Authors Posts by Valerie Sonnenthal

Valerie Sonnenthal

Valerie Sonnenthal
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We’ve pretty much been holed up at home for a week and now, 10 days into my husband’s flu, he still has a wicked cough and chest congestion. We made it through my homemade winter beet borscht and are still working on my curried squash and apple soup as we nurse ourselves back to health.

When my son came home from NOLS last spring, he baked bread for us all summer long. When my husband returned from a trip to California in the fall, he was baking no-knead bread. Now that I have The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book, I too am baking no-knead bread. I have recipes for everything from bialys to cheese twists, and only have to make dough once a week. I’m finally over my fear of breadmaking.

Over the weekend, when I went into Menemsha to get gas, it was nice to see N.Y. plates and visitors stocking up at the Menemsha Fish Market, reminding me, oh right, it’s a holiday weekend. Jesse Keller and the rest of The Yard were thrilled that 70 people put on their dancing shoes and came out in support of their programs on a frigid Friday night.

We’ve had rain, snow, and happy ice skaters this week. Waking up toward a red sun on Sunday, I was able to get a springlike walk with our dogs on Peaked Hill between the rains and before the wind. Looks like winter will keep us guessing.

Come and learn about how the process of the Chilmark Pond restoration will work at the Massachusetts Estuary Project Workshop on Thursday, Jan. 22, at 5 pm at Town Hall.

The Chilmark Library’s Food for Fines continues through the end of January, or if you just want to donate to the Island Food Pantry you can drop your nonperishables in the collection box opposite the checkout desk. This week’s movies at the library include Friday evening, Jan. 23, 7 pm, On Golden Pond, a 1981 triple-Oscar-winning movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Henry and Jane Fonda. Enjoy fresh hot popcorn and refreshments while you watch. Warm up with a cup of chowder on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at noon and see the classic film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, starring Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney, and George Sanders. Films are sponsored by The Friends of the Chilmark Library.

Spread the word and come and support the Chilmark School PTO and Outing Program Red Hot Blues Bash Benefit featuring the Mike Benjamin Band, live on Saturday, Jan. 24, from 7 pm to 11 pm at the Chilmark Community Center. Here are some of the fabulous auction items you can bid on: a 10-day rental in Maui; one week at the FARM Institute camp; a Morning Glory hayride; a one-week rental in Burgundy, France; a half-day of paddleboarding; a seasoned cord of wood; dinner for six prepared by Chef Robert Lionette; a sunset cruise aboard the Hinkley; and Patriots Club tickets with parking. Tickets are $15 in advance online (no processing fee) at ticketsmv.com or at the school, or by calling 508-696-4911. Tickets at the door will be $20; they include desserts and beverages. This is a 21-plus event.

It’s that once-a-year chance to visit the Brickyard on the North Shore. Walk the brickwork ruins for about two hours with staff from The Trustees of Reservations and learn about a once-prosperous industry on Sunday, January 25, 1 pm. Light to moderate hiking conditions with a brook crossing. The walk is $10 for the public (children $3, members are free) and preregistration is required, call 508-693-7662 or email mpeach@ttor.org.

Tuesday, Jan. 27, will be a special community supper at the Chilmark Community Church; in addition to the usual assortment of soups and casseroles, there will be Korean food prepared by Eunji and Seongmoon Ahn. All are welcome to enjoy the food and company beginning at 5:30 pm.

It was the last week with my younger son home; transitioning back to a more regular life schedule, my husband came down with the flu and four days later so did I. We like to think our dogs Gracie and Zero have taken care of us, and kept us company; it would have been nice if they’d cleaned the house and cooked our meals, but just having a warm body to curl up with has been healing.

One wonderful offering in the community room at the Chilmark Church is Nan Doty’s weekly Qigong sessions on Tuesdays from 8 am to 9 am and Fridays from 9:30 am to 10:30 am. Nan has now added Tai Chi on Thursday from 8am to 9 am. All classes are followed by tea and cost $10. Any questions, call Nan at 508-645-3393.

This week’s movies at the Chilmark library, with popcorn and refreshments, include on Friday night, Jan. 16, at 7 pm, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on Jules Verne’s novel. This double Oscar winner features Kirk Douglas and James Mason. On Wednesday, Jan. 21, come in at noon for chowder and “The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

ACEMV winter courses begin January 20; you can register online or come to the walk-in registration at the MVRHS on Friday, January 16 from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. Choose from 36 different classes including Social Justice for graduate credit, Self-Directed Investing, Rug Hooking, Guitar, Wampanoag Culture, languages and more. Take classes through ACE MV for college credit, professional development or personal enrichment. For more information and to register go to acemv.org or call 508-693-9222 or email info@acemv.org.

Come and learn about issues that are inspiring the developing folk opera, 1854, in particular slavery and the mid-19th-century Vineyard abolitionist movement. 1854 executive producer and director Jack Schimmelman will lead a community discussion, with special guest historian Dr. Elaine Cawley Weintraub, on Saturday, Jan. 17, from 2 pm to 3:30 pm at the West Tisbury library. Free and open to the public.

