I got up early

I get up early almost every morning to see if anyone has published any of my work. My articles usually get published around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. It wasn’t yet dawn but the sky was beginning to get brighter. I grabbed a banana, a glass of vegetable juice and my laptop and headed for the back porch.

The air still had the nighttime crispness to it. The kind of freshness that you only get in the late summer/early fall. The birds hadn’t started their morning song yet but the crickets and frogs were going full tilt. I love hearing the crickets and frogs.

There were a few other sounds in my neighborhood, My a dog barking in the distance and the low quiet hum of traffic passing a few blocks away. The neighborhood was quiet until my neighbor started his car to go to work. Other than that it was fairly quiet and I was enjoying it. Our neighborhood is comparatively serene. A few of my neighbors are retired and they don’t have anywhere to go that early in the morning. I would say it is a sleepy little neighborhood.

 Another advantage to where I live is that you can’t get anywhere by driving through it. The only cars I see belong to residents and the people who are lost.

The light from the moon was augmented by the street light filtering thru the leaves of our maple tree.  Between the two sources, there was just enough light so I wouldn’t step on something. The leaves of the trees hadn’t started to turn yet, but I knew it would not be long before their stately mantle would be on the ground, being strewn about by the wind.

I watched a cat slink across my back yard, looking for a meal when it spotted me. It froze hoping I wouldn’t see it and stared at me, watching to see what I was going to do. When it decided I wasn’t a threat, it continued across my yard, under my fence and disappeared behind my neighbor’s house.

A cool breeze kissed my face and sounded the wind chimes I have on my back porch. Listening to the wind chimes is very soothing to me and we leave some of them out year round. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze brought the pungent odor of a skunk with it. The skunk wasn’t nearby so it was only a slight wisp of a smell though.

I’ve been trying not to listen to those people who are talking about the end of summer, trying to pretend they are wrong, that these long, lovely days will never end. But in the early mornings, I can smell, hear and feel fall coming.

It is still light out enough evenings to fool us all into thinking that we have more time. And my wife and I will delay dinner until 7 p.m., to take advantage of that time. Playing cards outside until dark, but then we have to move inside until bedtime. Gone are the nights sitting on our porch swing until 10 o’clock.

Very soon it’s going to be time to change the clocks. Finally the clock in my car will be right once again. I never did learn how to set that damned clock. How does the axiom go? Is it fall back or fall forward? We must have 12 to 15 clocks that will need resetting: vehicle clocks, alarm clocks, a clock radio, the clock on the stove, clock on our phone and one on the microwave. The list seems endless and that’s just downstairs. It’s an all-day job. Everything else resets itself.

As I think about it, I am retired with nothing to do, why do I need so many clocks? The only room in my house that doesn’t have a clock is my bathroom. I get up when I am awake, eat when I am hungry and go to bed when I am tired. But I digress.

These late summer days won’t last long, I know that. The older grandchildren have gone off to college and the younger ones will be back at school before long. They won’t be spending all day with us like they did over the summer, until the next school vacation.

The leaves will soon start turning a kaleidoscope of colors signifying the shorter days and longer nights. Soon, I’ll all be switching the position of the lawn mower and the snow blower in our garage.

But that’s all for later. Right now is a good time to put off whatever it is you wanted do inside until after dark, step outside and just smell the air. Soon we won’t be able to breathe the fresh air outdoors without bundling up against the cold.

So, step outside. Look at the trees, look at the sky, and enjoy the scents of late summer. Take advantage of the daylight and walk through a park if you can — or just walk around the block. Fire up the grill, cook the last few hot dogs of summer and eat your dinner outside.

But, as we all know, these days won’t last forever. Winter is coming, with its cold winds, snow, icy roads and slick sidewalks and then it will be time to put on our boots and snow tires. Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport NY.

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Reading to your child

There are many reasons to read to your child. Reading to your child, shows them that they are important to you and can open their eyes to the wonders of the world without them having to leave the comfort of your home. When you read to your child, your child learns how those letters on the pages stand for specific sounds and form words.

