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Photo: Suzanne and John’s Mom.
Remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lines, “By the rude bridge that arched the flood …”? A nonprofit news site named after this bridge will expand on a local-news trend led by the
Texas Tribune.

Hope is coming for one of the cornerstones of democracy, local journalism. Nowadays, it looks like the for-profit model ends in acquisitions, hedge fund ownership, and generalized stories that can be plugged into any town. Which is why we are seeing more nonprofit efforts for community news.

Margaret Sullivan writes at the Washington Post that if local journalism manages to survive, we need to “give Evan Smith some credit for it. The Texas Tribune founder has been a ‘true pioneer’ in finding ways to cover local communities as a nonprofit.

“When Evan Smith co-founded the Texas Tribune back in 2009, digital-first nonprofit newsrooms were something of a rarity. There was ProPublica, only two years old at the time, MinnPost in Minneapolis, the Voice of San Diego, and a few others.

“So his move from top editor of the award-winning Texas Monthly magazine, at the urging of venture capitalist John Thornton, was considered slightly bizarre.

“ ‘The tone of the coverage was almost mocking,’ Smith recalled last week, soon after he announced he would step down as the Tribune’s CEO at the end of this year. ‘It was, “What does this joker think he’s doing?” ‘

“As it turns out, Smith and company — he and Thornton recruited Texas Weekly editor Ross Ramsey to join the endeavor — had a good idea of what they were doing, or figured it out along the way.

“The Austin-based Tribune has grown from 17 employees to around 80 (more than 50 are journalists), raising $100 million through philanthropy, membership and events, including its annual Texas Tribune Festival that has attracted speakers including Nancy Pelosi and Willie Nelson.

Most important, it has done a huge amount of statewide news coverage with a focus on holding powerful people and institutions accountable.

“These days, such newsrooms are springing up everywhere; there are now hundreds of them. They are easily the most promising development in the troubled world of local journalism, where newspapers are going out of business or vastly shrinking their staffs as print revenue plummets and ownership increasingly falls to large chains, sometimes owned by hedge funds.

“In Baltimore, the Banner — funded by Maryland hotel magnate Stewart Bainum — is hiring staff and expects to start publishing soon. In Chicago, the Sun-Times is converting from a traditional newspaper to a nonprofit as it merges operations with public radio station WBEZ. And in Houston, three local philanthropies working with the American Journalism Project (also co-founded by Thornton) announced a $20 million venture that will create one of the largest nonprofit news organizations in the country.

“ ‘These newsrooms are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm,’ Smith, 55, told me. …

“As a speaker at Trib Fest myself, I’ve seen Smith in action — a promotional force of nature, energetic organizer, prodigious fundraiser, and lively onstage interviewer.

“Emily Ramshaw, who started at the Trib as a reporter and was named its top editor in 2016, called him ‘an innovator, a ringleader and a fearlessly ambitious local news entrepreneur.’ What’s more, she told me, Smith has brought along ‘a whole series of news leaders who have grown up in his image.’

“Ramshaw counts herself among them; she left the Trib in 2020 to found a new nonprofit news organization, the 19th, which covers the intersection of gender, politics and society.

“The Trib’s new editor is Sewell Chan, most recently at the Los Angeles Times, where he was the top opinion-side editor, and previously at the New York Times and the Washington Post. Smith considers it a triumph for nonprofit newsrooms that it’s no longer unusual for them to attract the likes of Chan, or of Kimi Yoshino, who was managing editor of the L.A. Times before being named editor in chief of the Baltimore Banner. …

“The Trib’s journalism is influential well beyond its own free website. More than 400 Texas Tribune stories appeared on the front pages of newspapers throughout the state last year, provided free of charge. The site has done investigative projects on the effect of sex trafficking on young girls, the influence of religious belief on the lawmaking of Texas legislators, and an investigation, part of its voting rights coverage, into the state’s review of voting rolls. In 2019, it announced it was joining forces with ProPublica to form a new investigative unit based in Austin. …

“With local news outlets withering in many communities — statehouse coverage, in particular, has dwindled despite its importance — and democratic norms under attack in many states, the need for that kind of watchdog reporting is acute everywhere.” More at the Post, here.

