Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a blessed
and beautiful

Michael, Marisa, Catherine, me - and Jennifer. Christmas morning 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

2006 Writing Accomplishments

I have been gone from blogging and from AW - AbsoluteWrite - my favorite writers' forum for only three weeks -- but my sabbatical is over and I am back.

Is it really December already? The month came too fast -- how can it be the end of the year?

I recently read my list of accomplishments for 2005 and read my goals for 2006 (jan 2006 archives) -- yikes -- oh well.

Even though I did not accomplish all I wrote about, I'm not disappointed. That was just me thinking out loud at the time. I actually feel I accomplished plenty in my writing career this year.

Writing accomplishments in 2006:

* Covered the World Ag Expo -- writing 2 to 3 stories a day
* Wrote several stories for Salser and Dillard (for an international funeral industry magazines/my stories were published in the U.S., Holland and in Germany)
* Continued freelancing for The Fresno Bee, South Valley Bee (newspapers)
* Continued freelancing for The Porterville Recorder (newspaper)
* Started freelancing for Valley Voice (newspaper)
* Wrote the majority of stories (20) for "Living Here" publication
* Wrote all of the agriculture stories for the "South County Pride - Ag" publication
* Wrote one story for the "South County Pride - People" publication (Frank "Buck" Shaffer)
* Started
* Worked on several other websites
* Attended my first Writers' Conference
* Presented six classes of "Journalism 101" -- Career Day presentations for jr. high students.
* Entered my first internet short story contest on Jason Evan's site, Clarity of Night -- AND WON SECOND PLACE!
* Reviewed a book for the first time ever -- The Pacific Between by Ray Wong
* Traveled with Porterville Panther Band to the East Coast -- writing daily band stories
* Had my blog site and website reviewed by Cobwebs of the Mind
* Wrote the "Women in Business" stories for Porterville publication
* Had a story published in Fall/Winter edition of Discover Magazine (distributed all over the Valley)
* Had a story accepted by Overture Magazine (Hollywood musicians' magazine - runs in January)
* Recorded television commercials (English & Spanish) for Bakersfield Californian newspaper
* Recorded radio commercial (English & Spanish) for Bakersfield Californian newspaper
* Was asked to contribute stories to two local magazines (starting soon)
* Will travel with Porterville Panther Band Dec. 29 - Jan. 2 to the Rose Parade - will write daily stories for the local paper.

Goals for 2007:
Continue to expand my writing portfolio.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Buck Shaffer laid to rest

‘Buck' laid to rest

By Esther Avila,Published Dec. 7, 2006 -The Porterville Recorder

From the moment Frank “Buck” Shaffer's casket entered the sanctuary at First Baptist Church in Porterville, it was obvious that the service would not be an ordinary one. It couldn't be. It was Frank “Buck” Shaffer's funeral - and, wanting to keep it short and simple, he had planned it all months ago.
“It was just like Buck planned and we tried to do it exactly how Buck wanted,” said son Bill Shaffer. “The main point I wanted to get across, and [the] Rev. [John] Eby did just that, is that God is in charge now. Buck is no longer in charge.”
With Jim Turner playing “All the Things You Are” on piano, the 500-plus people in the sanctuary, balcony, chapel and social hall grew silent as Miguel Soto, Porterville Panther Band drum major solemnly led the way as seven other Panther Band members - in full uniform - served as pallbearers for Mr. Shaffer.
The day was to honor a man who touched with his influence and his personality, not only the people in the room or the people across Porterville, but people across the United States, said Eby.
After vocalist Doug Scarbrough singing of “Amazing Grace,” Eby read a couple of scriptures before his short sermon on Second Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 11. - a verse, he said, commemorates Mr. Shaffer's life.
“Finally, brothers, goodbye. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you,” Eby read. “This service is to focus not on him, but the things he loved - focus on his church, focus on his God, focus on his country. More than anything else, Buck wanted the focus not on him but rather on his vision.”
Eby talked of Mr. Shaffer as a visionary - dreaming big and when learning of a need, envisioning ways to fill the need. Big dreams included the Porterville Christmas parade and the Band-A-Rama - both started by Mr. Shaffer. Eby talked of Mr. Shaffer's musical excellence and joked about Mr. Shaffer's political preference before continuing with more scriptures and prayer - thanking God for Mr. Shaffer's life, and for his vision - before reading the sermon verse again, this time changing the words.
 “Finally, Lil gal - and lil fellow - goodbye,” Eby finished the verse. “That is his advice to you and to me.” And as Turner played “Stardust” on the piano, the Panther Band pallbearers led Mr. Shaffer out of the sanctuary.
Outside, the Panther Band Orange Blossoms waited for Mr. Shaffer, to salute the man they held in high respect and honor.
At Old Porterville Cemetery, the entire Porterville Panther Band waited for Mr. Shaffer, and after a cadence drum beat, played “Abide with Me.” American Legion Post 20 presented the American flag draped on Mr. Shaffer's casket to his widow, Peggy Shaffer.
And as the pallbearers laid their white band gloves on the casket, tears could be seen flowing down the faces of many in the crowd.
 “I usually release a white dove but Buck was one of a kind,” said Jonell Webb as she prepared to release a special gray-colored dove. Webb, who releases doves every Band-A-Rama, said she told Mr. Shaffer that she would release more doves than ever during his funeral - two representing each year that Mr. Shaffer was loved in Porterville.
After Honor Guard members of the firing squad fired a three-volley salute, the band played “America” as the doves - 106 of them - flew overhead. The audience grew silent once more as Jim Kusserow started playing “Taps” - the silence broken only by the sound of subdued crying from people in the crowd.
After the graveside ceremony, hundreds headed to the Porterville Veterans Memorial Building. One section of the hall - a close replica of Mr. Shaffer's office - was created by Bill Shaffer. From Mr. Shaffer's glasses on his desk and other memorabilia on the wall to the tape recorder Mr. Shaffer used - the room was admired by those in attendance.
“I wanted to do something neat,” said Bill Shaffer. “Everything on the desk is verbatim. The eagle [above the desk] is placed in the exact position and the trophies date back to the 1960s - and as far as I know, it includes every plaque he has ever gotten.”
And through the evening, people stopped to laugh, reminisce and share stories about a man they say they will never forget - Porterville's own - Frank “Buck” Shaffer.

