She said her son, Greg, plays guitar and she is encouraging him to learn some of those old Christmas songs so there will be music at the family parties once again.
An angel in the Greens’ tree
For Carl and Beebe Green of Oak Bluffs, Christmas is all about family, church, favorite traditional foods, and one very special ornament.
Every year the Greens gather with their daughters, Alison and Danielle, grandchildren and tiny great-granddaughter for a warm family celebration. The Greens observe meaningful family traditions, whether here on the Vineyard or at one of their two daughters’ homes off-Island in Framingham or Portland, Maine.
“We always go to church on Christmas Eve, no matter where we are!” declared Ms. Green, a longtime active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven as is her husband. An eggnog toast with spicy homemade pumpkin cake is their Christmas Eve treat.
Carl and Beebe Green love to host the celebration here and they go all out decorating their comfortable home. They prepare favorite foods ahead and trim the Christmas tree – except for the finishing touch, their beautiful black angel.
Many years ago, Ms. Green spied the dark-faced angel at Grace Church’s annual Holly Day bazaar. Hand crafted by the late Bea Atkinson, the angel had golden wings and a deep green and gold gown. Ms. Green just had to have her, and the angel has graced their tree ever since.
On the years when the family gathers in Oak Bluffs the Greens’ daughters and their families arrive on Dec. 26 so the little ones can enjoy Christmas Day at home.
“We don’t put it up until everyone arrives,” Ms. Green explained. “Then we put the angel on top of the tree. We open gifts before dinner, because the children can’t wait.”
There are stockings for all, even the grownups, with a citrus fruit tucked in the
toe. Finally the family sits down to a sumptuous feast — homemade macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes mashed with pineapple and brown sugar, and corn pudding are the traditional favorites, served with turkey and ham.
The festive table is elegantly laid with Ms. Green’s cherished Lenox china set. Even when the children are not here, Ms. Green confided, she uses the special china to celebrate Christmas, “Just for Carl and me. I love to drink coffee out of those China cups. My mother started that for me and added to it over the years. Now we have enough for everyone.”
As many Athearns and Galleys as can fit in one house
When Jim and Debbie Athearn celebrate Christmas, they weave together traditions from both their families, with some new ones too. Deborah Galley of Edgartown and Jim Athearn of West Tisbury grew up on the Vineyard and were married in 1969. They own and operate Morning Glory Farm. Their three children, Prudence, Daniel, and Simon, have settled here and now have young families of their own.
They began joining family Christmas gatherings at the West Tisbury home of his parents, Elizabeth and Elmer “Mike” Athearn. In a few years, the party outgrew the small Music Street house. Jim’s brother George “Harry” Athearn and his wife, Debby hosted at their Lambert’s Cove home. These days, the family Christmas festivities take place in Chilmark, at the home of Jim’s sister, Connie Taylor.
As years passed, children came and grew, and the Athearns, like other families, found their Christmas activities changing. But they have always been committed to getting together with family members.
“We always gather with as many Athearns and Galleys as we can pull together,” said Ms. Athearn.
Ms. Athearn said that their children now embrace some traditions that she and her husband recalled from their own youths. “We always went out in the woods and cut trees,” Ms. Athearn recalled of her Edgartown childhood. Although there was always a big main tree, the youngsters could cut other, smaller trees. Our kids always had little trees in their bedrooms,” Ms. Athearn said, as Jim and his siblings did when growing up.
Today the Athearns still cut Christmas trees on the farm, customarily on Christmas Eve, as was done in Ms. Athearn’s family years ago.
“Christmas Eve was a whole day of celebration,” recalled Ms. Athearn about the days when her children were little.
Christmas Eve supper was “extremely simple” instead of her usual hearty, homemade meal. In the warm farmhouse, they hung stockings, then sat and read Christmas stories together, even as the children grew older.
Now that their children have little ones of their own, the Athearns are busy grandparents at Christmas Time, going from house to house as the seven young children (along with one new baby) wait for Santa on Christmas Eve and open gifts the next day. On Christmas Eve they join the younger families for the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury’s Nativity Pageant at the Ag Hall.
Then it’s supper and stockings at the Chilmark home of Dan and Meg, who has introduced the gift-giving elf “Bates” to all the grandchildren, who now count on his secretly delivered present on Christmas Eve.
