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Finding Joy: COVID Edition

Last week, “06880” highlighted the many lessons learned by Staples High School students during COVID. It was powerful proof that shafts of light can break through this horrible darkness.

That story fit well with an email I got from alert reader/talented photographer Lauri Weiser. She had an idea: “a feel-good story, asking people about the most fun thing they’ve done during the pandemic.”

It might, she added, give readers ideas of things to do, while waiting for a vaccine appointment.

Great idea! So I followed up by asking her to go first. Lauri replied:

I have really enjoyed ‘coming into my own’ and having the courage to submit pictures to “06880.”

SLauri Weiser captured this scene at chlaet’s Point …

When I was in my 20’s and living in New York, my girlfriends and I went to a psychic for fun. She told me I’d be a famous photographer. I laughed and went back to my day job working in HR for a law firm.

I have a very “corporate” background. But I have really discovered the artistic side of myself — first in jewelry-making, now in photography.

I also enjoyed hanging out with a “pod” of my fellow Westport Woman’s Club members. One of the girls has a pool, and each Monday afternoon we headed to her house. We socially distanced, standing in the pool and laughing

I turned 60 last May, and had planned to throw myself a party. I was going to make damn sure that 60 would be fabulous.

It was — just not in the way I expected. I had 3 Zoom birthday get-togethers. Although I would definitely have preferred to have seen everyone in person, this worked out great for a pandemic.

As always, I guess it’s the little things in life that actually bring one the most joy, Sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find it!

That’s Lauri’s story. What’s yours?

We want to hear what has brought you joy during the past few months. What can others do to find joy too?

Click “Comments” below. And as always, please use your full, real name!

… and this, at Sherwood Island. Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Badass Bagels Rise At Sugar & Olives

As Covid cuts its swath through the area this spring, Jennifer Balin pondered her next move.

A decade ago, the creative Westporter turned an industrial building just over the Norwalk line into a green, healthy, organic, sustainable breakfast-lunch spot/ private dining room/dessert place/lounge/cooking school.

Sugar & Olives did not advertise. But loyal, passionate customers made it a very popular spot.

Until the pandemic.

With time on her hands, Jennifer experimented with a sourdough starter. She made loaf after loaf of bread, giving them to friends and mailing them to family.

One summer day, she made sourdough bagels. She soon got requests for more. There were so many, she set up a text hotline: 203-816-0028. It’s been busy ever since.

Orders come in all week. (Click here for photos of the offerings: sesame, everything, caraway everything, smoked sea salt, poppy, plain). Pick-ups are Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon, through an easy, safe window.

Jennifer Balin’s daughter Tallulah, with freshly baked Badass bagels.

Jennifer also offers 5 types of cream cheese, sourdough doughnuts and cookies, and house-cured gravlax.

Sourdough bagels taste different than yeast bagels. Badass Bagels — that’s what she calls them — are not doughy. They’re baked so that the crust is crunchy. The inside is open, full of texture — great for a schmear.

Jennifer’s artisan sourdough bagel-making process takes a lot of time. It has also evolved since the summer.

She reworked the recipe to accommodate the large number of batches she makes each week. It took months of trial and error (and many “trial bagels”) to find the special mix of flours to blend.

The starter must be perfectly ripe and active too. That takes many days of feedings to accomplish. The room temperature, feeding diet, method and schedule must all be precise.

Jennifer Balin at work.

The dough is made from a levain. It takes a day to ripen. The actual dough making takes another whole day. The dough then rests in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. 

Bagel-making day starts at 5 a.m. with a hop in a hot-water bath (the dough, not Jennifer), a roll in the toppings (again, just the dough), then a quick oven bake.

The change of seasons — with its drop in temperature — caused Jennifer to change the time of day she fed, and the flour combinations she used.

Jennifer’s daughter Tallulah helps. Home on break from Villanova University, she loves to cook and bake. She’s an expert is dough shaping, frying and bagel order organization.