Another nonprofit news site will launch locally in fall, The Concord Bridge. Hooray. A world for which the “embattled farmers” fought doesn’t have to be merely aspirational. Neither does good local journalism.

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Photo: Capital Canvas Prints.
Salt Lake City, Utah.

Our local paper is owned by a national chain, Gannett, that cares nothing about our town. It prints generic articles from national outlets like USA Today or towns in other parts of New England and doesn’t get around to printing the library’s schedule or candidate letters until the events are over. Once in a while, it covers a controversial meeting or interviews a school coach — exceptions that prove the rule.

So I was not surprised to learn that a group of prominent citizens, including an experienced journalist, is working to establish a nonprofit competitor here. This is not unheard of. Today’s article from NiemanLab describes one successful effort to save local journalism, only in this case, the nonprofit board built on an established newspaper.

As Sarah Scire wrote last November, “The Salt Lake Tribune has plenty to celebrate in 2021. The first (and so far only) major newspaper to become a nonprofit is financially sustainable and, after years of layoffs and cuts, is growing its newsroom. Executive editor Lauren Gustus announced the news in a note to readers in which the relief of escaping hedge fund ownership was palpable.

“ ‘We celebrate 150 years this year and we are healthy,’ Gustus wrote. ‘We are sustainable in 2021, and we have no plans to return to a previously precarious position.’

“It’s been quite the turnaround. Utah’s largest newspaper escaped the clutches of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital in 2016 only to see its local owner, Paul Huntsman, lay off a third of staff two years later in the face of plunging ad revenue. In 2019, the Tribune made history as the first daily newspaper to become a nonprofit. And then amid the height of the pandemic last year, the Tribune ended a 149-year run of printing a daily newspaper and a 68-year-old joint partnership with the Deseret News. …

Gustus pointed out that hundreds of American newspapers are owned by financial institutions with a well-deserved reputation for making every newspaper they touch worse by gutting newsrooms, selling off assets, and jacking up subscription prices for readers.

“Gustus herself joined the Tribune from McClatchy (owned by a hedge fund) and spent years at Gannett (once managed by one hedge fund, and now deeply in debt to a different one). …

“The Salt Lake Tribune’s transition to nonprofit status has been closely watched in the news industry. Does that put additional pressure on Gustus and the rest of the Tribune team? ‘The opportunity for us to prove that this can work is significant and so is the responsibility,’ she said.

“The Tribune grew its newsroom 23% in the last year and will add new reporting roles focused on education, business, solutions journalism, food, and culture in 2022. Gustus also expects to follow the Utah News Collaborative (launched in April to make the Tribune’s reporting available to any news organization in the state) with more multi-newsroom projects centered on saving the Great Salt Lake and the centenary of the Colorado River Compact.

“Other changes include introducing six weeks of paid parental leave and a 401(k) match for employees. In response to readers who said they missed the ‘daily drumbeat‘ amid the weekend edition’s in-depth reporting, the newsroom will publish an e-edition to accompany the Sunday paper. They’re also introducing a second printed edition — delivered by mail, rather than carriers — on Wednesdays at no additional cost to subscribers.

“The Salt Lake Tribune draws revenue chiefly from subscriptions, donations, and advertising. … Subscribers pay for a digital subscription ($80/year), while ‘supporting subscribers’ ($150/year) add a donation on top. In the donations category, members of The First Amendment Society pledge to donate at least $1,000/year for three years while major donors provide one-off gifts and grants.

“The Tribune has about 6,500 supporting subscribers, more than 50 members of its First Amendment Society, and dozens of major donors. (In a bid for transparency, The Tribune forbids donations over $5,000 to be anonymous. You can see the full list here.) Gustus stressed that consistency of support is invaluable.

“ ‘We are so grateful to them [supporting subscribers] because it enables us to plan.’ …

“Gustus says that being ‘relatively lean’ — the newsroom currently stands around 33 reporters, with a handful of open positions — sometimes lends itself to some unusual experiments. The Salt Lake Tribune’s NBA beat writer, Andy Larsen, told his sizable Twitter following he wanted to get 500 new subscribers for the Tribune by the end of the year.

