Category Archives: Westport life

Trifecta!

Parking is always tight in the State Cleaners lot (corner of Post Road and Imperial Avenue).

It’s even tougher when some Entitled Asshat takes up not just two, but three — 3! — spaces.

(Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

Please, don’t post a comment saying, “Maybe it was an emergency.”

I’ve never heard of a dry cleaning, picture framing or Rich Dean boxing emergency.

TEAM Westport Essay Winners Shine Diverse Lights On Micro-Aggressions

Chet Ellis is a perceptive observer of Westport, and the world.

He’s also a clear, incisive writer.

Two years ago, he won 1st place in TEAM Westport’s annual essay contest. The topic was “white privilege.” As a sophomore at Staples High School, he described being one of 3 African Americans in his US History class — and hearing a white student use the “n” word.

This year — now a Harvard University-bound senior — Chet once again won the $1,000 first prize. Winners were announced at a special ceremony last night.

The topic was “micro-aggressions.” His essay — “The Sound of Silence” — traces his journey in Westport, from “camouflage” in 7th grade to fit in, to an incident on his freshman soccer team that made him examine why he remained silent in the face of micro-aggressions (which actually sound quite macro).

Chet blames himself for not speaking up sooner. If he had, he wonders, who would have stood up with him?

Second place — and $750 — was won by Angela Ji. In “Ripping Off the Bandaid: Microaggressions and How We Address Them,” the Staples senior talks about her experience as a Chinese-American in Westport. She also talks about how we talk — or don’t talk — about these “finger pricks” that really do sting.

Daniel Boccardo won 3rd place (and $500) for “Cactus in a Rainforest.” The Staples senior has spent his life dealing with micro-aggressions based on others’ assumptions that because his parents are Venezuelan, he and his family must fit certain stereotypes.

Olivia Sarno captured honorable mention with her essay, “Deconstructing the Voice in My Head.” Part of the LGBT community, she wrote about the micro-aggressions that come from feeling invisible. There is a “little homophobic voice” in her head — but she realizes it’s not her own.

TEAM Westport is the townwide committee on diversity and inclusion. To read more about them, click here. To read the 4 winning essays, scroll down.

First Place: Chet Ellis

You have two choices being a black person in Westport, Connecticut. You either do your best to be invisible, or you embrace the fact that in every situation you will be the very noticeable splash of color.

By 7thgrade, I decided to hide in plain sight. I covered myself in rags from J. Crew and Vineyard Vines as camouflage, trying to show the people around me that I belonged. My disguise was perfect — or at least I thought it was until one micro-aggression after another reminded me how feeble my disguise really was.

“I’m blacker than you,=” was a revelation white students often stumbled upon after hearing that I had not yet listened to the new Lil Wayne album. While my pigment acted as a tangible disqualifier to their claims, they would continue on to describe me as “the whitest black person they know.” What they were really saying was that I didn’t fit the stereotypes they grew up on. Knowing the underlying sentiment behind their words, I could have confronted them.

Instead, time and time again I stood there, silent.

Anyone who knows me knows I love to argue. I would fervently defend my position on why the snickerdoodles in the cafeteria were better than the sugar cookies, but when asked for my take on affirmative action I would just mumble and change the subject.

Chet Ellis

I thought my silence was saving me, but I eventually came to realize that it only made me more of a magnet for microaggressions. My middle school math class could’ve been confused for a 1950’s comedy club, with everyone vying to tell the most tasteless, insensitive racial joke. I’d say the winner was one of my tablemates who came running into class one day grinning and out of breath. “I got a good one. How long does it take for a black woman to poop?” I held my breath. “Nine months!” he exclaimed, jittery from what he had thought was comedic gold. I simply flashed my teeth in his direction and tugged up on the corners of my mouth to form a plastic smirk. He had offended me to my core, and yet there I was feeling compelled to smile so as not to offend him.

I see now that every microaggression I let side in middle school opened the gates for more aggressive aggressions in high school. On the freshman soccer team, always under the guise of “jokes,” at least monthly something would sting. I remember one game my teammates used to play, “get that minority,” where they would chase and tackle me or the other brown kid. That it was un-politically correct was precisely their point. In their minds they weren’t racists, they were pretending to be racists. But to me, it was so surreal and wildly outdated, I could only imagine passersby thinking we were all performing some sort of grotesque historical reenactment. Of course, at the end of every practice, I’d just smile and say see you tomorrow.