It’s all worth it — especially when Jennifer can enjoy her favorite bagel (sesame) hot out of the oven, with pimento and scallion cream cheese.

Most weeks, unfortunately, she does not even have one extra bagel to bring home. So she does a home bake now — just for family — every Monday.

That’s badass.

Roundup: Basso, More


Flying fearlessly in the face of the pandemic, another new restaurant opens in Westport today.

Basso Restaurant & Wine Bar takes over the old Matsu Sushi on Jesup Road, behind the old Restoration Hardware (soon to be the new Barnes & Noble).

Chef Renato Donzelli has moved Basso from Norwalk to here. The 2-story space is larger, there is seating outdoors, and there’s a wood-fired pizza oven too.

According to CTbites, Donzelli was born in Venezuela and raised in Naples. His menu is Mediterranean flavored, with a Venezuelan influence. Click here for their full story.

(Photo collage courtesy of Stephanie Webster/CTbites.com)


And finally …  Gerry Marsden, the leader and namesake of Gerry and the Pacemakers, died yesterday in London, of a blood infection. He was 78.

The band was from Liverpool, was managed by Brian Epstein, and for a while was the Beatles’ biggest rivals in the city. They were part of what the US called “the British Invasion” of the mid-1960s. They had several big rock hits here, like “I Like It” and “How Do You Do It?”

They were known for ballads too, like “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “I’ll Be There.”

But they’re best known — and will be for generations more — for an odd choice of a pop hit. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1945 “Carousel.”

It became the anthem of Liverpool’s soccer team, and was adopted by other clubs around the world. The Staples High School girls team plays it before every match. Watch the video below, and you’ll see why it may be best sports song of all time.

Remembering Joan McCarthy

Joan Deirdre Dempsey McCarthy — a long-time volunteers for countless causes, particularly in sports — died peacefully on December 23, in her Westport home of 72 years. She was 97 years old, and had lived a full, happy life.

Joan — or “Mrs. McCarthy” to generations of baseball, soccer and other sports coaches and administrators who technically worked over or with her, but who knew she really ran the show — was a legend, a pioneer, and an important presence on athletic fields, in schools and at Assumption Church for decades.

Joan Dempsey McCarthy

Born in 1923 in Manhattan to Gerald H. Dempsey and Maud O’Brien Dempsey, she was the granddaughter of New York State Supreme Court Justice Morgan O’Brien.

She grew up in Westbury, Long Island, where she helped her father — an international polo player — train ponies for competition. She graduated from the Fermata School for Girls in Aiken, South Carolina. She played field hockey, was on the swim team and served as president of the Riding Club.

Joan later coached a men’s swim team, which included a future Olympian. She married George T. McCarthy III in 1946, in Palm Beach, Florida. He died in 2009, after 63 years of marriage.

Joan McCarthy, surrounded by the male swimmers she coached.

The McCarthys moved to Easton Road in 1950. Directions to their home — now 2 doors down from Coleytown Elementary School — were simply “2nd house after the parkway.”

Mrs. McCarthy became a Girl Scout troop leader and a member of the Westport school system, at Coleytown Junior High School and Staples High. She also worked at Assumption School.

But she is most remembered for her sports activities. She first volunteered with the Westport Little League in the mid-1950s, soon after it began. She held many roles for nearly 20 years, including official scorekeeper at the town, district and state level. She also handled uniforms and sponsors, and was the secretary.

In 1973 Mrs. McCarthy became the first woman to serve as official scorekeeper at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania — a feat that earned notice in Sports Illustrated.

She was also active in the Babe Ruth League and Staples Booster Club.

In 1965 Joan McCarthy was featured on the cover of the Westport Little League handbook. Twelve years earlier, after a visit to the Little League World Series, national officials wrote to her: “Under usual circumstances the press section is an all-male domain, but we were delighted to have the opportunity to make you welcome, as we will at any time you come to Williamsport.”

