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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Before we fall off the fiscal cliff: Happy New Year!

Just want to take a moment to wish you, readers, a Happy and Healthy New Year.
Can’t believe the “holiday season” is over. I’m lucky; I get to celebrate all the Judeo-Christian holidays.
As a kid growing up in a kosher home in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, the only time I touched a Christmas tree ornament was when a friend who lived down the hall in the projects placed one in my hand. I promptly crushed it to bits, unaware of its fragility. Give me a sturdy menorah and eight nights of Hanukkah.
Culture shock set in as a teenager relocated to the rural/suburban Village of Voorheesville on the foothills of the Helderbergs. It wasn’t until then that I realized I was living in an essentially Christian country, and for the first time I felt very much the outsider. I found a sense of community in a Jewish youth group.
Fast forward a few decades: At SUNY Binghamton I fell in love with a Catholic with whom I’m still in love — with 34 years of marriage under our belt.
I lit the menorah — this year using the electric one my dad made — and the week before Christmas, put up a tree. One of my traditions is welling up as my son 23-year-old son Joe and I hang my most precious ornaments, the ones hand-painted by my mother-in-law, who died much too young at age 59. My favorite shows our house in winter with a 2-year-old David, who’s now 25, bundled up in a snowsuit.
Well, the religious holidays are over, and now it’s New Year’s Eve. That’s one we can all celebrate, right?
I’ll be heading out shortly for an evening with a couple who were married a week before us. We’ve welcomed in the New Year together for more years than I can remember, at parties, family get-togethers and foursomes. That’s another tradition I treasure.
I’m the first to make New Year’s resolutions and the first to break them. One that I’d like to keep is to make my husband happy by being on time. Let’s see if I can start with that right by being on time for New Year’s Eve.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Newtown shooting prompts Saratoga forum on guns and children safety

When something terrible happens, the impulse is to do something about it — to try to make sense of it, to learn from it, to turn it somehow into something positive.

The random acts of kindness springing up nationally and locally (thank you, Jenny Witte, whose mamatoga blog is also on, and others) are examples sparked by the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

The massacre has also generated much discussion about gun control and keeping children safe.

Pat Nugent, president of the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County, recognized this opportunity and has quickly organized what she hopefully describes as “a solution-based community forum to stop the bloodshed in and out of school.”

The Saratoga league, along with its Schenectady County counterpart and The Saratogian, are co-sponsoring a forum title, “For the Children: Keeping our Children Safe from Gun Violence in America.” Other leagues in the area may also become involved.

The forum is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24 at the Ballston Spa High School, 220 Ballston Ave., Ballston Spa.

“We wanted to hold this at a school,” Pat told me Friday.  

The league has positions about gun control, but the forum is not designed to push one point of view. Rather, the goal is for the session to be informative and helpful. What can we do, as citizens? And I am interested in the perceived role of the media and what that role ought to be.

Invited organizations will likely include the New York State Association of School Resource Officers, the state Parent Teachers Association, local mental health providers, and statewide League of Women Voters control control lobbyist, and representatives of the media.

Issues to be addressed will include what precautions are currently being taken in schools and any plans to intensify the effort; how parents are mobilizing and how the community can help; can the characteristics of the shooters be identified and the tragedies averted; what political action is needed; what should the role of the media be, and how can they “stop feeding the beast.”

The Saratogian and the leagues will provide more details as they become available at and Questions and suggestions may be addressed to or to me at

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Friday, December 14, 2012

A mother brings her 7-year-old home, safe, from Sandy Hook

I am turning my blog space over today to Sarah W. Caron, a former reporter for the New Haven Register (a sister paper of The Saratogian in the Journal Register Company/Digital First Media family). She is a freelance writer, editor and recipe developer. -- and the mother of a second-grader who survived today's massacre at the elementary school in Connecticut. I am glad your children are safe, Sarah. And I am so, so sad for all the families who were not so fortunate.

You never think that something horrific could happen to your community.
But it can.
Today, my Sandy Hook School community was shattered by a gunman who walked into the elementary school, opened fire and killed 28 souls.
My heart, my prayers, my thoughts go to the families.
When I heard about the shooting, I was sitting on my couch working with my daughter next to me.
Within seconds, I learned that it was my son’s school.
Shaking and sobbing, I frantically called family members, texted friends and reached out to my writing community for prayers. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
My son, Will, is 7 and a second grader at Sandy Hook School. When I saw him this morning in the Sandy Hook Fire Department, my heart burst. I was so grateful to be able to.
A friend had called and told me to go to the school. I went.
The scene was frantic. Parents dashing to the fire station where the kids had been moved to. Police, fire, FBI all trying to keep the scene under control. I frantically searched for Will, looking at the sea of tear-stained faces and children clinging to their moms.
He wasn’t in the first room.
My heart pounding, I headed to the other room and there I spotted him, his hands on his classmate’s shoulders to form a chain of children.
Minutes later, we were reunited.
“You came,” he said.
“Of course I did. As soon as I heard,” I told him.
As a parent, I am now faced with explaining this tragedy to my son and daughter, who attends afternoon kindergarten there. We’ve talked about people doing very bad things and making very bad choices.
We’ve talked a little about the people who lost their lives today.
There’s no shielding my kids from this, because this is our community, our school, our teachers and fellow students.
My husband and I are doing the best we can, answering questions and listening and Will remembers little details that no 7-year-old should ever have to recall.
I am thankful he listened when he was told to cover his eyes as he left the school.
Tonight, we are holding our children close, thanking God our family is home together. Our community is gathering at vigils tonight to pray for all who were lost today. We will come together.
As I hugged his teacher this morning, she whispered, “It’s OK. He’s OK.”
And I thank God for that.

