Giving Thanks, “06880”-Style

Thank you.

Thank you to Westport, for being — despite the ease and frequency with which we/I often knock it — a wonderful, warm, creative, arts-supporting, involved and ever-evolving community.

Thank you to all who make it so. As Westport prepares for the future — with new retail and residential developments on both sides of the river downtown, and in Saugatuck; with senior housing in the works, and many more changes in store — we are not all on the same page. But in our own way, each of us wants what is best for our town. And, thankfully, we are nowhere near as dysfunctional as Washington.

Thank you to the people I spend so much time with: Westport’s teenagers. You are smart, passionate, compassionate and clever. You work far harder than I did when I was at Staples. You’ve got far more pressures on you than I had. Yet you handle it all with maturity and poise (most of the time). And you do it with plenty of smiles.

Thank you to the readers of “06880.” You are never without opinions, information and feedback. You feed me ideas and photos. You read my words at 5 a.m., noon and midnight. And when I tell you sorry, I can’t post a story about your lost cat/upcoming book signing/daughter’s lemonade stand, you (for the most part) understand.

Those are my thanks, this Thanksgiving day 2014. I’d love to hear yours. And — more importantly — so would everyone else in this great “06880” community. Just click “Comments” below.

Thank you!

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I'm not a turkey.

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I’m not a turkey.

Remembering Elwood Betts

Elwood Betts — a proud Westport native, indefatigable civic volunteer and all-around good guy — died yesterday of cardiac arrest. He was 89.

His next door neighbor sends along this wonderful tribute:

This Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for having the honor of being the next-door neighbor of the soul of Westport for the last 6 years. Elwood Betts always had a pleasant hello waiting for me and my fellow neighbors, raising his arm with his big hand in the air with an echoing “Helllllllllo there!” When you heard that voice you knew who was outside, happy to see and greet you, rain or shine…

When we first moved to Park Lane, welcoming neighbors were first to inform us who was our street chieftain. He told us great stories about his beloved late wife, and all the joy he shared with her for over 50 years. A few years after we met, his son moved back into his childhood house to take care of his father, along with his lovely wife. We knew Westport was the right town for us to raise a family, but we had no idea we’d be blessed to live next to such a wonderful man.

Elwood Betts at Evergreen Cemetery. That restoration effort was one of his many civic projects.

Elwood Betts at Evergreen Cemetery. That restoration effort was one of his many civic projects.

That first year we moved next door to him, before the arrival of our son, he would show me his library of historical photos and information about the town of Westport, his beloved church, his family heritage. Over the years, he had collected an incredible amount of facts about town because he loved it like his family. He was Westport in my mind, and he wanted to pass on his passion by leaving behind all the reasons why Westport meant more to him than just a zip code. He wanted everyone to embrace the depth of our cultural town.

The first piece of history he shared with me was when his church, Saugatuck Congregational, was moved across the Post Road in 1950. He told me how the road had been blocked so that 500 men, women and children could gather before the shored-up structure for a service of prayer and thanksgiving. They sang “Faith of Our Fathers” accompanied by a portable organ. Then at 60 feet per hour, the 200-ton building was moved down a 19-foot incline on 55 logs across the Post Road, to stand adjacent to the parsonage. He had all the photos in a bound book. I thought, “This guy knows his stuff!”

My wife and I quickly learned what mattered to him most: family and his church. He loved his kids and his grandchildren so much, a proud father indeed. He shared stories that made me think how lucky they were to have him as their family patriarch.

Last year at Sherwood Island, Elwood Betts (left) showed archaeologist Ernie Wiegand where the 1787 Sherwood house stood.

Last year at Sherwood Island, Elwood Betts (left) showed archaeologist Ernie Wiegand where the 1787 Sherwood house stood.

He was a rich soul who cared for everyone else first, putting himself last. When his beloved place of worship suffered a devastating fire, Park Lane was lined with cars for months. He stepped into a leadership role, towards restoring Westport’s centerpiece of grace and place for the faithful. People rallied for him, took his direction and the spirit of community spread from there.

I learned recently that because the church is under restoration, he had offered to host the men’s group on Thursday mornings at his home. Even at the age of 89, he was still thinking of ways to help his community.

Tomorrow I will truly miss wishing a “Happy Thanksgiving” to a man of such character, integrity, sincerity, and humility — my irreplaceable neighbor and friend, Elwood Betts.