An avid soccer fan, she was a co-founder of the Westport Soccer Association in 1975. She attended games long after her son Stuart graduated in 1979, and after his son Michael graduated in 2010. Both won state championships, making her the only mother and grandmother of Staples soccer state champs. She also enjoyed watching her granddaughter Colleen play soccer at Staples.

Joan McCarthy at the 2010 Staples High School graduation, with her grandson Michael McCarthy and son Stuart, a 1979 grad.In 1975, Mrs. McCarthy was the first woman honored by the Sportsmen of Westport. She received their Citizenship Award.

I had the honor of knowing Mrs. McCarthy, as the mother of a friend, the mother and grandmother of players I coached, and the “general manager” of one of my first soccer teams. She took care of all the paperwork, instantly and efficiently. I made certain to give her whatever she needed; it was not a good career move to cross her when she was at her typewriter, getting rosters or player passes in order.

She never threw anything away — a trait that came in handy whenever a last-minute birth certificate was needed. After her death, her son Stuart presented me with all the paperwork she’d saved from our trip to the Eastern US championships in Buffalo, in 1976.

Mrs. McCarthy was also, her family notes, an avid New York Yankees fan.

She is survived by her her children Tom (and wife Andrea) of Aptos, California; Sharon of Westport; Joan Ketley (Mark) of Wilton; Douglas (Susan) of Raleigh, North Carolina; Tara Eaton (Steve) of Orange, California, and Stuart (Heidie) of Westport, as well as her grandchildren Anya Ciecierski; Ryan, Tyler and Christy Ketley; Michael and Colleen McCarthy, and Kyle Eaton.

Memorial services are private. In lieu of flowers, donations in Joan McCarthy’s name can be made to Mid-Fairfield Hospice.

What a Difference A Year Makes

A year ago today, we were eager to greet a new decade.

We could celebrate any way we wanted.

We could hop a train to New York, join hundreds of thousands of strangers in Times Square, watch a ball drop down the side of a building, and head back home.

We could enjoy a great meal at a restaurant, surrounded by other diners. We could eat, chat and linger, then head to another spot for a nightcap.

And the next day, if we wanted, we could go to an open house with friends and relatives. We could invite neighbors over, for a spontaneous drink. We could skate at Longshore, watch a movie in a theater, or head back to New York for a game at the Garden.

Of course, we might not have been in Westport at all. Perhaps we were skiing in Vermont, out West or Europe. Maybe we were in Florida visiting parents or grandparents. We might have been in the Caribbean, soaking up sun before everyone had to be back in the office or at school.

New Year’s Day 2019 drew hordes of humans and dogs to Compo Beach (Photo/Tom Cook)

On December 31, 2019 we had never heard of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Or Wuhan, China.

We knew the words “lockdown” and “quarantine,” but they meant nothing to us.

If we ran out of toilet paper, we bought it without thinking. Nor did we think about (or look at) the clerk at CVS or Walgreens who rang it up.

We did not think about a lot of other things, either. For instance, everything schools do, besides education. Or the importance of daily routines, like working out at the gym, chatting with other parents at our kids’ bus stop, or getting coffee wherever.

We certainly did not think of doing certain things, a year ago. A walk or bike ride with the entire family? A night of board games? Running errands for neighbors? Pfffttt — who had time for such things?

Sherwood Farms Lane celebrated July 4th with a bike parade. (Photo/Mark Rubino)

What a difference a year makes.

The past year — which seems like 50 centuries — has been brutal. And I’m not even talking about other names we hadn’t heard of a year ago, like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Or about an election season that brought us to the brink of the end of democracy.

We’re still teetering there.

We made it — well, all of us except the 25 Westporters killed by the disease we had not heard of a year ago. And our 330,000-plus fellow Americans. And George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

And our belief in our nation as a special place, one with all the right values, where people take care of each other and look out for the rest of the world.

