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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

See-Saw-a-Thon Rocks Donations for Magnet School Playground

See-Saw-a-Thon Rocks Donations 
for Magnet School Playground
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT --  They came, they see-sawed and conquered any doubts that Sacred Heart University students would do their part to help raise funds for a new playground project in Bridgeport.

Hosted in the school’s University Commons room by the ten Greek fraternities and sororities at SHU’s 5151 Park Avenue campus, the 24-hour See-Saw-a-thon kicked off at 6p.m. Wednesday night and concludes at 6p.m. Thursday evening. A series of activities, which the school’s Student Events Team helped coordinate, was planned around the clock, including such fun as four full-sized wooden see-saws, a life-sized Operation game, basketball shootout, Rollerball game and moonbounce featuring Twister board game patterns imprinted on it. All was set up for the purpose of raising funds toward the $70,000 needed to build a new playground at the Six-to-Six Interactive Magnet School in Bridgeport. As of 8a.m. Thursday morning, over $7,800 had been collected.

“The theme of the event is ‘Greek Life Goes Back to Give Back’”, explained Meg Campbell, president of the Panhellenic Council, the governing body for SHU’s sororities. “So we’ve featured classic childhood games, as well as a raffle for gift items contributed by local businesses.”

Campbell, who is also a Phi Sigma Sigma sorority sister, added, “We all have our individual philanthropies for which we raise money, but we wanted to come together to make a bigger impact in the Bridgeport community.”

The playground need was obvious according to Dan Miller, a Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother and philanthropy chairman. “We went to visit the school and found that the playground was splintering and graffiti covered, and nothing worked.”

Funds were primarily driven through the efforts of the 585 members of the Greek Life community at SHU, who were each asked to raise at least $15. Additional funds were being captured through raffle ticket sales and a portion of proceeds from t-shirt purchases.

Contributions to the effort can be made by visiting or sending cash or a check made out to Sacred Heart University to SHU, Office of Student Life, Attn: Greek Life Goes Back to Give Back, 5151 Park Ave., Fairfield, CT 06825. 

Holiday Express Train Show Chugs into Fairfield

Holiday Express Train Show Chugs into Fairfield
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – As the Community Tree electrified the night Friday evening and revelers gradually wandered from the festivities on the Town Green, they followed a candlelit path to yet another highlight of the holiday season kickoff: the Holiday Express Train Show.

Set up in the Fairfield Museum and History Center, the annual exhibit, coordinated by Fairfield-based Housatonic Model Railroad Club and the Connecticut G-Scalers Club, offered working model trains winding around a spectacularly decorated tree and through detail-precise holiday scenery. A mini camera mounted on one train even offered a train’s-eye perspective, with live footage broadcast on an adjacent monitor.

Parents and children alike took delight in the display, peering along lengths of track as locomotives rounded corners and zoomed down straightaways.

For many adults, the show was a fond remembrance of their own childhood train sets. For children, it was an inspiration setting off a desire for their own home sets, which they hoped to find underneath their Christmas trees.

Private Homes Open Doors for Holiday House Tour

Private Homes Open Doors for Holiday House Tour
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Armed with maps, overviews, a bit of curiosity and the spirit of the season, over 400 people signed on to tour five private local homes Sunday afternoon that were part of the Westport Historical Society’s 25th annual Holiday House Tour.

Each home was trimmed in festive d├ęcor and manned by docents or the homeowners themselves, who provided background about the history and features of each structure. Visitors came from all over the state to see the various architectural and interior design tastes represented.

“We like doing these house tours every year,” said Linda Wixted, who traveled down from the Southbury area with her friends Helen Fernandes and Tina Aucella. They listened attentively to docent Dutch Wynkoop in what was once a calfing room in a bank-barn style home at 3 Charbeth Lane, owned by Pam and Jerry Singer. The couple has owned the home and an adjacent carriage house, located a stone’s throw from the grounds of the Fairfield Hunt Club, for the past eight years.

The barn home, built into the bank of a hill and once used to store hay and wheat, has been done over in pastels and carries accents reminiscent of Provence. It sits on a “Long Lot” that was granted by the town of Fairfield to Richard Osborn for his service in the Pequot Indian War.

Cars jammed the street outside 9 Greenbrier Road, the second home on the Tour, owned by Nicole and Dan Donovan. A small stone family home built by Frazier Forman Peters in 1930 was the original structure, and was occupied until recently by Dan’s mother Mollie, a long-time volunteer at WHS, who recently passed. The Donovans added a massive stone and clapboard extension in 2007, complete with a soaring foyer, living room with marble fireplace, dining room with a tray ceiling, spacious kitchen with marble countertops, sunny breakfast room and many more rooms and features that relegated the original quarters to a guest wing.

“Our home evokes family, and we really live in it,” said Nicole. “We both grew up here, went to Staples and the kids now go to school here.”

Thirty-seven Red Coat Road was also abuzz with visitors, who padded through the elegantly appointed manor-style home owned by designer Kelley Taylor and her husband Stuart Aronson. “Our home was virtually undecorated four months ago,” said Aronson. “When we decided to put it on the tour, Kelley went into action.”

