Mead’s Leads: Digging Up History

Last week my piece on an archeological dig that is occurring on the island was featured on the front page of the Block Island times. Like the proud parent I am, this is me posting it to the refrigerator for all to see. So far the post has over 500 online views! Enjoy the read, and hey learn something!

Putting in a new driveway can reap more than just aesthetic rewards if you live in the Great Salt Pond archaelogical district.

In that area, before a new driveway can be put in, the landowner of the property is required to conduct an archeaological dig. The dig is meant to preserve the property’s history and artifacts. The driveway may only be a few hundred feet long, but the amount of history found beneath it can be staggering.

On Corn Neck Road, across from the Mitchell Farm, just such a dig is now underway.

IMG_3842Led by University of Connecticut professor Kevin McBride, the dig began last summer and will wrap up in the next week or so. Equipment stripped away the topsoil, which was about three feet deep. Dark spots, called features, mark the areas where there have been discoveries. Every flag in the dig marks a feature, and the number of features at this dig now totals more than 200.

McBride believes that most of what he and his team have found dates to a village that existed in the area between 1000-1500 AD. Many of the flags mark what McBride calls refuse pits. The pits likely functioned as a dump, essentially, where left over food scraps were tossed. Different shellfish, fish bones and mammal bones have been found in the pits. With this access to the unknown settlers’ waste, much can be inferred about the society and lives of the people who lived there.

Along with refuse pits, the dig has also uncovered storage pits. McBride said the pits would house grains, corn and other foods, but would then become refuse pits after their use expired. Additionally, the dig has found post molds, known as “Ghosts of posts.” These likely marked parts of the early lodgings of those island inhabitants.

Over at the Block Island Historical Society, there are cross-sectioned models of both refuse pits and post molds made from previous digs. This exhibit helps to understand what is happening on the dig site. Allison Malloy, who has been assisting McBride with the dig, works at the Historical Society.

Once the dig is complete, when all the features are recorded, the artifacts will be removed and the findings will be transported to The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center in Connecticut, to be researched and recorded. Then, at some point, the driveway will be covered with gravel.

McBride said he was pleased with the results. The purpose of the dig has been fulfilled; artifacts from the precious past have been preserved. “A cross section of an entire village has been unearthed here, the sheer magnitude of the collective space has exposed so much,” he said. “The dig has been a great opportunity.” Much of the time on the project has been funded by the site’s landowner, and students from the University of Connecticut have assisted in the dig.

McBride encourages anyone to stop by and check out the site. He is eager to teach about what he is doing, what he is finding and most importantly why people should care about Block Island’s distant past.

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Adventures Etc: Block Island Bingo

One of the perks of writing for the Block Island Times is that it encourages and rewards me to do things I would probably want to do anyways. My assignments put island events on my radar and then I get the pleasure of attending, but also am more out going while I do, as I have a story to write shortly following. This week brought me to Bingo and it was a win just to attend. Here is my piece on the island tradition. With my goal to “win something on the island” on my bucket list, I felt this counting as a whole hearted attempt and near completion. 

The sign normally goes up on Friday, but the anticipation for the Tuesday night Bingo held at the Fire Barn has been building for much longer. The event is held 4 times throughout the summer with remaining 2 nights on August 4 and 18. The line to buy boards begins at 6:30pm with Bingo calling starting shortly after 7pm. Get there early, the line for cards is often long and grabbing a good spot is apart of making a good evening great. After a busy day of island activities, sitting back in the sunset with the chance of real winnings make many return year after year.

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The event is held by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Volunteer Fire Department to raise money for Block Island Volunteer Fire Department. It is $5 per person to play, receiving three boards each, but buy as many cards as you would like (just make sure you can handle them all). The night includes “normal rounds” which the purchased boards are used for and also “special rounds” where players can buy $1 paper cards to be used for the single “special” round. This is not your typical mainland bingo; the event draws families back year after year to participate is this island tradition. The event has become a meeting place for families, both those visiting for the summer, week or even live on the island year round.

Bring your own chairs, or blanket if you would like to sit outside, but the fire barn is filled with tables for plenty of seating. “B” prepared for excitement and eagerness as your card hoovers with 4 in a row. The joy of winning a card is not limited to the glory you have, the night congratulates winners with great prizes from local businesses, like t-shirts, tumblers, gift cards to local businesses and even a cash payout of $100 during one of the “special rounds”.