If you are interested in exhibiting your 2-D or 3-D artwork or crafts during March, April, or May at the Santander Bank, contact Nikki at 508-645-2608. Remember your work must be appropriate for all ages.

Join Pathways on Monday, Jan. 19, from 6:3 pm to 9 pm for Arts & Scripts, presenting a multi-arts installation and new work from across the Island. If you are interested in participating and sharing, please email excerpts, along with a concise description of intent, to pathwaysprojectsinstitutes@gmail.com or call 508-645-9098 to arrange a time to meet at Pathways Gathering Space at the Chilmark Tavern, 9 State Road.

M.V. Poet Laureate Arnie Reisman hosts the next Poetry Café on Tuesday, Jan. 20, from 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm, featuring Dan Waters, Jennifer Smith Turner, and Richard Skidmore in the Marilyn Meyeroff Lobby of the M.V. Playhouse in Vineyard Haven. Desserts and beverages available, $10 cover.

Get ready for a great evening and come join the Chilmark School PTO and Outing Program Red Hot Blues Bash Benefit, featuring the Mike Benjamin Band live, on Saturday, Jan. 24, from 7 pm to 11pm at the Chilmark Community Center. The silent auction includes more than 50 truly unique items. Tickets are $20 online (no processing fee) or at the door and include desserts and beverages. This is a 21-plus event. Tickets on sale now at ticketsmv.com.

If you find yourself in Edgartown on a Sunday, the Federated Church has started up its free lasagna dinner from 12:30 pm to 2 pm, through the end of March.

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Photo courtesy of Roberta Kirn

Sharing songs in Kenya

I have been singing with Roberta Kirn for six years, and if you attended her Winter Concert and Community Sing at the Hebrew Center in December, then you may have heard some songs she has been gathering through her newly created Song Exchange Project. Roberta wrote to us singers in mid-December: “A few years ago I was reflecting on what kind of work I could do that would bring fulfillment and happiness to myself and others. The work would involve traveling to cultures other than my own, teaching songs that I have learned and gathering new ones to teach once I returned home. I would connect with others through the medium of song.”

Roberta named this effort the Song Exchange Project, then didn’t think about it again until February of 2014, when she went to teach at Daraja Academy in Kenya.

children watch the drumming. -Photo courtesy of Roberta Kirn
children watch the drumming. -Photo courtesy of Roberta Kirn

Roberta was both surprised and impressed that during her stay there, she would teach the students different songs and immediately hear them coming out of morning church service, or see students teaching the songs to other people. “That’s how quickly it goes,” Roberta told me recently. “To me that’s the Song Exchange Project — it is incorporated into their lives, because singing is so much a part of their daily lives already.” Roberta attributes the students’ quick learning to the fact that all the girls at the school speak their native language as well as English and at least one other African language.

“I have always loved to sing,” Roberta told me, “and when I was a teenager, all my friends thought I was going to be the next Joni Mitchell.” She plays guitar, piano, and drums. She originally began studying with Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock, a Grammy Award-winning all-female African-American a cappella ensemble, who express their history through song, dance, and sign language. Their mission, she said “is to get people singing … to get other people singing.” After taking her first workshop, Roberta began her monthly Sings on the Vineyard. “I don’t know why we decided to perform,” she said. “It changes everything; it’s not about the performance, but the process that matters.”

Roberta says she is focused on how voices together unlock ourselves, how singing gives each of us inner strength, heals. If a person becomes focused on performance, they lose being in the moment. All that really matters, she says, is the time we share and our discovery and exploration of our own voices, and how singing in a group is in and of itself incredibly uplifting, beyond the vibrational energy created through a group of voices.

photo by Ralph Stewart
photo by Ralph Stewart

Roberta has continued to study group singing in workshops off-Island with Melanie DeMore, Nick Page, and Bobby McFerrin, and has brought DeMore and Page to the Vineyard, where they have conducted workshops for all ages at the high school and Union Chapel.

Onward aboard the Charlotte

Invited by Pam and Nat Benjamin to come and work with Sister Flora Orphanage, Roberta left for Ile à Vache, an island that is part of Haiti, on Dec. 29. Her home during her stay will be aboard the Charlotte. Before she left, she said she was excited to visit a small island that has its own culture, learn songs in Creole, and be introduced to another group of kids to work with. She is also hoping that when Pam and Nat continue their winter journey to Cuba, they will find an appropriate organization she can work with there next year.

Roberta will return to Kenya in late February for a month to continue to collect more songs from the rich traditions of the 30 different tribes represented at Daraja Academy and to teach the girls more of the songs that she has learned over the years. “I think of the girls often,” she said, “as I sing and teach their songs in Swahili and Samburu.”

Roberta hosts her next Community Sing on Thursday, Jan. 22, at 5 pm at the Charter School. To learn more about the Song Exchange Project or make a donation to support her work, go to bewellsing.com. There is a link on her site to learn more about the Daraja Academy, and to learn more about the Sister Flora Orphanage, go to freecruisingguides.com.