The author of Holiday Decorating for Dummies, Taylor said she wanted to make the large space (over 11,000 square feet) warm and inviting. “I like to mix a lot of high with low,” she said, “like IKEA frames hanging above Lillian August couches, or Costco tree tip decorations on our tree, next to imported Austrian glass ornaments. I shop everywhere from consignments and Target to a lot of small local stores.”

A more modest-sized Tour stop was 140 Compo Road South, a pre-1700s farmhouse converted to a saltbox in 1897. Alanna and Damon Conte, a contractor, purchased the home in 1999 and immediately began restoring and updating it and an adjacent barn. Ceiling beams are exposed throughout and wide plank wood floors provide a rustic base. To the older features, the Contes have incorporated modern flourishes that mesh in style.

Damon held court in the barn this day, displaying artifacts – bottles, tools, newspapers – found in and around the property. He also told of the visit of Helen Leptic, an elder woman who was born and raised in the home and was able to provide much detail about its history. Leptic’s stepfather had conducted the 1897 renovation.

The endpoint to the Tour was 32 Sasco Creek Road, an 1865 Gothic Revival owned by Cheryl Sugel, of Millie Rae’s of Westport. Highlights included a parlor with Victorian-era furniture and a working wood burning stove. A new addition off the kitchen featured a dining area, fireplace and lounging space.

Post-tour, a Twilight Soiree was scheduled to take place late afternoon at 61 Maple Avenue South, a new Heike Hein transitional farmhouse where wine, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction were to be featured. Connecting People through Food Connecting People through Food:
Blog site evolves into a portal for “insider” culinary experiences
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield County, CT – Cooked up by a Westport mom with a fever for fine food and wine, is taking the Connecticut food world by storm, providing local foodies with “insider” access to celebrity chefs, interactive workshops, exclusive dinners, tips for dining in and out and much more.

Stephanie Webster, founder and editor-in-chief of CTbites and a mother of three girls under the age of 11, sat down with Patch recently to talk about her background, the inspiration for her now-comprehensive service and short-term plans.

“I grew up in Manhattan where you eat out all the time,” 42-year-old Webster began. “Professionally, I was the photo editor for Travel Holiday magazine, then a web developer and strategist for branding agency Siegel & Gale. Then I had some kids and my husband David got recruited to Microsoft in Seattle. I went kicking and screaming, as a New Yorker who thinks New York is the only place to live.”

But Seattle was an eye-opener and Webster quickly grew to love it. “It’s such a foodie city, with its proximity to incredible farms and vineyards,” she said. “I couldn’t help but get into the food scene. It was where I was first exposed to underground ‘gypsy’ dinners, too, where you get on a list and the day of an event they tell you where to meet. These were often at someone’s house where a famous chef prepared the meals.”

By the time she returned to the east coast, to Westport, in June 2008, she was completely smitten with the whole scene of food and chefs. But having never really lived in a suburb before, she didn’t think she would find much of interest locally cuisine-wise.

“I started seeking out good food and was the person friends would always come to for restaurant recommendations,” she related. “I realized I was on to something and started putting information online, as a blog. ‘CTbites’ was really a double entendre at the time. I’d do a posting every few days.”

As time passed, Webster wanted to do more, and for her blog to be not just one person’s view. “People started coming to me,” Webster said and she enlisted the help of friends who were good writers. “When we do a restaurant review, it’s collaborative, with four to six people in the group, trying everything.”

Today, the site is still structurally a blog, but because of all the contributions and elements, it feels like a website, which is garnering 130,000 monthly page views from some 28,000 unique visitors. There are several main content buckets: Eating Out offers restaurant reviews, Eating In provides recipes and home cooking tips, Ingredients is focused on products and artisans, and Kids Bites encompasses lunchbox food recommendations and family restaurant suggestions. Notably, Kids Bites content is crafted by three writers under the age of 12.

Photography on the site is key and a passion for Webster. “Food is very visual and photos are worth a thousand words,” she said.

Webster’s enterprise now involves ten regular contributors, with another five rotating through, plus two photographers in addition to herself. “I try to match a writer to a story, as every writer has their own voice,” she suggested. “I tell them to pretend they’re sitting across the table from a friend and to just tell it like it is.”

Now CTbites has taken the next leap, into live events. “We always wanted to do meet-ups and events and finally put that into action,” Webster said. “In October, with the help of Ellen Bowen, who started ‘Living Social Fairfield County’, an online-based restaurant discounts resource, and Amy Kundrat, who is my executive editor covering social media and community outreach, we organized a mixology workshop and food event at BarTaco in Portchester, New York.”

Webster reported that the debut was a big success and has resulted in plans for two like events a month going forward. In the near-term, this includes a December 7 wine & cheese event at Fairfield’s Barcelona, a menu preview at Fairfield’s Bonda in January and a barbeque masters workshop at Westport’s Bobby Q’s.

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff cooking, stay tuned,” chirped Webster.

Visit and go to Invites to purchase tickets to upcoming foodie events, and subscribe to its periodic newsletter for more news and information.