Christmas morning is a whirlwind of gifts at the children’s houses, then a hearty breakfast at the Athearns’ Edgartown home for the immediate family. A walk through the Chilmark hills helps everyone digest the delicious eggs benedict, sausage, and fruit salad, and then it’s time to meet at Ms. Taylor’s and celebrate together once again.
While once a big dinner was served on Christmas, the family has decided to “tone it down,” said Ms. Athearn. The menu this year will emphasize lighter fare, potluck finger foods.
“We’re just gathering for the enjoyment,” said Ms. Athearn. “We’ve always felt that Christmas is not so much about food as the celebration, the sharing of gifts.”
Their Christmas ends at last in the Edgartown home they built decades ago, a tiring day perhaps but filled with love, warmth, and comfort of family that endures over the generations.
Mary-Jean Miner’s Traditional Eggnog
Plan to have wine and hot cider on hand, as this stuff is a bit much to drink all evening.
For each dozen eggs, use one box of confectioners’ sugar. Separate the eggs, setting whites aside to add later. Beat the dozen egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow and well blended. Add one-half liter Myers’s rum and mix well. Let stand for an hour to dispel eggy flavor. Add more rum, amount as desired.
Add two quarts half and half. Chill overnight. The next day, whip egg whites and fold into egg mixture.
Just before serving, add approximately one cup Courvoisier. Grind fresh nutmeg over top, leaving the grinder next to the punch bowl for those who really like nutmeg.
Mary-Jean Miner’s Spanakopita
(Always a favorite on the Nog and Song buffet table)
2 pounds fresh spinach
3 bunches scallions
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon mint, fresh or dried
1 pound feta cheese
salt and pepper
20 sheets filo pastry
1/2 pound melted butter
Wash spinach, let dry, pat with paper towels, or spin dry in a salad spinner.
Chop spinach fine.
Sauté onions in four tablespoons butter. Add spinach.
Beat eggs slightly. Add to the eggs: crumbled feta, onions, mint, salt and pepper. Add this to spinach/onion mixture.
Dribble some butter onto the bottom of a 15x11x2 inch pan.
Line pan with six sheets of filo, brushing each with melted butter
Spread one third of the spinach mixture on dough, then cover with five sheets filo, buttering and spreading spinach mixture on each, then topping with filo, ending with spinach.
Top with remaining four filo sheets and remaining butter. Tuck all edges under.
Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes, or until golden brown.
Let spanakopita sit on a rack for a while, to make it a bit easier to cut into squares.
Watch it disappear!
Beebe Green’s Pumpkin Cake
The Green family enjoys this traditional sweet treat on Christmas Eve with eggnog. Prepare this rich cake three days before serving.
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons each: ground cloves and cinnamon
Cream together sugar and eggs. Add vegetable oil. Add pumpkin.
Sift together: flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients gradually to pumpkin mixture. Mix thoroughly.
Pour batter into a 10-inch tube pan, greased and floured or treated with baking cooking spray.
Bake at 350 degrees F 55 to 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cake. Cool cake thoroughly in pan. Remove and ice with Cream Cheese Icing.
Store cake in refrigerator, covered with foil, for three days. Slice, serve and enjoy!
Cream Cheese Icing
4 ounces (1/2 brick) cream cheese
3 4 box confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 pound (one stick) butter, softened
Beat all together until smooth and creamy.
Beebe Green’s Corn and Oyster Casserole
This rich and savory dish is always part of Carl and BeBee Green’s Christmas dinner.
1 can creamed corn
1 small container shucked oysters (available at fish market)
1/2 stick butter
1/2 – l cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper
Beat eggs. Add to corn in casserole dish. Add oysters with a little juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover with bread crumbs. Dot with small butter chunks.
Bake at 350 degrees 20 to 30 minutes or until set.
Sylvia Metell’s Malasadas
This traditional Portuguese fried dough is a long-standing favorite with Sylvia Metell’s big, extended family.
1 1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 teaspoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
l package yeast
7 medium eggs
1 tablespoon anise or lemon extract
Mix milk, water, salt, butter, and one teaspoon sugar together in saucepan. Heat and scald. Let cool until warm. Mix in yeast.
Beat eggs well. Add 1/3 cup sugar. Continue beating. Add one tablespoon anise or lemon extract. Add warm milk mixture. Add four cups flour gradually, while beating. (At this point the dough may be frozen or refrigerated until ready to use.)