For Charlie Davis, each new wooden bird was a chance to perfect his process. For his family, his decoy making helped them understand who he was.

A wooden redhead duck decoy carved by Charles A. Davis Sr. on Martha's Vineyard, hand-painted by Vineyard artist Thomas DeMont. – Photo by Chuck Davis

The practice of creating decoys in order to lure fowl to hunt has a long and rich history in New England. Native Americans began binding reeds and stalks into shapes resembling local birds centuries ago. On Martha’s Vineyard, generations of Islanders created decoys for hunting, including the late Chilmark selectman Herbert R. Hancock. As the opportunities for hunting subsided, Islanders such as Chilmark painter Stan Murphy — who would go on to write a book about the art of the decoy (see box)— began collecting them. Decoy artists emerged, and entered their works in shows at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, or sold them to eager collectors. One Island decoy fetched more than $22,000 at auction several years ago — though that would have astonished the fisherman, Benjamin Warren Pease, who carved it.

Charlie Davis had many hobbies. His children have vivid memories of the former high school principal creating and perfecting duck decoys in the basement of their New York Avenue home in Oak Bluffs. – Photo courtesy Chuck Davis
Charlie Davis had many hobbies. His children have vivid memories of the former high school principal creating and perfecting duck decoys in the basement of their New York Avenue home in Oak Bluffs. – Photo courtesy Chuck Davis

One passionate practitioner, Charlie Davis, known Island-wide for many things — among them being the longtime principal of the new regional high school — created decoys not for hunting, or art or collecting, but as with many Islanders and their hobbies, for the sheer pleasure of it. Few outside his family and close friends knew about his decoy hobby. After his death in 1984, his wooden ducks were disseminated among his three children and his widow, Geraldine. After Geraldine’s death last year, her daughter Kathy Sollitto and her daughter, the painter Kara Taylor, took the collections out of the attic. Times contributor Valerie Sonnenthal talked with Charlie Davis’s children and granddaughter about the decoys he left behind, and their memories of  a man with a simple Island passion.

In 1959, Charles A. Davis Sr., known as Charlie, moved with his wife and three young children from rural Maine to Martha’s Vineyard to become the first principal of the newly regionalized high school, a job he would hold for more than 20 years. Charlie was a true Renaissance man, according to his children: He played instruments (something he encouraged in each of them, and they do to this day); he cooked; he renovated and restored, room by room, his first Island home on New York Avenue (presently the Book Den East) in Oak Bluffs; he fished and enjoyed nature; he tied and sold fishing flies; he owned and operated a restaurant (the Dock Street Delicatessen: We don’t make sandwiches – we build ’em!) – just to name a few things.

And there was another thing: he loved to carve decoys, using homemade patterns.

Kara Taylor inherited the molds her "Papou" (grandfather) used to make the decoys. – Photo by Kara Taylor
Kara Taylor inherited the molds her “Papou” (grandfather) used to make the decoys. – Photo by Kara Taylor

Chuck Davis, the middle son, an underwater photographer and cinematographer in California, remembers that his father had a creative sensibility and deep appreciation for the arts and was “always doing creative things, like making sand sculptures in the ’60s, making fine furniture, playing the saxophone.” He grew to appreciate decoys as an Island art form, done by friends such as Herbie Hancock, who made decoys to hunt with.

From his brother-in-law, Charlie inherited a Shopsmith — a lathe-based multitool that uses a single motor to perform as lathe, table saw, sander, and drill press.

Redhead duck wood decoy, carved and painted by Charles A. Davis Sr. on Martha's Vineyard. – Photo by Chuck Davis
Redhead duck wood decoy, carved and painted by Charles A. Davis Sr. on Martha’s Vineyard. – Photo by Chuck Davis

Mark, an award-winning teacher now residing in the Bay Area, is the youngest son and the one who, beginning in 1970, helped his dad make the decoys. Each bird, he said, was a chance to perfect his process. “He talked to anybody and everybody who liked to talk [decoys],” he said. “He developed a library around his passion and made an effort to see what other decoy makers were doing on the Island.” Mark has several decoys that have moved with him wherever he has lived. He keeps a goose on his dining table and another on display. “When I’m looking at them,” he said,  “I’m not looking at a bird, but the cellar of our house on New York Avenue; I see him in his T-shirt covered in sawdust, and his glasses perched on the end of his nose.”

IMG_3082.jpg
The Davis family in 1982. From left: Mark Davis and wife Suzanne with their infant, Sarah; Charlie Davis Sr. behind his wife Geraldine and their granddaughter Beth Taylor (green shirt); Chuck Davis (with beard) behind his sister Kathy Taylor (now Sollitto) holding daughter Kara Taylor, and (with moustache) Kathy’s husband at the time, Bob Taylor. – Courtesy Kara Taylor

Chuck remembers those basement days. “I have vivid memories of my Dad working on his decoys down in the basement of that old Victorian house on New York Avenue,” Chuck told me. “This was around 1971 or ’72, when I was in high school. I remember the old Shopsmith lathe spinning and rumbling as my dad was carving away — sawdust flying all over the place down there — and the sounds of the lathe permeating our house. I have vivid memories of boxes of partially made decoys in various states of completion piled in boxes in the basement next to the Shopsmith, awaiting further sanding and painting.”

