October License Plate Report

In the license plate game, no news isn’t good news, it’s just no news. Which is to say that you probably guessed from the extreme lateness of this report that there were no new sightings in October. I did cruise through the M.V. Hospital parking lot toward the end of the month to see what I could see. I saw Louisiana and Montana, which would have been exciting last spring, and Texas, South Carolina, and Oregon, which aren’t hard to get but at least aren’t (ho-hum) New York, New Jersey, or any New England state.

But not South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, or Alaska.

Time is running out, but I’m not giving up. One year I spotted Nebraska the last week in December. I clinging hard to that possibility.

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Don’t Look Now, But …

ice disk. . . the first ice disk of the season arrived last night. It did indeed set a record for earliest disk, but it wasn’t as much earlier as I’d been thinking: the previous record was held by the winter of 2017–2018, when the first disk appeared on November 11.

This disk was strong enough to survive the unmolding — I photographed it first, just in case it wasn’t — but fragile enough that it’s gone already.

Aside for readers who don’t know what I’m talking about, and may be afraid that I’ve lost what few marbles I had left: In the winter of 2012–2013 I got the bright idea of unmolding the ice in Trav’s outside water dish. I’ve been at it ever since. Ice disks even have a following on Facebook, and people send me images of elaborate ice disk variations that people in other places have come up with. Here’s a brief history of ice disks from 2015 and a tribute to the most ice disks I’ve ever had at one time (15!) from 2018.

In the last week, I swapped the winter insert for the screen in my storm door and performed the Great Seasonal Clothes Switch. Only three days ago I pulled my two storage boxes from the closet (and even blogged about it!!). Day before yesterday I did the deed. Sunday I took my last outdoor shower of the season; two days later my landlord shut the water off. The big question is whether I knew what was coming or whether I single-handedly forced the temperature down below freezing for long enough to create an ice disk.

The cold snap seems to have accelerated the reddening of my Japanese maple. Just a few days ago all I could see was a reddish tinge in the top branches. This morning this was the view from my window:

tree with reddening foliage

This morning my neighbor noted that there’s a dearth of acorns this year. This is true. We’re surrounded by oak trees a-plenty, and some years acorns pelt the deck so insistently that they interrupt my concentration. (True, it often doesn’t take much.) Not this year. So of course I wondered if this meant we could look forward to a mild winter. A Google search told me that I was not the first to wonder about “scarcity of acorns.” It seems that acorn scarcity was on many minds in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2015, and it also seems that it’s not a surefire clue to much of anything about the coming winter, except that squirrels and other acorn-dependent wild critters are likely to have a hard time of it.

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Three Seasons on the Line

The oak leaves have turned from brown to crispy. They’re falling, and I still can’t resist kicking my way through them on the path. The birches and beeches are still yellow; the yellow is thinning but it’s still enough to catch the mid-fall light. Cheryl Wheeler’s “When Fall Comes to New England” is running through my head.

fall foliageThe Japanese maple outside my west-facing window is tinged with red at the top. I’ve been tracking this tree since 2012, and the red always starts to show in very early November. By the middle of the month, the red is spectacular. It waits till everything else in the vicinity has passed its color peak, then there it is, catching the light at every time of day in a way that makes me pause in passing to gaze in admiration.

My most reliable guide to the changing of the seasons is the laundry line. I use the washers at the Airport Laundromat, then bring the clean, wet clothes home to hang out. The laundromat does have dryers, of course, but they cost a quarter for a scant four minutes and it takes several quarters to dry jeans and other heavy stuff.

And of course there’s the undeniable attraction of using wind and solar power instead of electricity . . .

So when the clean underwear supply runs low, roughly every three weeks, I watch for the next good drying day — bright sun and a brisk breeze will dry everything in a few hours — and off we go. While the washers wash, Tam and I stroll around the airport grounds and a little way down the dirt road that runs past the beer store, then back along the bike path. When we get home, he watches from the deck as I hang everything out.

Saturday’s laundry had a little bit of almost everything: shorts, summer-weight cotton pants, short-sleeved Ts, long-sleeved Ts, henleys and turtlenecks. We’re far enough into fall that I could barely remember wearing the shorts that were at the bottom of the hamper. What’s missing from the mix is longjohns. That makes this a three-season laundry line.

Three-season laundry line: shorts, T-shirts, turtlenecks, jeans — but no longjohns.

It’s getting colder, however. This was “fall-back” weekend, the end of Daylight Saving Time (which we all know doesn’t save any daylight, it just moves it around a bit). When Tam and I went out this morning a little after 6, the temperature was in the (barely) high 30s Fahrenheit. It’s time to make room in the drawers for longjohns and jeans, room in the closet for more turtlenecks and sweaters. Yesterday I pulled my two boxes of winter clothes out of the closet. Haven’t unpacked them yet, but the time is coming.

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jar of rice next to saucepanAlmost every time I cook rice, I remember my mother warning me not to lift the lid while it was cooking because then it wouldn’t come out right. Somewhere along the way I got brave and discovered that this isn’t true. I lift the lid a couple of times to make sure I catch the rice precisely when it’s absorbed all the water. It comes out fine.

My mother was no cook, but she did manage to keep four kids well fed until we were old enough to fend for ourselves. Neither of my grandmothers was much of a cook either, but along the way I’ve taught myself enough to feed myself pretty well. I credit much of my success to Martha’s Vineyard. There’s no fast food here, so I couldn’t live mostly on Roy Rogers fried chicken, which I was in danger of doing in my D.C. days. Eating out regularly is way above my pay grade, and until fairly recently restaurant fare on the island was mostly mediocre as well as expensive (and often seasonal).

My idea of hell looks something like my mother’s life: preparing meals for four kids (two of us rather finicky) and a husband who often came home late. During my first couple of years on the Vineyard, as I was learning to feed myself, I even wrote a sonnet about it:

I was not close to my mother in the way that word usually suggests: regular phone calls or visits, mutual support, etc. Two of my friends died the same year she did, 1996, and I think of them and miss them far more often than I think of my mother. Not all that surprising, because they were embedded in my day-to-day life in a way my mother wasn’t after I left home. (These two were journalist Gerry Kelly and theater director Mary Payne, for you Vineyard people.)

But in other ways I’m very close to my mother, because I’ve never stopped being wary of the ways I’m like her. Strange (perhaps) but true, however, the harder I tried to be different from her, the more alike we turned out to be. The older I get, the more clearly I see her face when I look in the mirror. Trying to understand her gives me gives me insight into myself.

My mother’s birthday was Hallowe’en, so it’s not just cooking rice that makes me think of her this time of year. When her birthday rolled around, she often repeated something her father (who was not a nice man) said to acknowledge the occasion: “You were born on Hallowe’en, so you’re a witch. If you’d been born a day later, you’d be a saint.”

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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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