Living Dangerously at the Farmers Market

Weekend shocker: Yesterday I bought (i.e., paid for) lettuce. Lettuce does, infrequently, come into my apartment thanks to gardener friends with an excess of greens, but green vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables, are rarely seen in my kitchen. What I wrote quite a few years ago remains true to this day:

Fresh vegetables in general make me anxious; fresh leafy green stuff scares me to death. I love spinach, but buying it is like installing a time bomb in my fridge: if I don’t get to it immediately, it’s in there ticking away, wilting and browning and turning gelatinous around the edges. At that point I can barely bring myself to look in the crisper, whereupon the ticking accelerates and the day fast approaches when the spinach I bought in good faith will resemble something that died on the road.

Here’s how it happened.

Around 11:30 or so yesterday morning I headed off to the Fall Farmers Market in search of Linda Alley’s new New Lane Sundries creation, Apple Rum Raisin Jam. My current fave is Ginger Pear Marmalade (which I was out of), with Cranberry Jalapeño Jam coming up fast on the outside, but Linda doesn’t make a jam, jelly, or marmalade that isn’t delicious, and apple + rum + raisin sounded especially good.

So there I was at the Ag Hall, among Vineyarders in sturdy cool-weather wear browsing the vendors’ tables or sitting down to coffee or lunch with friends. Cruising the hall looking for Linda, I noticed that the Grey Barn & Farm had scallions on offer: my plans for the afternoon included lentil barley soup, and my recipe uses scallions. I’d been planning to buy some at Cronig’s, the next stop on my itinerary. Maybe . . . ?

I moved on, and shortly found Enchanted Chocolates. I have reservations a-plenty about green vegetables but none whatsoever about chocolate, so after taste-testing a milk-chocolate-covered macadamia nut I bought a half-pound bag, and lest it be lonely in my satchel I added a dark chocolate & sea salt bar. Sea salt seems to be in goddamn everything these days, but I have to admit it goes well with chocolate or caramel, and as fads go it sure beats pumpkin spice.

At last I arrived at Linda’s table. My taste-test of Apple Rum Raisin Jam (Linda puts out sample dishes of her wares and little crackers to spread them on) lived up to expectations so I bought a jar of it, along with one of Ginger Pear Marmalade and another of Cranberry Jalapeño Jam. I could have, maybe should have, left the hall right then, but I didn’t. I wandered back to the scallions.

Farmers Market produce is both fresh and notoriously expensive, but Cronig’s isn’t exactly cheap, and my lentil barley soup did need scallions. Still, I wavered. Scallions seemed like such a paltry purchase, especially when right next to me customers were taste-testing the gourmet cheeses in preparation for running up (most likely) a significant tab.

Just to the left of the scallions was a display of cellophane-bundled greens of various sorts. Maybe I’d seem less, well, cheap if I included a bag of mixed lettuce greens with the scallions?

Readers, I bought them both.

When I finally got to Cronig’s, not only did I buy oat groats (I love my oatmeal), tamari, and apples, I bought celery. My lentil barley soup recipe calls for celery, but I invariably omit it and just double the carrots. Carrots keep. Celery turns to gelatinous goo in remarkably short order. Unless stuffed with cream cheese or peanut butter, it’s virtually inedible, and if cream cheese and peanut butter could express an opinion, I’m pretty sure they would hate being coupled with celery. If I could buy a stalk or two of celery at a time, I’d do it, but at least in Vineyard grocery stores that’s not an option.

The lentil barley soup came out great. However, now in my refrigerator’s crisper are half a bunch of scallions, most of a bunch of celery, and a bag of lettuce greens. The clock is ticking.

Need I say that the chocolates are already half gone? In case you’re wondering why I favor chocolate over green vegetables.

Strange bedfellows

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September License Plate Report

This report is late because there’s nothing to report except that there’s nothing to report. No sightings in September. This is not unusual. After August, the pickins get very slim in the license plate game. However, since one year I spotted Nebraska in the last week of December, I am not giving up. Next Sunday there’s an Impeach Trump demo at Five Corners, which the entire island passes through at one time or another. You can bet I’ll be watching the license plates go by.

damaged car

The dent at the bottom is from our 2016 deer run-in. The insurance settlement for that one was $20 (deductible is $500), the damage was strictly cosmetic, so I didn’t get it fixed.