‪Sarah W. Caron, a former New Haven Register reporter, is a freelance writer, editor and recipe developer.‬ Her column was provided by Digital First Media.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Are your arms long enough to read this Christmas list?

I shop downtown. Sometimes I pay more than I would somewhere else, sometimes not. Can’t brag about how great it is to live in Saratoga Springs without supporting the downtown that makes it so.
I also make pit stops at the big boxes for holiday shopping and household basics like linens and toaster ovens.
And while I search, research and sometimes make purchases online, I enjoy flipping through catalogues, a tactile treat that may not be long for this world. When it comes to perusing the sleek and utterly ridiculous, the Sharper Image is my favorite at-home catalogue, my on-the-ground version of the Sky Mall.
Consider these recent items:
For $349.99, you could own a “stylish leather ottoman (that) transforms into a bed in an instant.” This is the perfect extra mattress for when you want to send the message, “Get a hotel.”
For $99.99, you could own “the ultimate hidden camera” built into a pen. Slip this baby in your breast pocket, gentlemen, and you can shoot sound and video. And it writes, so you can hand out your phone number after you’ve impressed the ladies … or use it to sign for your phone while you’re being booked for harassment.
Too much time on your hands? Yet too busy to wind your own watch? Rather than wonder why you own a self-winding watch — or two — Sharper Image offers a “Dual Automatic Watch Winder” with an automatic motor in a “handsome leather case” for a mere $199.99. Reasonably priced, really, when you consider that includes an A/C adapter with battery backup.
My favorite is the “Full Page Magnifier Lamp” for all those whose arms are suddenly too short when trying to read mysteriously shrinking print. The illustration shows a page-size lighted magnifier attached to a goose-neck base. Only $79.99 for the floor model; $69.99 for the desk model. “If you’re holding the page farther and farther away each day…” begins the description. If you are, I can say from experience, it’s time for bifocals.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Police communication still a work in progress

Sexual assault is serious, and how the crime is handled and publicized are important to the community.
But a forum that took place Wednesday night, sparked by the police department’s inadequate reporting of a reported rape from early September, suggests the issue had already been dealt with ad nauseum by news coverage, public meetings and blogs. 
From where I’m sitting, though, there is plenty of room for improvement in the way crime news is reported from just about every law enforcement agency.
Wednesday's event was billed as a “conversation with local public officials, non-profit community groups and citizens about sexual assault in Saratoga Springs” which organizer Dale Willman of Saratoga Wire promoted as a way to “help begin the healing process in the community about this issue.”
A decent idea. The first hour or more was not a conversation but a succession of informational recitations: Police Chief Christopher Cole affirmed the need and desire of police to communicate better, and those representing the agencies dealing with sexual crime victims explained the process of assisting victims, investigating cases and prosecuting perpetrators.
Among the 40 people at the two-hour forum in City Hall were a handful of citizens, several Skidmore College students, and representatives of the Public Safety Department, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, the District Attorney’s office, Saratoga Hospital and the media.
Moderator Willman asked Cole to lead off, and the chief basically apologized for the way information was relayed about the attack, which is still under investigation.
Nicole Kempton, one of two women who had initiated a petition trying to obtain more information from the police about the attack, said at the forum that both petitioners had a “great meeting” with Cole and Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen with “a positive result.”
Her only time to run is at 5 in the morning and had she known about the attack, she said, “I may have altered my route; I may have run at the Y instead.”
Richard Sellers wanted to know why the police can’t send out alerts to warn people if they or their property are in danger, the way text alerts can be sent for public works emergencies. 
Good question.
Cole conceded he wasn’t up on the technology.
Not such a good answer.
Sellers also noted that none of the few neighbors he checked with in the area where the assault victim was found had ever been contacted by police investigators.
“We’re not confident that is where the assault occurred,” Cole replied.
Decent answer. But what else can you tell us?
The Department of Public Safety cosponsored the event and Commissioner Christian Mathiesen also addressed the group, mostly reiterating his commitment for good communication with citizens and his belief that they are doing a pretty good job of it.
A forum is a good way to inform and air concerns, and there is value in continued public education about sexual assault and how victims and perpetrators are dealt with. The public safety, domestic violence, DA’s office and hospital people who made themselves available to the public by coming to the forum deserve acknowledgement for doing so, as does Willman for organizing it. Though no new ground was broken for anyone following the issue these last few weeks on or other sites, information and opinions were offered.
As for how city police can more effectively relay information to the public, I hope to be able to report progress after this afternoon (Dec. 6).  Mathiesen and Cole will be meeting in their offices with four of us from The Saratogian – reporter Lucian McCarty, Assistant Managing Editor Betsy DeMars, Online Editor Emily Donohue and me — to zero in on that topic.