But as bad as this year has been, we’ve seen Westport at its best. Nearly every day, “06880” has included a story about individuals of all ages rising to meet difficult challenges, neighbors helping neighbors (and strangers), institutions pivoting to new ways to serve residents. Remarkable things happened — and I’m not just talking about a (very remarkable) drive-in theater.

The Remarkable Theater was also the scene of great concerts, produced by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

We lost proms and Homecomings, Memorial Day and the 4th of July, the Levitt and too many restaurants. We lost 9 months (and counting) of our lives, and we’ll never get those back.

But we gained some things too. We gained insights into ourselves. We gained a sense of community. We even gained a few restaurants. If that does not provide hope for the future, nothing will.

None of us would wish this past year on anyone. All of us look forward to 2021. Tomorrow, hindsight truly will be 2020.

When we gather a year from now, in this virtual space — looking forward to 2022 — let’s make sure we have learned the lessons of 2020.

They’re not all clear yet. Still, if we’ve learned nothing else from this past year, it’s this: The future is unknown. We may face challenges unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Yet together — as a community — we can overcome them. In the end, each of us is all we’ve got.

 

New Fence At Old Mill

One of the most scenic views in Westport — Sherwood Mill Pond, as seen from the walking path between Old Mill and Compo Cove — no longer looks quite as lovely.

Nearby residents — and the many folks who enjoy strolling and fishing there — were stunned yesterday to discover a new fence. It runs the length of the property.

Though the town of Westport owns much of that land, it does not own the strip where the fence was erected.

It’s built on private property, owned by the Northrop family. They also own the oyster house on Hummock Island in the middle of Sherwood Mill Pond, and farm oysters in its waters.

The Northrop family has not yet commented on the new fence.

 

 

Roundup: COVID Testing, Cortez Refuse, Cross Country Skis, More


This was the scene yesterday at St. Vincent’s Health Services on Long Lots Road.

With COVID cases rising — locally, statewide and nationally — and the holidays near, demand for testing increases too.

(Photo/Randy Ford)


The after this season’s first snowfall, Katherine Calise found “an absolute angel.”

The path to her trash can had not yet been shoveled. Her recyclables were far away. Yet her collector — Chino Cortez, of Cortez Refuse — took out a shovel, and cleared a path to her cans.

“He is the kindest person — all around, the nicest person you could meet,” she says. “In the summer he sprays the garbage cans so you will not get sick.”

Others agree. On social media, they say he takes away Christmas trees, makes sure the cans are safely stored in the wind, and texts customers if they forget to put the trash out.

Chino also does cleanups and dump runs. You can email him at cortezrefuseservice@yahoo.com, or call 203-522-1250.


Among its many charms, Westport offers many spots for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Longshore is a particular favorite.

While most snowshoers make parallel tracks to those laid down by cross country skiers, some don’t. Rick Yu reminds all to stay in their own lanes!

Down to the sea, by snowshoe and ski. (Photo/John Kantor)


And finally … the other day I posted the Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy’s Christmas” song, and wondered why I haven’t heard it this year.

Here’s another lost classic that deserves to stay in the rotation. It’s from 1958 — but it never gets old.

 

 

Unsung Heroes #169

As Marty Fox and Patsy Cimarosa step down as directors of the Westport Transit District, Peter Gold steps up to nominate them as Unsung Heroes of the Week. Last week, he addressed his fellow RTM members:

I want to thank Marty and Patsy for their many years of dedicated service to the Westport Transit District.

Marty Fox (Photo/Ellen Graff)

When I first approached Marty about serving as a director almost 5 years ago, he foolishly believed me when I said the job would not be too time consuming. He signed on for an initial 4-year hitch.

Patsy, the former executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, also signed on, with a primary concern for protecting the Transit District’s door-to-door services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Together they put in untold hours over the past 4 1/2 years, overseeing the normal day-to-day operation of the Transit System, developing annual budgets and shepherding them through the approval process, setting a high bar with their many accomplishments on behalf of the Transit District and the town.