God bless you and your family. Here’s thanks for all your efforts to make Westport what it is today. May we all live up to your standards of preserving its authenticity.

Click below for Elwood Betts’ oral history of Westport:

(Calling hours are this Friday, Nov. 28, from 5-8 p.m. at the Harding Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 30 at 11 a.m. at Greens Farms Congregational Church. A reception will follow.)

(For more “06880” stories about Elwood Betts: resurrecting Evergreen Cemeteryremembering the Hindenburg over Westport; remembering Sherwood Island Mill Pond)

Alisan Porter Knows “Who We Are”

It’s been quite a year for Alisan Porter.

The 1999 Staples graduate — who also played Curly Sue in the movie of the same name, and performed on Broadway in “Footloose” and “A Chorus Line” — gave birth to her 2nd child, talked openly about her sobriety, and has just released her 1st solo album in 6 years.

After many years recording and performing with her band The Canyons, she felt the need to explore musically on her own. She spent time in Nashville writing, and — with friend and fellow Staples grad Drew McKeon — went into the studio. He co-wrote, co-produced and played on the album, called “Who We Are.”

Ali Porter

“We basically sat in her kitchen in California with a guitar and a laptop and started writing a song,” he says, recalling the project’s genesis. “Twenty minutes later we had a demo for a tune.”

They went out and got all-star musicians, veterans of bands for Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Eric Clapton.

In a People magazine story written by yet another Staples grad — Jennifer Garcia — Porter describes her work as a recording artist, mother of 2 (ages 2 1/2 and 6 months), and blogger (“The Lil’ Mamas” is a no-holds-barred, tell-all, not-your- grandmother’s look at motherhood).

“Motherhood always comes first,” she says. “But I knew I wasn’t going to be a good mother if I didn’t continue to do what I love! Music is a part of me and I had to express myself, especially now that I’m a mom. That inspired a lot of the album. My own growing up and watching my children do the same.”

That’s happening in California now. But you can’t take the Westport out of Curly Sue Alison Porter.

 

 

Vive Le Rouge!

Once you’ve earned post-grad degrees in economics and finance, started a company representing international buyers, raised 2 children, and lived around the world — from India and Hong Kong to Minnesota and Weston — what do you do next?

If you’re Aarti Khosla, you open a fantastic chocolate shop in Westport.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

Le Rouge celebrates its grand opening this Friday (November 28, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.). Tucked away in a former optical shop below the old Sally’s Place (190 Main Street), it’s an intriguing — and different — addition to Westport’s retail scene.

As is obvious from her bio, Aarti is a high achiever. She is detail-oriented. Her store is beautifully decorated, in red (her favorite color) and black (duh).

She designed everything — from the decor to the gift boxes — herself. She makes, then brushes each creation by hand.

She has spent the last 2 years learning everything there is to know about chocolate. She took online courses, and traveled to Vancouver to learn about coloring.

A close-up of some of Aarti's creations.

A close-up of some of Aarti’s creations.

Aarti drew on her international background — and love of cooking — to create delicate flavors. Her chocolates incorporate Szechuan pepper, wasabi ginger and apple pie truffle. (My favorite is saffron and pistachio in a white chocolate ganache.) She uses no preservatives or additives, and minimal glucose.

Le Rouge’s market is world travelers, who appreciate artisanal flavors beyond Westport.

Though most chocolates are taken home or shipped, Le Rouge is also a cafe. Aarti sells cappuccino, espresso (plus of course hot chocolate), and plated desserts.

And — in a nod to 21st-century sensibilities that even the most traditional chocolate-lover could appreciate — there’s free Wi-Fi.

Dozens Of Staples Students Dodge Cops

Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Tonight, they ran toward them.

And threw dodgeballs at their heads.

The cops threw them right back.

In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event. Staples’ Teen Awareness Group co-sponsored the event.

Dodgeball kids 2

The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it. The English department had a group of teachers.

Each of the 31 teams had at least 1 police officer. Talk about someone having your back!

Each player paid $5 to participate. The money goes to Homes With Hope.

That’s a big 10-4.

Basketball players...

Basketball players…

Staples Players (the actors) ...

… Staples Players (the actors) …

teachers...

