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Project Return

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124 Compo Road North, Westport

Ah, springtime. The weather warms, the crocuses pop, and tin birds that seemed to have sprung from a Blue Meanies and Yo Gabba Gabba cross-mating experiment lurk on random roadways. Yes, they appear (most) every March to herald the Annual Project Return Birdhouse Auction. And the cause makes those freaky creatures worth tolerating.

Who they are: Since 1986, Project Return has housed troubled adolescent girls. “Girls who are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as those who suffer from eating disorders, depression, homelessness and other traumas make Project Return their temporary home.”

What they do: “7 girls at a time live in this family-like atmosphere. In the process of mending broken spirits, our teens regain a sense of their own power to change their lives for the better.” (website) Girls receive the education and attention they need to empower themselves and mend their lives. They receive counseling, drug screening, educational and hospital services, DBT skills training, 12-step area meetings for addiction, special education if needed, cultural enrichment, and much more.

Click to read the rest ... "Project Return"

Give     Fairfield     Westport    
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 • Permalink

The Little Barn

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1050 Post Road East, Westport

Opened by Kevin McHugh, co-owner of Spotted Horse and Grey Goose, I imagine the conversation he had with his Little Barn partner, Scott Beck, went something like:

McHugh: “I’ve had heaps of success naming eateries after farm animals.”

Beck: “But the only ones left are Pig, Cow… maybe a Housecat, a Rat.”

McHugh: “Right. Which one makes you hungriest?”

Beck: “Not… none.”

McHugh: “Hmm…”

Thus, The Little Barn was born.

The Barn, made from reclaimed almost everything, has a collection of perfectly worn license plates and a neon “Liquor Store” sign. These touches evoke a cozy “Aw, shucks” roadhouse environment, belied by the high-end bar with a parade of designer cocktails and wonderful gastro-pub fares. Which, of course, is irresistible to those of us who enjoy fraternizing redneck-style without actually involving rednecks.

The basic kids (“Half Pints”) menu appeals to, like, kids.

Robin’s note: The cocktails, concocted from fresh juice and top tier liquors are good, if inconsistent. The margaritas are sweet. Very sweet. I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to be attacked by a flock of hummingbirds.

Their Specialty: Chicken Pot Pie

What You Should Eat: Excellent burgers and kale salad, Fish ‘n’ Chips, and pulled pork.

What You May Not Know But Should:
  - The chefs are flexible and happy to monkey around with your entrée. So if you want chowder on your chicken wings or bacon on your baby backs, just ask.
  - No entrée is over $20
  - The location used to Dairy Queen, then a lousy diner, then Swanky Franks. Some people remain wistful about these restaurants.
  - Beck and McHugh are proud Staples grads.
  - No reservations accepted.

Dining     Bars + Baristas     Westport    
Thursday, March 13, 2014 • Permalink

Fresh Air Fund

Fresh Air Fund

http://www.freshairfund.org

Last year my husband and I decided to host a 6 year old boy, Eddie*, from the Fresh Air Fund. For two weeks that summer I became the mother of 4 instead of 3. It was a living hell. Imagine a playdate that lasts 334 1/2 hours too long, riddled with late-night bouts of homesickness.

However, I liked Eddie. So, despite all reasons to the contrary, we invited him back this year. When my husband picked him up in New York, he exclaimed, “I can’t wait to see Miss Robin!” (Yes, I’m still waiting for my own kids to share such delight in seeing me.) He ran into my arms as though his whole year culminated in being with us once again. This time, we loved being together: the arguing mitigated dramatically, as did his homesickness. Eddie swam every day with us, went to the playground, went to parties, played baseball, and was genuinely and visibly thrilled with every thing we accepted as part of our normal summer routine. As difficult as the past visit had been, through it we had learned how to interact and succeed as a “family.”

Toward the end of his visit he popped his head out of the swimming pool and I saw he was drooling. He laughed and wiped his face and exclaimed, “I slobbered on the tire swing yesterday, too! I slobber when I’m having fun.” With that, he popped back into the water. I never thought I’d be so happy to see someone slobbering in my pool. That must be why God created chlorine.

The day before we drove him back to the city, he said, “Miss Robin, wouldn’t it be fun if I could stay here all summer?” Well, maybe. But I can’t wait to see him again next summer.

Click to read the rest ... "Fresh Air Fund"

Give     Darien     Fairfield     Greenwich     New Canaan     Norwalk     Stamford     Weston     Westport     Wilton    
Monday, March 10, 2014 • Permalink

Spotted Horse Tavern

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26 Church Lane, Westport

Spotted Horse Tavern - with a lively bar, delicious food, and consistent service - has won over the hearts of foodies and divorcées alike. Painstakingly re-constructed from a dilapidated (“historic”) home, the tavern-chic interior compliments the upscale American comfort food and moderate prices. There’s no kiddie menu, but the entrees are palatable for picky nippers and the generous pours from the bar help increase tolerance levels among adults dining with them.