Then, when my team took our photo, a teammate suggested I move to the center. At the time I didn’t get the joke, but apparently, it would be funny if the one black person was in the dead center of the photo. Persuaded by my teammates, I kneeled down and smiled. I hadn’t thought again about the picture until one of my friends came to me, visibly exhausted from laughter, and showed me an edit of the photo on his phone. One of our classmates had photoshopped Klan hoods on every one of my white teammates’ heads and kept me smiling away in the dead center. For a long moment, I forgot that I knew how to breathe. I looked at my friend, who was looking back at me to see if I’d continue to be a good sport. It took me a moment, but once again, I pulled out the old plastic smirk.

But by the time I got home, I knew that I’d had enough. I started researching why it was so hard for me to speak up and discovered a study on the interaction of “token” women in the workplace. In a 1977 research paper entitled “Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life,” author and Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Kanter studied the lone women in otherwise all-male workplaces, but her research also seemed to apply to me. Kanter wrote, “If tokens collude, they make themselves psychological hostages of the majority group. For token women, the price of being one of the boys is a willingness to turn, occasionally, against the girls. The token woman, in other words, is required to sell out her own kind.”

These words rang in my head. “Had I sold out my own race in an effort to fit in?” By not speaking out at the microaggressions early and often, was it my fault that I experienced an escalation of egregious racial incidents? If my teammates had not known that I would stay silent and instead defend myself and my race, perhaps they would never have dared flaunt a “joke” so.

I’ve come to realize that racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas are like weeds that need to be yanked out at their inception. As soon as you see them poke through the ground, it is our responsibility to pull up each and every one from the root. Left unaddressed, these toxic ideas and sentiments blossom into vast fields of hate and bigotry. I don’t blame myself for being racially targeted. However, I do blame myself for not speaking out. If I could have found the strength to stand up back in middle school, who knows who would have stood up with me?

Second Place: Angela Ji

Microaggressions are a bit like finger pricks. While they do not leave as large a mess as a sword wound in the form of Jim Crow laws or Japanese internment would, they are enough to make you wince. Some people are more sensitive to finger pricks than others, but we all bandage ourselves up afterwards, ignoring the sting in our thumb.

Professor and author Derald Wing Sue describes microaggressions as everyday slights that target your identity’ as a member of a marginalized group. As a Chinese-American girl who has lived in Fairfield County for her entire life, I am no stranger to them. My first introduction to microaggressions was in elementary school, where a classmate pulled the corners of his eyes back and asked me how I could possibly see if my eyes were so small. I met microaggressions again in middle school when a friend asked me about the Japanese language because “Japanese, Chinese — they’re basically the same thing.” I still get finger pricks from time to time. When someone seems shocked at how American my name is. When someone claims that my gender is the reason I get into STEM programs. When a stranger this past February grabbed my arm, asked me where I’m from, and refused to let go unless I say that I’m from China because “Westport” did not cut it.

I remember these moments clearly, how my emotions — confusion, frustration, disbelief, anger —spilled out as a shaky “…thanks?” “…cool?” I remember how I was at a loss for words, how I smiled awkwardly and just nodded. And while I cannot speak for all marginalized voices, I know that many have experience doing the exact same thing. We feel the pressure to keep quiet and move on to avoid conflict, often internalizing any feelings of invisibility that arise.

There is disagreement among researchers over the physical and psychological toll of constant exposure to microaggressions, but it is hard to deny that daily reminders of your outsider status have lasting effects. Researchers describe them as diminished self-esteem and impaired performance, to name a few. I think of them as the times I wished my hair, eyes, and skin were a different color so that nobody would question my nationality, the times I refused to bring lunch to school after someone laughed at my dumplings in kindergarten, the times I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my heritage.