Porterville loses an icon

By Esther Avila,
Published Dec. 4, 2006 - The Porterville Recorder

 Within hours of Frank “Buck” Shaffer's death, son Bill Shaffer placed a large American flag on the side of Mr. Shaffer's home. A second flag was lowered to half staff on the flag pole in front of the home.
Mr. Shaffer died Friday evening in Porterville after suffering a massive stroke on Oct. 22.
“Buck's death is a real loss to the whole town of Porterville,” said Reynold Rutledge, retired band director of Bartlett and Pioneer Middle schools and a former student of Mr. Shaffer. “I've known Buck for 53 years. I thought the world of him. He has done so much for Porterville and for the kids.”
Porterville Mayor Cameron Hamilton said he was saddened by the news of Mr. Shaffer's death.
“He was an absolute icon for Porterville and put us on the map, musically speaking,” Hamilton said.
As word of Mr. Shaffer's death spread, people in the community and Mr. Shaffer's former students echoed similar sentiments about a man who changed not only Porterville, but also individuals, for the better.
“He shared his vision of what the band could be - and I was impressed,” said Jim Todd of Hawaii, Mr. Shaffer's first drum major for the Panther Band in 1954. “He chose me as his first drum major - I don't know why and I had my doubts about doing it. I was his devoted student from then on.”
“He could visualize things for you in such a way as to make you understand that it could be done, and you could do it,” Todd said. “I went on to play clarinet in the U.S. Coast Guard Band of the Pacific. Other teachers can take the credit for teaching me the mechanics of music, but it was Buck that taught me that I could stand up in front of people and have the confidence to actually perform.”
The sentiments continued.
“The town has lost a great teacher. I lost a good friend,” said Dale Anderson, Monache High School's former band director. “He was very instrumental at my being hired to start the Monache High School Band and ever since 1969, he's been a close friend and we have both respected each other so much over the years. I think that was the key to our friendship.”
Rutledge said he was impressed with Mr. Shaffer's dedication to the band.
“Besides all of his professional degrees - his bachelor's, master's and doctorate - he had a counseling credential and an administrative credential. He could have done a lot of other things that paid big money, but he didn't. He loved music and he stayed on as the Porterville Panther Band director. I think he is one of the finest band directors - the best of the best.”
Mr. Shaffer was born Aug. 6, 1921, in Adamsville, W. Va. After graduating from Shinnston High School in 1939, Mr. Shaffer attended Fairmont State College where he played in the Fairmont College Band, eventually forming his own band - Buck Shaffer's Orchestra: West Virginia's Youngest Dance Band.
Mr. Shaffer served four years in the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Base - now Lemoore Naval Air Station - in Lemoore where he played lead alto saxophone in the jazz band. He also played in the 36th Army Air Corps Band and was later ordered to Muroc Army Base. While in the service, he was dance band leader for many Air Force shows and engagements at the famed Hollywood Canteen.
Mr. Shaffer took a position as the band director at his alma mater - Shinnston High School, in 1946 before accepting a position for alto clarinet chair with the Bob Strong Band - a big professional band. Mr. Shaffer eventually returned as the Shinnston band director. He moved to Porterville in 1953 to take a position as the Porterville Panther Band director. Mr. Shaffer semi-retired in 1990 but continued as a music educator for elementary school bands.
Mr. Shaffer also founded Porterville's City of Hope Spectacular and the Buck Shaffer Band-A-Rama. In 1997, Mr. Shaffer was honored by having the theater inside the Porterville Memorial Auditorium dedicated as the Frank “Buck” Shaffer Theater and an exhibit at the Porterville Historical Museum focuses on Shaffer and his Porterville Panther Band.
Mr. Shaffer was also the founder of the Fabulous Studio Band, a Porterville band composed of high school and junior college students. The band played Big Band-era music of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, The Dorseys and Stan Kenton.
Under Mr. Shaffer, the Fabulous Studio Band toured for the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, covering the western states during Easter vacation for the GIs. Mr. Shaffer's band was also sent to the Orient by the U.S. government to play a six-week tour for GIs in Japan, Okinawa, Korea and Hawaii. He toured the U.S. in 1964, covering many military bases along the way, playing at officers clubs, NCO clubs and service clubs. While in Washington, the band played at the National Press Club, for the U.S. Senate, the State Department and at Little Theater by Washington's Monument.
Their summer of 1966 Tour of the U.S. included 42 shows in the Orient for servicemen and in areas of Okinawa to bring the U.S. goodwill, as well as numerous Air Force bases and a concert at the Pentagon.
During a 1972 tour, Mr. Shaffer and his band were honored on the presidential yacht USS Sequoia. The band also played during the opening year of Disney World in Florida during the tour.
In 1970, a giant sequoia tree was named after Mr. Shaffer by the Western High Sierra Association for his work with the community's youth. The tree is located in the “Grove of Honor” at Sequoia Crest in Sequoia National Forest.
“Buck Shaffer was simply the greatest man I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. Buck had a positive influence on all stages of my life. He taught me how to make the most of every opportunity,” said Jim Kusserow, former student of Mr. Shaffer and current band director at Porterville High School. “I remember feeling so honored to have been chosen to lead the Panther Band upon his retirement, and I continued to seek his advice in all areas of my life, not just with music.”
“Buck taught by example, and it was an example that I will always strive to meet,” Kusserow said. “I will miss Buck tremendously, but I have so many great memories that will continue to help shape and guide me throughout the rest of my career and life. I will forever be indebted to Buck Shaffer for sharing his wisdom, guidance, courage and beliefs with me; and for believing in me when I was a young music educator.”
Mr. Shaffer was preceded in death by his first wife, Candy Shaffer. He is survived by his wife, Peggy Shaffer of Porterville; two sons, Frank “Skip” Shaffer, of Galloway, N.J., and Bill Shaffer of Sherman Oaks; and one granddaughter, Lucy Shaffer of Sherman Oaks.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to The Porterville Panther Band, 465 W. Olive Ave., Porterville, CA 93257, or the Porterville Historical Museum, 257 N. D. St., Porterville, CA 93257.
Myers Funeral Services in Porterville is in charge of arrangements. Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Myers, 248 N. E. St., Porterville. The funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church, 101 N. G St., Porterville.

