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advice

Too many Subarus in the same parking lot.

Photo-illustration by Kate Feiffer

NickiGalland-headshotBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:
The other day I walked out of Cronig’s, admittedly in a bit of a daze, with four bags stuffed full of groceries. I opened the door to the back seat of a Subaru. It looked like my Subaru. I picked up a stack of papers and tossed them onto another seat,  and put the groceries in the car. It wasn’t until I was actually sitting in the driver’s seat that I realized I was in the wrong Subaru. I took out my groceries, but didn’t know what to do with the stack of papers I had moved. Any thoughts?
Confidentially Yours,
Subaru driver

Dear Driver:
You have two choices.
First, you could try to put all the papers back as they had been, but unless you have a  photographic memory (in which case you probably wouldn’t find yourself in this predicament) you won’t succeed in making the paper pile look exactly as it did before – and so the Subaru’s real owner will suspect that somebody was rifling through their stuff, which is a terrible feeling to be stuck with.

Second, you could organize the papers into impeccably neat piles, clean out all the trash from the car, shake out the mudguards in the seat-wells, and generally make it clear that, yes, this car’s interior was fussed with, but only because it was singled out for special treatment by pixies with a cleaning agenda.

This is Martha’s Vineyard – meaning people are about as likely to break into each other’s cars as they are to be visited by pixies. So go for the choice that’s going to make the other Subaru owner feel better. Go for the pixie option. You’ll feel better too.

(Disclaimer: this advice applies only to Subarus. Results not guaranteed for all car brands, especially BMWs, Mercedes, and big-ass pick-up trucks.)
That’s my take.
Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:
When you are walking along a lovely Land Bank trail with someone and their phone rings, is it okay to request that they don’t answer?
Confidentially Yours,
Cell Stop

Dear Stop:
In an ideal world, there would be weather-proof coin lockers at each Land Bank parking lot, and smart-phone addicts would get bonus minutes if they deposited their phone in one of these while walking. Since there aren’t any such lockers, and since cell phone coverage has been amped up so effectively in the middle of the wilderness in the past few years, I guess I have to answer your question.

The default ethos for walking in the woods should be walking in the woods. If somebody needs to have their phone with them to deal with a particular issue, it should be stated and agreed to ahead of time by everyone who is going on the walk together, and some ground rules should be established. For instance, if a family member is in a crisis (or is a teenager, or has dementia), you can answer when they call; if you’re doing an insider trading deal on a coveted ferry reservation –  obviously, take the call. But working through a domestic spat, catching up with an old friend, checking eBay bids – that’s pretty tacky. Also, it is never cool to log onto Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites, to check how many of your friends have “liked” the photo you just posted at the start of your walk, letting everyone you know that you’re going for a walk in the woods. In fact, the moment you took-and-posted that photo, the pixies snuck into your car and messed up all your papers.
That’s my take.
Nicole

The Emily Post House in Edgartown has an old-fashioned cottage garden. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Gardening is easy. For gardeners. For the rest of us — a plot overflowing with flowers, or a bed full of tomatoes come summer  (or, let’s face it — even a few shrubs around the foundation) is, well, like some far-off dream. And the longer we go garden-free, the more anxious and insecure we become. Where do you start if your thumbs aren’t green? We invite gardening questions, large or small at onisland@mvtimes.com. Our gardening columnist, Abigail Higgins, will do her best to answer. Happy tomatoes…

Dear Abigail,

I have a great old cottage on Farm Pond, across from Hart Haven. I’ve done lots of work on it over the years, and am quite proud of it, except for one thing: the only “garden” I have is one that came with the house, a patch of daylilies that bloom in a tangled mess, with a single annual poppy in the middle. Other than that, no hedges, no veggies, no flowers. My house looks naked.

The problem, as you might have guessed, is that I’m an idiot when it comes to gardening. Not only do I not know what to do to get a garden started, I swear that plants die just being near me.

So, here’s my question: How could I begin to garden this spring? I’d love a small vegetable patch, some flowers or plantings around part of the house, and maybe a small additional flower garden.