Angela Ji

But I’d like to talk about the way we talk about microaggressions. Too often, we do not know how to address them, so we refuse to acknowledge their presence, which sends a message that one’s experiences are invalid and creates an even greater gap between groups; this hinders positive discussion of topics like racial issues, gender inequalities, and religious discrimination. Our approach to those on the receiving end of microaggressions should not be “get over it” but rather “what can we do?” Simultaneously, it is futile to condemn someone for inadvertently delivering a microaggression. Nobody will ever accurately gauge the sensitivities of others or make the perfect remark, and every single one of us reading this essay, whether we want to admit it or not, has delivered microaggressions at some point.

Because, microaggressions are a complicated topic; at the barest level, they are intangible expressions arising from societal constructs that straddle the line between offense and ignorance, and they will always exist. The question should not ask how we should eliminate them from our speech, which is both impractical and impossible — how do you control words, thoughts, expressions without turning into an Orwellian dystopia? — but rather how we can react to them and lessen their impact on individuals. We need to be willing to have open discussions; for this multifaceted issue, the responsibility does not depend on one person. All of us, as recipients, initiators, and witnesses must be willing to understand the circumstances surrounding these comments, explain our perspectives, and adapt our speech.

Take the “Where are you from?” incident from February. I described the man as “racist,” but perhaps “misinformed” would have been a more apt description. He grew up when the population of Asians in America was less than 1 percent. And, if he was from the New York area as he said, many of the Asians he came into contact with would have been immigrants rather than the second generation. Perhaps, under friendlier circumstances, I could have explained to him that his question was flawed rather than cut him off completely, or told him why his insistence on a response containing an Asian country did not sit well with me.

And while we should not denounce people before discussing, that does not mean he is not responsible for his words; he, like many others who have also asked me this question, could have corrected himself with, “Where are your ancestors from?” upon realizing that I was not giving the desired answer. Without fully understanding the experiences of others, we need to realize that we are bound to ask wrong questions. It is important that we are willing to adjust our speech and learn through talking to others.

Fostering an open discourse is not just limited to individuals, however. It is crucial that administrators and teachers promote direct exposure in our education to encourage cultural awareness and tolerance in our students so that they are prepared for informed conversations in the future, especially in a school district that is 90% white. We can follow California’s footsteps and advocate for policies that incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive history textbooks into our curriculum. Or we can encourage teachers to hold classwide discussions about racism earlier on in our education — my first one was this past November in AP English Literature, many years too late.

We are far from being a spotless society, and it is going to take a multitude of ideas and trials to lessen the long-lasting impacts of inequality. We’ve ripped off the Bandaid. Now, let’s ease the throbbing in our fingers.

Third Place: Daniel Boccardo

“Where are you from?” For me, that question is complicated. My parents were born and raised in Venezuela; I was born in New York. When asked, I naturally respond with, “‘I’m from New York.” To which the person asking the question looks at my brown face and asks, “But, where are you really from?” I then respond, “Venezuela. ” This usually elicits a strong reation from family members who actually did live in Venezuela. They claim I’m not truly Venezuelan and call me what they think I am, a gringo. So if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure where I’m from.

I’ve lived my whole life not really caring where I’m from, figuring I’m me and who cares where I was born? But today I realize my heritage matters more to society than I thought; we live in an “us vs. them” world. Clearly, I get asked where I’m from so the questioner can figure out whether I’m part of their “us” or their “them.” This is particularly divisive when the leader of the free world publicly espouses that “us” and “them” need to be separated by a wall because “them” are raping and murdering “us.”

The challenges associated with being the child of Venezuelan parents living in NY began early. I attended public school while being raised by parents who knew little English. My mother taught Inc the only language she knew at the time, Spanish. Not knowing English led to many difficulties in school. Teachers didn’t know what to do with me because I was so quiet and didn’t read or speak like the other kids. This led co my parents being called in frequently to meetings which they couldn’t really understand because they only knew a little English. In one of these meetings, my kindergarten teacher asked about my parents’ heritage. When learning that they were Venezuelan and spoke Spanish, she proceeded to ask what dialect they spoke. This suggested that my own teacher knew nothing about Spanish or how to communicate with me, as Spanish doesn’t have dialects. Spanish is Spanish, it doesn’t matter where you go.