In semi-related news — it relates to cars; is that close enough? — I hit a deer on the way home from a meeting on Friday night, September 27. Or, as is usual in these cases, the deer hit me. Malvina sustained more serious damage than she did in our last deer collision, in October 2016. I suspect the deer sustained worse but I don’t know for sure.

This accident happened on Old County Road, as did the earlier one, about a mile away. According to Wikipedia (did you know Wiki has an entry for “Deer-Vehicle Collisions”?), November is the peak month for deer-vehicle collisions. Other sources note that fall is prime time, and word on the street is that rutting season as something to do with it. Makes sense to me, but surely the earlier and longer dark is also a factor. Deer are harder to see, and they’re easily jacklighted by headlights.

Saturday I reported the accident to my insurance company online, Thursday the estimator came out to assess the damage, and Friday I had the verdict in writing: $1,245 and change, with a $500 deductible. Monday I took car, paperwork, and Tam down to the body shop — and the next available appointment was in the middle of January. They’ll call me if something opens up before then.

Fortunately Malvina is still drivable. The headlight and turn signal still work, though with the cover smashed the headlight doesn’t focus quite the way it should. I haven’t dared lift the hood either, because it’s enough out of alignment that I’m not sure it would close properly again. Naturally I briefly considered trying to find a body shop off-island, but the sheer hassle and expense of getting there and back, and getting around while the work is being done — repair will be a several-day job — squelched that fantasy PDQ.

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Tam Lin’s Summer, 2

dog and toy

Tam hunkers down with his new squeaky monkey.

Yesterday I stopped by SBS to pick up a bag of puppy food. At SBS, emporium for pet, horse, garden, and fowl-keeping supplies, dogs are welcome, so Tam came in with me. Of course I had to buy him a new toy. He chewed on it happily en route to our next stop.

Tam is not hard up for toys. I can’t walk around my studio apartment without squeaking on something. He also has four well-gnawed cow hooves. Stepping on these barefoot — they’re sharp! — is a literal pain, but because of Tam’s toe fetish I’ve usually got shoes on these days. (Why so many? Because when they disappear, I get out a fresh one, whereupon the lost one[s] reappear.)

puppy and green toy

Tam on May 30 with the Green Thing. He figured out PDQ how to stand the thing on one end and make the treats inside fall out.

Most of the toys I bought new or were given to him by friends. He did inherit a few from the late Travvy, but Travvy was tough on toys. Within a day or two, squeakies and stuffies had been disemboweled, leaving stuffing and squeakers all over the floor. The only survivors were a Kong Wobbler, a Kong Wubba (sturdy tug toy that looks sort of like an octopus), two “Genius” toys that Trav lost interest in early on (aka the Green Thing and the Yellow Thing), and an Airdog (which looks like an elongated tennis ball).

puppy and Kong Wobbler

Tam figures out how to make Kong give up its treasure. June 6.

Tam is making good use of his inheritance, although he probably doesn’t know who to thank for it. The Green Thing introduced him to the concept that some toys contained treats and that if something rattled (as opposed to squeaked), persistent experimentation would be rewarded. Before long he graduated to the Kong Wobbler, which has only one small keyhole for treats to come out of. He has now figured out gravity — treats only come out when the hole is pointing downward — though he probably won’t be writing a paper on it any time soon. On the other hand . . .

Tam’s favorite toy may be the ingenious ball in the photo just below. It rolls and it squeaks — what’s not to like? Malamutes are notoriously not big on “fetch.” They love to chase anything that moves — including small animals and free-range chickens, which is why they aren’t trustworthy off-leash except in enclosed areas — but they don’t see the logic in bringing an object back just so you can throw it again. If you want it back, why did you throw it away??

puppy and ball

This squeaky ball was a hit from day 1. Photo from May 23, Tam’s fourth day on the Vineyard.

