In The Spirit Of Christmas…

Christmas is about many things — with family at the top of the list.

But some Westporters don’t have family nearby. And by late morning Christmas Day, plenty of people with families are ready to get out of the house.

So, for the 2nd year in a row, the Senior Center is the spot to go for a Christmas Day Community Reception (21 Imperial Avenue, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.). It’s free, and open to everyone — whether you celebrate Christmas with your family or not, or even if you don’t celebrate the holiday at all.

Last year’s event drew 90 guests. This year there’s a light lunch, treats, and music by the Bob Cooper Band. Support comes from the Senior Center, Homes With Hope and the Westport Department of Human Services.

But here’s the coolest part: The “hosts” are the Saugatuck Congregational Church, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Church — and Temple Israel.

No word on whether the “light lunch” includes Chinese food.

(Need a ride to or from the Senior Center for the Community Reception? Call the Saugatuck Church: 203-227-1261. To volunteer to help, or donate baked goods or stuffed animals (!), go to the Saugatuck Church website and click on the right side.)

Westporters Sustain Choate

Choate Rosemary Hall — the prestigious private school in Wallingford — boasts the Kohler Environmental Center. It’s the 1st teaching and research center in US secondary education, a model of self-sustaining architecture, and the 1st education structure to achieve LEED certification by the US Green Building Council.

Students live and learn in the building, which is nearly “off the grid.” Electricity is produced on-site, and they grow their own food.

Choate's Kohler Center

Choate’s Kohler Center

When the Kohler Center received a big award on Thursday from the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter, several Westporters were more than interested observers.

Kevin Smith was the principal architect. He’s a partner in the international firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects (and, with his wife Deirdre O’Farrelly, designed the Christ & Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall).

Westport’s Landtech provided site planning, and civil and environment engineering services, for the project.

As for “Kohler”: The project was written by Herbert Kohler, of plumbing products fame. He’s a Choate grad. When he was a football quarterback there — back in the day — he handed the ball off to a halfback named Earl Smith.

Earl has lived in Westport for years — and was a longtime Staples assistant football coach, under Paul Lane.


Matt Debenham’s Clean Treats

Eli Debenham is a Staples High School sophomore. His dad, Matt — a fiction writer and teacher — recently branched out into the brownie-baking-and-selling business.

Not just any brownies.

Paleo brownies.

Matt Debenham

Matt Debenham

He got into it via his wife’s thyroid specialist. It took 5 months to come up with a recipe that didn’t taste like a caveman who’s been dead for 35,000 years.

Baking — and selling — brownies (paleo or obesity-o) online is not easy. Matt learned about commercial kitchens (he uses one in Saugatuck, at night). He learned about bar codes, labels, shipping, and thousands of other quasi-related-to-baking things.

But Clean Treats is up and running. So is the Clean Plate Club, a food blog for paleo eaters. (Gluten-free ones too.) It features recipes, links to kitchen equipment, and posts about visits to free-range, chemical-free farms.

Matt’s is an interesting story, about something that (of course) morphed from a sideline hobby into a full-fledged, taking-over-his-life business.

Yet many other Westporters have similar tales. Why is this one “06880-worthy”?

A Clean Treat brownie.

A Clean Treat brownie.

Well, it involves food, which everyone loves. Desserts, especially.

Matt’s doing all the right things, marketing-wise.

And Eli asked me to write about it. It’s his Christmas gift, from a son to his dad.

Merry Christmas, Matt! I’m sure Santa will love those Clean Treat brownies you leave out for him on Christmas Eve.


Downtown’ s Hidden Oasis

Downtown Westport will be a shopping zoo this weekend.

But there’s serenity there too — like the spot Betsy P. Kahn captured earlier this week:

Downtown view 2 - Betsy P Kahn

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to get stressed.

Amid all the craziness, take a deep breath.

Find a spot like the one above.

Appreciate all the beauty and joy that surrounds us, every day.

Then — refreshed — head back into the fray.

Downtown Merchants: It’s Not Easy Being Green (And Red)!

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has followed the “06880” discussion about local holiday decorations with interest. Steve Desloge says:

As president of the DMA, and also president of Rockwell Art and Framing (with custom frame stores in Westport, Fairfield, New Canaan, Ridgefield, North Stamford and Wilton), I am very familiar with each town’s holiday decorations. I share everyone’s frustration with the lack of holiday decorations on Main Street.

I would like to explain some of the short-term challenges and long-term solutions that are in store for downtown Westport.

This past summer, approximately 8 new trees were planted on Main Street to replace the dead/damaged/dying trees that were previously removed. However, 4 of these trees did not take hold, and had to be replaced within the last 90 days. Per the Westport tree warden, no lighting is allowed in the trees this year for fear of damaging or killing such young, vulnerable trees.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

In attempt to compensate for the loss of lights, the WDMA has decorated 11 light standards between the Post Road and Avery Place, plus 2 on the Post Road with holiday greens, trees and ribbons. However, there is no electricity available on the poles for decorative lighting.  We installed solar powered light strands; however, the lights just are not as bright as we expected, and thus very disappointing and very frustrating!