Here is a list of only a few of their many accomplishments:

  • They changed the process of dispatching vehicles for door-to-door service within Westport, achieving savings of $100,000 per year.

 

  • They worked with the Norwalk Transit District, which operates the buses for the Westport Transit District, to develop better financial information and ridership reports for analysis and decision-making.

 

  • They completed 2 Transit District townwide surveys, which achieved high participation rates of 1,500 and 1,700 responses and provided valuable information on citizen attitudes, awareness of the Transit District’s services, demographics and train usage information

  • They worked with Human Services to evaluate alternative delivery models for door-to-door services. As part of this effort, they developed two RFPs and then evaluated the responses. This process showed that continuation of the current arrangements with Norwalk Transit District is best for Westport

 

  • Implemented the myStop app which allowed riders to track locations of shuttles, and developed instructions for using the app tailored to Westport residents.

 

  • They successfully applied for continuation of a state matching grant program for door-to-door services in Westport, resulting in $31,600 in annual grants for 2017, ’18, ’19 and ’20.

 

  • Worked with other groups in 2017 to ascertain the density of people around WTD routes, and unserved or underserved areas of town. This analysis confirmed that the Transit District’s fixed route structure was reasonable, given the available resources. The area served by commuter shuttles has recently been expanded to nearly the entire town, with the recent change from the fixed route system to the new Wheels2U Westport micro-transit model.

 

  • Worked with Rob Feakins, an award-winning advertising executive, to develop several comprehensive integrated marketing programs promoting the WTD, the myStop app, and most recently the new micro-transit system. The programs consisted of emails to railroad parking permit holders, people on the permit waiting list, and Parks & Rec email lists, cards and posters at train stations, Saugatuck coffee shops, the library, real estate agencies and other locations in town, and ads in the Chamber of Commerce directory and on WesrtportNow.com.  .

 

  • Most recently and most significantly, they developed and rolled out the new Wheels2U micro-transit program. It changes the old, fixed route system of commuter shuttles to an on-demand, door-to-train platform service covering nearly the entire town and more trains during peak commuting hours than the fixed route system it replaces. Since the Wheels2U vehicles travel only where commuters need to go it will be more environmentally friendly, result in shorter commutes to and from the station for many commuters, and lower operating costs for the WTD.

 

Patsy Cimarosa

As the end of their terms approached last January, with no new directors to take their places as COVID descended on us all, Marty and Patsy graciously agreed to stay on to continue to supervise the rollout of Wheels2U. Now that Wheels2U has been successfully launched, they want to finally move on.

I’ve worked closely with Marty and Patsy over the past 4 1/2 years. It has been a true pleasure to watch their professionalism, skill and devotion to their tasks.

Congratulations, Marty and Patty. You are true heroes — to commuters, and everyone else in town!

RTM: Town Hall May Open Soon. But …

Town Hall may soon be open again.

That’s the result of this month’s Representative Town Meeting session, held Tuesday.

Here is Peter Gold’s report. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.

The only item on the November agenda was a $200,000 request for renovations to Town Hall, to enable it to open to the public during the pandemic.

The appropriation was approved by a vote of 33 in favor, 2 against. There was 1 abstention.

The front of Town Hall … (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Currently, members of the public meet with Town Hall employees in a tent in back of the building.  As the weather gets colder this will become impractical.

Going forward, all visitors will enter by the front door. They’ll have their temperature checked with touchless sensors, and be greeted by a receptionist who makes sure they’re wearing masks.

People expecting short visits will meet with employees in the entrance lobby.  Longer visits or those requiring more privacy will be conducted in Room 201/201A.

This minimizes the areas needing to be sanitized, and allows for contact tracing should employees or visitors contract COVID.

Additional UV filters will be installed on the air handlers for the lobby and Room 201/201A, to accommodate increased public access.