Chuck remembers watching his dad for hours as he traced out the patterns and worked on ducks, terns, and geese. “The redheads are the ones that I remember that really stand out,” he said. “He’d carve these bodies of various species, and there would be boxes full of them. He’d shape them out first and then put the heads together.”

His father would glue and laminate the birch boards together to get the thickness he wanted so he could carve them. He was a good woodworker, using inlay and intricate design details.

Kathy Sollitto of Chilmark is Charlie Davis’s only daughter and oldest child. She was already in college when her father, then in his 40s, began making decoys. Several months ago, Kathy was preparing for a move to Oak Bluffs, to the home of her late mother, Geraldine Cronig, who had married Rob Cronig after Charlie’s death. She had most treasures already packed, but she pointed out one decoy, a favorite, painted by Tom DeMont, the owner of the Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery and one of the country’s top scrimshaw artists. Her father’s style and craftsmanship evolved over time, refining the shape of his decoys, the line of the neck, becoming clearly more elegant. She said that Charlie hired Tom DeMont to paint the more intricate birds.

Charlie Davis was also an avid fisherman  who tied, and sold, his own flies. – Photo courtesy of Chuck Davis
Charlie Davis was also an avid fisherman who tied, and sold, his own flies. – Photo courtesy of Chuck Davis

“I remember my Dad lamenting to me that he just ‘didn’t have the patience’ to do the fine feathering and detail work with paints,” Chuck said. “He even asked my wife Norma, who attended the Minneapolis Art Institute, if she would consider painting some of his decoys for him when we were on the Vineyard visiting from Los Angeles. That always amazed me, as it seemed to me that it took a tremendous amount of patience to carve those decoys in the first place. But my dad used a more basic style, with broader strokes of the brush, while Tommy’s style had much more dimension and detail to it.”

When she cleaned out her mother’s house last winter, Kathy found a whole collection of tiny unpainted birds — patterns — which she gave to her daughter, Kara Taylor, the artist, to use in her own work: to paint them or do whatever she wants with them.

Charlie never exhibited his decoys, never sold them, never entered any in the Ag Fair.

“I think there are two parts to this,” said Mark. “First, quite simply, my father’s satisfaction came through the creative process. He loved reading about other bird carvers and wanted those close to him to share in his passion — he would give birds to his friends and family members. Second, because my father was always trying to perfect his art, I don’t think he would have been comfortable entering his work in anything like the Ag Fair. My father had a deep respect for many bird carvers such as Joe Cerruti and Island bird carvers such as the late Herbert Hancock and William McChessney. He would never tell anyone that he was of the same level as those men. In the end it was the creative process where he received his satisfaction.”

Redhead duck decoy, dorsal view of feather detail, hand-painted by artist Thomas DeMont. – Photo by Chuck Davis
Redhead duck decoy, dorsal view of feather detail, hand-painted by artist Thomas DeMont. – Photo by Chuck Davis

Chuck Davis said that after photographing the ducks for this story, he got to thinking about the feelings that his dad’s decoys conveyed to him over the years. “When I pulled my dad’s decoys off our living room shelf and  dusted them off last September,” he said, “I was again amazed at how there is a personality to each of these birds. And that is partly the inspired spirit of the animal that my father loved and admired, which he put into his work. He really did love the outdoors and all wildlife. But it is also a part of my father’s own creative spirit — I really do see and feel some of my father in those carvings. You can see where his hand guided his cutting  tools over the wood surface, and how he smoothed it with sanding paper over those curved avian bodies.

“He had the ability to transform  a solid block of white cedar, or birch, and morph it  into the form of a beautiful migratory seabird that seems to have its own personality — and reflect its own light, shape, and form.”

Decoy makers on Martha’s Vineyard

Duck decoys are now collectors’ items on Martha’s Vineyard, but for centuries, decoys were used strictly to lure ducks for the hunt.

— Excerpted and adapted from “Island Gunners Blended Purpose and Craft” by Nelson Sigelman, originally published in 1999

Before transplanted city folk defined Vineyard rural quality, when a black dog was considered a hunting companion and not a souvenir icon, Island waterfowlers shot over decoys carved by men able to imbue blocks of cedar with natural honesty and grace.

These days, molded plastic has replaced wood as the material of choice, and spacious houses stand in place of unadorned cabins along the shores of the Vineyard’s great ponds.

Noted Island artist, muralist, and decoy collector Stan Murphy, in his book “Martha’s Vineyard Decoys” (David R. Godine, pub., 1978), described Benjamin D. Smith of Oak Bluffs, born in 1866, as a carver of some of the finest decoy ducks ever seen, a loner “who made his decoys for the ducks only, not for men, yet his carvings are a distillation of great natural talent, the keenest powers of observation, and superb technique.”