Reading has always been one of my favorite things, so I am not surprised that I enjoyed reading with my children. When I was in High School, I didn’t work very hard. I was a solid C student. In History class they made a mistake seating me next to a bookshelf filled with old Readers Digests. I spent all class reading them, cover to cover.

My wife is also a reader.  Every week she would trudge to the library with a tote bag full of books that she had read. She would then spend an hour or more refilling her bag and walk home. I decided to make her love of reading easier on her so I bought a Kindle for her. I was able to find a few sources for free books online. I have managed to get her hundreds of books, enough to fill her needs. When her first Kindle wore out, I had to go get her another one.  Some people have their cell phone by their side at all times. My wife is like this with her Kindle. 

When my son was very young, I would read to him regularly. Before he even went to kindergarten he would read the newspaper to me while I had my morning coffee. We would discuss words he didn’t know so he would understand what he was reading. I also helped him with annunciation. By the time he was five years old, he was an excellent reader.  I attributed this to the reading we did together.

Reading to your children is a worth your time. Snuggling up with them and a book is valuable quality time. Every parent is thier child’s first teacher. There are things you end up teaching your children without knowing such as how to hold a book, which direction to turn the pages and how the letters on the pages combine to form words.

If children want to jump ahead or simply hear the plot line when you are reading with them, that’s fine with me. They are learning, even if you’re not trying to teach them something. Let your kids take the lead and guide you through the tempo of the story sometimes. There is also room for kids to multitask. Let your kids color, play with Legos or action figures, while you read to them. You may be pleasingly surprised by how much they are listening to you.

We have always read to the children in our care. When my son was in elementary school, I was working second shift and didn’t see much of my children. I always encouraged them to read though. I used to let my son pick a book and I dictated it into a cassette recorder as a bedtime story. I would even tell him when it was time to turn the page. This never worked though. He and one of his buddies would rush home from school throw their jackets and back packs on the floor and rush upstairs to his bedroom to listen/read the day’s story. He is now an avid reader and has instilled this in his eight year old twin sons.

We have a great problem with the twins reading when they have to do something. They will have their noses buried in books and sometimes I don’t even think they hear us call them the first three times. Most parents would kill for such a problem.

We have to save the Sunday funnies for them every week end and they read them on Monday when they see us. Each week during the summer, Donna would take them to the library and check out a bag of books. They would pore over the books throughout the week, and I loved all the different places I would find them reading, draped over the recliner, under the dining room table or lying on one of the beds in the spare bedrooms.

My eight year old grandsons like reading manga. From what I understand, when reading manga, the pages are turned in the opposite direction than you would reading a novel. The front of manga is the back cover. Dialogue, sound effects and narration, are likewise read backwards. You read the narration from the top right corner, moving down the left side. Panels in manga may seem to flow awkwardly. It is often left to the reader to decipher the order, as there is really no set way that the panels flow. Now they are teaching me how to read.

Having the ability to read helps students in school. Our children all went on to further their education and have good jobs. Now my grandchildren are attending college. I know we helped foster in them a love of reading. I hope they also pass it on to their children one day. I hope you read to your child too. Everyone benefits when you do.

Norb is an independent journalist and blogger from Lockport. He also blogs at WhyWNY.home.blog

Rejection:

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I am getting up for a glass of Pepsi when I get an email. Any writer, author, or journalist knows this email moment. The notice pops up in my inbox and my heart takes a wild, insane, roller coaster ride. First, my heart goes up, way, way up, as my expectations climb. Then, it plunges because I remember just how the deck is stacked against me. I open up my email and my eyes quickly scan, looking for the words, “pleased” or “unfortunately” or “we regret”.

It gets much easier though. I have gotten quite a few rejections. In fact less than half of what I have written has been published. I take pride in the fact I have learned how to isolate someone rejecting my work from someone rejecting me as a person. There are many, many reasons why an article might not be suitable for a newspaper, magazine or blog and not one of these has anything to do with me personally.

If I get a rejection email but it is encouraging and positive, it is even worse. Maybe, just maybe if I had just been just a little better at writing or if I had changed one word in my 900 word article, it would have been acceptable.

I would like to say who the hell cares, but I do. It’s about the constant fight to advance in my craft. If the newspaper had accepted my work, that would have been it. But, seeing as they didn’t, I’m back right where I was, without any hope that I am headed towards my goal of being a respected writer.

