Category Archives: Totally random

The Yule Log Lives. Of Course There’s A Westport Connection.

Since 1966 Westporters have celebrated Christmas by gathering together, drinking egg nog, and watching a film loop of a fire burning in a fireplace.

This COVID year — 54 years after it began — the “Yule Log” is more important than ever. With family gatherings smaller, and few options for leaving the house, we’ll take comfort in one old tradition that’s easy to enjoy.

The traditional Yule log …

And we owe it all to a Westporter of yore:  Fred Thrower.

According to Wikipedia — which is usually pretty right, most of the time — Fred was president and CEO of WPIX, Inc.

Inspired by an animated Coca-Cola commercial a year earlier that showed Santa Claus at a fireplace, he envisioned this television program as a televised Christmas gift to those residents of “The Big Apple” who lived in apartments and homes without fireplaces.  This also provided time for employees of the TV station to stay home with their families, instead of working for the usual morning news program.

The original film was shot at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City John Lindsay.  An estimated US $4,000 of advertising (along with a roller derby telecast that night) was canceled on Christmas Eve for the show’s inaugural airing.

Thrower, and WPIX-FM programming director Charlie Whittaker selected the music, largely based on the easy listening format the radio station had at that time, with the likes of Percy Faith (whose rendition of “Joy to the World” is played at the beginning and the end of the telecast), Nat King Cole, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Mantovani, and the Ray Conniff Singers to name a few.

During the shoot, the producers removed a protective fire grate so that the blaze could be seen to its best advantage.  Unfortunately, a stray spark damaged a nearby antique rug valued at $4,000.

The “show” was a ratings success. Two years later a new, less jerky, longer (6 minutes, 3 seconds) version was filmed.

For decades the Yule Log quietly, unassumingly, lovingly thrived.

… and a 3D version.

WPIX is now owned by E.W. Scripps. But the show goes on: tomorrow, Christmas Day, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The coronavirus has taken so much from us. Thankfully, anyone in the tri-state area can still enjoy this quaint, odd tradition, created by a long-ago Westport neighbor.

And if your family can’t gather here the traditional way, don’t worry. Just grab an iPad, and watch together, virtually.

All you need is Zoom. Just “log” on. Ho ho ho!

Roundup: COVID Testing, VOTE!, Dentists, Kart Racing, More


As the number of COVID cases rises in Connecticut, so does testing demand.

This was the scene today before 7 a.m., at the St. Vincent’s Health Center site. The line of cars stretched far down Long Lots Road.

(Photo/Adam Stolpen)


Remember that “VOTE” sculpture that went up right before Election Day on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge?

It was created by Westporter Mark Yurkiw.

On Tuesday morning — as voters headed to the polls — this was all that remained:

Mark collected the pieces. He realized the damage did not come from the wind. If that was the culprit, they’d be scattered on the river. Instead, Mark says, all the letters were there on the ground.

He collected them, brought them home, and took this photo:

(Photos/Mark Yurkiw)

He calls this tryptic “Battered Not Broken.”


“Rock Paper Scissors” — the sculpture, not the game — was officially dedicated yesterday on Jesup Green. now that the official ribbon cutting has taken place.

Ann Sheffer — who with her husband Bill Scheffler dedicated the work — eloquently described how the influence of her Westport family encouraged her longtime support of the Westport Library, and how her desire to keep the arts thriving in Westport led to the establishment of the Arts Advisory Committee and the position of town curator (now filled by Kathie Motes Bennewitz.)

Dedicating “Rock Paper Scissors” yesterday (from left): Westport Library director Bill Harmer, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz, Westport Arts Advisory committee co-chair Nancy Diamond, donors Bill Scheffler and Ann Sheffer, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/Randa Trivisonno)

And one more election-related photo…

Anne Lowrie sent this along. The flag is in her back yard. It struck her as “appropriate for the current times: beat up but still flying.”

(Photo/Anne Lowrie)


The other day my dentist emailed me, requesting confirmation of an upcoming appointment. It prominently noted I’d be charged $50 if I canceled less than 24 hours in advance.

Then — less than 24 hours before my appointment — he emailed again. He had to cancel; his hygienist would not be in the next day.

I assume I’ll get $50 off my next visit. Right?


