Happy New Year!

If you're not Jewish, the greeting sounds three months premature. But if you are Jewish -- celebrating the High Holy Days -- well, L'Shana Tova!

If it seems odd to celebrate a new year in the fall, well, the dead of winter isn't much more appropriate. Personally, I think the new year should begin each March or April -- when everything is new and fresh -- but my friends in Australia and New Zealand might object.

Whatever. Whenever a new year comes, it's a good time to reflect. We look back at the year gone by, take stock in the present, and prepare for whatever is ahead with optimism. Our positive outlook may last only an hour or so, but hey, we try.

The past year has brought many challenges -- economic, political, even meteorological. If you survived Tropical Storm Irene -- the hysterically predicted end-of-the-world doom, the actual flood surge, the post-storm outages and by-now predictable CL&P-bashing and apologies -- you feel pretty good.

Unless you live down by the beach, in which case you don't feel good. You got battered pretty badly. You had to contend with rubberneckers watching you suffer. And then you heard from a small group of Westporters who think you -- not the town -- should pay to rebuild the seawall that they nevertheless enjoy sitting on whenever the weather is nice.

You also are not feeling good if you're the Williams family. They're the Saugatuck Shores residents whose home was destroyed when the clamp on their sewer system's check valve failed the moment power was restored to the area following the storm.

Up to 9,000 gallons of sewage poured into their home. Neighbors helped shovel out the first floor -- but town officials and insurance agents have been much less help. Dan Williams says the sewer hookup should never have been installed with just one check valve. He and his family are now renting, elsewhere in Westport. They'll be there for months, as their house is rebuilt. Let's hope a resolution comes far quicker than that.

You may feel pretty good if you're a former resident of, employee of, or supporter of Project Return. The seven-bed facility on Compo Road North celebrated its 25th anniversary last weekend with a tribute to the many young women who have passed through its doors.

For a quarter century Project Return has been the go-to place for crisis intervention, conflict resolution, life lessons -- anything and everything that girls coming to Westport from difficult backgrounds need.

We don't often think about Project Return -- it's that farmhouse next to the Little League fields, if you're wondering -- but like so many other institutions in Westport that fly under the radar while helping our neighbors soar to unimagined heights, it's part of what makes this town a true community.

You might have felt pretty good, earlier this year, if you were Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead. The couple were beloved stewards of Wakeman Town Farm, the Cross Highway buildings and gardens where Westporters of all ages came together to learn about sustainable agriculture, local food sourcing, and so much more.

You might not have felt pretty good, though, if you were the Aitkenheads -- or one of their many devotees -- when the couple was more or less dismissed from the farm this summer. Teenage interns were devastated; gardeners were shattered -- and the entire concept of a town farm seemed ready to go to pot.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. There were enough meetings to fill a Senate calendar -- yet unlike in today's Washington, a solution was hammered out. Wakeman Farm now belongs to Westport -- putting the "town" back in "Town Farm" -- and the Aitkenheads will soon return.

Fundraising is nearly complete and a full slate of activities is on tap at the farm, right through the summer. It's a happy ending to what never should have been a sad story. In the end, thankfully, our community came through, in its own special Westport way.

There's plenty more to think about during this "New Year's" holiday. We're weathering the economic crisis pretty well, all things considered. Westport is not as bad off as much of the country. Of course, that doesn't help those who are. And one look at the dangerously low Gillespie Center food pantry reminds us that for many folks right here, the need is great.

We can look back on personal challenges and triumphs, family achievements and failures, all the tiny moments and grand events that make up a year. We can savor what's gone well, and vow to make better all that has not.

So, whether you're Jewish or not: L'Shana Tova! Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

And, less than three months from now -- in the dead of winter -- we'll do it all over again.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.