Tag Archives: Fairfield County Story Lab

Roundup: Mariangela Lisanti, Maserati, Staples Class of ’52 …

In 2001, Mariangela was a Staples High School rock star.

The senior won the national Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition. And the Intel Science Talent Search (where she met President Bush). Each came with a $100,000 scholarship (!).

But she did not stop there. Mariangela was captain of the Staples math team, founder and captain of the engineering team, concertmaster of the Chamber and Symphonic Orchestras, and the recipient of honors in Italian and Spanish (both of which she is fluent in.) Of course, she was valedictorian.

Then, at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in San Jose, California, the Harvard-bound graduate was awarded the Glenn Seaborg Nobel Prize Visit Award — earning a trip to the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm.

So what is Mariangela up to these days?

She earned a Ph.D. from Stanford in 2010, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. She’s been on the physics faculty at Princeton University since then.

A theoretical particle physicist by training, her research focuses on the nature of dark matter. Mariangela’s interdisciplinary work incorporates ideas from astrophysics and data science. Currently, she’s focusing on how variations of the Cold Dark Matter paradigm affect galactic and sub-galactic scale observables.

So why today’s “06880” shout-out?

She’s just been named a Simons Foundation Investigator. This too is a very big deal.

The Simons Investigators program supports outstanding theoretical scientists in their most productive years, when they are establishing creative new research directions, providing leadership and mentoring junior scientists.

Simons Investigators are appointed for 5 years, renewable for another 5. Each Investigator receives research support of $100,000 per year. An additional $10,000 per year is provided to the Investigator’s department

Congratulations, Mariangela. You continue to make Staples, and Westport, proud.

Keep rockin’ the world! (Hat tip: Steve Stein)

Mariangela Lisanti

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Speaking of Staples: Sunday’s “06880” Roundup gave a shout-out to the Class of 1962. They celebrated their 60th year reunion at the Ned Dimes Marina.

But they’re mere children, compared to the Class of ’52. Let’s hear it for them!

Nine alums just enjoyed their 70th (!) reunion at Rive Bistro — not far from their old high school, on Riverside Avenue. (Today it’s Saugatuck Elementary).

Ed Backus — a 1948 graduate — joined them, making them feel very young.

The class has met every 5 years since graduation day: Friday the 13th, 1952. “Our Staples ties are strong!” says Jess Thompson Huberty.

They are indeed. Hail, Staples! Hail, Class of ’52!

Staples High School Class of 1952 at Rive Bistro: Seated (from left):Lu List Morris, Susan Stokes. Middle row: Roxanne Gette Martin, Barbara Hendricks Chamberlain, Jess Thompson Huberty, Sonja Messelt Ziluca, Don Switter, Ed Backus. Rear: Bill Gault. Sending regrets: Bev Breault, Lynn Lucke Lutkin, Steven Miller, Concetta Palazzo Fedak, Mary Ellen Kottgen McKenna.

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The Maserati owner figured he’d be okay on Sunday. His car stuck just a yard or two past the “No Parking” sign on Hillspoint Road, coming from Compo Beach toward Old Mill.

The sign is there for a reason. It’s a dangerous spot. This happened next:

(Photos/Jerry Kuyper)

But that’s not the end of the story.

As of yesterday afternoon — 72 hours later — the very expensive convertible was still there.

(Photo/John Richers)

And debris from its body still littered the road.

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Speaking of parking, how about this trifecta near Gaetano’s?

The driver is:

  1. Facing the wrong way
  2. Next to a “No Parking” sign, which is right by a …
  3. Fire hydrant.

Must have been a deli emergency!

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The Westport Journal has a new executive editor. Thane Grauel succeeds Jarret Liotta in the top post at the year-old online news site July 1. Liotta will focus on photography and video projects.

Grauel has been a reporter at the Westport News, managing editor at the Westport Minuteman and editor of The Hour, among other publications.

“The news business is so different now,” he told “06880.” “At the Westport News we had 5 guys covering Town Hall, plus sports, business, entertainment and real estate. The chains have gobbled everything up. People are not being served like before.”

However, Grauel says, “Westport is one of the best-covered towns in Connecticut, online. People here are really engaged. They want to know what’s going on.”

Grauel is a 4th-generation Westporter, though after Kings Highway Elementary School his family moved to Milford. He graduated from the University of Connecticut, and is a Navy veteran.

Thane Grauel (Photo courtesy of Westport Journal)

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Speaking of writing:

Bilingual journalist and writer Camila Vallejo earns the first-ever Writer-in-Residence prize from Fairfield County Story Lab, the shared workspace in Saugatuck for creative types.

Vallejo covers housing and social justice issues for Connecticut Public Radio and WNPR, and is a member of Report for America. She has been a part-time producer for All Things Considered (read and hear some of her stories here).

