Long Distance Gardening

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My weed-riddled bluestone patio. After a few weeks away, I’ve got some work to do.

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/dormant/”>Dormant</a&gt;

I appreciate little things while driving around town. Perfect diagonal lines in lawns created by tractors or mowers. Flowers, fresh produce and eggs on homemade stands where customers put money in “honor boxes.” Beautiful gardens free of weeds in the middle of a July heatwave.

In New England, we strive for perfect lawns and gardens, but Mother Nature has a way of showing who’s boss by late July. Flowers and bushes wilt. Lawns burn. Hideous weeds sprout in sidewalks, patios and driveways. The air smells like Roundup.

Some people have gardeners, but seriously? I’d be embarrassed to have a professional in my yard. That includes my older sister, who’s president of her garden club and has magnificent gardens with pergolas and trellises surrounding her Colonial. I guess we know who got the green thumb.

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A rear border in July, 2015.

Like cooking, decorating, parenting and writing, I garden by instinct. I have a great landscaping book with layouts, but I mostly do what I want and it shows. My garden is a hodgepodge of plants and shrubs intermingled with herbs, annuals and an interesting rock or two.

At this point, the front yard has been mulched, but the back hasn’t. One mulch bag has been dormant near the patio for two years. I guess it shows that my intentions are good or my kids don’t listen when I ask for help.

Admittedly, some of this mess stems from a two-week vacation (sloth?). Like a dog who finds mischief when she doesn’t get her daily walk, gardens rebel when they’re ignored for even a few days.

Right now, my patio is riddled with weeds and the bushes have taken on a life of their own. One of my beautiful hanging baskets is dead, and the other is fading. (We won’t tell my curmudgeon about this or my plans to replace them.)

I know what I need to do, but I don’t feel like doing it. Like parenting and pet ownership, gardening is a long-distance race and we’re on a steep hill that I don’t feel like climbing. When it’s 90 degrees outside with high humidity, I’d rather bask in the arctic blast at the CVS drive-thru window than pick up a rake or clippers.

As my curmudgeon reminded me, gardening in July is “the tipping point. You’re off to a good start, but do you want to give up and go brown or finish strong? It’s time for affirmative action or throwing in the towel.”

Give me a minute to think about that.

Today while driving to pick up my daughter across town, I saw gardeners out for the first time in days. They were ready for business, eager to recover what began with such promise in April.  Most were veterans – middle-aged men and women with weed wackers, wheelbarrows, pruning knives and shears.

These gardeners know the drill. They realize that if you’re going to have a nice yard in the Northeast, you’ve got to pace yourself. You want to finish strong when it’s time for the mums, pumpkins, fall aeration and Step 4 of Scott’s lawn care treatments.

Every spring, a family about a mile away christens spring with a bang. They mulch early, get the lawn in shape and diligently tend to their gardens. By June, the place looks great, but then reality – and July – sets in. I drove by today and it’s a tangle of weeds three feet high.

I know, I know, people with weed-choked yards shouldn’t throw stones, but your eye is sharper when training on something new. You can’t see your own facial hair, dog fur on your carpets or how how filthy your house really is.  The first thing I said after being away for two weeks was, “Man, this place is a mess.”

After the Unabomber struck at Yale University in New Haven, CT., a reporter colleague asked an editor to look at his treatise, saying perhaps he could uncover something with “fresh eyes.” He didn’t, but I give him credit for trying. As a friend reminded me when a former boss (idiot) said writers can edit their own work, “Everyone needs an editor. You can’t see your own mistakes.”

I’ve decided to go into recovery mode this year. I worked too hard on my lawn to watch it revert to a dirt mound. I’m turning on the sprinkler, feeding my plants and dead-heading the geraniums. This year, I’m going the distance.

This Little Heart of Hers

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Heart transplant recipient George (seated on roof and wearing straw hat) and the Northford Timber Framers build a barn. If you’re not an organ donor, please consider it. 

