Category Archives: Library

Unsung Heroes #86

A few weeks ago, Katherine Bruan’s son was in a serious automobile accident. Ever since, her days have been filled with whatever a mom can do to help.

When he was still in the hospital, Katherine got an email from the Westport Library. She had 2 overdue books.

Both had been in the car. When it caught fire, they were destroyed. Katherine said she’d pay for both of them.

Immediately, the library replied: There was no charge.

The library is here for the community, the email said. She did not need one extra thing to worry about.

Take care of your son, the library added. And if you need anything from us, please call.

After the accident, many Westporters have reached out to help Katherine and her son. She is grateful to all.

But that one email was particularly special.

Any library is an institution. How nice that ours also has a heart.

 

It’s No Puzzle Where Cruciverbalists Were Today

There are 2 ways to do the New York Times crossword puzzle:

  1. By yourself
  2. In a room with a couple hundred other people, racing the clock and all those other geniuses who know that frybread is a “Naan-like Native American food,” epee is a “sword’s name with two accents,” and that shandy is a “beer and lemonade drink.” They also know who Danny Ainge, Joni Ernst and Gotye are, plus tons of other random stuff.

All those people who enjoy option #2 gathered this afternoon at the Saugatuck Congregational Church. They competed — good-naturedly, but fiercely — in the Westport Library’s 20th annual Crossword Puzzle Contest.

Solving crossword puzzles takes concentration.

For the 20th year, it was puzzle-master-minded — and presided over joyfully and cruciverbally — by Times crossword editor (and NPR star) Will Shortz.

New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and Westport Library director Bill Harmer entertain the crowd. The countdown clock is at right.

Contestants came from as far as North Carolina and Illinois. Ages skewed older, though there were enough younger faces to make Gotye a legit question.

After 3 rounds of increasing-in-difficulty Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday puzzles, the top 3 contestants (based on speed and accuracy) faced off for the title. They stood on stage, solving a tough Thursday crossword as the crowd watched.

The finalists (from left): Glen Ryan, Jesse Lansner and Ken Stern.

Glen Ryan finished in 6:50. However, he got one answer wrong.

Jesse Lansner was 2nd, in 7:30. But he got one wrong too.

So Ken Stern — slow, steady and perfect, in 11:37 — was declared the winner.

It was a fast, fun day. I know, because I was one of those solvers

I did not make the finals. But I was one of a few dozen to complete all 3 Monday through Wednesday puzzles perfectly.

Though I still have no idea who Gotye is.

Pic Of The Day #637

Part of the Westport Library’s Transformation Project (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

The Immigrant Experience Comes Home

As Americans debate a slew of important items, immigration stands at the top of any list.

Here in Westport, we’re far removed from our southern border. The Wall is an abstraction — not a reality — to most of us.

But — for one reason or another — the immigrant experience resonates with nearly every Westporter.

This month, several events shine historical, artistic, literary and nuanced lights on a variety of immigration stories.

On Friday, January 18 (6 to 8 p.m.), Saugatuck Congregational Church opens an intriguing exhibit.

“Art Across Borders” features the work of 18 area artists, from Guatemala, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. All migrated to the US. Each will share his or her own story, through art. The bold, emotional exhibit is curated by Rene Soto, owner of a gallery with the same name in South Norwalk.

One of the pieces on display at the Saugatuck Church — by Jose Munoz, from Guatelama.

“Lots of people come to the US — and to this area — for better lives,” says Saugatuck Church Arts Committee member Priscilla Long. “And many of those people express themselves through art.”

Saugatuck Church has long been concerned with social justice. This show is a natural outgrowth of that commitment. The exhibit will remain up for a month. Click here or call 203-227-1261 for more information.

The following week, a different house of worship offers a different program, on a different immigrant experience.

In June 0f 1939, over 900 Jewish refugees escaping Nazi terror on the SS St. Louis were within sight of Florida. Heartbreakingly, they were denied safe haven by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Canada also refused entry.

Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis.