Let dough rise until doubled. It will be sticky.
Flour hands. Pick off small handfuls of dough. Flatten. Deep fry in hot vegetable oil. Turn while cooking. Fry until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Toss immediately with granulated or confectioners sugar.
The Athearns’ Cranberry Pudding
It’s a cake, not a pudding, but Jim’s grandmother, Clara Look Athearn, made this for him as a child, and Debbie learned to make it in the early years of their marriage. The original recipe was filled with “scants,” which simply means “a little less” than the amount called for.
3/4 (scant) cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2-3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk (not skim)
2 cups rinsed fresh cranberries
2 tsp. melted butter
For hard sauce:
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8-inch square pan.
Mix together sugar, baking powder, flour, and salt.
Add milk, cranberries, and melted butter. Stir until it is well-mixed.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Let cake cook.
Meanwhile, prepare hard sauce:
Beat butter on medium speed in a small mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar and vanilla and chill. Spread on cranberry cake just before serving.
Going strong after more than 20 years, the Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop offers the opportunity to shop local, times two. Along with shopping at home on the Island instead of turning to malls or online merchandisers, choose presents made here by Vineyard friends and neighbors. Now, that is real local shopping.
“The shop looks really good and everyone is working really hard,” said a beaming Linda Alley, welcoming customers in from the snow this past Saturday.
An original organizer of this quintessential “pop-up shop” and creator of delicious New Lane Sundries, Ms. Alley said the enterprise has grown and expanded its variety. After moving nearly 10 times in two decades, the shop is now on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven.
“We have more creativity, and lovely artisans on the Vineyard who have joined us,” said Ms. Alley, recalling when there were barely 12. Now there are some two dozen vendors, six new this season.
Along with samples of Ms. Alley’s jams, jellies, and mustards, cider is always warm and a plate of treats welcomes customers to the bright little shop.
A big red basket overflowing with gifts is being raffled off to benefit the Island Food Pantry.
Visitors will be glad to see many longtime favorites. Stephanie Tilton Rossi’s fleece sheep, pigs, and horses are staples on many Island trees. She makes fleece mermaids, and tall Santas.
Scott Campbell is back with lovely ceramic bowls, serving dishes, and lamps in deep, rich tones. Realistic ceramic fish are perfect for the family fisherman.
He is joined by daughter Rose offering healthy green succulents and cacti artistically arranged in ceramic planters.
Helayne Cohen’s ceramics have a more feminine feel, in tones of pink and light ocean greens and blues.
Our stockings aren’t complete without Pat Vanderhoop’s festive Christmas earrings to wear while we celebrate. Under her “PZ Designs” label, she also sells beaded jewelry and knit scarves.
We suspect that a package of Patti Linn’s “Linnsational” chocolates won’t get under your tree without someone sneaking a taste. Best to buy extra, whether her irresistible chocolate-covered marshmallows or pretzels, truffles, or creams.
Susan Fairbanks adorns bracelets, bookmarks, and pens with her own handmade glass beads. Jannette Vanderhoop crafts delicate dream catchers and arranges miniature beach scenes in glass ornaments. Teresa Yuan’s dried flowers look like spring.
Laura Hearn Caruso offers colorful beaded bracelets. Her mother, Linda Hearn, shows quilted items; her dad, Glenn, carved birds.
Leather goods, fabric bags, hats, scarves, pampering bath products, and many styles of jewelry are here for the finding.
Randi Hadley’s sweet aprons have a feminine, retro appeal. I imagine them on a glamorous 40s movie star. Featuring floral fabrics, ruffles, sashes, and bows, the aprons are pretty enough to wear to a party, yet practical with big pockets and a button for keeping a dish towel close at hand.
Fabric magician Jo Maxwell turns vintage chenille and other vintage fabrics into robes, throw pillows, bags, and more.
Among the newcomers this year is Juli Vanderhoop with tempting assortments of Orange Peel Bakery cookies packed in snowman-themed gift boxes.
Donna Michalski offers yummy “Aunt Ollie’s” soaps. Each ample bar looks like a mouthwatering slice of frosted cake. They glow with color, sparkles, and fluffy frosting that it is hard not to taste. A fun and useful gift, especially for the gals, or perk up your own guest bath.