In the conclusion of his book, he wrote of the old decoys: “They were made only to toll the birds, not to leave for posterity the evidence of man’s ability to create from common materials things of truth and occasional great beauty. The secret of the fascination of old decoys, of the endless variations of their small forms, lies somehow in the word unselfconscious. They pay no conscious homage, as do other art forms, to God or to man or to ego; their sole intent is to convince a living duck that they too are alive. Thus their rare integrity and finally, their immortality.”

Herbert Hancock, lobsterman and long-time Chilmark selectman, who died at age 71 in 2001, began duck hunting with his father and grandfather in the marshes and ponds of Chilmark. Herbert started carving decoys more than 65 years ago for the same reason that his great-grandfather — Russell Hancock, a whaler, fisherman, and farmer — carved them: to attract ducks. It was a time when Islanders went hunting and fishing to put food on the table and could ill afford to buy decoys.

“I wanted some bluebill and widgeon to go duck hunting,” said Herbert. He decided he could make a better decoy than the few he had available.

“I liked to do carpentry work in the summer, and was around a wood shop with tools and extra pieces of wood lying around there, so I just carved duck decoys,” he said with no reference to his own skills and natural ability.

In high school he sat in study hall and carved decoy heads. The graduating class was all of 27 students. Later, when he went away to Wentworth Institute in Boston, he sold his decoys for $3 apiece.

“I thought I was doing real good,” he said.

Herbert stopped duck hunting 30 years ago when ducks, and opportunities to go places he had hunted as a boy, slowly disappeared. But his love and appreciation of wooden decoys, particularly the decoys of Vineyard carvers, never diminished.

Spare and economical in word and deed, he gave no long-winded statements. Asked what makes a good decoy, he cocked his head and with an expression that he reserved for the obvious, he answered directly and to the point: “If it looks like a duck.”

Mary Ann and Jonathan Eastman visited from Park City, Utah. – Courtesy Mary Ann Eastman

OK, it really is 2015, a number that once seemed so far in the future I did not imagine being alive, but here we are and we have all survived the holidays, winter settling its cold upon us, sharing with family, friends, and neighbors, and keeping a pot of hot soup on the stove. I even changed my party plans, instead inviting everyone to attend Saturday night’s Chilmark Potluck Jam with an amazing lineup of local talent and not a free seat in the house. I know some of you really wanted to go out dancing, and you will have your chance to get your dancing shoes on and support the infrastructure of The Yard’s “Making It: Kids Make Dance” program, providing children with movement and kinesthetic learning in schools. Come on out to the Chilmark Community Center on Friday, Jan. 16, from 7:30 pm to 10 pm; a $10 or higher donation is requested.

The holidays brought a lot of visitors to Menemsha, including Mary Ann and Jonathan Eastman from Park City, Utah. When I met them they were enjoying a platter of steamers at the Menemsha Fish Market. In fact, it was the second time in a week they had made the trek from Vineyard Haven, where they were house- and dogsitting for Jonathan’s sister, Judy Federowicz, owner of Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate. Jonathan spent his first week in bed with the flu and was making up for lost time, so they brought a 2-pound lobster dinner back to Vineyard Haven to enjoy, and are hoping they may be able to housesit for the holidays again next year.

Seeking chowder? Stop by the Chilmark Community Church for Tuesday Soup Nights at 5:30 pm or drop into the Chilmark public library for Chowder and a Movie on Wednesdays in January and February at noon. You can catch more free movies and enjoy popcorn and refreshments at Friday-night films from now until mid-March at the Chilmark library. And if it’s an afternoon tea you desire, join in bidding farewell to Norman and Diana Freed at 4:30 pm, Wednesday, Jan. 14. Norman has served as chairman of the Chilmark Library Board of Trustees since 1997. We wish them well as they move to the mainland to be closer to their family. For further information on films and library programs, go to chilmarklibrary.org.

K–5th graders are invited to join Story and Arts & Crafts Time every Wednesday in January from 3 pm to 4 pm at the Chilmark library. Call Irene for questions at 508-645-3360.

Nancy Aronie has added a two-day Winter Chilmark Writing Workshop, beginning Friday night, Jan. 23 from 6 pm to 7:30 pm and Saturday, Jan. 24 from 9 am to 4 pm, which includes a hot soup lunch prepared by Nancy. Call 508-645-9085 or go to her website chilmarkwritingworkshop.com for details.

If you find yourself in West Tisbury and are hungry, the good news is, 7a is now open for the winter, except from Sunday, Feb. 22 to Sunday, March 8, 2015. Their regular hours are Monday through Saturday, from 7 am to 3 pm.

Heartfelt condolences go out to Sarah Guinan Nixon, who sadly lost her father, J. Edward Guinan on Dec. 27. He was a remarkable man, a priest, founder of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, peace activist, and so much more. Learn about his life in the Washington Post obituary: wapo.st/1wQuscs.