Speckled throughout the tables between smiling faces and bingo cards are the sodas and candies we all love. The candy selection is impressive and the soda is kept cold, both are available for $1.

The draw of the even goes further than just the cards, candy and prizes. The establishment of this island tradition runs deep for many attendees. In speaking with Lisa L., who has spent the last 40 years coming to Bingo, the evening allows her the chance to see friends and spend time with family on beautiful summer evenings. Lisa takes her Bingo seriously and comes prepared with scotch tape for specials rounds, not willing to risk missing a number. The passing on of the tradition is seen with Lisa as well as now her niece attends as well.

IMG_3916(While waiting in line speaking with attendees, I realized the closer to the front people were the more serious they were taking the game. Lisa was 20th in line, the people up front wouldn’t even break their concentration to speak with me, ha!)

Another long time Bingo attendee, Tess Duale, enjoys the trill of the night. This summer she introduced the activity to Brian Rogers. The two have serious strategies for Bingo playing including no nonsense attitudes.

The prizes that are awarded at Bingo are serious swag. Jay and Laurie Hubelnk have won a round trip flight to Westerly, RI and $25 to Finn’s Restaurant in the past. The couple says “it’s a good time not matter if you win or lose.” As the caller shouts out numbers and your card becomes ever closer to Bingo, nervousness builds and excitement grows. But if someone calls BINGO before you, have no fear, join the crowd’s excitement for the winner, clear your board and get ready for the next round. There is no hostility in this crowd.

“It is a real sense of community” says Hope Brigham. Hope won a round and was cheered on by the entire crowd as she claimed her prize. “I was feel down after losing in the last round, but I just stayed focused and all of the sudden looked down and had Bingo, it was a miracle”. This story happens to so many that attend Bingo, the addictive night brings many back year after year.

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Point Judith fisherman Tommy Pono believed it was serendipitous that Bingo was being held on the single night he was on the island. “There is a lot of superstition that goes into Bingo night, next time I will definitely wear my lucky socks” says Pono.

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From lucky socks, to favorite boards, traditions run deep at Bingo Night. Two nights of Bingo remain in the season. Come join the fun of the night. It is “N” your favor.

Have you ever attended a Block Island Bingo night? What are your favorite summer night traditions? Do you have lucky socks?

The Tipsy Mermaid: Prepping your Summer Attire

IMG_3681.JPGNew to the island this summer is a clothing boutique with not only a unique name, but also a unique style. The Tipsy Mermaid is located on Water Street between Block Market and Mahoney’s. The new shop is full of what the manger Kelly Case calls “bright preppy resort-ware”.

Dennis Noreiko, who also operates The Wave, Bonnie & Clyde, and The Mad Hatter, owns the store. Kelly Case, who with baby in tow juggles the responsibilities of three stores, manages the new store. When speaking about the store’s name Case says, “I feel bad about using the name because I later found it is a name of a cocktail at Poor People’s Pub”. Even so, it is a fitting name. The store is full of lively clothing one would feel comfortable in wearing to cocktail parties near the ocean, ie becoming a “tipsy mermaid” (or close enough). In addition, Case adds that she plans to feature “Wine-inspired” gifts and t-shirts in the future.

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The only caveat in the store’s opening has been slight confusion as long term Bonnie & Clyde customers return to the store looking for their favorite Lily Pulitzer items. But have no fear, the “preppier” brands that the store once hosted have just moved down the road to The Tipsy Mermaid and are all connected in ownership. Case adds that customers can continue to shop Bonnie & Clyde for a more bohemian style and be sure to pop into the new shop for classical items.

Right now the store’s most popular apparel brands include Lily Pulitzer, Jude Connally, Susana Monaco, and Perifor. It also has plenty of non-clothing options as well. Sail Bags, which as made using recycled sails from sailboats are offered, as well as trendy Scout Bags. At The Tipsy Mermaid one can also find beautiful jewelry, functional stationary and smaller designer gift items.

With Lily Pulitzer becoming even more popular with it’s Target collection, the store finds it’s supply met with demand. They have been busy since opening and hope this is not a short-term trend. Throughout the summer the store will be adding new items, with fall pieces starting in late July. The shop is and will continue to be a great place to pick up an extra sweater or jacket that was over looked while packing for the summer and a place to find a fashionable dress for an upcoming summer event. Right now also available last year’s merchandise is 50% off.