My house gets sun all day in certain areas, but it is whipped by breezes and sea air much of the time as well.

What’s an idiot-proof way to start a garden, and then keep it growing?

Thank you!

Fear of Gardening, Oak Bluffs

Dear Fear of Gardening,

Luckily for you, gardening is one of the few activities where everyone starts out at the same level. No one was born knowing how to garden, and, as with many things, our mistakes are often our best teachers.

If I were you, I would first ask myself what kind of garden I want. Flowerbeds with colorful perennials? Cutting garden of annuals to provide flowers for the house? Mixed flowers and vegetables: the old-fashioned “cottage garden”? Curbside garden for public enjoyment, or screening garden to provide privacy in a built-up neighborhood? Are rabbits going to become a problem?

Then, visit the library to look at garden books liberally illustrated with color photographs, to see what takes your eye. Keep in mind that as a novice a small garden is more manageable and initially better; you can always expand.

The next step is to locate the garden site on your lot to take a soil sample, once you have clarified what kind of garden you would like. A colorful flowerbed, vegetables, or cutting garden requires all the sunlight you can provide. Site accordingly.

Take the soil sample according to directions on the web site soiltest.umass.edu, and send in to the UMass Soil Testing lab ASAP noting how you intend to use the garden.

Depending upon the results of your soil test, prepare and amend the soil as suggested in a shape that pleases you. Beds sited next to buildings may receive shelter from wind; they are often rectilinear and angular. Free-standing islands may be more exposed, but freeform and flowing shapes suit them. Consider lattice panels to provide windbreaks.

Or, build a raised bed right on top of the existing soil level, using the best topsoil/compost you can obtain. (Quality topsoil and composts may be accompanied by a soil analysis, analogous to a soil test.) If possible, lay down a base layer of manure, but not so that roots come into contact with it. Raised beds may be contained by structures of wood or masonry, or created by building up the soil to a bed with sloping sides as high as you want it. These are likely to be rectangular. Again, keep size in mind: expect the plant cost to be at least $20/per square foot, and quality topsoil upwards of $60/yd. Anything you start yourself is usually more economical however.

Perennial plants come back each year, such as daylilies and phlox. The existing daylilies may be mowed or clipped down next fall and covered with mulch (if they are not up too high they can be mulched this season, making a neat outline). The following year the “tangled mess” will be neater and you could add other perennials to it. Annual plants grow and die all in one season, such as zinnias and cosmos, leaving the bed able to be totally cleared out in the fall. If perennials and annuals are mixed together it is called a mixed bed. Choose what you like; some will undoubtedly displease you eventually, but this cannot be planned for. Gardening friends will inevitably have divisions of their own perennials to share with you. Accept all gratefully, but remember to ask if it spreads!

Tools good to have include a comfortable, sturdy trowel; secateurs (garden clippers) for pruning/dead-heading; a narrow shovel or spade — long-handled is best for avoid back-stress — for digging in close quarters; a spading fork; and a collapsible rake, for raking out wide/tight spots. A ball of twine and a sleeve of bamboo stakes may become useful eventually for staking plants. Nice to have are a claw and stirrup hoe for cultivating and weeding. A trash barrel can serve as a receptacle for debris, which may be composted in a pile in a concealed spot. Compost pile surrounds may be made from five shipping pallets (free at several places) lashed together with wire or baling twine: one to form the base, and four to create the four walls.

Happy gardening!

— Photo-illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole:

We have friends we are fond of who are not as financially comfortable as we are, and we find it a strain to maintain the friendship when they so often cannot join us for the things we tend to do that are beyond their means (benefits, Taste of the Vineyard, etc). We never know whether or not to invite them to join us for things, and it’s really taking a toll on our sense of comfort with them. How do you recommend we handle this?

Confidentially, Edgartown

Dear Edgartown,

One of the best things about living on Martha’s Vineyard is the bounty of free or nearly-free Things To Do. (Spoiler Alert: there is a shameless plug coming along in a few lines.) A soul-satisfying social relationship can easily be nourished on a shoestring budget here. Instead of fretting about the awkwardness of inviting your friends to a posh event, why not take the opportunity to luxuriate in the non-posh offerings the Vineyard is so rich in?