Well, this is the part of being an aspiring writer that is much worse than the movies show. This portion really hurts. But rejection is as much an element of being a writer as writing the words onto the page. It’s as much a component of being a writer as the late night editing and the early mornings doing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest marketing. This is as much a part of becoming a writer as is every submission or every query letter.

These are the writer’s baptisms by fire, and the hot coals we have to walk across in order to make this our vocations. I have to constantly sell myself and my writing. If it were simple, everyone would be a writer. Every person that took a creative writing class would be a writer for the Associated Press. Every kid who worked on his High School newspaper would now be writing for The Washington Post. But it’s not that easy. There isn’t any clear path to my goal, no directions.

Rejections just flat out suck. It might slow me down a bit and make me question whether writing is what I really want to do but rejections won’t kill me. It’s great to be a writer the days when the words just seem to flow. It’s awesome to be recognized also, whether it is on the street in a store or in a restaurant. It’s a rush when people ask me questions about my mysterious job, when they say they enjoy my writing.

It isn’t these trouble-free days that separate the weak from the strong, the successful from wannabes. It’s not about the stress-free days. It’s about the hard days where my work is rejected or the days when I get writer’s block. No one told me the life of a writer was going to be painless. But, if I’m still standing at the end of the day, it might just be worth it.

I can’t allow my emotions to get the best of me when I receive those inevitable rejections. So I pick myself up and try again. I question, I edit and I resubmit. It’s just not about me. Those who are rejecting me are making decisions based on my commercial marketability. My personality and personal life play a very, very small part in getting published.

I don’t waste any energy anymore being angry or holding a pity party for myself. I have been to this rodeo before. I still go through rejection, but it’s healthier for my well-being and self-esteem to concentrate my energy on taking the feedback positively and utilizing the information someone gives me to grow and enhance my writing style. To focus on being a better writer.

I work on trying to hone my skills every day, writing and rewriting and rewriting again, reading the periodicals I want to work for to learn their focus and slant on the issues.

In all honesty, being published is an adrenaline high for me, an ego boost. I set my sights high and have my goals. I have to show my passion for writing and be courageous enough to bare my soul. I have to have confidence in my talent but also be willing to learn if I want a successful writer.

So I know the skyrocketing heart rate is normal when opening an email. It’s a very challenging journey that I am on. I can tell you from experience, it is well worth it. But hey, I’m 71 and have nothing to lose, so I continue learning the writing craft. And the best thing is, I will have something concrete to leave my children and grandchildren, yay!

I am a freelance journalist from Lockport.

I tend to write much more than I need to

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I tend to write much more than I need to, but when I can’t write or get published it’s a very distressing feeling. A good day is when I get articles published in multiple places. My mind tends to become dependent on writing and seems to build up a tolerance to being published.

I find myself writing all day, late into the night and sometimes get up at five in the morning so I can write again. But I do catch myself nodding off in my recliner with my laptop in my well…. lap in the afternoon and early evening. Go figure.

I was nominated for the “Survivor of the Year” for the “Relay for Life” one year and accepted. One of my duties was to give a speech. I started out by writing a speech about my personal involvement with cancer and it was exciting. I felt I needed a hook to engage the audience so I started with humor.

I read my speech out loud for a week so I could get the cadence, mannerisms and inflection down and the day of Relay I was ready.

I went onstage with a thick pile of paper and thought I could feel the unarticulated groan from the people there. At this point I felt I was my plan was working. I dropped the papers on the floor and with great flourish and picked them all up clumsily.

At this point I heard a few muffled giggles. Nobody really knew at this point if I was doing stichk or not. After I composed myself I looked down at the papers and said “I wish to thank the academy, the Hollywood foreign press……” by now there was more quiet laughter but everybody was trying to be polite at this point, still not knowing if this was a comedy routine or a bumbling idiot.

I knew I had had set the hook and I was now ready to reel them in. I then looked up and scanned the crowd and said “Oops wrong speech” and everybody laughed. At that point I had their attention and I read the piece I had written for the occasion. A few people came up to me later and told me that it was the best speech they had ever heard. The heart pounding feeling this gave me made me want more and I thought to myself “I can do this”.