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Case admits that Lily Pulitzer is her favorite brand. She is the store’s purchaser and it is clear, she knows her Lily. From casual beach cover-ups to fancier attire the brand and the store’s other brands work in supporting the central style the store represents with ease.   In response to why people should check out the store, Kelly Case believes “Its style is classic summer” and that’s Block Island as well. The island is a summer paradise and The Tipsy Mermaid can outfit you for the occasion.

Stop by The Tipsy Mermaid, it is located at 234 Water Street and is open from 9:30am to 10pm daily. If you are lucky, you may find Muraco sitting on the counter. He is the pup of a store employee, and he will be happy to assist in checking you out.IMG_3686.JPG

Chopping Block: Calaveras

IMG_3621It’s time for my first faceoff. I was assigned to profile new Mexican spot Calaveras for the Block Island Times this week. I’m a big fan of Mexican food, so I was eager to check the place out. I recently profiled Mex on the Deck: Las Gataotos and in a head to head comparison, if you are craving the southern neighbor cuisine, the top taco of the island goes to Calaveras. It rates ahead due to its intimate appeal, catering to the customer menu and attention to freshness. And big PLUS for BYOB and fried ice cream for dessert (this place is so great they even have clever puns).

“I hate tacos” said no Juan ever.

Owner Julio Mendoza was a pleasure to talk to and I wish him a summer of long lines and no sombreros. A few months ago he wasn’t even thinking about opening a restaurant, but when life lends opportunities make he makes guacamole! 9/10

Here read my article for the paper because wait for its publication might mean this unknown gem will be secret no longer.

Authenticity Island

Located at 30 Water Street, next to the Block Island Post Office, Calaveras brings genuine Mexican food to the island. Taking out the space once held by Terrapin Taco its first season of business, Calaveras has taken off with a pure ambition. Serving up take-out or sit down meals to customers the restaurant caters to the exact desires of its patrons with a build your own type menu that is supported with owner Julio Mendoza’s specialty plates. In getting the chance to sit down with Mendoza the commitment to his business is seen and the true ecstasy of the spot is radiated.

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Mendoza is originally from Mexico City, and lived in Connecticut and New York previously before his island living. He came to the Block Island 5 years ago to do landscaping work. In the midst of his summer work, Mendoza met his wife, IIiana. Like the island does to many, it called them back the following year and the couple has lived on the island since. This April when the space became available, Julio took the opportunity to pursue the chance to provide his home’s flavors to the island.

“I want to remain authentic, but not stereotypical” says Julio in describing the environment and food he wants to provide in his establishment. Julio does just this with a combination of colors, murals and flags that adorn the space. It provokes association with Mexican traditions instead of the skewed American perception of piñatas and sombreros that can often over shadow. The design of the welcoming interior and view-encompassing exterior was the work of Julio and his wife.

Named Calaveras, meaning “sugar skulls”, for Julio’s10384297_375510592647381_2512983613428214830_n favorite holiday, the Day of the Dead, the ties toMexico are important to not only the production of the food at Calaveras, but also the origins of the menu’s inspiration. In addition to the build your own section of the menu, specialty dishes are also available. Including the popular, Tostada de Tinga, a flat corn shell topped with beans, lettuces, pulled chicken, sour cream and Fresco Cheese, a recipe passed down from Mendoza’s mother.

Of the variety of options to try, all are made with fresh ingredients. In speaking about how he does his foods preparations Mendoza remarks, “I only ask the tomato to taste like a really great tomato, nothing else.”

With all menu items being prepared from scratch, this simplistic approach creates flavorful authentic food. Everyday the small team at Calaveras crafts foods made to order on a small scale but with serious results. In addition to its main order plates, the kitchen also makes sides of hot from the oven tortilla chips with freshly diced salsa and guacamole. To wash down your delicious dinings there are daily “Augas Frecas” that rotate including Horchata and tangy teas. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert with delectable dishes of fried ice cream and Cheesecake chimichangas.

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On Saturdays and Sundays, they are open for breakfast serving up egg plates and breakfast burritos. Grab and go or sit back and enjoy your with Calaveras’ homemade coffee (which is also served daily).