“Larsen had to clarify that this was his own idea and not something his bosses were making him do. … Roughly 24 hours after his first tweet, the thread had earned the Tribune 82 new subscribers. In November, roughly halfway through the self-assigned challenge, Larsen said that number had grown to 294 new subscribers.

“ ‘Andy is a gift to Utah,’ Gustus said, noting that Larsen wrote a popular column that dug into Covid data in the state when professional basketball ground to a halt. ‘He has really taken his curiosity and run with it.’

“Looking ahead to 2022, Gustus was brimming with ideas for the newly-enlarged newsroom. The Tribune will continue to investigate the dark history of Indigenous boarding schools in the state, start a conversation about the long-term impacts of children being educated during the pandemic, address water resource issues, and make sure readers have the information they need to vote in November elections.

“Gustus says The Salt Lake Tribune will also be wrestling with what it means to be a nonprofit news organization, beyond its official 501(c)(3) tax status.

“ ‘2021 has been all about finding stability for the Tribune,’ Gustus said. ‘We are so happy to say we’ve arrived in that spot and we don’t want to go back to where we were.’ “

More at NiemanLab, here, and at the newspaper’s website, here.

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Photo: Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Italy formally recognizes that newspapers are essential services.

The demise of newsprint has been exaggerated. Newspapers are still needed. Not only did one in Australia — partly as a joke — print some blank pages with dotted lines for making your own toilet paper, but in Italy newspapers have now been characterized as “essential” services.

Luiz Romero reports at Quartz: “As it became increasingly clear earlier this week that the Italian government would announce even more stringent measures to combat coronavirus, in a country that already faces extraordinary restrictions, a debate began to brew over what should be left open and what should be forced to closed. Places that sell food and medicine would have to keep functioning, but what about the edicole—the small shops that sell newspapers and magazines, and that still exist in the thousands in Italy?

“On Wednesday (March 11), Carlo Verdelli, the director of Repubblica, one of the two largest newspapers in the country, alongside Corriere, published a note arguing that newsstands should be added to the list of essential services that was being prepared by the government. …

“Here, like everywhere else, newsstands are disappearing. They went from 18,400 to 14,300 during the 2010s—a number that  includes those that also sell souvenirs for tourists. Excluding them, the real number of newsstands in Italy is estimated to be around 5,000. Still, Italians like to read newspapers. Almost a third of the population gets its daily news in print. …

“After some debate, and as the number of cases continued to spike, the government finally took a decision. Everything had to close except what it deemed essential services—food stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and factories. … Newsstands were also allowed to keep going. …

“In Milan, newspaper vendors are proud of what they do. Rosi Varezza, who operates a small but busy newsstand, explained that papers are essential for elderly readers, who are most at risk from the outbreak. Clients buy newspapers for habit, but also to get information they deem more trustworthy; to go deep into subjects they consider important; and to hear the news delivered from specific voices—columnists that have informed them for decades. …

“Newsstands are even registering a small bump in sales. That was clear in Milan. In a busier newsstand, near a major shopping street here, I had to wait to pay for the newspaper. And when my turn came, I had to ask my questions quickly. The newsagent was impatient, answering with short sentences, and insistently looking over my shoulder. A line was forming.” More at Quartz, here.

In my own case, I have always read articles more deeply if they are in print. And in my semi-isolation, I look forward to the paper delivery every day and read more sections than usual. You?

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Photo: Tom Goldman/NPR
Reporters at rural Oregon’s profitable
Malheur Enterprise keep the news flowing while other local papers nationwide are folding.

This morning I read that television is expanding like crazy, no end in sight. Wasn’t the internet supposed to kill off television? Wasn’t television supposed to kill off radio? It seems to me that new technologies don’t necessarily destroy everything that went before the way cars destroyed horse-drawn carriages. It all depends on whether the old technology finds a new way to meet needs that still exist.