I knew I’d write about George Senerchia the first time I heard about him. Since undergoing a heart transplant 12 years ago, George has devoted his life to promoting organ donation by building barns. I met George in his antique Colonial in Northford, CT., and he captivated my daughter and me with his story. We talked with George for two hours despite his ongoing struggle with Lyme disease. Here’s his extraordinary story:

Funny things happened to George Senerchia after he received a heart transplant on Nov. 6, 2004.

He began craving chocolate, listening to ’80s rock bands like Whitesnake, and buying shoes. Tons of them. Pre-transplant, George had three or four pairs. Now, dozens line his home: hiking boots and shoes, sneakers and clogs.

“It’s a real problem . . . another pair just arrived today,” says George, 63, who scours Ebay for deals. “Help me!”

Chalk up the changes to his “Boston girl,” a 51-year-old woman who died of an aneurysm, and donated her organs to save others. George has tried to find his donor’s relatives to thank them, but so far his search has been fruitless. The only thing he knows is her heart came from a Boston hospital, she was a mother, and she had a very strong heart. She and George were the same age and miraculously, her heart was a perfect match.

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George’s  adorable pup Jet oversees progress on his neighbor’s barn.

George says having a mom’s heart carries huge responsibility. It’s why he spends his life promoting organ donation through his group the Northford Timber Framers Transplant Fund aka “The Heart of the Barn.” An expert timber framer, George designs barns and raises them in two days with about 50 volunteers. His latest rose over Father’s Day weekend, when dozens of men and women filled his neighbor Heather’s backyard and built a two-story barn in 48 hours.

Heather’s barn is the 56th built by George and the Northford Timber Framers, whose slogan is “Be a Miracle: Be a Donor.” George teaches a three-day workshop every April in nearby Guilford, CT.. After classwork, students apprentice for one year and help build a barn. George doesn’t tell them immediately about his transplant. When he does, everyone’s in tears.

The most striking thing about George’s group is the number of women on the crew. After hearing loved ones describe the joy in building barns to help others, spouses and girlfriends take George’s course too. The barn-raisings kick off with donations to local residents who need help. Heather’s donation went to a teen-ager waiting for a double-lung transplant; a man with pancreatic cancer; a boy with Cystic Fibrosis, and a young woman who adopted her drug-addicted friend’s young children.

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The Northford Timber Framers’ logo features a heart with a barn frame.

Since founding the Northford Timber Framers, George has raised about $80,000, donating every cent to charity. About 150 people from all walks of life have taken his course. Why timber framing?

“It’s something real” in our disposable society, he says. It dates back to building techniques from our nation’s original settlers and waves of immigrants who brought unique methods from their homelands. He insists there’s something magical about barns, from their unique scent to ties to the past.

George has a special relationship with his Boston girl. For the first two years after the transplant, he had her dreams. He knows this because he didn’t recognize any of the places or people in them. He also talks to her and prays for her every day, hoping he’s living a life worthy of her sacrifice. “I don’t want her to think I’m a slug,” he confides.

George was an active, healthy 44-year-old when he was diagnosed with acute cardiomyopathy. After struggling with symptoms for six months, he went to his doctor and learned he was in heart failure.

George says it’s hard to describe heart failure, but says imagine feeling like you’re always gasping for air. Though his diagnosis was grim, he says he spent little time on self-pity, noting he’s always been positive and a fighter.

George underwent numerous heart procedures, but was told he would need a heart transplant. While waiting, he volunteered to have a Jarvik 2000 artificial heart. For nine months, he had an electrical cord running from his artificial heart to his abdomen to attach to a power source.

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The back of the T-shirt features two feathers crossed over a heart. They symbolize guardian angels. One feather is guardian angels we can see; the other  angels we can’t see but protect us.

The long wait for a new heart gave George plenty of time to think. He says he made peace with his situation and realized his fate was out of his hands. He reached a point of contentment, a feeling that he’d be OK with whatever happened to him.

During the wait, he came up with the idea for the “Heart of the Barn.” He realized that he was a lot like an old barn, in need of repair and restoration to survive. He began his group in 2002 while waiting for a heart.

Today, George looks about a decade younger than his age. He’s lean, athletic and fearless, directing his crew while standing on the roof of Heather’s barn. He didn’t purposely wear a woman’s straw hat . . . he just wanted to shield his skin from the sun. But his choice is fitting given the heart beating in his chest.