Besides the miles of glorious beaches and woodland trails, there are cultural events all year long that cost next to nothing – for example, this very weekend, Shakespeare for the Masses will be performing their (okay, full disclosure: our) free screwball version of Cymbeline at the Katherine Cornell Theatre, produced for your enjoyment by the Vineyard Playhouse.

This weekend also features free readings of local writers at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and a free costume ball at the Chilmark Tavern. And we’re not even in the shoulder season yet. There are art openings throughout the spring and summer, and not-infrequent musical offerings such as the Chilmark Community Potluck. Come summer, The Yard, the Vineyard Arts Project and Featherstone all offer free or “little-ticket” presentations as well. Any of these events can be enjoyed equally, and together, by people from lots of different tax brackets. You could fill your social calendar without ever reaching for your checkbook, so don’t use the socio-economic divide as an excuse for discomfort with anyone. It suggests an almost willful ignorance.

I’m not saying to eschew the big-ticket events. If you’re in a position to enjoy the full spectrum of what the Island offers, then by all means, enjoy it! But don’t judge the worth of an event by the cost of its entrance ticket; that displays a failure of curiosity and a very narrow cultural appetite on your part. Even if your friends can’t make it to the high-end benefits, there is plenty of scintillating, fulfilling Stuff To Do with them.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole:

I have an issue at Town Meeting. I’ve noticed that when certain people get up to talk, they emphasize their importance by noting the number of generations that their family has been living here, as if therefore what they have to say matters more than what I, a long-time washashore, have to say. Is there some decent way to retort?

-Almost resentful, Oak Bluffs

Dear Almost:

I’ve never experienced this but I feel for you; it sounds pretty silly. I don’t know why their ancestors are being invoked, but you might point out that the wisdom of 19th century Islanders has little bearing on the issues that we face today; even when it does, wisdom is not genetic, and someone’s suggesting that it is really only proves that it isn’t. Yes, the repository of knowledge grows with each generation, but let’s not pretend only direct descendants have access to it. If that were true, only Florentines  would understand Machiavelli, and only the Founding Fathers’ direct descendants would grasp the workings of the American government. Which clearly isn’t true because Kevin Spacey beats them all in spades.

My family roots on the Island go back to the 1600s, but I would never suggest that gives me any kind of special insight. If I ever were to display particularly good insight into something, I would prefer to credit myself for it, not my great-grandparents. Perhaps these people you’re describing suffer from extremely low self-esteem and don’t think their ideas are good enough to stand on their own. You might ask them about that. During Town Meeting. Just for fun.

Finally, to point out the obvious: if somebody is really pulling rank this way, and implying they have extra clout because of their Island lineage, please remind them their Island ties are about as deep as a fingernail compared to that of the Wampanoags’. If they feel family tenancy implies entitlement, logic suggests they want the Tribe to determine all civic matters on Noepe.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,

Should we return the shopping carts to the queue in the grocery store or is a shopping cart valet service built into the high cost of groceries here?

Confidentially yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

There is no shopping cart valet service. I’m sure that when a grocery-store worker sees an orphaned cart out in the parking lot, they will take the time to go outside and return it to the queue. Or other shoppers might grab it on their way in to the store. That these behaviors reflect well on the people retrieving the carts doesn’t somehow make leaving a cart in the parking lot an okay thing to do.

You’re paying so much for groceries because you live on a “seasonal resort” island with inflated prices that are reflected in, not caused by, the high cost of groceries.

The grocery stores are not gratuitously charging more than they need to and pocketing the extra change. If they were, then I’d encourage you to petition them about providing valet service to justify their prices. (I stand by that – if I’m wrong, and you can prove that grocers are gratuitously overcharging and simply pocketing the extra, I will personally write to them asking them to provide valet service for their shopping carts. But remember, valets expect tips).