The FC Story Lab’s Writer-in-Residence prize is for early-career writers. Vallejo’s residency will enable her to work for free at the Story Lab in Saugatuck. The Lab will install a new media suite, so she can record radio pieces there. While she reports statewide — including pieces on housing disparities in Fairfield County — she often files stories from a closet at home.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual today,” says FC Story Lab co-founder Carol Dannhauser.

“Many media companies have trimmed their newsrooms and all but eliminated their bureaus. This means that young reporters, especially, can’t experience the alchemy that happens in a newsroom, where people bounce ideas off of each other and offer suggestions when stories hit a dead-end.”

During her 6-month residency, Vallejo will host 2 events for students and recent graduates interested in a career in journalism or media.

Camila Vallejo

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So how many jellybeans were in the Staples Tuition Grants contest?

41,330. The winning guess of 41,472 — off by just 142 — was by Emerson Watkins. In second place (41,501) was Sean Wagner. Both will receive gift certificates to their favorite Westport restaurant.

Hundreds of people entered the contest. Guesses ranged from 540 to 751,000.

STG plans to continue the contest next year. It’s another great (and fun) way to help raise some of the $400,000 that was given in scholarships to Staples seniors and alumni this year.

As you can see, there were 41,472 jellybeans here.

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Last summer, dozens of Fleishers Craft Butchery employees at 4 locations walked off the job after CEO John Adams removed Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride signs that workers had put in windows at the Westport store.

Though they had been there for months, a customer had only recently complained.

After the walkout, most employees quit. The shops remained closed until March, when one in Brooklyn reopened. Now it — the final store in what was once hailed as “the mecca of the good-meat movement,” with “rock star butchers” — has closed too.

New York magazine says that after the Westport incident — and the effects of COVID on, particularly, the Upper East Side location — “Fleishers never again found its footing.” Though owner Rob Rosania apologized and offered employees raises to return, the company was cooked.

With the final closing, you can put a fork in Fleishers. (Click here for the full New York magazine story. Hat tip: Tom Prince)

The Fleishers signs. (Photo courtesy of Chloe Sorvino, for Forbes)

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One store closes, another opens: Westport’s newest business is Wash The Dog. Angela Koza’s “self-service dog wash” just opened at 375 Post Road West.

There are 6 stainless steel tubs, so people can wash — and blow dry — their dogs. Full service grooming also available.

The grand opening is this Saturday (June 25). Arf!

Wash the Dog!

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Speaking of creatures, Dave Lowrie writes:

“I’ve been waiting to capture the right ‘Westport … Naturally’ photo. I think I have it: an early visitor to my compost pile.”

Bingo!

(Photo/Dave Lowrie)

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And finally … in honor of Mariangela’s galactic work (story above):

(Across the universe — well, across “06880” — readers contribute to keep us going. Please click here to help.)

Roundup: Shonda Rhimes, Moving Up, Pollinator Pathway …

Shonda Rhimes — the producer/screenwriter/author/global media company CEO/Television Academy Hall of Fame inductee — entertained, inspired and wowed a sold-out crowd at last night’s Westport Library “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser. Actors Tony Goldwyn and Scott Foley were there too.

The leader in both her industry and for women of color, Rhimes is known for telling great stories (check out Netflix!). On stage before an appreciative audience, in a conversation with Vanity Fair editor Rhadika Jones, she spent her evening in Westport doing exactly that.

Shonda Rhimes, at the Westport Library. (Photo/Jerri Graham Photography)

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This is “Moving Up” week.

Ceremonies are held at Westport’s 2 middle and 5 elementary schools.

Dylan Chatterjee captured this scene yesterday, outside Bedford, where his sister Mia was celebrated. It seems symbolic: 8th graders moving toward the light of Staples High School, both literally and figuratively.

(Photo/Dylan Chatterjee)

Congratulations to all 5th and 8th graders — I mean, rising 6th graders and freshman — all over town!

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Happy Pollinator Week!

To celebrate, Pollinator Pathways organizers in Westport and surrounding towns are showcasing properties — both public and private — where habitat-friendly landscaping is done. They’ll also provide information on how homeowners can create Pollinator Pathway yards of their own.

It’s this Saturday (June 25) at 4 separate Westport sites, all 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Earthplace (3 gardens), Prospect Road (privately owned), Smith-Richardson Wildlife Preserve (2 meadows) and Wakeman Town Farm (a 100-foot pollinator border).

Weston’s Onion Farm tour is also Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Guides and gardeners will be on hand, to answer questions.

Click here, then scroll down to plan your tour. You’ll also see Pollinator Pathway tours throughout Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester Counties.

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 The Westport Public Schools and Westport Weston Family YMCA have teamed up to coordinate child care — before and after school – for youngsters in grades K-5, during the coming school year.