Heather tells me she built the barn mainly “to store my lawnmower.” But what she got is nothing like a garden shed. George designed a spectacular two-story barn suited for a guest house, home office or great space to savor nature. Whatever its future, one thing is certain: the Boston girl lives on. Like all of George’s barns, the initials “BG” are carved into one of its beams.

 

 

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/savor/”>Savor</a&gt;

 

Chasing ‘It’

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Leaving Martha’s Vineyard.

I’m on the beach when it hits me.

Here’s my niece Julia, a hip and savvy new Georgetown University graduate with a keen business mind. I’ll pick her brain about my blog before she heads to New York City for her first “real” job.

“What’s your target audience?” she asks. “I don’t know, I guess middle-aged women who may or may not have children,” I say. “And what’s your point? Why are you writing?”

“Umm, not sure,” I admit.

Julia kindly tells me she’ll think about it, but I’ve taken matters into my own hands by taking a 10-day WordPress blog branding and growth course. Step one: three concrete goals for your blog. In other words, your definition of success.

I guess that’s the $1 million question. As one older woman mused while gazing at artists’ wares on Martha’s Vineyard, “I’m still trying to find it. And guess what? I think it doesn’t exist.”

Why do I blog?

  1. To gain followers. Let’s face it, no one wants to write in a vacuum. Writers like to share their stories, and the more readers, the better. In the old days, it was called circulation. No one wants bad circulation.
  2. I don’t have grand visions of what my blog would look like if it was hugely successful. I post when the spirit moves me, but don’t want to annoy people by over-posting. And if I’m constantly writing, it means I’m not reading other people’s posts.
  3. Am I doing it for the money? Hell no. Everyone knows that most writers don’t make a lot of money. I once had a reporting job where I qualified for federally-funded free cheese.

I used to write for a living and get paid (well, sort of) for it. This was before laptops, cellphones and blogging was a gleam in anyone’s eye. I started out in the early ’80s at the now-defunct Milford Citizen, where I learned how to report, write and edit. Oh, and I also fell in love with the cute sports editor.

I worked with a bunch of characters, from a crusty veteran who filed five stories before dawn to his son, a city editor aptly nicknamed “Scoop” who lived on coffee and adrenaline. My managing editor helped plan my wedding and the staff photographer left  the dark room to take my wedding photos. We lunched, drank, and chased escaped criminals together.

Like all jobs, people eventually moved on. It’s funny how the workplace climate changes when one person leaves. It’s a little like when an actor leaves a show. His (or her) replacement may be every bit as good, but it’s not the same. And did I mention I’m no good with change?

But back to branding. I love meeting people and hearing their stories. Before social media, this was called human interest or feature stories. Generally, you’d write about something that you dug up or got a tip on: the woman raising Hungarian show dogs, the guy who ran the International House of Hotdogs or the Catholic priest in Ireland who fathered a son living in Connecticut.

Though I covered hard news, I love features because they spotlight people who might not ordinarily make headlines. My Dad used to say people (well, excluding those in the police wrap-up or obits) like being in the newspaper because it makes them feel special. As Bruce Springsteen wrote in “Nothing Man:” I never thought I’d live/To read about myself/In my hometown paper. 

The explosion of blogging and social media has more or less eliminated the role of editors. People decide what’s news, and post it on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat as it’s happening. Their news judgment is affirmed by thumbs-up signs, heart emojis or stars. Heaven help the blogger who gets tons of views, but few likes. You start to feel a little like the last kid picked for the 6th grade kickball team.

I still believe there is a role for storytelling. Whether it’s my own experiences or those I meet, if it interests me it’s in here. I may never figure out exactly what it is, but I’m going to try.

Vineyard Flowers

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/caper/”>Caper</a&gt;

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Unexpected gift: a bouquet of flowers from my sister-in-law Ann.

Two dozen sunflowers in a huge crystal vase. They’re the first thing you see when you look into the stately grey clapboard house in Edgartown, MA., once owned by a whaling captain. It’s the kind of place my father-in-law, who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, used to call “old money.”