Up until then, I hated writing. Ninety percent of the things I had to write for a school assignment were written on the school bus on the day they were due. No sense in wasting time if we were going to have a snow day and school was going to be closed that day.

I started writing shortly after Relay I would write about about personal experiences, marriage and my thoughts on driving safety, volunteering and mandatory retirement. I would then submit them to local newspapers, hoping to get published.

After a few of them picked up my work, I started writing about more “hot ticket” issues. Issues that affect us as a city, a state and as a country. These included things that are driving us apart like education, the Vietnam War, the border wall and nuclear power. I got some fans and had some very passionate adversaries complaining about these columns. We all have opinions but I felt I had at least opened the lines of communication.

But writing isn’t successful unless someone is actually reading what you write. I know that it is important in America that we talk to one another about the walls that divide us as a country. That even if we disagree we must have civil discussions about that which comes between us. Any attempt to prevent this is censorship, pure and simple.

I am now being published regularly in three print newspapers, in three online magazines and have had my work published in at least 10 other places.

The First Amendment guarantees “Freedom of the Press” which is the right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the government. Private entities however can censor the hell out of anything you write and you have, as a reader, the right to read and comment on a piece or just not read it at all. It’s no wonder I love this country.

In closing let me say,
Free Speech – Good.
Censorship – Bad.

We all have our own view points but please let us just discuss them respectfully.

Christmas traditions

Image result for free christmas tree on top of car

I have written about family traditions before, this time I would like to share a few Christmas traditions from my past and a few that my children, grandchildren and I practice today.

My memories of Christmas as a young boy took place at 496 Berkshire Avenue, Buffalo. About a week before Christmas, we would go shopping for a tree. It had to be a long needle fir tree and it had to be symmetrical without any bare spots, nothing else would do. We would sometimes have to go to several Christmas tree lots that popped up on every vacant piece of land in the city. We would then tie it on the roof of our car and take it home like some kind of hunting trophy and I guess it was. It would spend a few days trussed up like a bird being prepared for cooking by on our front porch awaiting it’s role in our house.

The dining room table was disassembled and put in my sister’s room to make room for the Christmas tree. Once the Christmas tree lights were untangled, which sometimes took quite a bit of time, they had to be tested. My father was the only person allowed to put these on the tree. My mother would supervise and my father would have to swap bulbs until no two adjacent bulbs were the same color. We would then decorate the tree with all kinds of ornaments, both store bought and homemade. The final decoration would be “icicles” made of thin ribbons of lead.

On Christmas Eve my brother and I would retire to our bedroom on the second floor where we would have a hard time falling asleep in anticipation of Santa Claus paying us a visit. For some reason or other Santa would wrap our presents in the Sunday comic pages. I always thought he had run out of wrapping paper and was surprised that he got the Buffalo Courier Express. I think my favorite toy that Santa ever brought me was a battery operated, walking robot with flashing lights and “sound effects” that I received one year.

Many years later, after I got married, Donna and I moved to Massachusetts while I was in the Navy. We had a small tree but we couldn’t afford many ornaments. We made do with what we had and what people gave us. One thing I did was affix a starfish to the top of our tree that a buddy Ed and I collected from a local beach and had dried in the basement of my apartment.

That was fifty years ago. We still have that starfish adorning our tree. This has developed into a family tradition. All of my children have a starfish of their own now that sit atop their tree. A few years ago I gave all of our grandchildren a starfish so when they are on their own they will remember us with this tradition.

According to an old German legend, if you find a bird’s nest in your Christmas tree you and your family will experience health, wealth and happiness in the coming year. Who can’t use some good luck like this?  We always have a bird’s nest in our tree and my daughter Liz has one in her tree also.

Other Christmas traditions our family has involve food. Every grandchildren gets to select, as part of their present a “Christmas” food from Nana and Papa. They have picked things like Ramen noodles, potato chips and whipped cream as some of their choices.