The program includes arts and crafts, STEM activities, themed projects, outdoor and physical activities, homework help and snacks.

Transportation will be provided to and from the elementary schools, and YMCA.

The before-school program runs from 7 to 9 a.m. for Coleytown, Greens Farms, Kings Highway and Long Lots Schools, 7 to 8:30 a.m. for Saugatuck.

The after-school program runs from dismissal until 6 p.m. Students who sign up for any youth programs taking place during after-school care hours — karate, swim lessons, soccer shots, basketball, gymnastics, fencing or dance — will be accompanied to their program by a staff member. There is a separate fee for those programs.

3-, 4 and 5-day signups are available. Click here for more information, and to register.

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Sure, it was 2 days ago. But we can’t resist a good photo. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the Levitt Pavilion during Sunday’s Michael Franti & Spearhead show:

(Photo/JC Martin)

Encore: Here’s a video of Michael, complete with a shout-out to Westport:

Looking ahead, the Levitt celebrates the final days of Pride Months with 2 performances.

Isle of Klezbos is this Thursday (June 23, 7:30 p.m.). New York magazine says their repertoire ranges from “rambunctious to entrancing: Neo-traditional folk dance, mystical melodies, Yiddish swing & retro tango, late Soviet-era Jewish drinking song, re-grooved standards, and genre-defying originals.”

It’s about time Levitt had some Yiddish swing and late Soviet-era Jewish drinking songs! Click here for (free!) ticket information.

Next week, it’s “Queer + Quiet”: an evening with Treya Lam (Tuesday, June 28, 7 p.m.). They’ll “lift up the underrepresented, quiet, marginalized voices in the BIPOC trans, non-binary, queer community.” Click here for (also free!) ticket information.

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Speaking of Pride: Fairfield County Story Lab opens this Sunday’s Write-In to all LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly writers and creatives — for free.

At 2 p.m. June 26, there’s an hour of socializing. Work on projects follows from 3 to 4:30; then there’s a wrap-up chat.

The Story Lab is a shared workspace, on the 4th floor of Saugatuck’s 21 Charles Street office building. Click here to reserve a spot.

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The June 27 (7 p.m.) Westport Library showing of the award-winning documentary “Four Winters” is noteworthy.

The film tells the story of the 25,000 Jewish partisans who battled the Nazis and their collaborators from the forests of Eastern Europe. The men and women — many in their teens — blew up trains, burned electric stations and attacked enemy headquarters.

But there’s also an important local connection: “Four Winters”‘ writer/producer/director Julia Mintz is a Weston High School graduate.

For more information, click here.

NOTE: “Four Winters” supporters have designed a program for screenings and talkbacks at colleges that don’t have Jewish Studies departments, or funding for Holocaust programming. Click here to donate.

Weston native Julia Mintz, with an interviewee for “Four Winters.”

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Lou Weinberg is the passionate, creative and very hands-on director of the Westport Community Gardens. He knows flowers, trees, grasses and bushes — and birds, bees, rabbits and all other wildlife there.

He’s also a gifted photographer.

Here’s his description of today’s stunning “Westport … Naturally” photo: “This gray catbird is eating a berry from a serviceberry tree. This native tree produces flowers and an abundance of fruit for a multitude of birds this time of year. If you like birds, plant serviceberry trees!”

(Photo/Lou Weinberg)

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And finally … because this is the first day of summer:

(Do you like our daily “Roundup”? Help keep it coming. Click here to make a tax-deductible contribution to “06880” — and thank you.)

COVID-19 Roundup: Drive-By Palm Sunday; Hospital Meal Train; Find Your Fitness; Give Hemp, And More

Palm Sunday is coming. What’s a church — closed for the pandemic — to do?

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal will make it a “drive by.”

Just drive to the front of the church, receive a priestly blessing, and listen to bagpipes!

Of course, like every other religious institution, CHT is doing a lot more during the pandemic.

For example, they put donation bins in the back door servery. Anyone can donate food. Volunteers bring it to the Gillespie Center, and 2 Bridgeport organizations: King’s Pantry (for elderly patrons, veterans, people with disabilities and the homeless) and Feed My Sheep, which helps over 80 families.

The church also provides meals for Westport police, fire and EMS personnel.

Donations can be made online too (the church buys the groceries). Click here for details.

In addition, Christ & Holy Trinity offers a short Facebook Live prayer service every night at 7. The men’s group meets every week for a spiritual discussion on Zoom. An abbreviated virtual church service is livestreamed every Sunday. Click here for details.


Westporter Lisa Power helped put together a meal train to help feed the overworked and often hungry Norwalk Hospital staff.

Lunch and dinner slots are connected with specific units. Each unit has 20 or so staff members.