I forgot to mention last week that whenever I am in NYC I seem to run into more Vineyarders, whether we have known one another or not. When attending lighting designer Phil Sandstrom’s birthday celebration, I met The Yard’s board member, choreographer, teacher, and performer Liz Keen and two friends of Islander Roberta Kirn’s from her days at Sarah Lawrence. Liz (Roberta’s dance teacher at SL) said she looks forward to returning for her next Vineyard summer and her work with The Yard. Speaking of which, Executive Director David White was honored this fall for creating the Bessies, the first awards recognizing choreographers and dancers. David has always been a key supporter of modern dance, performance art, and works for which few venues existed. Thank you, David, for bringing dance to all the Island schools and making alternative performance part of the lives of everyone on the Vineyard.

In the meantime, if you happen to be in NYC and find yourself in the East Village, stop into Katinka at 303 East 9th Street, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 4 pm to 7 pm, owned by jazz musician Billy Lyles and his wife, designer Jane Williams. Not only are the prices nearly the same as when they opened in 1979, but Jane has worked with the same villagers in India for the past 35 years, producing beautiful garments. The store is an eclectic wonderland on a block filled with many fun shops to explore. You can’t beat the prices or the company. And even though I grew up in NYC, it was the first time I ever visited Katinka.

My older son returned from a holiday trip to New Hampshire with his girlfriend, bearing a gift from Zeb’s General Store in North Conway Village. The same famous schooner captain Zeb Tilton from Chilmark — who knew? And yes, they ship.

I have known Joe Massua’s smiling face greeting me at the Chilmark post office for the past two and a half years, but some of you have known him for the past 29 years. I want to thank Joe on all our behalf for taking such good care of us as he officially retires today, the last day of 2014. Enjoy your newfound peace, Joe.

If you are looking for a local early-evening celebration of New Year’s Eve, drop by the Living Room Studios at Pathways Gathering Space, 9 State Road (Chilmark Tavern) from 7 pm to 9 pm to be amidst “Early Arts Resolutions, Conversation & Refreshments” while enjoying the music of Mait Edey, Matt Stamas, Kim Hilliard, David Stanwood, and more. Dress should be your vision for the New Year; laid-back, outlandish, fantabulous, incognito, or everyday arts. This event is free. Remember to stop in for gifts made by local artists and jewelers as well as publications from local authors and Vital Signs’ great togs for infants by Keren Tonneson, open every day except Wednesdays from 12 to 4 pm.

Tom Dresser will be talking about his latest book, “Music on Martha’s Vineyard: The History of Harmony,” on Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 5 pm at the Chilmark public library.

I can hardly believe how fast 2014 has gone. When I come home to Chilmark, I’ll admit sometimes I am anxious, but as soon as we hit North Road on our way from the ferry, I can’t wait to be home and, in fact, wonder why I ever questioned coming home and remember I didn’t want to leave in the first place. Yes, home, in a sense of home I have had nowhere before in my life. I am thankful to live in Chilmark and on the wonderful and quirky Island of Martha’s Vineyard. Happy New Year to one and all.

“Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.”

— Neil Gaiman

‘Twas the first night of Hanukkah and all through the house the mice were chomping, latkes baking, dogs snoring, bread rising, holidays cards drying, son flying, lights twinkling, wood stove fire crackling, and life is good. In Chilmark life has been sweet this week with a tin re-filled daily by an elf from Chilmark Chocolates at the Post Office. I heard that the librarians have drawn from a hat for this coveted trip to pick up the mail at the sweet spot. And you were lucky if you managed to squeeze into the parking lot on the last December day that Chilmark Chocolates was open. The chocolate elves deserve a much-needed holiday break.

The Santander Bank runneth over with the glorious colors and shapes of Candy Shweder’s Up-Island Pottery offerings, available through the December 26, and then Aquinnah jeweler Jessica Kramer returns with her raw mineral jewelry through January 2, all under $50.

Don’t forget you can get fresh milk, cheese, meats, and other goodies at Mermaid Farm and The Grey Barn. And the Allen Farm shop is a great place to get holiday gifts, open daily from 11:30 am to 5 pm, orders can be made by phone at 508-645-9064 and check out their goods online at allenfarm.com.

I must apologize to Everett Poole whose Chilmark Chandlery  (508-645-9562) is not only open, but will surprise you with unexpected finds from 3 to 5 pm except Sundays. Next door check out the wonderful world of Scott McDowell’s Copperworks of Martha’s Vineyard, open through January 1, 2015. If you can’t make it down to Menemsha you can go to the-copperworks.com and shop there or call 508-645-2995 — Scott loves special orders.

The Chilmark Library Used Book Sale continues through December 27 at 12 noon and all books are free after 10:30 am on the last day.

The First Congressional Church of West Tisbury’s annual Christmas Pageant is at 5 pm on Wednesday, December 24, at the Ag Hall; all are welcome. Or join the Chilmark Community Church for their 5 pm Christmas Eve candlelight service.

If you like to sing, join Niki Patton on Christmas for caroling at Windemere from 3:15 – 5:15 pm, meet in front, song sheets will be provided, bring an instrument to play. Call 508-693-4307 for questions or more information. I have done this a couple of years with Niki and can say your songs will lift hearts and you will return home lighter.