From there, I was sent to every special ed, reading and ESOL class imaginable. I was evaluated by various professionals; somehow, my public school diagnosed me as having ADHD with mild autism. They obviously got their “diagnosis” wrong because I had neither of those things; I just didn’t speak English. Not knowing English was treated like a disease needing to be cured. I was beaten over the head with English and forced to redo kindergarten.

Daniel Boccardo

As a high achieving senior in high school, I’m one year older than most of my classmates and I obviously don’t face the same obstacles I faced as a young boy. But there are some things that I have to contend with which others don’t. Being asked questions like, “Do you people celebrate Thanksgiving?” when I’ve lived in the United States my whole life really affects me. It’s not a sharp pain, but a reminder of how I don’t seem to belong. There’s a disconnect between me, my community and the broader society. It sometimes feels as though I’m a cactus grown in a rainforest where cactus don’t belong.

I fut this most deeply just recently when I was in the throes of applying to college. I was handed an article by my guidance counselor about how to fill out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student [Financial] Aid) documents when your parents are illegal aliens. A person in a position of influence and authority in my high school just assumed my parents were illegal immigrants, criminals. The new Al Qaeda to many Americans. I’m not illegal, and neither are my parents, and today, we speak Spanish and English equally well.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my struggles. There are countless Hispanics with parents who were born and raised in different countries who sometimes feel as though they are the enemy and have no place in America. These feelings stem from microaggressions perpetrated by people who didn’t necessarily have terrible intentions. I believe that most people have their heart in the right place and their messages come from a place of misunderstanding rather than intentional hate.

In our town, there are many things we can do to combat this misunderstanding, starting with parenting. Children aren’t born with a particular view of other people and have no sense of what makes us different. Learning tolerance, empathy and love for all people is crucial. Parents also need to instill a sense of community, reminding children that no matter their skin color or looks, we are all just people who want to make the best of ourselves and our community.

Educators can also help by teaching children to look for similarities and rather than differences. Tear down walls, rather than try to bully Mexico into paying for one. Look at people as not black, white or brown but instead as part of “us.” They need to be particularly attentive to my first generation brothers and sisters and my ESOL cousins. For they are as much a part of “us” as Westporters are to each other.

The words of government officials in office may not change, but the voices of our new generation can. Young and progressive voices like that of State Senator Will Haskell need to demonstrate that there is a place in America for everybody. Their words, actions and policies, messages of inclusion, fairness and empathy could be seen and heard through all the news media of today. This will, over time, help to build a stronger sense of belonging in Westport where we can look beyond skin color, accents and clothing and merely see each other as fellow Westporters — members of a community that hopefully can be an example of what America is at its best.

Honorable Mention: Olivia Sarno

We live in a society that trains us to be heterosexual in every way possible — from advertisements and billboards, to movies and children’s books. Each person is given an invisible manual at birth that says “this is who you are allowed to be.” The rules in this manual do not lie only in the immense heteronormativity woven into our world, but in the micro-aggressions surrounding us on a daily basis.

Internalized homophobia has always been a voice in my head, warning me that a compliment to a female friend might make me look predatory or that I should dress in the most feminine clothing possible. However, it took me until I was past opening up about my sexuality to recognize not only that these voices in my head existed, but how wrong they were and where they stemmed from.

After coming out to friends and family, they had almost all been extremely supportive, even if it took time to adjust. All of my crippling fears, fears that every LGBT person has before coming out– that my friends would leave me, that I would have to sit alone at lunch, or that  my family wouldn’t love me — turned out to be irrational. So what did I have to be ashamed of?

I saw all of this support laid out in front of me, reassuring me that my future would be okay, yet still felt my insides chum every time I uttered the words, “I’m gay,” or “I like girls,” as if someone was watching me disobey this all-telling manual. That’s the thing about shame — it isn’t a switch you can flip after you realize everyone is actually on your side. Instead, it accumulates over time, and like hatred, it is ingrained and acquired. The problem is, when I try pinpointing a singular moment where all of this shame started, I can’t; for it was not the result of one horrific event, but rather a build-up of the micro-aggressions I’d heard throughout my entire life.