The captain returned the ship to Europe, where countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France accepted some refugees. Many, however, were later caught in Nazi roundups of Jews in occupied countries. Historians estimate that a quarter died in death camps during World War II

Three passengers who survived — Judith Steel, Sonja Geismar and Eva Wiener — will be in Westport on Thursday, January 24. At 7 p.m., Chabad on Newtown Turnpike will screen “Complicit” — a film about the SS St. Louis’ ill-fated journey. The trio will participate in a post-film Q-and-A, led by its creator/producer Robert Krakow.

Click here for more information. Tickets are $25 for adults, $18 for students.

Meanwhile, all month long — and into February — the Westport Library sponsors WestportREADS. This year’s book is Exit West. Novelist Mohsin Hamid follows 2 refugees who — against all odds — find life and love while fleeing civil war.

WestportREADS activities include book discussions, a conversation with migration experts, art exploration, world dance instruction, storytelling, music, genealogy research, and a presentation by a Syrian refugee family sponsored by members of the Westport community.

Click here for a complete calendar, and full details.

What’s Your Immigrant Story?

Unless you’re an original Pequot*, every Westporter is an immigrant.

Each of us has a story about how our family got to this country.

Tomorrow — and twice more next month — you can tell yours.

As part of this year’s WestportREADS — the selection is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, an award-winning novel about 2 refugees who find life and love on the run — the Westport Library and Westport Historical Society are collaborating on an exhibit.

“Liberty to Set Down: Immigrants and Migrants in Westport, Connecticut” will be displayed at the WHS from January 23 to June 30.

But to do that, they need us to provide stories, pictures and artifacts.

They’ll be collected — and images and physical objects can be scanned — tomorrow (Thursday, December 27) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Historical Society on Avery Place.

The other dates are Saturday, January 12 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westport Library) and Wednesday, January 16 (10 a.m. to noon, Senior Center).

Everyone has a story. Don’t miss this opportunity to share yours!

* And even then, you came from Siberia.

Greens Farms Spirit Shop Sold; After 50 Years, We Toast Jack Riley

In November 1969, Jack Riley opened Greens Farms Spirit Shop in a Post Road strip mall near Turkey Hill South.

The holiday season is every liquor store’s Super Bowl. For nearly 50 years Jack has spent nearly every waking hour — including Christmas Eve — making sure his many loyal customers have all the whiskey, wine and beer they need.

There’s always something going on at Greens Farms Spirit Shop.

This year is different. Tomorrow — Saturday night — Jack will close up for the last time. The next day, he and his wife Eileen Proulx Riley — well-known too in town, for her long service with the Westport Library children’s department — head to California. Their 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law and 4 grandchildren are there.

For once, Jack won’t think about inventory, deliveries, or anything else work-related. Earlier this week, he sold his store.

After half a century as one of our town’s favorite merchants, he’s moving west for good.

That’s bad news for countless Westporters who started as customers, and became friends. But 50 years is a long time to own a business.

Particularly one as demanding — and in demand — as a liquor store.

Jack’s roots in the area are long and deep. He grew up in Fairfield. After graduating from Christ the King High School, he worked for an electrical distributor.

His father was the last of 4 generations of rye makers. In 1969 Jack and his dad — also a Sikorsky engineer and tool-and-die maker — found a great location for a liquor store. They spent that summer building it out.

Jack Riley at Greens Farms Spirit Shop, on the first day of business: November 10, 1969.

Jack had a great run. In a town in which many businesses have the longevity of fruit flies, Greens Farms Spirit — and its next door neighbor, Fortuna’s — have been not just consistent, but consistently good.

Jack’s store is well known not just for knowledgeable help, wine tastings, a wide selection at all price points, and the many young Westporters he’s hired and mentored, but for its genuine friendliness.

If “Cheers” was the bar where everyone knew your name, Greens Farms Spirit is the liquor store equivalent.

The wide aisles and square sales counter are places of constant banter. It’s not quite a country store with pot-bellied stove, but for a spirit shop it comes close.

In October 2012, the power was out all around town. But Jack Riley’s Greens Farms Spirit Shop was open.