They can, however, be persuaded to bring the object close enough to you to be exchanged for a treat. I do a lot of this with Tam because Travvy, for all his virtues, was a hardcore resource-guarder: he didn’t like to give anything up. After much practice, he did learn to negotiate: he would give up something he wanted in return for something he wanted more, like a bite of string cheese. But I remained vigilant to avoid my worst-case scenario: that he would grab a kid’s toy, the kid would try to grab it back, and something bad would happen.

With Tam, so far, so good. He’ll almost always trade something he has for something he wants, and often he’ll just let me have it, but when he’s hyper-excited, the “it’s mine” instinct tends to take over. Caution is advised.

The squeaky ball remains a big favorite, and it’s holding up well. The previously clear exterior is now cloudy, but it still rolls and it still squeaks.

puppy and soccer ball

Tam and soccer ball, July 3. At 3 1/2 months he’s beginning to look more like a young dog and less like a puppy.

Soccer balls roll, but they do not squeak. Tam loves them too. We live near the West Tisbury School, where Youth Soccer happens on fall and spring Saturdays and pickup practices and games happen at other times. From time to time, damaged soccer balls wind up in the woods, and a ball that’s too damaged for soccer makes a fine toy for a dog. Those things can be multiply punctured by canine teeth and still roll.

There are two soccer balls in play on the far edge of my neighbors’ lawn. My footwork is improving, but Tam plays good defense and I must kick smart to fake him out. He’ll often chase after a soccer ball with the little squeaky ball in his mouth, and his speed sometimes overtakes his coordination and he winds up somersaulting over the ball.

Tam is already pretty good at amusing himself when he’s not sleeping. This seems to be typical of Alaskan malamutes: they love to play and they love to work, but as long as they get plenty of both they’re also good at chilling. Since I work at home, this is a big plus. The other big plus is that they let me know when it’s time to get up from the computer and do something besides edit, or write, wander around Facebook, or play solitaire. Tam is already pretty good at this.

These two photos were taken two months and four days apart. Eek! Isn’t it amazing how much change can happen right under your nose and you’re barely aware of it?

When I posted the earlier one on Facebook, a couple of people noted that from the back Tam looked rather like a cat. True! I thought immediately of B. Kliban’s wonderful cat cartoon book, in which he observed that a cat is an animal that is frequently mistaken for a meatloaf. (Google B. Kliban cat if you’re not familiar with B. Kliban’s work. It’s wonderful.)

Puppy looking through screen door

Tam watches Bird TV. In the spring neighborhood birds plucked Travvy fur to line their nests. May 31.

young dog looks through screen door

Tam watches avian activity on the deck. They drink from his water dish and sometimes use it as a birdbath. September 3.

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Tam Lin’s Summer, 1

I haven’t posted a Tam update in almost three months. Oops. Fortunately I’ve been steadily posting photos and updates on Facebook, and occasionally on Instagram (#tamlingrowsup). Over the next couple of days I’ll be blogging some highlights from our summer. Everyone who sees Tam comments on how big he is. He is — especially if you last saw him in, say, early June. He’s quite well proportioned, so when he’s sitting, standing, or lying still, he might be mistaken for an adult. When he runs and plays, however, he is most definitely a puppy. He’s now four days shy of six months old.

So, here’s Tam in his crate at the beginning of June, at two and a half months old:

puppy in crate

Tam, June 2, 2019

When I get up from my chair, I often set my laptop and lap desk on the floor.

My studio apartment is un-puppy-proofable. Papers, notebooks, and books everywhere: on eye-level shelves and on the floor.

Tam has become pretty good with all of this. The trick is to notice when he gets bored and starts looking for trouble. His favorite form of trouble is my socks, which are often found on the boot tray tucked into my shoes. (Travvy also had a sock fetish, so I’m used to this.)

However, since he’s also fascinated by toes, I’ve taken to wearing shoes (and socks) indoors. For a while there he’d try to take my socks off while I was putting them on. This was my cue to start teaching him a down stay. It’s working.