So come for the cozy meals and big cocktails, then migrate to the bar to watch men dust off their pick-up lines for women in short skirts.

Robin’s note: It’s not, technically, a cougar bar: older women are not trawling for wide-eyed innocents here. Our experiences indicate it’s more of a manther bar, even though I cringe at perpetuating the term “manther.” (Pumale? Catamant?) But an occasional lonely-heart one-liner doesn’t detract from the fun.

Their specialty: Lobster & Avocado BLT, Maine mussels, “Under a Brick” Grilled Half Chicken

What you should eat: Lobster BLT, Atlantic Salmon

What you may not know but should:
  - Parking is a teensy problem, but drivers who illegally park in the neighboring pre-school lot seem to have created an unsustainable solution
  - The Spotted Horse is owned by the same people who own The Grey Goose in Southport and The Little Goose in Fairfield
  - Food is organic and locally-sourced
  - Live music on Thursday nights

Dining     Bars + Baristas     Westport    
Thursday, March 06, 2014 • Permalink

Have Kids, Will Discipline

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I prefer the term “discipline” to “punish.” It seems more humane, as though my goal is to tease good behavior from my bunch of miscreants rather than to exact vengeance upon them. Semantics aside, once they hit the four-year mark the gloves come off.

Once (maybe twice) I swore at my collective of tiny people. I know parents shouldn’t swear at their kids but, in my defense, they totally deserved it. Unintended consequence: instead of improving their behavior they learned several new phrases to share with friends. So I kind of get how cursing is frowned upon.

Incentives like star charts don’t work for us. Last time I did it, two of my kids were too young to read well so they had no clue what I wrote. I drew pictures of “Make Your Bed” and “Brush Your Teeth,” etc. But that led to a lengthy and joyless critique of my skill as an artist.

Then they meandered upstairs and played with toys while I screamed at them to brush their teeth. Thirty minutes later they wandered downstairs and demanded a star. Instead of acting on my borderline-illegal impulse, I gritted my teeth and applied a star each to their empty boxes. I mean, why not? I knew, correctly, it’d be the last star they ever earned.

Why this fruitless exercise? I read that parents – especially mothers - should revel in their child’s achievements and tactfully admonish them for their misbehavior, i.e. “Sally, what a great job cutting with Mommy’s new kitchen scissors! Not sure how you got them, but next time let’s make sure Billy’s hand isn’t in the way. It’s not fun for Billy and blood is messy… it’s making mommy nauseous… a little faint. But YAY for such a clean incision!”

Obviously, the man who wrote this pearl of wisdom is too busy writing books and star charts to spend time at home raising kids. If he were, he’d know that any practice discouraged by Children’s Services is far more effective than the nebulous prospect of 15 shiny stars and a sugar-free lollipop.

And where, exactly, did moms get overlooked in all of this? We’re supposed to bury any negative feeling, any semblance of emotion other than delight, and keep looking to the rainbow while the hurricane annihilates our sanity? Nah. I try, but I lack the self-restraint. If a kid draws on my sofa with a Sharpie, my instinct isn’t to praise them for their creative use of mediums and replenish their stash of drawing paper. My gut tells me to yell and impose a lifetime ban on video games and dessert. Or worse. (Note to Children’s Services: I’m kidding. It never gets worse than that.)

Click to read the rest ... "Have Kids, Will Discipline"

Kids in Tow     Darien     Fairfield     Greenwich     New Canaan     Norwalk     Stamford     Weston     Westport     Wilton    
Monday, March 03, 2014 • Permalink

JoyRide Indoor Cycling Studio

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Photo by Julianne Mulvey

25 Old Kings Highway North, Darien
1200 Post Road E, Westport
62 Danbury Road, Ridgefield

I love JoyRide.

Robin’s Note: Before JoyRide, I couldn’t stand indoor cycling. Spin classes at my cheap gym left me cold: humid concrete room, extended remix of “Rocking the Casbah,” and sweaty male bodies inches from my face. The instructor invites us to “crank up the resistance to 10 while you feel the stress of your day leave your body.” Sure enough, the stress of my day leaves my body and is replaced by the stress of sensory torment, sore muscles, and claustrophobia.

So on my list of “things I want to do,” JoyRide hovered between “cage-free swim with sharks” and “charity surrogate for sextuplets.”

In short, I wasn’t their target market.

But despite these obstacles, JoyRide has made a spinner of me! The spin room is spacious and blessedly well-ventilated, and the music selection is well-balanced, upbeat, and energetic. While each instructor has his/her own style, they all tease a hard-core work out of everyone by managing expectations, focusing on fun, and inspiring cyclists to, literally, burn their b*tts off.