Lovely land and seascape photos by David Joyce, another first-timer, show Island nature in a variety of lights, from bright morning to glowing sunset, from softly cloudy days to somber dusk.
Fans of Irene Fox’s Island’s Own Herbals will rejoice to hear she is back with her Simple Joy Herbals. These skin care products range from lush to therapeutic, including Lavender Body Oil, rich Mocha Body Butter, A Faery’s Kiss delicate moisturizer, a healing balm, and more.
Another returnee is Let There Bee Light candles. These pure beeswax tapers in red, green, and natural, some pillar candles, and molded Christmas tree candles add glow to the wintry holidays.
Here for the first year, Elizabeth Williams offers handmade felted hats and scarves, along with jewelry. Also new is Celine Segel with her “wearable art” enamel jewelry, and chain-style gold and silver necklaces.
Add some spice to someone’s life with Heidi Feldman’s Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt. Harvested and processed on the Island, it comes in small jars or a gift set with a ceramic mini-bowl for serving.
The Vineyard Holiday Gift Shop, located on Spring Street in Vineyard Haven, is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm. The shop closes early on its last day, December 24.
All this week the basement of St. Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven has been filled with cheerful Christmas chaos. Red Stocking’s new headquarters for the first time, after years at Grace Episcopal Church, the big room is a busy sea of toys, boxes, wrapping paper. Long lists taped on walls enumerate children by number, (never by name, since confidentiality is strictly protected), ages, genders, and gift requests. Some 30 volunteers choose toys from piles, wrap them at long tables. Despite the hectic level of activity the atmosphere is filled with laughter and good will.
“It’s wonderful!” said Lorraine Clark about the church basement. “It’s big. We’re by ourselves. We’re not in anybody’s way!”
With Red Stocking week slightly earlier than some years, volunteers have been scrambling to fill lists submitted by parents. Tradition dictates that all children receive certain basic clothing, including socks, underwear, mittens, hats, then can ask for three needed larger items such as boots, winter coats, snowsuits. Volunteer shoppers head to local businesses, primarily Brickman’s and Basics, to fill these requests. Toy wishes are matched as closely as possible with donated toys.
As of Tuesday, the total number of applications received was approximately 300, down from last year’s 400. Although there is always an application cut-off date, some are often late. But soft-hearted volunteers invariably head out on last-minute shopping trips, doing their best to make sure no Island child goes without on Christmas morning.
Before this busy week got underway, Ms. Clark and Kerry Alley paused to reflect on their decades as co-chairmen of Red Stocking. They reminisced about some changes they have seen and challenges and rewards of the jobs they will soon leave behind.
Ms. Clark began with Red Stocking more than 30 years ago, assisting her friend Joan Merry who was chairman at the time.
“I just started to help Joan and it snowballed,” said Ms. Clark. “The word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary.”
“Lorraine snagged me as soon as I retired,” said Mr. Alley, who came on board some 20 years ago, and also is no stranger to community service.
The biggest change is the increase in families and children,” said Mr. Alley. “Twenty years ago there were not even 300 children. Now we’re over 400.”
“With the increase in kids, everything else increases,” said Mr. Alley, explaining that when more children need to be served it requires more money, gifts, and volunteers.
“The biggest challenge for us was letting people know that Brazilians are not just foreigners who don’t deserve anything,” declared Ms. Clark adamantly. She and Mr. Alley recalled a few years ago when Red Stocking received some criticism for serving Brazilian families. The co-chairs wrote an impassioned essay, published in both Island papers, stating that Red Stocking’s mission is to care for any Island child in need.
“We made a very conscious decision that Brazilians are included,” said Mr. Alley.
Both said they received positive community response after the essay appeared. They added that they are lucky to have a Portuguese-speaking volunteer, Maria Mouzinho, to assist Brazilian families with applications and other aspects of the process, including the needs assessment to make certain they qualify.
Ms. Clark said that moving from Grace Church to St. Augustine’s is a major change, needed because it outgrew the space. She regrets that distribution will no longer take place in a church around the altar, but more space and adequate parking make the change worthwhile.
In past years volunteers set up shop in the parish hall, toys and gifts were piled throughout the building. Church staff lent a hand with parish administrator Pat Witte often answering phones and delivering messages.
“Red Stocking has eternal gratitude to Grace Church for all the years of putting up with us,” said Ms. Clark.