Customers know Jack’s family well, because he talks proudly about them. His son Kevin and wife Genoa own a wine business. They have 3 boys, ages 13, 10 and 9. Jack’s other son Tim works for the Navy as a computer engineer. He and his wife Amy have a 6-year-old girl.

Both families live within 2 hours of each other, on the sparsely populated, beautiful central California coast.

Back row (from left): “Jack” Nelson Riley, Eileen Riley, Jack Riley. Front:
Finley, Westley and Barrett Riley. 

Jack and Eileen have bought 10 acres. They’ll build a new house. He’ll play a lot of golf. They’ll be bi-coastal until she leaves her job at the library.

And he’ll connect with a new set of customers, at Kevin’s tasting room. (He’ll no doubt see plenty of old ones too. That area — and those wines — are popular draws for Westporters.)

Most of all, Kevin says, “he looks forward to learning to drive a tractor, and be the cowboy he’s always dreamed of.”

The new owners will run Greens Farms Spirit Shop. Rob Pelletier — Jack’s longtime assistant manager — will still be there. The friendly, helpful fun vibe will continue.

But before they take over on Sunday, let’s raise our glasses one last time — in person, or online.

Here’s to you, Jack Riley: for 50 years, the true spirit of Greens Farms.

Pop (Up) Goes The Library Shop

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project roars along. It’s on schedule to be finished in June.

Of course, the library is still open. But to make sure that holiday shoppers don’t miss a chance to buy goodies from its store, the library has opened a pop-up shop.

It’s in Bedford Square — across from the Spotted Horse restaurant, and most recently the site of the CronArt gallery.

The space is filled with greeting cards, reading glasses, cards and notepads, socks and scarves, booties and onesies, toys, games, building sets, novelties, bags and pouches, jewelry, umbrellas, tech gadgets, decorative lighting, maker kits and more.

A few of the many items available at the Westport Library pop-up store …

Some items are handmade. Some are quirky. There’s something for everyone, of any age.

This being the library shop — even off-site — there are even books for sale. Fiction, mystery, coffee table, children’s books — you’ll find them all. The selection changes weekly.

The pop-up shop is open through the end of the year: weekdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 12-5 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Westport Library.

… and some of the books.

Unsung Hero #74

Pamela Einarsen moved to Westport 26 years ago. She was pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Paul raised 2 boys here.

A former oncology nurse, Pam switched careers in 1998. She started a photography business in her home. With Paul by her side, and sons Connor and Carson as assistants, it’s grown to 2 studios. Clients adore her wonderful eye and attention to detail, and return year after year.

Pamela Einarsen loves photographing children and families. 

As she did in her oncology work, Pam connects with people. She learns their stories, then tells them through photographs. She is creative, warm and loving.

Pam Einarsen is also giving. Every year, she donates her time and talents to worthy organizations and causes: A Better Chance of Westport. Staples Tuition Grants. Al’s Angels. The Westport Library. Near & Far Aid. Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.

Pam has photographed many local favorites, like Paul Newman, Michel Nischan, Maxine Bleiweis and Bill Derry. Her A-list of celebrities includes Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie and Deepak Chopra.

For the Westport Library’s “I Geek…” series, Pamela Einarsen photographed Miggs Burroughs wearing a t-shirt with the Westport flag he designed. 

Fellow photographer Katherine Bruan — who nominated Pam as this week’s Unsung Hero — says, “I’ve never met anyone who enjoys her work more. Every new client brings a new experience and a new story. Pam comes back from her shoots exhilarated, every single time. She appreciates life, and loves connecting with people so she can document their stories.

“Pam uses her photography to help people chronicle their lives and experiences. She captures the moments that matter, and sees everyone as beautiful and necesssary. Her photographs are priceless. It’s a gift to love your work as much as she does.”

For her 20 years photographing Westporters — and giving back to us all, through so much superb pro bono work — Pam Einarsen is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Picture that!

Pamela Einarsen

Photo Challenge #199

Old library card catalogs never die. They just get recycled.