Diners can have exactly the experience they desire at Calaveras. BYOB allows customers to bring accompanying beverages. The menu is made to order with the kitchen happy to prepare orders under exact specifications. Service can be tableside or at the counter. Indoor and outdoor seating adds to the list of the far from stressful choices for visitors to make.

Julio Medoza looks to bring his once home to his new with his new restaurant. Stop by to see what is quickly becoming an island favorite. The Calaveras accepts credit cards and is open from 11am until 5pm Mondays, 11am to 9pm on Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11am-10pm Fridays, 8am-10pm Saturdays, and 8am-9pm Sundays. Check out the Calaveras Facebook page for daily specials and new menu additions!

Mead Leads: Airbnb Island Style

This week for the paper I dabbled in some investigative reporting. The idea to look deeper into Airbnb came from 1) their new TV ad campaign that makes me want to be a loner in Europe and 2) the impossible search for a hotel room for a weekend in July on Block Island. I found a handful of AIrbnb renters who were willing to chat and answer my probing questions. I’m pretty good at what I do because by the end I had offers to “stop by for a swim anytime”. Take a read, skim if you must, but check out that Ross house, I want to stay there. Fun fact I learned in all my research, it is called Airbnb because of the spin of “air mattress bed and breakfast”. See the things you never knew.

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There has been growing popularity all around for the peer-to-peer house-lending site Airbnb. The site works by allowing anyone to list their homes, a single room or other unique space to the world. Those looking to book a place to stay can search by destination and see the various options in the local. The site has the ability to turn anyone into an innkeeper within a few online steps.

Airbnb, founded in 2008, offers travelers the chance to explore to new places, and also to feel “like a local”, by staying in private homes. With more than a million listings worldwide, it is hard to find a place where a room is not available. By not having to stay in a busy hotel, the stay can be as seamless as arriving at home. Payments are processed through the site directly and securely meaning there is never a transfer of payment during the actual stay between the two parties. The site seeks to ensure a comfortable experience for all involved by providing various safety and insurance coverage. The site charges guests 6-12% of their reservation for their service and insurance and 3% for the hosts.

Because Airbnbs permits anyone to list a space and anyone to rent, there is a reliance and importance on reviews. Both homeowners and renters can review each other and assist future transactions and increase the verification and trust between both parties. The incentive to provide a pleasurable stay is evoked with guests’ comments and reviews that become attached to the online listing. At the same time hosts can comments on the behavior of their visitors which future renters can see in the traveler’s profile.

A part of the attractiveness of the service is homeowners can make money opening their space to others and travelers can save with many listings costing less than a comparable hotel room, If saving money is not the worry of the traveler, but instead a more unique experience Airbnb also provides that. The personal host-to-guest connection erases some of the fine lines of impersonal hospitality that exist in hotels. Around the world one of a kind spaces are listed from castles to tree houses. Those looking for something different in their adventures have begun to turn to Airbnb.

With its uptick in use, Block Island has joined the ranks and is home to 9 different listings currently. Some are single-family homes, while others are simply private rooms within homes. With prices reflecting the amount of space and privacy provided. In the every impossible search for hotel availability on the island, the hosts have been successful in booking their spaces for most (if not all) of the summer.

Even homes that are not on the island have seen Airbnb become a viable rental option. In corresponding with one host who rents a single family home in nearby Narragansett, the opinion of the online service was in extreme high regard. Susan, whose home is completely booked for the remainder of the summer (but is booking for 2016), loves Airbnb for a number of reasons. She enjoys the fact the site handles the billing transactions, contracts and cleaning fees and after she was able to set up the account, it is as has become simple as accepting or declining an inquired reservation. And before she does that, she can easily see a little bit of more information about the guests via their online profiles. Susan’s home, which is a stones throw from the water, is listed as $180 a night and current has a rating of 4.5/5 stars. This rating is controlled completely by those who have stay on the property.

The personal approach of the site also benefits hosts as well. Susan receives direct feedback from guests. Her home has been referred to as a “slice of heaven”. She uses the positive feedback from those who have stayed at her home in promoting the listing in the future.

In response to the question of why her home is unique, Susan answers, “Our house is unique because it is right on a sandy beach. Guests can swim, bike, fish, sail, paddle board, surf, volleyball, etc. right outside the front door. Guests can walk to homemade ice cream, lobster sandwiches, fired clams and doughboys.”