… teachers…

... and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission's annual "Dodge a Cop" event.

… and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

 

 

 

200-Unit Apartment Proposal Galvanizes Westporters

Just 24 hours after it went online, a petition opposing the proposed 200-unit apartment complex on the site of the Westport Inn gained over 300 signatures.

Residents in the Long Lots area have formed a group: Westport United for Responsible Development.

Their petition — available at Change.org and addressed to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — reads:

Ranger Properties, the current owner/developer of the Westport Inn at 1595 Post Road East, proposes to demolish the Inn and to replace it with a 200 unit multi-family apartment complex. The developer is using the Connecticut Affordable Housing Statute to bypass Westport’s zoning laws and build an apartment complex that would never be permitted under the existing local zoning laws.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

The proposed complex would contain 363,328 square feet, 5 stories (with balconies and roof amenities), and 370 parking spaces on less than 3 acres of land. This unprecedented development would rise in excess of 80 feet above an already elevated grade and tower over adjacent residential neighborhoods. The proposed project violates numerous Westport zoning laws concerning height, density, wetlands and use.

It would irreversibly alter the small town character of Westport, and would place undue burdens on schools, traffic and emergency response; resulting in significant public health and safety concerns.

The project is in the early stages of development.

And — clearly — so is opposition to it.

(To view the petition, click on change.org.) 

How To Succeed In Westport — With Really Trying

Kibberia is one of my favorite restaurants.

The Middle Eastern food is fantastic: fresh, healthful and flavorful. The prices are great. And Nick Iskandar is one of the nicest, happiest and most generally helpful restaurant owners I’ve ever met.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Nick Iskandar relaxes at Kibberia.

Kibberia recently marked its 1-year anniversary on the Westport-Norwalk town line (it’s on the site of the old John’s Best). That seemed like a good time to ask Nick what it takes to survive in this area’s cutthroat restaurant environment.

“The first few months were definitely not easy,” he says. The brutal winter weather kept many people home. The small plaza is not well lit; town regulations limit signage. Middle Eastern cuisine is unfamiliar to many diners.

Yet those were just bumps on the road to building a new business.

“When people taste it, they like it,” Nick says of his menu. He’s seen a steady increase in takeout orders. Nearly every day, he caters lunch for at least one office nearby. And — parents say — their kids love his hummus and falafels.

That’s one surprise. So is his wholesale sideline.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Some of the many intriguing dishes at Kibberia.

Unprompted, a customer suggested that Nick sell his products through stores like Mrs. Green’s.

It took a while, but he started in 4 locations. Now he’s in 15 — including items not in his restaurant.

He was surprised too when Patricia Brooks called last spring. She’d enjoyed her meal there, and planned to review it for the New York Times.

She gave it a “good” rating — in Times-speak, just a step below “phenomenal” — and that drove customers. So did a nice writeup in the Hearst papers.

Always, Nick is experimenting with what works. He began opening on Sundays. It’s his slowest day, but loyal customers want it.

He added live music on Saturdays, but BMI — the music rights firm — is coming after small businesses like his for licensing fees. So he’s cut back considerably.

KibberiaThis has been an enjoyable year for Nick. He’s learned a lot. The Westport Kibberia is different from his 1st location in Danbury: different customers, different rhythms, different expectations. Yet he’s adapted well — and is looking for a 3rd location, possibly in Mt. Kisco.

It’s not easy for any new business — particularly a restaurant — to survive here.

But — as his ever-growing customer base attests — the rewards can hit the spot.

Scores Of Santas Stumble Through Saugatuck

Saugatuck, Santa Claus and alcohol. It doesn’t get better than that.

The trifecta is our 2nd annual “Santa Cause.” The creation of Westporters Kelley and Drew Schutte, it’s an absurdly fun (and adult) afternoon. And it’s a fundraiser for a wonderful beneficiary: Adam’s Camp New England, which helps special needs children realize their full potential.

Did I mention there are drinks?

Drew and Kelley Schutte — aka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Here’s the deal. This Saturday (November 29), attendees must dress up in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits. (Full costumes, please!)

Everyone gathers at the Whelk, at 3 p.m. sharp. Every 45 minutes they drink/crawl their way from one fine Saugatuck establishment to the next. (Saugatuck Sweets provides free coffee, because man does not live by bread beer alone.)