Olivia Sarno

Maybe it’s the subtlety of micro-aggressions that make them so impactful – like the hopeful, “do you think you’ll ever like men?” questions I’ve received from friends, genuinely thinking they were being helpful. Then again, not all micro-aggressions are so subtle; and the worst that I’ve heard come from the time before I came out, where I could hide behind the safety of the fact that straightness was the default assumption of me. For example, I know the girl from my bunk at camp would never have said she would commit suicide if she “woke up to one day be a lesbian,” had she known that I was gay. I know a friend in eighth grade would not have accused a “tomboy” of creepily watching her change for gym, if she knew this either. I know my health teacher in middle school wouldn’t have brushed off the “how do lesbians have sex?” question as inappropriate had she considered how that would make LGBT students feel. But since these moments are fragments of a broad, collective issue, these people did not understand the significance behind their words; and I understand this.

There are times when I, too, have said harmful, unintentional words, glued to the pedestal of my own white privilege — but these are times I can only vaguely remember. This is the very problem with micro-aggressions — they are not universally detrimental, only harming the marginalized groups they target, while the person delivering the micro-aggression will probably forget what they said at all. Most often, micro-aggressions are inadvertent, and although their impact cannot be erased with a simple “I’m sorry,” we need to learn to be conscious of our actions and unafraid to apologize, even if that doesn’t solve the entire issue.

However, it is also undeniable that aside from curiosity or a casual slip of the tongue, there are occasions where micro-aggressions are intentionally hateful, not driven by ignorance, but by judgment or prejudice. For example, I know the boys I heard calling each other “fag” in the hallway know better; I know my straight classmate who jests she is a “dyke” because she wears sports logowear knows better, and I know the girl who said she would kill herself if she were gay knew better. The issue here is not an innocent lapse in judgment that we are all guilty of at some point or another, but the fact that we are not educated on LGBT issues in school, at home, or by media.

In elementary school we studied Keith Haring, but didn’t learn about his pieces protesting AIDS. In middle school we spent months covering protests and movements, but never once touched on the Stonewall Rebellion. In Spanish class, when we read works by Federico Garcia Lorca we don’t talk about his queerness during a time of fascism. A rich, beautiful history is lying between the lines of our own textbooks, our own papers, yet homosexuality is never embraced or even represented. Perhaps our curriculum is micro-aggressive in itself, full of minute notions and nuances telling us to silence the parts of ourselves society finds taboo.

Education is one of the few institutions that has the power expose children to diverse perspectives. We can’t let school be another rule maker in the manual of who we are allowed to be.

Today at 16 I am proud of who I am, but there are times I still feel ashamed. I have come to realize that this little homophobic voice in my head is not my own– but the echo of countless times I have heard my identity be associated with something dirty, strange or abnormal. As a society, we need to fight back against microaggressions, whether this means confronting friends about the language they use, being aware of our own language, or making sure all stories are told. Until we learn to stop forcing certain identities into shadows and embrace our differences, even if we are uncomfortable talking about them, the world is not going to change.

He’s Baaaaaack!

Or maybe “she’s” back.

It’s hard to tell an osprey’s gender.

But Westport’s favorite snowbird has returned once again from winter in the south.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

He (or she) is back in his (or her) traditional perch, next to Fresh Market.

Can spring weather be far behind?

Peace At Compo, For Christchurch

On the spur of the moment, Darcy Hicks organized a few dozen friends and strangers yesterday.

They gathered at Compo Beach, and formed a giant peace sign.

(Drone photo by Ryan Felner)

The group stood in solidarity with victims of Friday’s attack on 2 Muslim mosques halfway around the world.

Darcy says, “We stand with Christchurch, New Zealand against racism, intolerance and violence. We are all human. Let’s commit to finding common ground and healing this world.”

Happy Birthday To Us — “06880” Turns 10!

When I launched “06880” 10 years ago this week, I had 2 fears:

  1. No one would read it, and
  2. I’d very quickly run out of stories.

A decade later, the news is good.

I now have 10,000 daily readers.

I have not run out of stories. There’s actually so much stuff out there, I post 2 to 5 times a day.

In fact, in 10 years of publishing “06880,” I have never missed a day. That’s far better than the US government.

This man is smiling because he loves writing “06880.” (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

A lot has happened in the decade since I first hurled “06880” into cyberspace.