The charm and character of being able to stay in a comfortable home environment rather than a sterile hotel is what Susan finds appealing about staying in Airbnbs. She stays in them herself when she travels and finds her guests feel the same.

On Block Island, Ginger, another host who us of the service, began using the site in 2008 when she was unable to fill her home throughout the summer during the financial crisis. Since then she has only rented with Airbnb twice and is able to fill the property with the use of traditional island rental service Ballard Hall.

Her home (top photo) located close to Settler’s Rock is booked this summer with only one week of availability, July 12-18 at a rate of $5800 a week. Ginger says that the two times she had guests stay from Airbnb the payment was not as smooth as she would have liked between the guest, Airbnb, Ballard Hall (who assisted the process) and herself. One other issues Ginger deals with is many of those who inquire about her home through Airbnb are looking to negotiate. They see a nightly rate posted on the site (which she is required to post), but then come to find out Ginger only rents her home by the week. To add to that shifting rates based on season, leads to many inquiring based on an inaccurate understandings of the price. This confusion does not yield many renters from within the service. Instead, Ginger is able to fill her home using Ballard Hall’s rentals.

Though she says the she does not rent to many with the site, she does not feel like it does any harm to be on it. It does not cost her anything and can lead to potential renters. Additionally, the site expands the scope of market of her home, with her latest guests coming from Maine.

Ginger agrees that she likes the site nonetheless. She stays in Airbnbs when she travels and advises others to just do their research before they book. The professional site opens the door to personal interactions says Ginger. She feels that the listings are a good value and have additional perks, like full kitchens and friendly hosts often times.

Ginger says she would happily rent more using the service, but has just not found as many guests through it. Overall she feels very positively about her experiences, and with her home also being for sale hopes that a future guest may feel at home enough to make it their own.

On of the most unique listing on the island is the Ross House on the secluded southeastern corner of the island. The house is priced at $1000 a night and offers visitors a modern minimalistic space. The use of glass doors and windows throughout the building connects those inside with the beautiful surroundings.

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What differs with this listing is that it does not require guests to stay numerous nights. Visitors can come and have the experience of the home for one night during a trip to Block Island.

Based on the research and knowledge of the island, this type of listing is where the future lies for Airbnb on the island. Many people can not book a home for an entire week, but many still want the privacy and comfort of a home during their visit. Airbnb listings can provide this. Another further use of the site possibly will be more homeowners renting out a bedroom within their home for nightly stays. With the increasing popularity of the island and limited hotel space visitors would likely seek out Airbnb listings of this sort, and homeowners could profit as well.

To see all the homes mentioned, along with others visit airbnb.com and search “Block Island”.

Mead Leads: Block Island Times

I’ve spent under a week here on the island and I have already accomplished one of the items from my Master Key Bucket List. I thought #5 Front Page Article for the Block Island Times would a lot longer. I was floored when the paper was delivered while I was at work and I found my piece on the front page.

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Let me back track a little. Monday morning as I sat at Topside, I chatted with a girl who mentioned how I should write for the paper after I told her about my interests in journalism. ‘l will blame the rain for inspiring me to be productive. The Block Island Times was right across the street so I popped over and introduced myself. After sitting down with the editor, talking about my experiences in writing (which I feel are pretty limited, but didn’t tell him that) and pulling up my blog here, I was offered an internship for the summer.

I think it’s pretty ironic how I stressed and stressed over choosing a job where I could make money over a summer internship at home, and now I was able to score the best of both within hours of arriving on Block Island. See this place is awesome.

My assignments will vary. My editor explained that I could write my own pieces or take the assignments from the office. My first week’s article “Block Island Bonnaroo” ran on Friday, to my surprise on the front page! Check off #5.

The music festival starts next Tuesday and features 48 bands over the course of 6 nights (stay tuned for posts on my attendance). I interviewed the owner of Captain Nick’s, where the festival is being held, for the piece. It felt like real journalism (because it was, I have to remind myself) unlike a lot of the other writings I have done before. Take a read.

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I will continue to share my featured articles here on the blog and the places I find myself seeking out more. Next week I am working on a piece about Airbnbs on the island. I have been in contact with some hosts and hopefully will be able to put together a newsworthy piece. I will have to resign and know that every article might not be on the front page, but they can still be important nonetheless.