Though beautiful, the bouquet speaks volumes about the matron (or mistress or mister) living there. Indulgence (two sunflower bouquets?). Living large. Understatement. Class. Appreciation. Hospitality. Openness. Decency. Humanity. Generosity. (Keeping the door wide open to give tourists like me a glimpse into her spectacular home.)

I spotted those sunflowers more than 20 years ago. It’s funny how flowers have that effect (or should I say impact?) on people. For me, no gathering is complete without a bouquet or two of flowers. It’s a little thing, but my hostessing duties aren’t complete without flowers, even if it’s just a sprig of sage and some red berries in a bud vase.

My shaded property in suburban Connecticut has curtailed my ability to garden (I’m not the type to enclose my yard in wooden deer fencing), but my love of flowers storms back at the Vineyard. Glorious hydrangeas in bursts of blue, pink and white. Dainty pink climbing roses tumbling over stone walls. Electric blue strawflowers in stainless steel bins at a farm stand. Acres of wild flowers. The most beautiful window boxes I have ever seen.

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A trio of lobsters that look like they might be overdone, but weren’t. You can see part of the large mason jar holding the flowers in the background.

It’s impossible to navigate this island off Cape Cod without seeing homegrown bouquets on sale at the end of dirt roads or entrances of horse farms. The Farmers’ Market is also lined with flower vendors with glorious arrangements. But I’ve never bought a bouquet in the 35 years I’ve been coming here. I just seems . . . indulgent.

I almost broke my streak on Saturday. I was having my husband’s family over for an impromptu lobster bake and wanted a bouquet for the dining table. I had a bunch of beautiful hydrangeas in my sight at the market when my husband and son (his sidekick) scuttled my plans.

“No one’s expecting flowers, they’re expecting lobsters,” my husband bellowed. “And besides, they won’t fit on the table.”

For a minute, I thought about pilfering flowers from a field or worse, a relative’s home between rental bookings. But I didn’t have the guts, time or equipment to pull off that caper. I spotted some clippers at a fish market, but I wasn’t about to spend $12.99 when a bouquet would have only set me back $20. (How can one family be so cheap?)

So there I was, stuffing lobsters and baking potatoes without so much as a wilted day lily to brighten the space. In a last-ditch effort for greenery, I plunged a bunch of fresh parsley into a vase, but seriously? So lame.

I felt something was missing, but carried on. And to my delight, my sister-in-law Ann arrived with an overflowing bouquet of hydrangeas in a rainbow of hues plucked from her garden in Edgartown. There were even a few raspberry-colored butterfly bush flowers in the mix. An unexpected hostess gift!

I put the flowers in the center of the table and admired my first authentic Vineyard bouquet. As the lobsters came out of the oven and were plated, I removed the flowers to make room for food, people and conversation. When I told my husband I was sharing this, he agreed with one caveat:

“Be sure to say that someone did bring flowers and there was no room for them on the table, just like I predicted.”

 

 

 

My Budding Curmudgeon Part II

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On a walk.

My friends and family enjoyed my post about my husband so much that I decided to do a followup. These are actual quotes from my husband, who I think will reach full curmudgeon status after this vacation:

“There are two disgusting beach chairs in the shed, but I’m not putting my ass anywhere near them.”

“That’s not being a cynical curmudgeon. It’s a fact. They’re disgusting.”

“All the kibble’s gone? It can’t be. Yikes.”

Tennis pro misses shot: “Uh oh, Spaghettios.”

On another tennis shot: “Crack one, you idiot.”

“At least someone’s eating the awful Captain Crunch.”

“There must be some reason dogs are banned from the Farmers’ Market. There must have been a horror show.”

Me: “Want to go to the Farmers’ Market?” Him: “No.”

At the Farmers’ Market:

“You just paid $7 for salad greens and $8 for a loaf of bread. That’s $1 an inch.”

Police officer outside the market: “Hey you got your greens!” Me: “He’s been complaining every step of the way.” Police officer: “Oh my God!” (I have a feeling she’s got one of him at home.)

Him: “Why aren’t you having the bread you bought?” Me: “It’s not gluten-free. I bought it for you.” Him: “I don’t want that moldy bread.”