Click to read the rest ... "JoyRide Indoor Cycling Studio"

Look Good     Feel Good     Darien     Westport    
Friday, February 28, 2014 • Permalink

Margarita Man

Margarita Man, Fairfield

Margarita Man
Mike Beetem, 860-790-1234

Every year my husband and I celebrate Mexican Independence Day with a large party. Being American, we change their day of freedom to whatever happens to work best for us, typically a Saturday night. So “Cinquo de Mayo” cheekily becomes “Secondo de Mayo” or “Octavo de Mayo” or whenever (and however we feel like translating it.) We think this is cool but it will probably be one of those dorky things that haunt our children far into their adult lives.

So when the stress of planning a party and knowing you’ll someday destroy your children’s social development starts becoming less fun than what you envisioned, it’s time to call… Margarita Man!

Margarita Man, aka Mike Beetem, saved my party and made me so happy I forgot about the other stuff that was bothering me. I simply told him when and where and he delivered a beautiful machine – all gussied up in a grass skirt and silk flowers – the afternoon of my party. He supplied the delicious mix, I supplied the tequila and the triple sec. After giving us a quick tutorial (1. Pour it in, 2. Flip the switch) he told us he’d pick up the machine the next day (which he did, precisely when he said he would).

And the party? WOW. Nothing says “Viva la Independence!” like one too many Margarita Man margaritas!

Click to read the rest ... "Margarita Man"

Bars + Baristas     Entertainment     Darien     Fairfield     Greenwich     New Canaan     Norwalk     Stamford     Weston     Westport     Wilton    
Monday, February 10, 2014 • Permalink

Brandy Melville

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375 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich
142 Main Street, Westport
http://www.brandymelvilleusa.com

I tend to dismiss teen apparel shops for the cheesy, over-priced, slutty clothes. So I’m always flummoxed when I find myself in one of their fitting rooms trying to yank their leggings over my… well, you get the picture. And so it was with Italy-based Brandy Melville when they rolled into town.

Sure, they have the requisite barely-there tops and crotch-grazing skirts. But their sweatshirts and oversized-tops are super-comfy and flattering, their jewelry is cute and cheap, and their suede fringe backpack is pretty cool. Quality’s decent, too.

Robin’s note: Their “One Size Fits Most” policy is a tad distressing. I mean, with pants the girth of a garden hose, I assume “most” refers to the population of Somalia. Before blazing American frontier their policy was “One Size Fits All.” So when they get a toehold in the midwest it’ll probably be “One Size.”

Their specialty: Loose-fitting tops, angora sweaters, and tight bottoms.

What you should buy: Sweatshirts and over-sized tees, jewelry for teen gifts.

What you may not know but should:
  - All materials are eco-friendly.
  - Sororities are encouraged to schedule private shopping nights in any location.
  - Yes, everything is “One Size Fits Most” and has been for the past 30 years.

Fashion     Greenwich     Westport    
Tuesday, February 04, 2014 • Permalink

Terrain

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561 Post Road East, Westport
http://www.shopterrain.com

I love a crumbling old car dealership as much as the next person, but converting it into a spectacular greenhouse/café full of artisanal gewgaw and gardening supplies is, like, preferred. So thank you to Urban Outfitters’ newest eco-friendly retail venture, Terrain! Suddenly my friends have kitchens full of terrariums (!) and I have a rare strain of Czech apple tree trying to pop out fruit in my back yard. 

Robin’s note: A lot of the items may seem pricey. Because they are, there’s no getting around it. But most items are made in small batches by local artists and entrepreneurs from sustainable or reclaimed resources.

Their specialty: Terrariums, organic health and beauty products, hard-to-find plants, and gardening tools.

What you should buy: Terrariums and interesting plants.

What you may not know but should:
  - The outside walls and windows are salvaged from the Philadelphia navy yard.
  - On Saturdays you can enjoy free samples from the cafe, musicians, and artists.
  - Their website includes cafe recipes and DIY project instructions, so you can try to “make it yourself” before giving up and buying it.

Home + Garden     Westport    
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 • Permalink

Post 154

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154 Post Road, Westport


As recently as two years ago, I stood in line in the Post 154 building* in late December with three heavy boxes, two whining kids, and a migraine in a pear tree. So sipping a cosmo in roughly the same area is oddly satisfying, like yelling in a library after-hours or muttering inaudible threats to DMV workers.

While the space is lovely and conveniently located, the Latino-Italian-Portuguese fusion fare – many small plates and large plates - is inconsistent. Some love it, some don’t. But the bar is large, the atmosphere is inviting, and the mood is festive.

* Westport’s old post office.

Robin’s note: The drinks, like the lines at the post office, vary with each order.

Who you’ll see eating here: Families with tween kids, couples 35-65 years old, groups of women and men.

Their specialty: Golden Corn Bisque, Duck Confit Taquitos, Portuguese Octopus

What you should order: Heirloom Tomato Salad

What you may not know but should:
  -  Happy hour lasts from 3:00-6:00 M-F, with drink and appetizer specials.
  -  On Friday nights their house band “Swirl” does just that.
  -  The outdoor terrace, cold and creepily deserted in the winter, is lovely in the summer.

Dining     Bars + Baristas     Westport    
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 • Permalink

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