At the monthly RTM meeting, concerns were raised about the difficulty visitors — especially those with disabilities — may have walking from the back parking lot to the front entrance, particularly in inclement weather.

In response, it was noted that there is no feasible way to provide access through the rear entrance while still maintaining access security and contract tracing. There are also handicap parking spaces by the handicapped access ramp.

… the rear. (Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

A significant portion of the cost of renovations is for items that may not be strictly necessary to deal with COVID, including new front doors, new office door handles compatible with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and electric locks for office doors.

Some items are necessary and would be done eventually (for example the front doors are old and do not close properly). Doing them now helps make Town Hall more secure and safer.

However, objections were raised about the need for electric locks (approximately 12% of the overall project cost), since visitors would be escorted to and from their meetings. Several members expressed a desire to have access to Town Hall — “the people’s house” — return to the way it was pre-pandemic when visitors could enter freely, visit various departments and meet with town employees without needing to make an appointment or otherwise get permission to enter locked offices.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the level of post-pandemic visitor access to Town Hall is a policy decision that will be made with input from the RTM and the public on how they want Town Hall to be used.

Yet  several RTM members felt that locks and the appropriate level of Town Hall security was a significant enough issue to have been the subject of a separate debate, rather than rolled into the appropriation for COVID renovations.

In other news, Nicole Klein returns to the RTM. She replaced District 5 representative Greg Kraut, who resigned.

Jeff Pegues Talks Politics And Sports

If you’ve never been to one of Jeff Pegues’ “Newsmakers” events at (or, virtually, via) the Westport Library, you’ve missed something special.

Last January the CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent, author — and 1988 Staples High School graduate — kicked off the series by interviewing (live) Mo Rocca, fellow CBS News correspondent, podcaster and TV personality.

In June (via cyberspace) Pegues chatted with billionaire businessman, hedge fund manager, major Democratic Party donor, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner (and Westport resident) Marc Lasry.

Up next: a pair of conversations about 2 American obsessions: politics and sports.

Both are virtually free. By that I mean: they are online (virtual), and there is absolutely no charge.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, November 11, 7:30 p.m.), Pegues hosts a intriguing conversation with Major Garrett and Nancy Cordes. (Click here to register.)

Major Garrett and Nancy Cordes

They’re 2 of America’s most insightful political reporters. And they just got through covering one of the most compelling, challenging and consequential elections in history.

What was it like in the newsroom this past week? Pegues will help them tell you.

Cordes is CBS News’ chief congressional correspondent. Based in Washington, she contributes to all of the network’s broadcasts and platforms.

Garrett is White House correspondent for CBS News, and  a contributor to National Journal. He previously served as chief White House correspondent for Fox News.

Next month (Tuesday, December 1, 7 p.m.). Pegues will be joined by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Los Angeles Sparks Forward Candace Parker, and former NBA star Charles Smith. (Click here to register.)

This is not just jock talk. Topics include how George Floyd’s death sparked a social justice movement in sports, and the ways in which athletes are using their power and influence to mobilize fans.

Jeff Pegues

Since joining CBS News, Pegues has led coverage of some of the biggest stories of the last decade. He reported on the conflict between the Black community and police, and wrote a book: “Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between Police and the Black Community.”

Pegues has received 3 Emmy Awards, the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, and in 2017 was part of the CBS News team that earned an Edward R. Murrow Award.

And he know sports as well as politics. At Staples, he was an All-State sprinter, and an All-FCIAC football running back.

Winfield is one of 7 players in MLB history with over 3,000 hits and 450 home runs. The 12-time All-Star was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 — his first year of eligibility.

Smith is a retired NBA power forward in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers selected him as the 3rd overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft. He was named to the All-Rookie first team, and played nearly 10 years in the league.

Parker is one of the most decorated female basketball players ever. The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, she is a league champion, 2-time MVP, and Rookie of the Year. She is now a broadcaster, and role model for young athletes.