We have rebuilt Saugatuck, built Bedford Square, and are building a bathroom on South Beach.We have weathered a recession, and survived some really nasty weather. (Power went out during Irene, Sandy and many other storms, but “06880” kept readers out of the dark.)

This happened too, over the past 10 years: “06880” has become, basically, my full-time job.

I never expected that. I now spend up to 6 hours a day on this blog.

You see the stories I write. But there’s so much more. I conduct interviews and research. I take, find and edit photos. (You think the Pic of the Day just falls from the sky?).

I moderate all comments — keeping the tone civil, making sure folks use their real names, responding when necessary.

I answer every single email. I’m glad readers write me directly. But boy, you’ve got a ton of obscure questions, random thoughts and story suggestions (both sublime and ridiculous).

Where but “06880” can you see a photo like this — every night? (Photo/John Videler)

I’ve cut back on much of my outside writing to focus on “06880.” Meanwhile, I spend my own money on it. I pay for domain mapping. For software upgrades. And — have you noticed? — I pay to keep it ad-free.

Which means it is more imperative than ever that, as I put out my tin cup — er, make my annual appeal for donations — “06880” readers come through.

Of those 10,000 daily readers, only a very small percentage contribute each year. I am extremely grateful to you 🙂  But that means the rest of you enjoy my 1,200+ stories a year, and our wonderful online community — for free.

So: If you like what you read, please consider supporting “06880.” Scroll down — details at the bottom! 

Am I worth $1 a month? $1 a week? Perhaps (my choice!) $1 a day.

Or — for my 10th anniversary — think in multiples of 10. I’ll leave the math to you.

I hope that if “06880” has ever

  • made you laugh, cry, think or wonder
  • spurred you to go to an event, read a book, try a restaurant or patronize a store
  • helped you meet a neighbor, or connect with an old friend
  • kept you up to date in a blizzard, hurricane, windstorm or power outage
  • made you feel connected to your new town (or the place you grew up)
  • alerted you to a new housing or zoning development
  • provided a forum for you to rant about an issue, rave about a place, or complain about my own personal politics
  • delivered news about a favorite person, place or thing
  • galvanized you to support a cause
  • publicized your event, book, appearance or concert
  • published your photo
  • honored someone you loved or admired
  • connected you to your hometown from many miles away
  • saved you time or money
  • opened a window on Westport’s history, helped you think about its future, introduced you to someone in town you never knew, or helped you look at someone or someplace in a new way
  • inspired you
  • made you sit up and say “Wow!” (or “Holy f—!”)

— you will consider tossing something my way. First-time supporters are joyfully welcomed!

Just a suggestion.

Thanks for 10 great years. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, whether anyone sends an anniversary gift or not.

We’ll still have our summer “06880” party at the beach. And I’ll still cover both the beauty and the changes of Compo.

It’s all part of “06880.” It’s my honor and privilege to help share it with you.

You can donate by PayPal: click here. It’s easy, safe — and you don’t even need a PayPal account. If you get an error message, go to www.PayPal.com; then log in (or create an account), and send money from the dropdown menu by entering this email address: dwoog@optonline.net. Or click the “Donate” button on the home page of “06880.”

Checks can be mailed to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Put “06880” on the memo line. It won’t do anything for the IRS, but it may help you remember at tax time why you sent me something.

I’m also on Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thank you!

Allyson Maida’s Valentine To Westport

As Westport celebrates Valentine’s Day, “06880” reader Allyson Maida writes:

On that recent 6-degree day, 3 of us met to discuss business over an iced tea. After a while, our talk turned to living in Westport.

One person has lived here for over 30 years. She reflected on her post-corporate home-based entrepreneurial efforts. It led to meeting wonderful people, many of whom became friends. She spoke about community-based activities. We smiled, nodding as we thought of all the good that has been done within this 22.4-square mile town.

A defining moment to move our young family to Westport happened one summer night. In Westport visiting my cousin, we decided to drive to Main Street. As we turned from the Post Road, we saw a teenager on his skateboard zigzagging down the center of the straightaway.

Music filled the air, as a band played on Onion Alley’s roof. The skateboarder stopped to speak with a man who stood by his parked car. This was a Rockwell moment.