“The new electronic world” has caused a new problem, said Mr. Alley. A number of children request electronic items, but they are prohibitively expensive. He explained that since all toys are donated by the community, and it is never certain what will come in, the organization cannot honor these requests. The application now includes a note that Red Stocking does not give expensive electronics.
Despite the challenges both Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley said there have been positive changes, and that the work has been gratifying in many ways. Both expect to continue volunteering with the organization in years to come.
“A positive change is that we have more individuals and organizations ‘adopting’ a child,” said Mr. Alley. The person or group takes full responsibility for buying and wrapping everything on a given child’s list.
Both said the vast generosity of the community, from individual donors to school children, church groups, and organizations continues to touch them. They cited the Oak Bluffs Senior Center members who make quilts under direction of Glenna Barkan. Mary Marshall, Sarah Kurth, and Lorraine Hoggan who knit hats and other items, Shirley Robinson who pitches in on distribution day, and many more.
They said how grateful they are to WMVY for sponsoring the Chili and Chowder Contests, the Harley Riders for their yearly fund raising from local businesses under the leadership of Donald benDavid. “They see him coming, they take their checkbooks out,” Mr. Alley laughed.
Especially gratifying are the thank you notes, photos, and messages from Red Stocking recipients, said Mr. Alley. And best of all is when someone says, as one mother recently did, “I don’t need Red Stocking this year, but we want to sponsor a family and buy everything.”
Mr. Alley shared anonymously a note from one mother: “Your program has been a blessing and has brought much joy to my children’s faces and our lives….The volunteers and contributors of this program are God’s angels to all the children on Martha’s Vineyard. Bless you all!”
“The parents are so grateful because they don’t have anything,” added Ms. Clark. “There are people out there who really don’t have anything.”
“It’s been good! We deal with good people that need it, and good people that help,” she said, summing it up.
Experienced Red Stocking elves Leslie Frizzell and Susie Wallo will take on the co-chairmanship beginning next winter. Ms. Wallo began helping with Red Stocking about 26 years ago and brought her young daughter, Lizzie, along.
“I wanted Lizzie to have an understanding of Christmas that wasn’t about presents under the tree but about giving back,” recalled Ms. Wallo.
She stopped for a while but returned as a volunteer wrapper. But when dedicated treasurer Barbara Sylvia died suddenly a few years ago Ms. Wallo pitched in to handle the job.
Red Stocking receives some $60,000 in cash donations each year, nearly half from individual donors. The Chili Contest brought $32,000 this year, the Harley Riders $16,000.
“They’re shoes bigger than either of us could hope to start to fill,” she said of taking over for Ms. Clark and Mr. Alley. “But we have wonderful board and volunteers who will help us.”
Leslie Frizzell has volunteered for 11 years. She began with wrapping gifts, and then took over organizing and filling diaper requests. One year she realized she needed to turn to Red Stocking herself to fulfill her young daughter’s needs. Though hesitant to ask, she was grateful for the generosity she received.
Although Ms. Frizzell leads a busy work life as a caterer and high school tutor she helps with Red Stocking every year. She said she has worked with the Islands at-risk population through Vineyard Committee on Hunger and other programs.
“I don’t have a lot of money. I can’t donate hundreds of toys, but I can give my time,” she said.
Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to choosing a pet food, it’s mind-boggling.
It once was easy to pick one of the handful of well-known brands to feed Fido and Fluffy. Buy a big bag and a few cans with a familiar name and cheery label. The animals devoured it and all seemed well. But these days, supermarkets, pet stores, and health food shops stock an ever-expanding inventory of brands and types of animal food. There have been recalls, worrisome to consumers wanting to keep their pets safe and healthy. Recalls affected both larger commercial brands and smaller, specialized companies.
Pet owners have become more vigilant about purchasing the best and most healthful foods. Many Vineyard pet owners even cook for their companion animals.
Healthy Additions in Vineyard Haven displays a bountiful array of higher-end, premium animal edibles. Supermarkets carry moderate price, well-known commercial brands with a few “gourmet” items. Both Healthy Additions and SBS, also in Vineyard Haven, offer many premium brands. Packaging proclaims “all natural,” or organic. Gluten-free, grain-free, all-meat foods are available. Many are tailored to age or health. Ingredients may include duck, venison, salmon, bison, blueberries, flaxseed, and apples.