The request is for individually packaged or wrapped meals (no large food trays that require sharing). Meals can be donated by individuals, families, groups or businesses. Call your favorite restaurant or deli to order.

(A&S Fine Foods in Westport has done a great job delivering food so far, Lisa says.)

Click here to sign up for the meal train. For questions and more information — including restaurants and delis that would like to be listed on the mail train — email lapower2014@gmail.com.


When COVID-19 forced the closure of gyms and fitness centers, thousands of Westporters lost their daily routines. And scores of Westporters lost all their income.

Jessica Newshel is trying to help.

The Westport resident and Pilates instructor has launched Fit Finder CT.  The free service helps people find accredited trainers who can work with them one-on-one or in small virtual groups, on the platform of their choice.  Workouts are tailored to each client’s specific needs and ability, and the equipment (or lack of) available at home. There are many types of trainers, for all ages. Click here for the FitFinder website.

Yoga instructors are also listed on FitFinder. (Photo/Frances Hoyte)


Westonite Elan Wischkin is the founder of The Giving Hemp, a craft CBD company.

He’s put 18 CBD “Giving Boxes” on his website, for $10. That money will be donated to a GoFundMe providing ventilators for Connecticut COVID-19 patients.

The box can be sent to someone as a gift, to help ease stress and anxiety.  Each includes a bottle of CBD tincture, a dark chocolate with 15mg CBD, and a poem by Kahlil Gibran: “On Giving.”

Elan will also donate 20% of sales all month to the GoFundMe for ventilators. Click here for the Giving Boxes, and the Giving Hemp website.


The Fairfield County Story Lab was all set to celebrate 1 year as a gathering place for local writers.

Instead, all gathering places are closed.

But founder Carol Dannhauser has the “write” stuff. From now through the end of the coronavirus quarantine, she’s opening up all events — free — to any writer in Connecticut, Westchester and New York City.

There are sessions for freelancers, memoirists, and people looking for agents; virtual happy hours, game nights — you name it. For details, email info@fcstorylab.com.


And finally, just another reminder:

New Saugatuck Story Lab Is The “Write” Place

For nearly 10 years, a suite of offices sat empty on the top floor of 21 Charles Street — the building opposite Tarry Lodge. That’s odd. It’s just a few steps from the train station, there are great restaurants all around, and the view is spectacular.

But the space is now rented. There’s a story there. In fact, there are countless stories.

The new tenant is Fairfield County Story Lab. It’s the brainchild of Carol Dannhauser, a journalist and writing teacher who loves both the written word, and the people who write it.

Carol Dannhauser enjoys working on one of Story Lab’s inviting couches.  

After 30 years with (among others) the New Haven Register and New York Daily News — and a freelance career in books, magazines and documentaries — Dannhauser realized that although writing is a solitary act, writers need solidarity.

She had a nice home office. Yet she’d head to Panera or Starbucks to work. She liked the background buzz. But even with a cup of coffee, she could not sit there forever.

“I was looking for ‘my people,'” Dannhauser says. “There are great writing studios in Westport” — in fact, she’s co-founder of the Fairfield County Writers Studio, elsewhere in the Charles Street building — “but they’re all about teaching,  not actually writing. I wanted a place where people could write, connect and prosper.”

She knows this town is filled with real writers: novelists, playwrights, journalists, children’s book authors, poets — you name it. She figured, “If you build it, they will come.”

She did. And they did.

Working in one of the common areas …

Dannhauser, her husband, and her business partner Diane Salerno spent 5 months renovating the 2,5oo-square foot space. They worked from Dannhauser’s vision: Give writers every type of accommodation they could imagine.

And even some they couldn’t.

There are all kinds of configurations: rooms with desks. Sofas. A quiet room (NO TALKING ALLOWED!). A deadline room (for an extra $100 a week you can lock the door, and race to finish that book or TV project.)

The cafe/kitchen — a corner room with great lighting and a killer view — is stocked with cheese, cookies, coffee, tea and a microwave.

A community room is perfect for a book club meeting, or book launch party.

… and the community room.

There’s also an interview room, a phone room and storyboard room, where groups of creatives can plot ideas. Of course, free WiFi is everywhere.

An attorney offers pro bono advice once a month on issues like copyrights and royalties.

A grand opening recently drew 100 people, including best-selling authors and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matthew Mandell was there too. He’s excited that Story Lab will draw folks to Saugatuck. And — because you can’t sit and write forever — they’ll get up, go outside, and patronize nearby shops and restaurants.

As well as Mystic Market. The new store in the old Blu Parrot/Arrow had opened just a few days earlier. The market welcomed their new neighbor with a huge plate of cookies.

It’s open from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. Hey, even writers need to sleep.

(Story Lab memberships range from a day rate to every day for a year, with several options in between. For more information, click here.)

The quiet room is QUIET!