When grocers thrive on Martha’s Vineyard, they pay the community back quite generously – for example, by supporting locally-sourced enterprises or making significant donations to local causes and charities. They do not pay the community back with shopping cart valets. It’s all about priorities. If that’s the kind of perk you want for buying organic kombucha, try Los Angeles. On Martha’s Vineyard, the perk is that you get to have a grocery store.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

It’s March on Martha’s Vineyard and I feel like it’s not safe to leave the house. Are people prickly or what? I feel like I can’t breathe without someone snapping at me to stop. Yesterday, I got yelled at by a friend, a co-worker, and someone I didn’t know in a store. I got honked at twice. Even my dog growled at me. Should I simply ignore the March madness or should I play ball?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

If you’re asking about basketball, I’m not qualified to advise, but I think the real gist of the question is: “Wow, why is everybody so cranky this time of year?”

Before I go further, excuse me, but I have to ask: Is it possible that your pals feel cranky toward you all the time, but this is the only time of year when there aren’t a thousand distractions keeping them from showing it? Or could it be they’re being unpleasant because of their own internal sensors, and your internal sensors just happen to be hypersensitive right no?

March (and early April, for many) is an uncomfortable time for most Vineyarders. We like a life of heightened significance; we prefer to be so overwhelmed by External Stuff that we seldom have time to just sit and wallow with our own personal mess. Generally this island provides exceptional amounts of External Stuff, from summer crowds to ferry schedules to winter storm watches… but this is the time of year when wallowing with our own mess is most likely to happen. The preparations for summer haven’t begun; the glow of the Christmas season has faded; there’s no cordwood to lay in; major planting awaits a few more weeks. Having no External Stuff to get cranky about, we channel our crankiness in more intimate directions, like our friends and neighbors.

As much as we like to say this is the season of renewal and regeneration, the truth is, this is the season of mud and muck – metaphorical as well as actual. Traditionally, Town Meetings took place in April because that was how long it took the roads not only to thaw, but to drain from the thaw. In March, the roads went from frozen to impassable due to the sticky mud. We are all creatures of our environment, and thus, we’re all currently in our own sticky mud – and wow, do we all hate that. If only there were deadlines: logs in need of splitting, a rental property in need an emergency paint job, all the seedlings needing to be planted NOW, charity auctions to order tents for. But no, it’s our last moment of calm, and for all the Vineyard’s bucolic public image, few of us actually do calm very well.

Look on the bright side. Soon the mud will dry up, and there will be lots of External Stuff to be cranky about. In no time at all, you and your friends will start being cranky together about summer people, and stop being cranky at each other.

In the meantime, just try to be nice.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Photo llustration people waiting in line for ferry at VH SSa — Photo illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole,  who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,

I can’t get a ferry reservation. I’m standing in line at the SSA terminal waiting for the preferred line to open up. As soon as it does, I plan to whip out my phone and call the reservation number as well. I have been having a nice chat with the people in line with me and I feel kind of sneaky because I haven’t mentioned this to them. We’ve established a we’re-all-in-this-together camaraderie and  I feel like a cheat. What’s your take?

Confidentially yours,

SSA Terminal, Vineyard Haven

Dear SSA Terminal, Vineyard Haven:

It depends upon the time of year. If a ferry is sold-out in the off-season, that’s probably because something very special is happening (a high school play-off game, a March on Washington, a sale at Kappy’s, etc.), and frankly you are interfering with the makeup of society by trying to leave the Vineyard at all for your own selfish reasons. Hang up the phone and get out of the line. Unless you yourself are trying to get to the game, march, or sale – then just hitch a ride from someone who already has a reservation. That way you save on gas.

In the high season, of course, it’s everyone for themselves, so go for it. From the invention of the telephone onwards, Islanders have scrambled to use every new option that comes along to get ferry reservations. You are the vanguard for the next generation of Excursionists.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

I come from a place where the locals smile a lot, but after ten years living here, I find myself smiling less. I think I would stand out less as being a wash-ashore if I stopped smiling, cast my eyes down and stopped bugging the locals to care with my toothy grin. Come to think of it they might already see me as mad, because I smile. I am starting to wonder if my smiling is setting me apart. I have volunteered for everything, you name the fundraiser, I’ve done it. I just want to be invited to a clambake for goodness sake!