My son, Erik and his wife, Heidi also host a Christmas Eve dinner that starts with snacks during the afternoon, Olives and Pickles, Chips and dip, Buffalo chicken wing dip etc. Actually you could graze your way thru the afternoon and not need anything more.  But then they have a full blown meal in the evening. We can choose from a cold cut platter and rolls, Beef on weck, Beans, macaroni and pasta salads, regular salad and many other dishes. They also set out Christmas cookies and various other sweets. One year they offered us homemade marshmallows.

Just in case you didn’t have enough to eat, the following morning my oldest daughter, Liz had a Christmas day brunch at her house. We have Stuffed French toast, Breakfast sausage links, Potatoes, Muffins, Eggs, and many more things to eat. With all this food, I was ready for a nap.

After Brunch we would all settle into the living room with me in a recliner in front of her roaring fireplace to open presents. I love watching the eyes of Ian and Kaelen, the younger grandchildren, light up as they rip open the colorful wrapping paper and see what gifts they have received. What starts as a controlled afternoon quickly turns into chaos. It is wonderful having all our children and grandchildren under one roof on this day.

This year unfortunately, her house has been sold and she is temporarily staying with us. My youngest daughter, Dawn has offered up her house for Christmas brunch as long as in her words “I don’t have to cook”. Dawn serves a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner so I don’t blame her not wanting to also do Christmas, so I guess Liz will be spending time at her house cooking our meal.

It really doesn’t matter where we hold our holiday celebrations though, they could be held in my garage or a storage shed on Transit Road. It’s the people and the food, the conversation and the laughter that make this season important to me.

Norb is a writer from Lockport that has also lived in Buffalo and Massachusetts.

The printed media is under attack

For ages, books, magazines and newspapers, were revered for the enormous amount of information they contained. I can remember looking things up in the Encyclopedia Britannica when I was young. One summer I set the goal of reading everything that was in the encyclopedia. I’m pretty sure I never got through the second volume. In 2012, the company announced that the 2010 edition would be the last printed version. However, they were being replaced by their electronic “copies”. Reference books of all types are feeling the pinch caused by technology and the internet, from atlases to dictionaries to thesauruses.

I have a subscription to Time Magazine and it seems like a shell of its former self. There are just 68 pages in a recent addition and a large number of them are full page ads. The same thing seems to be going on with The Readers Digest that I receive every month. There are now a lot more ads than I remember with less content.

My wife is an avid reader and she has a kindle. That way she doesn’t have to lug around one or two large books. Her Kindle has well over a thousand books on it at this point. Every day I download free books for her off the internet. If she doesn’t like a book, she just deletes it. No muss, no fuss,and we haven’t wasted any money on it plus we save gas by her not having to drive to the library.

The newspaper industry has always had its ups and downs and the industry has survived previous slumps. I remember that television’s arrival in the early 1950s was supposed to predict the decline of newspapers’ prominence as most people’s source of daily news, I think sudden increase of the internet in the 1990s and the increased number of media choices available to the average reader has made this much worse. I feel the Internet has also gone further than television in eating away at the income of newspapers with Craig’s list, e-bay and other online sites that are available to sell your goods. I think the increasing use of internet search, primarily through large engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, has changed the habits of newspaper readers.

Buffalo News owner Warren Buffett wrote, “Simply put, if cable and satellite broadcasting, as well as the internet had come along first,newspapers as we know them probably would never have existed.” Since the beginning of 2009, the United States has seen a number of major metropolitan dailies shuttered or drastically pruned. Even the news magazine “Newsweek”, has ceased being published as a print magazine.

Since the end of January 2016, I have managed to get my writing published a number of times. I have gotten published in an online newspapers as the food columnist under the banner “Lovin Spoonful”. In that time, I have also seen one online publication and two of the print publications that I was writing for close. The Lockport Star has announced it closed in July 2016 and The Tonawanda Sun also announced it was closing in July. It appears that the Community Papers of Western New York has decided to discontinue publishing all of their small town papers. Readership of print newspapers has fallen by a staggering 25% in just the last four years.

I am now being published in 3 print newspapers and four online ones. I have a portfolio of my articles cut out of the newspapers and they seem much more real than the ones I print from my computer. If I wanted, I could put together on my computer, something that said I was published in the New York Times and I’m sure that anyone with basic word processor skills could do the same thing.