At the last stop — the Rowing Club — awards will be presented (don’t ask). Then come (surprise!) drinks, bites, and dancing your bells off to Fry Daddy’s.

Here’s the holiday catch: The cost is a minimum of $125 per person Santa.

Of course — this being the holiday, and there’s alcohol involved — you can give more. $2,700 covers a full camp experience for one child.

Christmas drinkThis being litigious Westport, there are guidelines. Each party’s drop-off and pick-up rides must be arranged in advance (unless there’s a designated sleigh or car driver).

Cash is requested for drinks and tips. No credit cards — bartenders have enough trouble without trying to figure out which Santa bought which Christmas ale.

Ho ho ho!

(Pre-registration is requested; send a check made out to “Adam’s Camp,” with a list of the number attending and your email address, to the Schuttes, 12 Sunnyside La., Westport, CT 06880. Include the name of all your Santas, and your email address. For more info, call 917-297-1324.)

More Changes On Elm Street

While Westporters were admiring the Kemper-Gunn House’s new location in the Baldwin parking lot — where all sides of the structure are visible, after years in the Y’s shadow — a different “renovation” took place across the street.

Here’s a shot of the walkway, and the side of the building between Elm Street and Main Street.

Elm Street walkway

It must have taken the graffiti “artists” a while do that — in a very visible spot.

 

Scott Pecoriello: You Do Need This Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

In kindergarten, Scott Pecoriello was curious about rain. His parents showed him a radar map. Hooked, he checked it every day.

The next year he drew a map of the Northeast, and colored in storms. Soon, he was trying to figure out how tornadoes form. (He was completely wrong.)

Scott Pecioriello drew this map -- freehand -- when he was 10 years old.

Scott Pecioriello drew this weather map when he was 10 years old.

From there Scott advanced to the Weather Channel. Then came online forums like AWE (the Association of Weather Enthusiasts), filled with people who share his passion. He taught himself all about meteorology.

Three years ago — as a Staples High School freshman — Scott got tired of sharing his maps and forecasts with a few family members. He started a blog called Wild About Weather. It drew about 12 followers (mostly family members).

When he started a Facebook page, his audience exploded. With each storm he forecasted correctly, his followers grew. With Hurricane Irene, the numbers snowballed (so to speak). During one blizzard last winter, he had a web reach of 2.3 million people.

Sure, you can get your weather forecast anywhere. Folks flock to Scott because he makes it interesting. He breaks down every element, so people can learn. He’s enthusiastic, and his blog and Facebook page are personal.

Scott proves himself during big weather events. You or I might fear a hurricane or snowstorm. Scott revels in them. He’s gone 2 days without sleep. He studies every element, explains each one, then forecasts what’s next.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott’s biggest success was Hurricane Sandy. But, he notes, “everyone got that right.” He’s prouder of a storm last winter, when he predicted conditions in every Northeastern city with 94% accuracy.

His biggest failure? Also last winter: a dud snowstorm. On his “Know Snow” app, he apologized. And — as he does whenever he gets something wrong — he explained why.

On the app, Scott predicts school closings for each area town. Last year, he was 91% accurate. It would have been higher, he says, but Westport and Fairfield closings are extraordinarily difficult to figure.

Far more often than not though, Scott gets the closings — and his entire forecast — right. That’s why professional meteorologists follow him on Twitter. They respect him, and he in turn learns from them.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Another fan is Staples principal John Dodig. Teachers follow him too. But Scott — who in his spare time mentors an autistic boy through the Circle of Friends, and counsels elementary school students about food allergies through a group he helped start — downplays his passion with his friends. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘school weatherman,'” he says.

Okay. But how about a sneak preview of winter for “06880”?

“It will be similar to last year,” Scott says. “A lot of snow in Siberia early correlates to the polar vortex we saw before. If the southern jet stream is active, we could get some big snowstorms.”

Speaking of active, Scott is very. He’s just hired a few assistants, to help launch his new premium service on Wild About Weather.

Here’s my forecast: Scott Pecoriello’s future is very hot.

(Scott is not the only young Westport weather whiz. Jacob Meisel — a 2012 Staples graduate, now at Harvard — has just expanded his own website. He’s branched out to New York and other places from southwestern Connecticut, and is offering subscription services. Click SWCT/NY Weather to learn more.)