Confidentially yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

I’m not entirely sure of your question, but I believe it’s either: “How do I get invited to a clambake?” or “Does smiling make me an obvious wash-ashore?” Regarding clambakes: the “clambake scene” had much clearer social etiquette back in the 1970s. Since then, political correctness, the nouveau riche, and housing prices have shaken up the status quo, not unlike on Downton Abbey. If you’re not actually getting invited to clambakes, I would recommend casually trolling South Beach (or any up-island beach you can gain access to) at sundown in August with several cases of beer (or a magnum of Ridge Geyserville wine if you’ve snuck into Quansoo). Statistically, you will almost certainly encounter some kind of clambake attended by someone you know. Brandish your beer supply (good place to use the toothy grin) as if this person were expecting you. Pull out a beer and offer it directly to them.

Did they take it? Excellent. It will now be far too awkward for them, or anyone else, to question your presence. You have earned the right to attend, both by contributing alcohol and by handling a moment of social discomfort with classic Vineyard passive-aggressiveness. If later in the evening you can sing James Taylor songs, preferably slightly off-key, then you are a shoe-in.

If your question is about your not blending in: what sets you apart isn’t your smile (give me a moment and I’m sure I’ll be able to think of some notable locals who smile a lot*) but your Old World use of the word “mad” to mean “loony.” Stop talking like that, you galoot! I’ve bet you’ve got some kind of cute accent, too, don’t you? That never helps. We prefer not to be reminded there’s an actual planet off-island.

That’s my take.

Nicole

*Ann Bassett. June Manning. Carly Simon

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on Martha’s Vineyard. Nicole,  who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Got a question on Island ethics or etiquette? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

My daughter had a bad cough last week. I was in Cronigs and ran into her pediatrician. I asked him about my daughter’s cough while he was looking at lettuce, but now I’m worried that I crossed a line. Was it okay that I asked him about my daughter’s cough? By the way, he didn’t seem to mind and, if you care to know, she’s much better now.

Confidentially yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

It’s fine as long as the lettuce was locally grown. Many doctors who choose to practice on the Island do so because they are enamored with its quaint, old-fashioned ways. Your approaching the doctor over locally-sourced produce affords him the kind of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman moment that most doctors who have relocated here secretly yearn for. So actually, he is somewhat in your debt.

Honestly, approach the doctor over produce as you would approach any professional outside the context of their workplace. Would you query your plumber about your toilet running if you meet him at the Post Office? Would you ask your child’s teacher about homework habits at the gym? Would you ask a video store clerk about the latest releases while waiting in line at the DMV? Context and character are everything. If it feels wrong, don’t do it. If you ask for advice and get a deaf ear, respect it and don’t take it personally.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Dear Nicole,

My good friend’s ex is coming to the island with his new girlfriend for a visit. My friend doesn’t know about his plans, nor does she know that my husband and I stayed in contact with him after they broke up. We are planning to host a welcome-back dinner party in his honor when he’s here. Should I tell my friend?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

Because this question begs more clarity, I’ll have to answer in the if/then manner.

Why haven’t you told your “good friend” you are friendly with her ex?

IF it’s because you are generally of a sneaky disposition, THEN don’t tell her – continue the sneakiness, since that’s clearly what you’re best at.

IF you have not told her because she has an unreasonable sensitivity on matters regarding her ex, THEN don’t tell her – be kind.

IF, however, she lives on the Vineyard or you have even a single friend in common, THEN TELL HER, because she’s obviously going to find out about it anyhow. Think about it. This is a freakin’ island. Just saying.

Seriously: news travels fast on the Vineyard, and devolves almost instantly into rumor and gossip. You have no control over what is said about you, or to whom it is said – all you can control are your own actions, so make sure you act in a way that reflects your value system. Do you think of yourself as honest? (Tell her) Compassionate? (Maybe don’t tell her) Compassionate and honest? (Tell her but do it gently.)

That’s my take.

Nicole