Main Street at night (Photo by Katherine Bruan)

The newer resident spoke of moving here a few years ago, to join her daughter’s family and continue her healthcare practice. She talked about her transition into town, how her career has continued to thrive as she interacts with community members who are considerate and kind. She smiled, sharing stories of the good people she has encountered and her volunteerism within her house of worship, of which she is extremely proud.

Our discussion was not unique. However, I realized that these types of talks often lead to the same place. Speaking about experiences in Westport often includes a sense of connectedness.

This is not to suggest that Westport is perfect, or the lone holder of this characteristic. But these thoughtful conversations frequently veer toward sharing information about people helping people, people doing good for others, community-minded businesses, nonprofit efforts, local business with engaging owners/employees, community changes over time, and how Westport’s history is the underpinning of that which makes this little town profoundly great.

Allyson Maida — author of this Valentine’s piece — and friend.

The root of amorous, chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day is actually the commemoration of those who had done good works.

It is no different than any other commemorative holiday, except that in the evolution of this annual celebration, we may have missed the point. According to historians, up to 3 priests named Valentine (Valentinus) offended nobility and Roman penal codes as they acted on behalf of others who were vulnerable. All were in ministry (also referred to as community service). In helping others, they were executed, in different years — but all on February 14, now known as Valentine’s Day.

Overall, this town has maintained its sense of goodwill and community concern. There are diverse interests, and activities that reach out to every social issue. We have a bridge that hosts world peace and international understanding efforts. Civil rights chants are heard there, while nearby knitted scarf-bombed trees extend anonymous gifts of warmth to those who are cold.

We have concerts and dancing, dog parades, art shows, rubber ducky races and individual initiatives designed to make someone else feel good. We raise awareness and funds to help support those at home and abroad. We sew and donate heart-shaped pillows for patients who suffer. We pack resident-donated trailers with supplies when another state falls victim to a storm, and we celebrate one child who insists on giving the contents of their piggy bank to another who needs school supplies.

Every year, many hands help create Westport’s Community Thanksgiving Feast.

All of this barely scrapes Westport’s surface.

Take a moment to think about all that happens within our small community. Opportunity is not arbitrary. It is deliberate. There is an expectation that this town will bring the best to its residents and visitors.

That comes from somewhere. From those who settled here in the 1600s to those who live and work here now, each person has added to this community in a way that has affected someone else.

So, to each of you, near and far, who are a part of the heart of Westport: Happy Valentine’s Day!

(This post is adapted from a story Allyson originally wrote for her blog. Click here for that version.)

Hey, Commuters! Is This You?

An alert “06880” reader/Westport resident/suffering commuter writes:

This is a special place to live. Westport offers a top-notch school system; quality restaurants; Compo Beach with its wide shoreline, expansive sports courts, skate park and barbecue pits; Longshore with a waterfront restaurant, golf course, swimming pools, racquet courts and sailing school; downtown’s dozens of shops and restaurants; Levitt Pavilion; Wakeman Town Farm … I could keep going, but you get the idea.

All of those reasons, and more, are why people move to Westport.

Why wouldn’t they move here?

If they work in New York: the commute.

For the most part, train time can be very productive and relaxing. Commuters unwind after a long day. They can nap, watch Netflix, read a good book, pretend it’s Happy Hour and have a drink or 3 with friends, or try to be productive and crank out some work.

However, there is a need for train etiquette. Years spent on Metro-North with 1,000 of my closest friends has exposed me to many atrocities. Among them:

The Eater. There’s no rule against eating, and late night trains are filled with commuters and theatre/concert/sports goers with food. But there is an unwritten rule against bringing food onto commuter (before 10 a.m., and 4-7 p.m.) trains. A few folks break the morning rule, usually with something benign (bananas, muffins, yogurt). On the evening commute, everyone is starving. There’s nothing worse than food on a peak train, especially when sushi with wasabi and soy sauce permeates the entire car.

Not quite Metro-North.

The Seat Hog. You know who you are. You put your bag down, don’t make eye contact with anyone getting on, and when someone finally asks you to get up to sit down you grumble and take your time, hoping the person goes elsewhere or stands. I take pleasure in going for that seat, knowing how much it irritates you.