In early March, “06880” profiled Vivek Kanthan. The 10-year-old Westporter had just launched his (very successful) kart racing career.

A few days later, COVID-19 struck. Suddenly, his spring and summer plans were on hold.

When competition resumed, Vivek was ready. All told this year he competed in 16 races, and reached the podium 12 times.

Next year the young racer moves up a class, and faces even fiercer competition. it begins with 2 national events in Miami. Good luck, Vivek!

Vivek Kanthan, and his trophies.


Sharing a post-Halloween meal on Manitou Road:

(Photo/Francoise Jaffe)


And finally … speaking of dentists:

Old Mill Wedding Proposal: The Sequel

This morning, I posted a photo and story about a guy who waited nervously at Old Mill Beach. He was about to propose to his girlfriend.

Patricia McMahon — who took the photo — did not know whether she said yes.

But —  coincidentally — her husband Matthew Levine’s cousin lives nearby.

Turns out the family was home. They saw the big moment from their deck.

And, they told Patricia: She said yes!

If they get married at Old Mill, “06880” will report that too.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

 

Roundup: General Wesley Clark, Odd Photo, Flipstand, More


The pandemic has not been good to the Westport Library. Just a few months after its grand transformation, it’s had to curtail hours, programs and services.

But there’s an upside. With virtual programs, it can offer access to speakers who otherwise could never travel for a live appearance. (And whose honorariums are far beyond the library’s budget too.)

One of the biggest names of all “comes to Westport” on Thursday, October 1 (6;30 p.m.). General Wesley Clark — the 4-star general. former NATO Supreme Allied commander and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree who since retiring from the military in 2000 has become a businessman, commentator, author, teacher and presidential candidate — will discuss the need for American leadership, civility and unity during these polarized times.

Last year, Clark created a nonprofit aimed at reducing partisan division and gridlock.

Click here to register for the free event.

General Wesley Clark


The New York Times home page includes — among links to dozens of articles — a rotating gallery of photos. They have nothing to do with the stories, and offer no explanatory text.

Yesterday, “06880” readers noticed this shot:

What’s up with that? What’s going on? Where was it taken? Huh?!

If you know the back story to this shot, click “Comments” below. Inquiring minds want to know! (Hat tips: Drew Coyne and Tracy Porosoff)


Longtime Westporter John Rizzi is multi-talented and creative.

Early in his career, he was Cannondale’s first industrial designer. He’s got a new company — Utilitarian Products — to develop useful, beautiful, well-priced ideas.

We are excited to introduce you to our new company, Utilitarian Products.

The first — Flipstand — is a simple lightweight bike stand. It weighs only 18.5 grams, and is far better than kickstands weighing much more.

A Kickstarter campaign launches Tuesday (September 22). Click here to see.

Flipstand


I grew up on High Point Road. I know how many drivers barrel past this stop sign on Long Lots Road, headed toward Hyde Lane (and all the traffic, and little kids, from Long Lots Elementary School).

So I was intrigued at this photo. Looks like some residents of my old road — many of whom have young kids — have taken matters into their own hands.

It’s advice that can be heeded all over town.

(Photo/Ed Simek)


And finally … my tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think the choice of group and song is appropriate.

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Patricia McMahon was on her evening walk.

At Old Mill Beach, she spotted a serene scene. Quietly, she took a photo.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

The man turned, and looked at her. Patricia apologized for interrupting his moment. She told him she appreciates seeing people looking so peaceful — especially in these challenging times.

He laughed and said, “There’s nothing peaceful or serene about me right now. I’m a nervous wreck. I’m waiting for my girlfriend, to propose to her!”

Patricia smiled. “Let me be the first to congratulation you,” she said. “You got this!”

PS: Let’s hope he did.

A Tu B’Av To Remember

The email heading yesterday was “Look what you started.”

Uh oh. I’ve tried to do my best in this crazy post-Isaias world. What had I done now?

Instead, alert “06880” reader Ken Kantor’s message made my day. If not my week, month and year. Sure, the bar is low in 2020. But read on:

Dan, I want to share a special moment from today that was partially your doing.

I am a Staples High School grad (Class of 1986). I moved back to Westport 10 years ago with my wife and 2 daughters.