Consider local newspapers. Many are folding — and it’s definitely scary because that’s where big stories often break. But there’s still a need for local news, and I think someone will fill it. In rural Oregon, a small newspaper survived and became profitable by hiring a salesman and improving quality.

Tom Goldman at National Public Radio (NPR) has the story.

“The Malheur Enterprise was founded in 1909, and, like many other newspapers, was languishing. But in the past few years, its circulation has surged and it has won several national awards. … [It] has boomed in the past three years.

” ‘Boomed’ is a relative term when it comes to a rural weekly. Paid subscriptions are at about 2,000. But during a recent week, more than a third of Malheur County’s roughly 30,000 residents read the paper’s online edition. And advertising dollars, the lifeblood of a small newspaper, are way up.

” ‘Our overall revenue is more than triple what it was three years ago,’ says Les Zaitz, the paper’s editor and publisher. ‘Circulation is probably double. We’re profitable, and there are not a lot of papers in the United States that can say they’re profitable.’ …

“Zaitz, 63, was a longtime, award-winning investigative reporter for the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. But he has always had a passion for small-town papers. Which is why, in 2015, he tabled his retirement plans and bought the Enterprise with family members. The paper, at the time, was almost out of business. It was filled with gossip and press releases.

” ‘It wasn’t delivering much in the way of real local news,’ Zaitz says, adding, ‘[it] had one reporter who primarily focused on high school sports. … It had not had an ad salesperson in 10 years. … There was just no doubt in my mind that if we turned around the news product, and got a salesperson in, we could make the thing profitable pretty quick.’

“Sure enough, the Enterprise now is a serious, award-winning newspaper.

“This spring, the paper won a prestigious national Investigative Reporters and Editors award for its coverage of a case that rocked Malheur County. A man released from the state hospital after claiming he faked his mental illness was accused of killing two people after being freed. The Enterprise was the first weekly paper to win the IRE Freedom of Information award. …

“Reporter Pat Caldwell, who has been a journalist for 22 years, says Zaitz has transformed the way he works. ‘It’s all about detail,’ Caldwell says, ‘detail, detail, detail. Y’know? And why, why, why, why? Why are you doing this? Why is this happening? Who pays for it?’ …

“Zaitz has earned his readers’ trust with his devotion to bedrock principles of journalism. He acknowledges it also helps that he is one of them. His hands are thick from bucking hay and fixing barbed wire fences on his ranch about 100 miles outside Vale. But being on the inside doesn’t mean he and the Enterprise pander. … Enterprise reporting has angered local politicians. Some still don’t talk to Zaitz or his reporters.

” ‘Public officials who’ve evaded scrutiny for decades here aren’t very fond of us in some quarters,’ Zaitz says. ‘But the good public officials, those who are trying to do a good job, they recognize that we are doing our job and we are holding them accountable and we’re making them better governing officials. And they don’t object to that. Because we try to be accurate; we try to be fair. While they may have to salve the sting of a particular story, that sting wears off and they appreciate what we’re doing. …

” ‘Rather than worrying about what’s going on in journalism at the national level,’ he says, ‘let’s turn the periscope around and let’s rebuild from the small guy up. And I think that’s going to have more influence in the long run.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Ian Burrell has a funny story at the Independent about the Times of London deciding to create the old-tyme newsroom ambiance by piping in the sound of typewriters clacking. Goodness knows if the young people can concentrate, but it must make the guys with the green shades feel they’re in the right place.

“Almost as if the digital revolution never happened,” writes Burrell, “the newsroom of The Times once again resounds to the clatter of the old-fashioned typewriter.

“Nearly three decades after Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper publisher revolutionised the industry by moving to Wapping and ending the ‘hot metal’ era, his flagship title has reintroduced the distinctive sound of old Fleet Street.

“To the surprise of Times journalists, a tall speaker on a stand has been erected in the newsroom to pump out typewriter sounds, to increase energy levels and help reporters to hit deadlines. The audio begins with the gentle patter of a single typewriter and slowly builds to a crescendo, with the keys of ranks of machines hammering down as the paper’s print edition is due to go to press.