The Sniffler. No one wants to hear you sniffle the entire trip. There’s this wonderful invention: tissues. They’re not expensive. Throw a few in your pocket if you’re not feeling well. Better yet: Stay home.

The DJ. No one wants to hear your music. Turn it down. You’ll help the rest of us — and you won’t go deaf yourself.

Dude, your music sucks.

The Phone Chimer. Turn the sound off. Sure, getting a text is exciting. But you don’t need to inform your fellow passengers how popular you are. There’s a vibrate option. Use it.

The Relaxer. Don’t put your feet on the seat. No one wants to sit there. And for the love of God, don’t take your shoes off.

The Newspaper Reader. No need to loudly crinkle and fold every page. Who reads an actual newspaper these days anyway? There’s an Apple Store right in Grand Central. Check out the wonderful electronics.

The Nail Clipper. No, you are not in your bathroom. Enough said.

Ugh.

The “My Job is More Important Than Yours” Person. The worst part of the commute may be the slow walk along the platform into Grand Central. Cutting in front of people will only save you a few seconds. Sit in the first car — or just get in line with the rest of us.

Does that cover it? Or has our commuter commentator missed anyone? If so, click “Comments” below.

Happy New Year!

Let’s hope it’s a good one,

Without any fear…

Moms’ Moms Meet

It’s a familiar story.

Merri Mueller and her friend Antonia Landgraf both encouraged their mothers — one widowed, one divorced — to move out of their longtime homes, and to Connecticut.

Merri’s mom Joan

The women would be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. But they left behind many friends, and decades of familiarity.

In many ways, the moves worked out well. But Merri and Antonia realized that their mothers were a bit lonely.

“When you’re retired and live in a new place, it can be hard to make friends,” Merri says.

“If you’re super-outgoing you can join a club or play bridge. But if you’re on the shy side, it can be tough.”

So she and Antonia created a “Moms’ Moms” club.

One Facebook page and one get-together later, the feedback has been amazing.

Anotnia’s mom Maryan

The group first met for coffee. Another is planned for this Friday (December 7, 10 a.m.). After New Year’s, they’ll organize a book club, walking club, movies, dinners and more.

Women are thrilled to meet other women their age — their 60s and 70s — at the same stage of their lives.

“What a blessing!” one said after the first gathering. “Thanks for the gift of new friends that you young ladies offered these moms’ moms. And a lovely feast you provided! I look forward to another one — only next time let us help with the treats.”

One woman who brought her mother said they both enjoyed making new friends.

Now they’re looking for other “moms’ moms” new to town, ready to join them.

(Click here for the Moms’ Mom Facebook page. For more information — including the location of Friday’s meeting, email merrim3y@gmail.com)

Moms — and their moms — at the first Moms’ Moms meeting.

Westporters Enable Car Thieves

The Westport Police Department wants to make life hard for car thieves.

Unfortunately, too many residents make it too easy. 

The WPD says:

Early this morning, 2 vehicles were stolen from the Hillspoint Road area. Two others were broken into. Credit cards stolen from one vehicle were later used in Stratford.

All vehicles were believed to have been unlocked, with keys left inside the vehicles.

Another vehicle was stolen over the weekend. It was also unsecured, with the keys left inside. All incidents are being investigated by the detective bureau.

Please steal my car!

Despite multiple warnings over the last few years, residents continue to leave valuables and keys in their unlocked vehicles. As long as residents do not heed these warnings, thieves will continue to target our area.

We ask everyone to remove valuables from their vehicles, take their keys with them, and lock their car doors every time — whether holiday shopping downtown, parked at the gym, at the dog park or in their own driveways.

Residents are urged to participate in the “9 PM Routine.” This national public service campaign is a simple, effective way to prevent theft. It includes removing valuables from vehicles, locking car doors and bringing keys inside.

Take a few extra moments during your nightly routine to make sure the doors to your home are locked, your garage doors are secure, and exterior lights are turned on.

Help us prevent burglaries and theft in our community, and protect your home and property. For more information on the 9 PM Routine, follow us on Instagram and Facebook.