So far Tam has been really good with other dogs, most of whom are smaller than he is — though in a couple of cases this was not true when they first met. When Tam met Zena, the eight-year-old schnoodle next door, she was the big one. Six weeks later, this was no longer the case.

Tam and Zena, May 21

Tam and Zena, July 10


Zena was never comfortable with Travvy, maybe because when she arrived as a very small puppy, he was already full-grown and a little overbearing. With Tam, she didn’t hesitate to put him in his place when he got obnoxious, and he learned when enough was enough. She doesn’t always want to play, but when she does, they’re a hoot to watch. She’s fast, compact, and handy. He’s growing and ungainly and sometimes falls over when trying to make a tight turn.

Ziggy, a terrier mix in the neighborhood, is always up for playing. When he and Tam first met, he played a little rough and Tam sometimes seemed a little overwhelmed, but as Tam’s gotten bigger he gives as good as he gets.

Tam and Ziggy, June 19

Tam and Ziggy, Sept. 10

Recently Tam got to play with an adult dog who’s actually a little bigger than he is. They did fine. I’m hoping this continues as Tam moves into adolescence. Travvy learned to be OK with other dogs but he wasn’t all that comfortable with them. When he was Tam’s age, I was heavily involved with horses so he didn’t get nearly as much socialization attention as Tam is getting. Trav taught me so much, and one of the big lessons is that it’s good to start early.

OK, now take another look at the photo of Tam in his crate in early June. Here’s a shot from the same angle in late August. Note that the box and the bar I put in the crate to make it cozier for the little guy have been removed to give the big guy room to stretch out.

Big puppy in his crate, August 25

To be continued soon . . .

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August License Plate Report

Late, late, late — it’s the 12th of September already and I’m just now getting around to the August license plate report. Long story (of course), but if I start telling it I might not finish before next month.

So — two good sightings in August: Idaho and Alabama, both of which usually show up before August. I’ll have to check previous years’ maps to be sure, but this is one of the better ones in recent memory, and while none of the holdouts are exactly common, they aren’t as rare as Mississippi, Hawaii, or North Dakota either.

However — and it’s a big however — the last four months of the year are generally one step above dead when it comes to the license plate game. But not too many years ago I did spot Nebraska about three days before New Year’s Eve, so I’m not about to give up. With North Dakota on the board, there’s actually a chance that I might fill the whole map in this year.

So if you’re on Martha’s Vineyard and you spot Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Kansas, text, PM, email, or phone me or leave a comment here. With this much at stake, I might drop what I’m doing and go looking.

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July License Plate Report

Oklahoma, Wyoming, and (at last) Michigan!

Early in July I went to hear presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg at the high school’s Performing Arts Center. The parking lot was packed. Like quite a few other relatively late arrivals, I found a non-parking place on the grass — and what should my wondering eyes spot right next to me but Wyoming. It was a more colorful plate than the Wyomings I’ve seen before, but it’s still got the bucking horse and cowboy on it.

On one hand, the map is looking pretty good. The six missing states aren’t exactly common, but they aren’t rare either: I’ve already got North Dakota, Mississippi, and Hawaii, and they’re generally harder to spot than, say, South Dakota, Alabama, or Alaska.

On the other hand — it’s August already, and after July the license-plate pickin’s drop way, way off. There’ve been years where I spot nothing new in the last four months of the year.

However, Vineyard roads are crawling with vehicles these days, and not all of them are from the New England states, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, or Virginia.

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June License Plate Report

map of U.S.

Utah, Iowa, and Louisiana are now on the map! Alaska was spotted in Edgartown a few days ago but not by me, so it doesn’t count. But if it’s on the island — hey!

It’s way past time for Michigan to stop playing hard to get.

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Tam Lin Goes to a Selectmen’s Meeting

How is writing about Martha’s Vineyard like a puppy chasing its own tail?

Real life inspires fiction and fiction starts looking like real life and pretty soon you’ve forgotten which came first. Round and round and round . . .