Saturday, December 27, will be the last indoor Farmer’s Market at the Ag Hall, from 10 am – 1 pm. If you have your young family members visiting drop by Kristin’s Stories & Songs at The Chilmark Library on Saturday at 10:30 am and all ages are welcome to come and build at the West Tisbury Library Lego Club from 2:30 – 4:30 pm.

Sunday, December 28 is the last day to see the MV Teddy Bear Suite at The Harbor View Hotel’s Captain’s Cottages; money raised is donated to the MV Boys and Girls Club and its After School Programs. For more information, go to mvteddybearsuite.com or call 508-627-4567.

All are welcome to celebrate John Early receiving the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard 2014 Spirit of the Vineyard Award at a 2 pm ceremony at the West Tisbury Library on Sunday, December 28.

Seasonal Greetings to one and all, safe travels to all those heading off Island to visit friends and family, and may everyone’s days be filled with comfort, hope, and joy.

Checking it twice... –Photo courtesy share.org

I was thrilled to get to hear Shirley Mayhew read from her new book, Looking Back: My Long Life on Martha’s Vineyard, at the West Tisbury Library last week. I had heard Shirley read her stories before when we were both in Howes House Writing Group when I first moved to the Island. Although she says she wrote this book for her family, anyone with a love of the Island will appreciate Shirley’s wonderfully written stories. The book is available at both Island bookstores and makes a perfect holiday present.

On December 11 Marianne Goldberg and the Pathways team had their season opener where last year’s awards recipients shared a taste of the fruits of their labors in writing, music and the visual arts. Chilmark residents Nancy Aronie read from the fiction she has been working on, and photographer Peter Simon shared his aerial shots of the Island. A great evening was enjoyed by all with offerings from many new and some familiar local artists and musicians. If you want to be inspired or are looking for a place to write, or just want to check out locally-made jewelry, prints, books, music and art stop by Pathways Living Room Gallery and Bookshelf (Chilmark Tavern), closed on Wednesday and Sundays, and open all other days from noon to 4 pm.

The best “Holiday to-do list” I have seen is on Share’s Facebook page. Share is a non-profit organization that supports girls’ education in Africa. So as life gets a bit more hectic and crazy around the holidays perhaps you can adopt some of the wisdom of their to-do list. And you can continue celebrating at The Chilmark Library’s Holiday Party, today, Thursday, December 18, from 4:30 to 6 pm. Make swags to bring home and lift a glass and celebrate all the joy our library offers our community.

There was a change in the line-up of artists at Santander Bank, so be sure to stop by Candy Shweder’s Up-Island Pottery display through December 26 and pick up some last-minute presents — you cannot go wrong with her timeless work. Also there is a box of non-denominational handmade holiday cards by Jess Bradlee for sale using gorgeous papers.

If you are still looking for presents with a local flavor be sure to stop by Lambert’s Cove Glass and Books in Menemsha, get some gas at the Texaco Station and warm up with hot chowder or lobster bisque at Menemsha Fish Market. Remember Josh Aronie’s Food Truck operates 11 am to 2 pm, Monday–Saturday, in front of Chilmark General Store. I love their breakfast burrito any time of day!

Come to the Town Committee on Squibnocket public information meeting tonight, Thursday, December 18, at 7 pm in the Chilmark Community Center to learn about the latest plan and express your comments. The next Chilmark Planning Board Public Hearing, a continuation from the December 8 meeting about accessory apartments, is scheduled for Monday, December 22, at 4:30 pm.

Come and share in the joy of the season and join in at The Chilmark Community Church on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24, at 5 pm, sing carols with guest musicians, pass the light to your neighbors and listen to stories of the ages at the informal service where all ages are welcome. Best wishes to all this holiday season.

If you care to make a dish to share with those on duty at United States Coast Guard Station in Menemsha over the holidays, contact Tom Ruimerman or Janet Weidner at 508-645-7830 to offer your seasonal cheer.

The other day I drove down to blustery Menemsha to get gas. It was nearly closing time, and no one was visible. I popped my head inside the store and called out, ”H-ell-o, hello.” No one answered. I figured they couldn’t be far since everything was open, so I headed back and began pumping gas. After a few minutes a tall woman emerged and apologized for not realizing I was there as she had gone dockside to tidy up before closing. It was a pleasure to meet Deanna Withers, who followed her best friends to the Island. Originally from Colorado Springs, she has been back on Island for two years now. I had to ask if she was named for anyone special; when she answered “yes,” I wondered if it was Deanna Durbin, which shocked her since younger people haven’t a clue.

Although I have not been able to participate except for one time with the MV Gleaners, I did volunteer to roast vegetables for their Island Grown Gleanings Annual Appreciation Party. When I dropped by the two large serving dishes of roasted root vegetables, I passed Debbie Athearn following the youngest walking member of her family and had a chance to say hello to Philipe Morin, Betty Burton, and Uma Datta. Gleaning is a great way to stay in shape while making new friends and helping a great Island cause, but Island Grown Initiative does many things; learn how you can become involved at islandgrown.org.