“The development, which was described as a ‘trial’ [in August] by publisher News UK, has caused some bemusement among journalists, one of whom tried unsuccessfully to turn the sound off. …

“The Times’s initiative coincides with a revival of interest in the typewriter, a trend which the newspaper reflected on Page 3 today, with a report on how the actor Tom Hanks has developed the Hanx Writer app, which simulates the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter and has gone to the top of the iTunes app store in the US. Hanks, it noted, can tell the difference between the sounds of an Olivetti, a Remington and a Royal typewriter model. …

“Michael Williams, who began his newspaper career at The Times’s old offices in London’s Gray’s Inn Road in 1973, and is now a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, saw merit in the idea.

“ ‘People feel to some extent disengaged from the thrill of producing a newspaper, which is galvanising,’ he said, referring to the relative quiet of modern newsrooms.”

More here.

Photo found at Gizmodo 

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No sooner had I posted yesterday about the NY Times story on how a high school parent’s complaint to the Humans of New York went viral, than I opened a link in twitter that was unexpectedly relevant.

A blog called NewsWhip was showing the real front page of numerous newspapers and then, “using NewsWhip Spike’s publisher view, which breaks out stories by social shares, place of publication and other details,” it showed what each front page would have looked like if the layout had been based on the articles most popular with online readers.

And the lead NY Times article for that day (below) would have been the one I blogged about last night.

If you go to NewsWhip, here, you can see similar reworkings of front pages. Lots of fun. I felt quite reassured that the most popular stories were not all about movie stars or gruesome accidents. When I go to online news, I make a point of refusing to click on those. I don’t want the content generator to keep featuring them, and maybe if no one clicks on junk news, they will stop highlighting it.

 Right, people-powered front page from the NewsWhip blog.

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When I was little, I liked to look at the cartoons in my parents’ New Yorker, and the ads, too if the pictures were interesting.

I loved the old ads for the Philadelphia Bulletin, in which one skinny, anxious guy in black, like a modern day Cassandra, tried to get people’s attention about something going wrong. Cassandra’s fate was to see the future and never be believed. His was never to be heard.

Usually what he saw was something that had me worried, too, like a shark coming onto the beach. I really couldn’t understand why all those beachgoers were reading the paper instead of paying better attention. On some level, I sensed that the ad might not hit its mark: it might make people wary of reading the Bulletin and maybe getting eaten by a shark.

My husband remembers those ads, too, and when we were reminiscing about them in a restaurant Saturday, he did some Googling and turned up the artist’s name and the cartoon below.

The cartoonist was Richard Decker. Wikipedia writes about him here.

From his obit: “Mr. Decker worked nearly four decades as a contract cartoonist at the New Yorker, starting with the magazine in 1929 and becoming well-known on its pages for his detailed cartoons and lush washes. …

“Those cartoons Mr. Decker crafted that did not appear in the New Yorker often found their way into such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Look, Colliers and Playboy.

“And over the years, he also did illustrations for advertising campaigns. Among the best known was a 28-year Philadelphia Bulletin series, which ran until the 1960s, that centered on the slogan, ‘In Philadelphia, nearly everybody reads the Bulletin.’ A major feature of the campaign was ‘Mr. Nearly’ – the only man around not reading the paper.” Decker’s full obit is here.

The cartoon character Mr Nearly is no more. But I can’t help hoping that sometime before his demise, someone heard his warnings.

Photo from the University of Pennsylvania

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When I was working at the newspaper in the early ’90s, beginners were often given the task of writing obituaries. Whether the family or the funeral home offered the information, the assignment was mostly a question of putting the obit in AP style and perhaps making a call to get a key detail. You didn’t often get a sense of the writer’s style in an obit.

Margalit Fox of the NY Times may be an exception.

“Dr. Peter Praeger, a heart surgeon who saved a man’s life and as a result wound up owning a gefilte fish company — and who as a result of that wound up starting a successful natural-foods company — died on Sept. 22 in Hackensack, N.J. He was 65. …

“Though the story of Dr. Praeger’s company — born of two rabbinical prognostications, any number of hairpin turns of fate and the transformative realization that man cannot live by gefilte fish alone — reads like something out of Sholem Aleichem, it began, no less, on a Christmas Eve.”