Makes himself a sandwich.

‘OK, it’s good, but it’s bread.”

“It’s a good thing someone in this house has eagle eyes. I just found out why the garbage guy hasn’t been coming. Good job Matt for spotting that garbage truck We’re set until October.”

Me: “Hey, want to go to the flea market today?” Him: “I don’t want to go there. It’s way the xi*& out in Menemsha.”

Hat salesman at Chilmark Flea Market: “What kind of law do you do?” Him: “How did you know?” Salesman: “Just a hunch.”

Hat salesman to my son wearing Holy Cross gear: “God bless you.” Son: “Why? “Let’s just say it’s a good thing you’re a Crusader and leave it at that.”

“The best thing about buying a hat is it’s something you can wear.”

Daughter: “Dad, you seem jumpy. Sit down.” Him: “Can’t. Socks.”

Daughter: “Dad, sit.”  “Can’t. Shoes.”

“That hat guy is smart. He works here until Columbus Day and then gets the hell out of here for four months.”

Me: “You seem to be having a bad time. Is being here bringing up bad memories from your childhood?” Him: “I had a great time here as a child. I don’t think I can relax anywhere except South Carolina.”

Me: “I think you’ll feel better after you play tennis. Him: “That is if we can find a court.”

Everyone: “Let’s do takeout tonight.” Him: “OK, but that place has horrible food.”

“Who’s drinking all the milk?”

“It’s 10 o’clock. We’re wasting another day watching tennis.”

Son: “What’s for breakfast?” Him: “Have a banana before they all rot.”

“Where’s my newspaper?!”

“Look at Raffa’s legs.”

Me: “Someone said you’re funnier than Larry David.” Him: “Larry David must have lost some miles off his speedball.”

 

 

 

 

 

My Budding Curmudgeon

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/sail/”>Sail</a&gt;

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Sailing (not us though) on Martha’s Vineyard.

Curmudgeon: 1. archaic: miser. 2. a crusty, ill-tempered and usually old man. -Merriam-Webster

My husband is the type of guy who takes out a desk calendar every Sunday and asks everyone what they’ve got going on for the week.

He’s a bit of a control freak. Maybe it’s from being a lawyer for nearly 30 years and having to keep track of billable hours. He’s so used to being accountable for his time that he has a hard time relaxing on vacation. The longer the stretch of open time laying before him, the more unmoored he gets.

We’ve been on vacation for less than 48 hours and he’s thrown out some stuff I’ve never heard in 33 years of marriage. Here’s a sampling:

“Why can’t cats be house trained?”

“We have only four hotdogs! What are we going to do?”

“I just went to the store and there are no hotdogs anywhere!”

“I just spent $125 at the store and we’ve got nothing to eat.”

“I can’t believe I forgot to bring the Bisquick.”

“Are you crazy buying corn on the cob up here? OK, you can buy four ears.” (I buy six for 4 people.)

“I can’t believe I left all my vitamins at home.”

“I don’t have a book to read. I don’t want to use your Kindle. I’m going to treat myself and go to the bookstore.”

“I forgot to buy the Vineyard Gazette. I have no idea about the tides.”

“I can’t see (an eye infection) and I can’t walk (achilles tendonitis).

“My legs are dead.”

“Why would I want to go swimming at the YMCA in the summer?”

“There’s a new golf course in Chappaquiddick.” Me: “Hey, let’s go!” Him: “We have no clubs, no bags, no game and no money.”

“I need a new dump sticker, but I left my tax form at home. How am I going to prove ownership?”

“I’d take out the recyclables, but we don’t have a recycling bin.”

“I can’t believe I just spent $15 for a small bag of cherries and $8 for a small can of cashews.”

“The chip aisle was stripped, but I managed to find a bag.”

“Maybe we should have tried the Scottish Bake House before spending $25 for a pie.”

“Do you realize that ginger ale you bought was $6?”

Me: “Hey, let’s go sailing.” Him: “In what? Do you want me to spend $50,000 to rent the Shenandoah?”