I read your “06880” post this morning about charging stations and WiFi at The Conservative Synagogue. My family went over to charge all our devices and let our girls update their Tik Toks. The building was closed due to COVID-19, but they had charging stations setup under a tent outside.

I soon realized that we were at temple on our 16th wedding anniversary, standing under a tent (which can double as a “chuppah” — a Jewish ceremonial canopy under which a Jewish couple stands during their wedding ceremony). So, I thought: What a perfect moment to renew my wedding vows with my beautiful wife Rachel!

I knocked on the door to see if Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn would be willing to perform an impromptu ceremony. The staff said the rabbi had left, but they would call him.

He very graciously came back to the temple. During the mini-ceremony, Rabbi Wiederhorn noted that this is also the week of a small Jewish holiday, Tu B’Av. In modern Israel it is celebrated as a holiday of love, similar to Valentine’s Day. So, another good sign!

From right: Rachel and Ken Kantor, with Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn.

Thank you to Rabbi Wiederhorn for the wedding ceremony and the WiFi! Thank you Dan for unknowingly setting this up! And thank you to my wife for marrying me again — in a parking lot, while charging our devices, while social distancing, and while completely embarrassing our 2 teenage daughters, Ruby Kantor (grade 9) and Emma Kantor (grade 8)!

Happy anniversary — and Tu B’Av!

 

“06880” Opens Satellite Office

(Photo/Pippa Bell Ader)

Pic Of The Day #1164

Bears and a flag, at the Exxon station (Photo/Ed Simek)

David’s Ring

This story, Diane Silfen says, is like one of those amazing things that always happen to random strangers.

But — thanks to a random stranger — it happened to her.

Diane Silfen

Diane’s Westport roots are long and deep. Her mother, Elise Barnes, graduated from Staples High School in 1936. As Diane Haehl, she followed in 1965. So did her 2 siblings: David in 1969, and Janet 3 years after that.

Diane runs the Haehl Insurance Agency — the longtime family business — here. But she’s riding out the COVID-19 crisis at her Key West condo.

(It’s tough even there. With the beaches closed and the tourists gone, it’s like a ghost town.)

On Wednesday morning, Diane’s phone rang. The call was from Illinois. Suspecting a telemarketer, she almost did not answer.

For some reason though, she did.

The caller said, “I’m looking for Diane Silfen.”

“I’m Diane,” she replied.

He asked if Illinois or Colorado meant anything to her. No, she said.

The man said he and his wife once lived in Illinois; then they moved west. With time on their hands while self-isolating, they’d been going through storage boxes.

At the bottom of one was a Staples class ring, from 1969. It bore the initials “DWH.”

David Haehl, in the 1969 Staples High School yearbook.

“That’s my brother!” Diane said.

“I know,” the man replied.

“We know he’s deceased. We want you to have it.”

As Diane listened in astonishment, the man — she was too stunned to ask his name – described what happened after finding the ring.

He and his wife went online. They found Staples High School in Westport; tracked down the list of ’69 grads, and saw the name David William Haehl.

Researching further, they learned that he died 12 years ago. The obituary included his sister’s name. The couple plowed ahead, and found Janet.

How the ring ended up in the bottom of their box is a mystery. They asked Janet if David traveled a lot.

“He went everywhere — but only for scuba diving,” she said. That ruled out Illinois and Colorado.

The man said he’d sanitize the ring, put it in a box, and send it to Florida. Diane will give it — proudly, lovingly, amazingly — to her son Seth.

Seth Van Beever (right), his brother Baird, and their uncle David Haehl.

That is indeed the kind of story that usually happens to other people. But David seems to have led that kind of happy-coincidence life.

Diane noted that when he was in Westport, David never missed a Staples football game.

When he died, the family held a memorial service at Compo Beach. The high school band was there, practicing loudly.

Someone suggested asking them to stop for  a while.

“Of course not!” Diane replied. “It’s like they were playing there for him.”

No April Fool’s Joke In A COVID Crisis

It’s April 1. But given the state of today’s world, there’s no way I can make light of anything.

Of course, we still have to laugh. Click here to relive the past 10 years of April Fool’s jokes, “06880” style.

In 2012, my April Fool’s story involved this couple moving to Westport.