Tam meets goats, May 22, 2019

Not long after Tam’s arrival on the Vineyard, we went to visit my friend the mystery writer Cynthia Riggs. Cynthia wanted to meet the puppy — she met Travvy for the first time when he was about nine weeks old — and I wanted Tam to meet Cynthia’s menagerie, which includes goats, ducks, guinea hens, and chickens. Need I say that many photos were taken, not only by me and Cynthia but by Lynn Christoffers, a bona fide photographer who showed up at the right moment.

I’m in Cynthia’s Sunday night writers’ group, and since Tam is only beginning to develop the internal fortitude to stay home alone, he’s been coming with me — and behaving / amusing himself pretty well for two hours while we all talk writing.

Now comes the tail-chasing part. The title character of Wolfie, my novel in progress, is based on the late Travvy but with a different backstory. In the early chapters he barely escapes being shot for trying to get into a sheep pasture. He’s also accused of killing several hens. This leads to a board of selectmen’s meeting at which the hen owner’s desire for restitution and maybe revenge is thwarted by Glory, my 11-year-old co-protagonist, who makes an eloquent case for “reasonable doubt.” Wolfie gets a pass.

So the week before last, in the early afternoon of a very rainy Thursday when no one was home, thirteen of Cynthia flock — three Pekin ducks, two mallards, four guinea hens, three laying hens, and a rooster — were massacred by dog or dogs unknown. There were no eyewitnesses and no obvious perps, just a few pawprints found in the mud.

Word spread quickly by word of mouth, email, and — once the Martha’s Vineyard Times story was shared on Facebook — social media. Naturally everyone had an opinion, from “it must have been the coyote” (the presence of a coyote on the Vineyard was recently confirmed after years of unconfirmed sightings) to “%@$# irresponsible dog owners!” to “why don’t chicken owners have to keep their chickens under control?”

As you might guess, since I’ve made dogs vs. livestock a theme in my novel, I’ve got some thoughts on the subject. In the novel, Wolfie gets off — but it’s highly likely that he did what he’s accused of, and some other things besides. What’s more, Glory and her co-protagonist, 50-something Shannon, are concealing evidence that might have nullified that “reasonable doubt.” As the writer, I want readers to be uneasy about this but to realize that this might be the best course for nearly all concerned — excepting, of course, the owner of the dead hens.


Adorable fluffball, looking up

So I’m raising this cute little fluffball, variously known as Tam Lin, Tam, Tam-Tam, and Tommy, who already has a sizable fan club, all of whose members think he’s adorable.

Travvy had an even bigger fan club. Many of those who mourned his passing last March called him “sweet.” I bit my tongue. Trav was quite capable of doing everything that Wolfie is suspected of doing, even though he never did. It helped that around the time he arrived on the island, mismanaged northern-breed dogs were involved in some high-profile attacks on fowl and other livestock. Fear of winding up on the front page was a good incentive for learning how to manage my dog better.

Travvy was an Alaskan malamute. So is Tam. Rhodry, Trav’s predecessor, was half malamute. Mals tend to have high prey drives. They are no one’s idea of the ideal Vineyard dog. There are good reasons why mals and other northern-breed dogs (Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, Akitas, etc.) are far outnumbered here by labs, goldens, border collies, Australian shepherds, and myriad poodle mixes.

horses and dog in snowy pasture

Rhodry could be trusted loose around horses. Travvy could not.

Between Rhodry’s lifetime (1994–2008) and Travvy’s (2008–2019) more people started keeping “free-range chickens” not on multi-acre farms but on house lots of three acres or less. Quite a few of these people were urbanites and suburbanites seeking a “rural lifestyle.” The aggrieved hen owner in Wolfie is one of this ilk. I don’t much like him or his type, but neither Shannon nor I is totally unsympathetic to his plight.

My perspective changed, or maybe “broadened” is the better word, when a friend was the aggrieved hen owner and the carnage was visible. Cynthia decided to go to last Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting. I decided to go too, partly in support and partly because — well, that dog-chasing-tail thing: a scene in my novel takes place at a selectmen’s meeting, it concerns dogs and livestock, and I figured I could learn something.