We’ve had much-needed rain, enjoyed the full moon, and more rain and cold. Holiday lights and cheer greet us in the early dark of evening. There are so many activities going on for the holidays, but you may enjoy the Annual MVRHS Minnesingers Holiday Concerts at The Old Whaling Church on Friday, December 12, at 8 pm; tickets $15 or the Family Concert on Saturday, December 13 at 4 pm; tickets $10, children 12 and under free. Look out for Chilmarker Delilah Meegan; she has a beautiful voice which you can check out on Youtube.

Aquinnah designer Jessica Kramer has a show of her fantastic jewelry, affordable and interesting, at Santander Bank through December 12. Next up is a show of Anne Reveruzzi’s photographs, another lady of Aquinnah, December 12–26.

If you do not want to stray far from home come on over to the Chilmark Community Church for their Holiday Flea Market and enjoy lobster rolls and Christmas specials from 10 am – 2 pm on Saturday, December 13.

If you’re looking for Santa, an elf told me he’ll be arriving at the CCC on Wednesday, December 17, at 5:45 pm. If you are bringing your child for the first time, please let Katie Carroll add their name to Santa’s List. Drop her a line at squidrow@vineyard.net. Be sure to thank the Chilmark Volunteer Firefighter’s Association for securing Santa’s safe arrival.

If you need a little help decorating, stop by the Chilmark Public Library for their Holiday Party where they will supply the greens, wire, ribbons and pruners so you can head home with your holiday swags, and don’t forget to enjoy the food and drink on Thursday, December 18, 4:30–6 pm.

I was very sorry to learn about Herbert Slater’s death and that I never had the chance to know him. Sending Jane Slater, the love of his life, much strength of heart as she adjusts with the support and love of her extended family and community to this great loss.

And don’t forget to get your chocolate shopping done at Chilmark Chocolates before they close for the year on December 18, though you do have a few extra shopping days as they have added Tuesday, December 16 and Wednesdays, December 10 and 17. They will open again on Saturday, January 31, 2015.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and left-overs are being stretched a bit longer, I am enjoying lingering over delicious food and memories of our first Thanksgiving celebrated in New York. It took one of my sons coming from Ohio only an hour longer than the other one who had taken a bus from Boston. Safely home and together. Now that we’re empty-nesters, these times together become precious; our walks with dogs and just hanging out. So much to be thankful for.

I went with Chilmark summer resident Emily Keating to see “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” and Robert Gober’s installation “The Heart is not a Metaphor” at The Museum of Modern Art. We ran into photographer/activists Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson. Cyril explained to Emily there is an important need for songwriters to write about environmental issues and hoped as a singer she may take this challenge up. Emily moved to Portland, Oregon, after she left the Island this summer and has recorded a new song while working in childcare. I have known Cyril since we were 19 years old and were the only daily attendees of films by photographers presented during a winter break at The New York Cultural Center.

Gay Head Gallery owner Megan Ottens-Sargent, an environmental activist and owner of Aquinah’s Gay Head Gallery has presented work by Cyril and his wife, Marie. To learn about their important work saving elephants see christoandwilkinsonphotography.com. Also we ran into Chilmark Planning Board member Jessica Roddy and her daughters in the Gober exhibit. We hope they had a wonderful holiday and visit to NYC.

While in NYC’s Beacon Theater, I ran into author and historian Sean Wilentz as we headed to our seats at the Bob Dylan concert. When I remarked that the last time I had seen him was when I enjoyed hearing him speak at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival in Chilmark in August 2013, he replied with a beaming smile, “That was such a fun audience, I loved being there.” On that Sunday, August 4, Sean gave a fascinating lecture and played musical cuts from his latest book, 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story. While cooking or curled up next to your wood stove or fireplace this winter you can enjoy watching/listening to authors speaking, and panels from the 2013 Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival and 2014 Author Lecture Series at mvbookfestival.com.

Hannah Maxner has returned to the Vineyard and is now running Netherfield Farm in Chilmark. The farm has full and rough board stalls available for year-round or winter boarding and training. Hannah will be teaching lessons for dressage and hunter/jumper riders of all ages and levels throughout the winter in the farm’s beautiful indoor riding arena. For more information, contact Hannah at 508-566-5235.

Come to The Chilmark Public Library on Wednesday, December 10, at 6 pm to enjoy a holiday concert by the Vineyard Brass Ensemble. Though admission is free, non-perishable food donations to the Island Food Pantry will gladly be accepted. And for boo- lovers, the Big Used Book Sale begins on December 10 and runs through Saturday, December 27, at 12 noon. Hardcovers, books on tape, and movies are $1 each, paperbacks are 25¢ each until Tuesday, December 16, through through December 20 when everything is two for the price of one and after that everything is free until the library closes on December 27.

Some of you may have noticed that Josh Aronie’s Food Truck has moved from Menemsha to its permanent winter location in front of the Chilmark General Store. Just don’t forget you can still do holiday shopping, get gas, and enjoy a meal in Menemsha: Stanley’s Menemsha Fish Market still has his full menu, perfect for take-out, and if it is warm enough you can brave the outdoors.