Dr. Praeger helped to save the life of a man on Christmas Eve and over time developed a friendship with the man’s brother-in-law, Rubin Unger, the owner of a struggling gefilte fish company. The family rabbi made a prediction: “Any surgeon smart enough to save his congregant’s life would be smart enough to save his congregant’s brother-in-law’s gefilte fish company.

“Dr. Praeger demurred: he was, after all, a surgeon, not a fish maven. Mr. Ungar persisted. …

“Who, in the end, can fly in the face of rabbinical foreordination?” asks the obit writer.

“ ‘It was like The Godfather,’ Dr. Praeger told the magazine New Jersey Monthly in 2007. ‘They pulled me into it.’ ”

At his death, Dr. Praeger was as well-known for the food company that emerged from the gefilte fish as for his surgical prowess.

More.

Photograph: Gefilte fish, which Dr. Praeger learned to like in time, http://chewonthatblog.com

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Asakiyume writes a blog I enjoy a lot, and this week she had an intriguing post on Jackie Ormes, generally considered the first female African American cartoonist. See examples of work by Ormes at Asakiyume’s blog, here.

According to wikipedia, Ormes (1911 to 1985), “started in journalism as a proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier, a weekly African American newspaper that came out every Saturday. Her 1937-38 Courier comic strip, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, starring Torchy Brown, was a humorous depiction of a Mississippi teen who found fame and fortune singing and dancing in the Cotton Club.”

The strip waxed and waned as Ormes pursued her many career interests, bur she always returned to Torchy.

“In 1950, the Courier began an eight-page color comics insert, where Ormes re-invented her Torchy character in a new comic strip, Torchy in Heartbeats. This Torchy was a beautiful, independent woman who finds adventure while seeking true love. …  The strip is probably best known for its last episode in 1954, when Torchy and her doctor boyfriend confront racism and environmental pollution. Torchy presented an image of a black woman who, in contrast to the contemporary stereotypical media portrayals, was confident, intelligent, and brave.”

Being a cartoonist seems harder than writing a blog. You not only need to find daily topics that interest you enough to dwell on, but you have to encapsulate them in a piece of art. Asakiyume sometimes illustrates her posts, but art is one thing you won’t find me doing here. (Unless maybe a collage.)

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We found a letter with a return envelope in a recent issue of our newspaper. The envelope wasn’t for a tip.

The newspaper delivery man was telling us, and his 629 other customers, a bit about himself and his work situation and asking how early we needed our papers.  He said that the delivery service for seven national and local papers was changing. Some some clients had always wanted their paper delivered before 5:30, but he was hoping people would let him know who could wait until 6:15. He told us he makes 7-1/2 cents per household. (I think there’s a song about 7-1/2 cents from the musical Pajama Game.) He referenced the cost of gasoline and car maintenance.

And then he told a story that is very common for generations of immigrants and Puerto Ricans (who are, of course, citizens but come to the mainland to provide a better life for their children).

“I am father to four children who are 11. 10, 6, and 4 … My wife and I decided to move to the Untied States 4 years ago finding a better quality of life for our family. I obtained my degree as a Licensed Electirician in Puerto Rico and my wife was a Nail Technician. When we arrived in the United States, we were faced with the hard reality that neither of our licenses were valid in the US. My wife and I decided to start our studies here, so that we can obtain once again our licenses and pursue a career in our field of study. Currently, in addition to my job as a Newspaper Delivery, I go to school every night — Monday through Thursday — and I have a second job, right after I finish newspaper delivery, as an electrician assistant, while my wife is both taking care of the children, and working as a Housekeeper at St Patrick Parish.

“Together, with hard work and dedication, we are able to cover all the expenses that come our way. We want to ensure that our children will learn by example to work hard to become self-sufficient and independent … . We hope God will provide us with good health and strength to be able to work each day so that our dreams can became a reality.”

Needless to say, I wrote him and said no hurry on the paper. My husband thought the letter really embodied what the season was about.

(I am always grateful for our comments. and if you tweet, consider following us @LunaStellaBlog1 on twitter.)

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