We have installed a 25-foot tree with lights on the river near the bridge. Geiger’s will be selling Christmas trees downtown, and a menorah has been placed in front of the old Y to bring some holiday atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the WDMA has no control over how or if member or non-member businesses decorate their premesis.  We have been informed that some previous decorations were “jury-rigged” with extension cords, wires and other unsafe practices.

Downtown holiday events have been scheduled for the 2 weekends prior to Christmas, including carolers, Santa Claus and free horse and buggy rides, all sponsored by the WDMA. The WDMA also provided a free community party on December 3 with live music, ice carvers, Santa, and free food and drinks from members Bobby Q’s, Blue Lemon, and Westport Pizza.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Between February and May 2015 the town will install all new curbing and brick sidewalks between the Post Road and Avery Place. In addition, 28 new decorative light poles, similar to those in surrounding towns, will replace the current highway light standards. Each pole will have electrical outlets for holiday lighting, plus a banner on one side and a planter on the other. The WDMA annually plants and maintains the flowers in the existing baskets.

It is too early to understand if we can place lights in trees for next year, but we will certainly work with the town and the tree warden to evaluate all possibilities.  The town is working closely with the DMA. We are already talking about design ideas for next year that will be special and different.

We are working hard to improve all aspects of core downtown.  I invite you to view, to get a good insight of how the Downtown Master Plan is developing. It is very exciting to see what is in store in the months and years to come.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season from the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Friday, December 19, 11 a.m.), Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1947 script — including advertisements from that long-ago time.

Two years ago, a similar WWPT-FM production won 1st and 2nd place awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM. Or — in a modern twist unavailable during the Truman administration — you can listen to the livestream anywhere in the world. Just click on, then go to “Listen Live” and “Click here to access the district stream.”

It is indeed a wonderful life!

Westport’s Cubans React To Thaw

Yesterday’s announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro of a new relationship between their 2 nations surprised Americans and Cubans alike.

The news was particularly stunning for the small number of Westporters with Cuban heritage.

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux is a 1983 graduate of Staples High School. She grew up here, but her parents are Cuban. She says:

I think it’s time, but I have very mixed feelings. On the positive side, this gives hope that it will open dialogue to address issues in a diplomatic level.

On the negative, it will give the Castros a lifeline at a moment when they are desperate due to Venezuela’s crash due to decline in oil prices. There are also no concessions regarding the human rights of the Cuban people.

Tony Hernandez is 80 years old. He was born and raised in Cuba, but left in 1960. He says:

I feel that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist regime is a very positive step. It ends 53 years of isolation, and simultaneously eases all the vicissitudes and misery the Cuban people have been suffering.

His daughter, Maite Hernandez, says:

I  just read that 7 million tourists are expected to visit Cuba, as opposed to 2 million in the past year. On the one hand, the flow of visitors and the money they bring will definitely boost the economy of Cuba, at a time where they have run out of countries to support them. I just hope this will translate to a better economic level for the local Cubans.

It remains to be seen whether  human rights issues will be addressed. There can be no compromise regarding this matter. Otherwise this move by President Obama will be seen as political, with the only purpose of securing himself a place in the history books.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Grilled Cheese Eatery Bites The Dust

Java lasted 11 months in Westport.

The Grilled Cheese Eatery wasn’t even here that long.

The restaurant — which never quite figured out whether it was a kids’ spot or upscale, or eat-in or takeout — has been replaced by a large “For Lease” sign.

Grilled Cheese Eatery

“Prime Retail” is optimistic. It’s a tough spot: Minimal parking, in a small strip mall, on a 1-way section of the Post Road.

Even the very popular Great Cakes next door had a tough go.

On the other hand, there seems to be an endless supply of nail salons ready to file in to any open space.

Breaking News — Java To Close

Java — which gave downtown a needed shot of joe — is leaving its funky Church Lane spot.

Its last day of operation is December 31 — less than a year after it arrived.

Java helped rejuvenate the Church Lane neighborhood.

Java helped rejuvenate the Church Lane neighborhood.

But fear not. SoNo Baking Company is moving in.


A Java manager — who declined to give his name — said this morning that employees learned on Monday they’ll move to a new location.

He’s not sure where it is, or when. But he said that SoNo Baking will replace Java in February.

SoNo Baking CompanyThat was news to 2 SoNo employees — one in the Westport store at AJ’s Farm Stand, the other at South Norwalk headquarters.

They put me in touch with SoNo Baking Company & Cafe owner John Barricelli.

“That’s a big rumor going around,” he said. “It’s very preliminary. Where did you hear that?”

From the Java manager, I said.

“Well, it’s probably going to happen,” John elaborated. “But until the leases are signed, nothing’s definite.”

Stay tuned. If we hear more about why Java is closing, where it’s going or if SoNo Baking is definitely moving in, we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, that news ought to wake you up.

Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop –

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.


And they played at Monterey:


After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”


Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.