At the Westport Library, the repurposing is particularly creative. For a few years now, the cafe has filled the now-obsolete wooden drawers with utensils, sugar packets and the like. It’s a great way to save space — and save what was once an integral part of the library experience.

Fred Cantor, Seth Schachter, Arleen Block, Nancy Bloom, Rich Stein, Joyce Barnhart, Nina Streitfeld, Ronna Zaken, Karen Como, Molly Alger, Mary Palmieri Gai, Ellen Wentworth, Arlene Gottlieb, Arline Gertzoff, Trammi Nguyen, Jessica Newshel and Karen Kim all identified last week’s Photo  Challenge. (Click here for the photo.)

Sure, it was easy. Let’s hope it was fun.

This week’s Photo Challenge shows several security cameras, and other electronic equipment. They’ve become part of our lives, so now we barely notice them.

But have you noticed this particular set? If so, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Diane Lowman Masters Shakespeare

Diane Lowman always had a crush on Shakespeare.

For as long as she remembers, the Westporter loved the long-dead English author.

But when her sons Dustin and Devin graduated from Staples High School, Diane — who kept busy in her 20-plus years here by volunteering in school libraries, tutoring and substitute teaching Spanish, and doing nutrition consulting with groups like Homes with Hope and Project Return — found herself with empty-nesting time.

For “brain stimulation,” she read all 38 of her crush’s plays. She blogged about the experience in “The Shakespeare Diaries.”

When that was done, Diane says she had “post-partum depression.”

Then a friend mentioned a cousin was earning a master’s degree in English. A light bulb flashed.

“I’d been out of school hundreds of years. It was crazy,” Diane recalls. “But I applied to the Shakespeare Institute.”

The research group is part of the University of Birmingham (England, not Alabama). Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, it offers a 13-month master’s program in Shakespeare studies.

So a year ago, Diane says, “I ran away from home.”

Diane Lowman with her crush, at Stratford-upon-Avon.

The experience exceeded even her lofty expectations.

“I pinched myself every day,” she reports. She lived in the beautiful West Midlands, surrounded by farms, sheep and swans. The Cotswolds were close.

It was not Disneyland. It was “Shakespeareland.”

The Institute’s professors were “Shakespeare’s brain trust,” Diane notes. Yet they were exceptionally accessible, caring and helpful.

Her flat was 2 blocks from the Church of the Holy Trinity, where the writer is buried. Diane visited often. “I would just sit and chat with him,” she says.

The Royal Shakespeare Company was half a mile away. She saw every play they produced.

Diane also volunteered at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. She had access to the full archives — including rare, barely seen materials.

She flipped through a 1623 folio of the playwright’s works — the first time they were compiled together. “I actually cried,” she says of that experience.

Diane Lowman held this rare Shakespeare folio.

Now — 13 months later — Diane has her master’s degree in Shakespeare. What does that mean for her life?

“That’s my big quandary: What do I want to do when I grow up?” Diane admits.

She has met with the creative director of Shakespeare on the Sound, and contacted Norwalk Community College about teaching a lifetime learners’ course. She’d also like to do a “Kids’ Introduction to Shakespeare” through the Westport Library.

The renowned author’s works “are really not daunting,” she claims. “I read Shakespeare to both boys starting around 2. They knew ‘Hamlet’ better than ‘Goodnight Moon.'”

As Diane Lowman starts to figure out her next steps, there’s one literary certainty. Her memoir, “Nothing But Blue,” has just been published.

It’s a trip back to the summer of 1979. Diane — a 19-year-old Middlebury College student — spent 10 weeks working on a German container ship, with a nearly all male crew.

She traveled from New York to Australia and New Zealand and back, through the Panama Canal.

The voyage changed her perspective on the world, and her place in it. She left as  a “subservient, malleable girl,” and returned as a confident, independent, resilient young woman.

That long-ago journey was not much different from her recent one.

“I went far from home, on what seemed like a crazy idea,” Diane says of both. “But ultimately my time was so enriching.”

Her time in England was “wonderful.” Her shipboard experience was “scary, lonely and weird.”

Ultimately though, Diane learned and grew from both.

All’s well that ends well.