Son: “Happy 4th Dad!” Him, swirling his pointer “Whoopdeedoo!”

Son: “Let’s go get some beach chairs.” Him: “I’m not paying $80 for beach chairs.”

“I bought cold cuts for a G Sandwich, but we need bread. Let’s get some at the store.” After going in three stores, “There’s no bread anywhere. Let’s get out of here.”

“There’s a Beverly Hills Cop special on Encore tonight. Let’s watch it.” Son: “We don’t get Encore.” Him: “We get it at home, why don’t we get it here? Do we get HBO?”

“We have to be at the picnic at 6 o’clock. How are we going to manage the beach today?”

After eating lunch, watching tennis and a brief nap: “Are we going to the beach today or not?”

On the way home from the beach: “I hate to tell you this, but there’s not much for dinner.”

I tell him I am going to write a piece and call him a curmudgeon. “Your father was a curmudgeon,” he replies. “I’d appreciate if you call me a budding curmudgeon.”

 

 

 

 

I Love Farmers’ Markets

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Hen of the Woods mushrooms from Chatfield Hollow Farm in Killingworth, CT. 

I’ve always wondered why people wait in long lines for Vietnamese spring rolls at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market on Martha’s Vineyard.

That is until I stood in line for 30 minutes for fresh fish at the Madison, CT., Farmers’ Market on Friday. In the off-season, I drive 25 minutes to Atlantic Seafood in Old Saybrook, CT.  There are closer fish mongers, but I like Atlantic’s owners. They’re friendly, fair and split and clean lobsters for me. Best of all, they’ve got fantastic seafood, a slew of gluten-free delicacies, and tchotchkes like tiny fishing poles doubling as flame starters.

Once summer rolls around and Interstate 95 becomes a parking lot, I hit the Madison Farmers’ Market. Though I detest grocery shopping, I look forward to the Friday market, where you can buy everything from brick-oven pizza to homemade kettle corn. Sure there are veggies, but there’s also grass-fed beef, organic chicken and lamb and even exotic mushrooms. Did I mention it’s got all this and isn’t so cool it’s off-putting?

There’s a festive, almost fair-like feel to the market, a general slowing of pace and letting down of guard. People who avoid eye contact in the supermarket actually stop and greet you. Old friends and neighbors hug and kiss, catching up on the latest gossip and family news. A guitarist or band entertains the crowd, which includes everyone from young moms wheeling strollers to senior citizens. You can usually count on a few well-behaved dogs too.

At least 20 people were ahead of me when I joined the fish line, but I didn’t mind. A man and woman in front of me struck up a conversation about a ravenous woodchuck in the woman’s garden. I boldly interjected with a few gardening war stories. This would never happen in the supermarket, where shoppers hunt for the shortest lines, are glued to cell phones and roll their eyes when you unintentionally hold them up.

A friend of mine calls today’s chronic state of urgency the “Jiffy Lube” syndrome. People want to get in and out of everything as quickly as possible: the bank, the dump, the car, the doctor, vet, deli, church, the YMCA parking lot. I’m guilty of it too, but I don’t like it. I don’t remember always feeling so pressed for time.

I’ve always been struck by the silence in most supermarkets, almost an unwritten code that there’s no talking.  It’s pretty much a solitary outing, perhaps explaining why so many people dread it.

The farmers’ market is a different animal. Strangers stand in line and exchange recipes, recommend items and shoot the breeze. Vendors share snippets of their lives and throw in cooking tips. I especially like the way the vendor from the trawler Jenna Lynn II of Stonington, CT.,  offers simple cooking advice. Scallops: toss with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and broil until carmelized. I added a bunch of chopped cilantro and a handful of shrimp for good measure.

Though a recent transplant from Missouri lamented that New Englanders are cold to newcomers (an observation I will not refute), we soften and become a little more open at farmers’ markets. Maybe it’s the fresh air, sun and breeze or the promise of fresh food, but we’re at our best when we’re there. I only wish I could bottle it for my supermarket runs.

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Shrimp and scallops from the trawler Jenna Lynn II out of Stonington, CT. Toss with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and a handful of chopped cilantro. Broil or grill for an easy summer dish.