Maybe I am just old fashioned and behind the times, but the feel of a newspaper in my hands just seems right. I prefer having ink stained fingers to carpel tunnel. Sure, the newspaper might not be up to the minute but it sure beats those news bytes that you see scrolling across the bottom of your television screen. What does the statement “17 dead in Brazil” tell you? Was it a terrorist attack, a bus overturning or a meal of bad Shushi? There is no how,when or why and just leaves you not knowing what the heck is going on. I’m sure at least 17 people die in Brazil almost every day. Just knowing how many people died without giving us many more facts is useless.

It seems to me I have picked a bad time to try become a journalist.I hate to say it but the best way to reach me is on the internet at nrug@juno.com. My blog is at whywny.home.blog

Why I love writing

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I need a new drug, one that won’t make me sick. (Huey Lewis and the News)

What a rush it is writing for the Union Sun and Journal, my hometown newspaper. I discovered my love for writing when I was in my late 60s. I got my first opinion published in The Union Sun on January 29th 2016. Previous to that the only place you could find my rants, raves and writing was on Facebook.

I had a long dry spell after that where I didn’t get published anywhere until I found the Lockport Star. This was a weekly print newspaper and I got my first article with them published on the editorial pages on April 2nd 2016. I continued with the Lockport Star getting published regularly with opinions and also became the food columnist with them. I was still getting an occasional piece in the US&J but by then I had been bitten by the writing bug real bad.

On April 12th, I became a writer for The East Niagara Post, an online, independent news website published by Heather Grimmer. I signed a contract with them as their food columnist and could write whatever I wanted from restaurant reviews to recipes. Unfortunately the ENP shut down just a few short weeks after I signed on. I only managed to get 3 reviews published before they closed.

By July 16th, I had been published 25 times when I got picked up by The Sun, another weekly paper out of North Tonawanda, once again as the food columnist. About a week later, after I got one review published, the Sun was closed down by the parent company.

The Star was owned by the same company as the Sun and at first the Star thought they were going to stay open but they didn’t even stay open long enough for them to publish any more of my work. I was starting to see a pattern here.

I got published 6 more times in the US&J and then I got my first piece published in The Niagara Gazette.  I was now getting published occasionally in 3 places. The US&J, the Gazette and in the Sunday Lifestyles supplement. Nothing steady mind you but it was exciting nonetheless.

In September, I was published on the Opinion page of The Buffalo News. Another first for me. This was the fortieth time I saw my work in print.  I was now appearing in the US&J on a weekly basis. I also had an occasional appearance on the US&J sports pages. I have been published an additional 2 times in the News since then and I picked up a gig as the restaurant reviewer for the “Night and Day” supplement that is in the Union Sun and the Niagara Gazette on Thursdays. I get a review posted there about once a month.

Many of the pieces I write garner comments, many positive and a few negative. I still post in several groups on Facebook and have attracted quite a following, some from as far away as Oregon and Florida. I don’t save these comments, however the hand written letters that are sent to me I keep in a notebook along with all the articles that get published. I feel if someone takes the time to put pen to paper, it deserves to be archived. A piece I wrote on fruitcake last Christmas resulted in 5 of my readers locating some. They all bought the fruitcake they found and gave it to me. I appreciate that immensely. Next time though I will write about not being able to find gold bars.

By the end of 2016 I had been published 67 times. The 100th time I got published was in a blog called “Sweet Buffalo” by a blogger named Kimberly LaRussa.

I have written over 500 opinions, two of these were three word challenges. The first of these was when a friend said “Timing is everything.”  I challenged myself to take these three words and write an opinion, when I was done I had written a 750 word piece that was published in November of 2016. The second one was when an acquaintance challenged me to write an article based on the three words “Attitude is everything”. This resulted in a 755 word piece. I have penned over 90 restaurant reviews and have had my work published over 200 times so far.

I was also asked to write an article advocating the passage of a school budget referendum to get an artificial turf installed in the soccer field at the high school. This piece was published in both the Union Sun and the Gazette, by the way, it passed the referendum.

I am now published in six places three print and three online. I am looking for more regular gigs because I still haven’t run out of things to say. Writing is my new drug.