Tam came along. He wasn’t ready to stay home alone at that point, I’m constantly on the lookout for new socialization experiences, and besides maybe he could learn something too. He settled on my lap in the back row.

Cynthia read into the record a letter detailing what had happened and then asked that a letter be sent to all licensed dog owners in town reminding them of the town bylaw requiring dogs to be under control at all times. The selectmen agreed to this. I did learn something new (and may revise my fictional scene as a result): that the town is authorized to compensate citizens for the loss of livestock when a perpetrator can’t be identified.

You can find the June 19 West Tisbury board of selectmen’s meeting on MVTV, the local-access cable station. Cynthia is the first item on the agenda, and if you hang in to about 12:00 you’ll get a glimpse of Tam and me. (You can hear his brief commentary on the proceedings a bit earlier.) I spoke in support of the letter and noted that dog owners often aren’t aware of what their dogs are capable of when they’re out and about. Here’s the Martha’s Vineyard Times story.

Times have changed. Everyone’s rights are limited by the rights of their neighbors, by convention if not by law. Dogs are predators; hens, ducks, and other livestock are not. Free-ranging dogs can do serious damage when they cross property lines, and penned-up fowl have been attacked by dogs and wild critters who dig or gnaw their way in. It’s up to dog owners to keep our dogs under control, even though it means admitting that things aren’t the way they were 20 or 30 years ago.

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The Solar System Is Growing

Tam and I went out yesterday in the early evening to see what progress had been made on the planets. The answer was “A lot!” For one thing, a sun has risen at the head of the solar system.

puppy on the sun

Tam Lin stands on the sun and looks toward the inner planets.

Mercury and Venus weren’t noticeably different than they had been a few days earlier, but the earth has developed a dramatic cloud cover.

The earth on June 14 (seen from other side)

The earth on June 10


The freeform splotch on Mars seems to be evolving into something more regular. The color of Mars has also changed, but the Red Planet isn’t looking very red yet.

Tam visits Mars on June 14

Mars on June 10






Beyond Mars serious progress was in evidence: Jupiter and Saturn are now much more than white rings on the asphalt.

Tam studies Jupiter

That yellow band across the middle might be the beginning of Saturn’s rings.

What was going on with the outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune? I couldn’t see that far from Saturn, and even at this scale that’s quite a hike for puppy with short (but lengthening) legs, so we decided to leave them for another day.

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The Planets Are Coming Back

Trav checks out Mercury, July 2016

From mid-2016 till almost the end of 2018, the late Travvy and I walked the planets on the bike path across from the West Tisbury School. They were the creation of fifth-graders and their teachers, a blending of science and art.

You can see them here and here.

Last fall in a much-needed infrastructure improvement — notice the crack that bisects Mercury in the photo — that section of the bike path was repaved.

The planets disappeared under a new layer of asphalt. My requiem for the vanished planets was published in the Vineyard Gazette last November 8 — and it elicited a comment from Sue Miller, the teacher behind the project, with the great news that the planets would be coming back in the spring!

Tam Lin exits the the circle that I think will eventually become Uranus.

Trav is gone, but little Tam Lin is now sturdy enough to reach the bike path on our walks, which is how a few days ago we came across the tell-tale signs of planets in the making. We were in the outer reaches of the solar system, so I think the white circles we found are destined to be Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — unless poor Pluto gets to be included this time?

A couple of days later we set out to investigate the inner planets. Wow! Serious progress has been made. They’re probably not finished, but they’re well on the way. So far there’s no sign of the sun. Last time the sun was a fiery circle of red, orange, and yellow. Space constraints made it not much bigger than the planets (each of which has the diameter of the bike path). If it had been closer to scale, it would have taken up the whole trailhead, and the parking area would have been unavailable till the paint dried.

I can’t wait to see what it looks like this time around. In fact, I think it would be very cool if murals of various kinds appeared on other sections of the bike path, created not just by school classes but by individual artists and others.





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