Products are available for adding to home- cooked pet food to provide necessary nutritional elements. There are dehydrated meats and vegetables: add water to produce a raw meal.
“I’m amazed how much we sell,” said Healthy Additions manager Bill Ewart.
He reported that many customers seek out the premium foods, do not balk at higher price tags, and are committed to certain brands.
Mr. Ewart said his three dogs eat much better since he began working here and learned more about pet foods.
Though not everyone sees eye to eye on specific foods, there is widespread agreement that reading the label tops the list for becoming an informed consumer. Karen Ogden of Positive Rewards dog training recommends Whole Dog Journal as an excellent source of information on dog foods and nutrition. She advises choosing a food as she does for her four dogs.
The label should list a minimum of two different named meats, she said. “Animal fat,” a low-grade rendered product, and “animal by-products,” and excessive salt or sugar should be avoided. Foods should not include large amounts of corn or soy, since dogs digest animal protein best.
Ms. Ogden stressed the importance of knowing food sources and advised against any product with ingredients from China. A number of recalls in recent years resulted from problems with Chinese products.
“It’s worth it to buy high quality dog food because you have to feed less than with the empty calories in fillers in cheap dog food,” said Ms. Ogden. Owners should make sure the caloric value of a food is right for their individual pet, she advised. “If you’ve got a couch potato you don’t need to be feeding them what’s appropriate for a sled dog.”
She avoids all commercial treats in favor of the small steak chunks she uses in training. “If my dogs want a treat I’d rather give them steak instead of Twinkies and potato chips,” she said, referring to the low nutritional quality of commercial treats.
Veterinarians contacted were reassuring about the acceptability of commercial pet food. “I don’t have any particular brand loyalties,” Times Visiting Vet columnist, Michelle Jasny, DVM, wrote in email. “You have to consider the individual animal as well as family philosophy and finances. If you shop organic for yourself, and can afford to do so for your pets, that’s great, but as long as your pet doesn’t have special needs, such as food allergies, gastrointestinal or kidney disease, and so on, I think any commercial product from a reputable company is fine. The best bet is to talk to your vet.”
Veterinarian Catherine Buck, VMD, agreed that feeding most reputable commercial products is fine for your pet’s health. She emphasized that recalls have not been limited to lower cost foods but included premium foods.
Dr. Buck stressed the importance of reading labels and being knowledgeable about ingredients. She said meat, not meat by-products, corn, or wheat should top the ingredient list. Be wary of preservatives and artificial colors. She emphasized that pet foods should have an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) label, listing many important details.
Dr. Buck was adamant that pet owners need not buy premium foods with exotic ingredients.
“Dogs and cats can live on chicken and beef,” she said. “It’s all marketing. It’s not healthier to feed duck and salmon.” She said some of these gourmet foods add ingredients like berries or flaxseed, “that there is no evidence pets need,” and these can throw the diet out of balance.
Cats differ from dogs in dietary requirements and need high meat diets, not vegetables, Dr. Buck explained. Dogs, like humans, are omnivores, thriving on a variety including meat, grains, and vegetables.
Though countless cat owners rely on dry food, Dr. Buck said that a canned food diet is best. Canned foods contain more moisture, protein, and fat that cats need, and not sugars and grains that can be detrimental to health.
Kerry Scott of Good Dog Goods is passionate about natural, healthful ingredients both in her baked treats and pet foods. She is skeptical about the quality of most commercial pet foods, whether modest price or high-end organic, and believes only a few brands are acceptable.
Ms. Scott sells Bil-Jac, all-natural raw and dry dog food from a small company in Ohio. She swears by the brand that she discovered through dog show connections many years ago.
Ms. Scott explained that although companies have good recipes, foods are made in large plants and may contain ingredients not listed on the label. She said it is imperative to know the original source of each ingredient and that it is pure and healthy.
“Call the company,” she advised pet owners. Ask who manufactures the food, what is the source of primary ingredients, and if any are from overseas, she recommended.
Recommended by Catherine Buck, VMD, this website is packed with valuable information. Includes nutritional guidelines, recall lists. Addresses frequently asked questions, such as: how to decode pet food labels, choosing a pet food, food safety, supplements, cats and dry food, nutrition for prevention. Are pet foods labeled “natural” or “organic” better? Why is corn in pet food? Are grains unhealthy for dogs and cats? Are raw food diets better?