Buck Shaffer returns to Porterville:

By Esther Avila
Published Nov. 24, 2006 - The Porterville Recorder

Frank “Buck” Shaffer is resting comfortably at Porterville Convalescent Hospital on Morton Avenue after being relocated Wednesday night to Porterville following a 10-day stay at a rehabilitation facility in Visalia.
Shaffer, Porterville High School’s former band director and Porterville’s musical icon, suffered a massive stroke on Oct. 22. He has been hospitalized since. Though unable to speak, he was able to recognize people.
 “Bill and I thought it was best for Buck to come back home to Porterville at this time,” said Skip Shaffer. “We are glad he’s back in town.”
Shaffer’s wife, Peggy Shaffer, and his sons, Skip and Bill, said they wish to thank the community for their prayers and kindness.
 “He’s resting comfortably,” Bill Shaffer said. “We continue to appreciate [the community’s] prayers because this is the time we need them.”

Shaffer remains stable
By Esther Avila
Published Oct. 25, 2006 - The Porterville Recorder

The news of Frank “Buck” Shaffer's recent stroke and hospitalization has caused an emotional outpouring of support from across the nation.
Shaffer, who suffered a stroke Sunday, remains in stable condition at Sierra View District Hospital, said his wife, Peggy Shaffer.
“There's not a lot of change,” Peggy Shaffer said. “But he's holding on. He can't talk but he has had a lot of visitors. He recognizes them and he is alert, but there is still no real change.”
Many former students have been visiting, calling or writing.
“I was very sad to read the news this morning about Buck. But I smile to myself when I think of what an impact this man has made on the lives of so many young people,” said Karen Willshon, former student, now living in Studio City. “As we look back as adults on our years in Buck's band, he not only taught us good musicianship, but now to conduct ourselves like respectable ‘lil' gals and lil' fellas' in other areas of our lives. I wish him the best.”
Other students responded with similar sentiments.
Alan Litsey, professor of theater at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala., said he was saddened when he learned of Shaffer's illness.
“Buck Shaffer is a hero and an inspiration to the entire community. I cannot imagine anyone who has touched more lives. He is a great man,” Litsey said. “Buck takes a keen interest in all students, and I was no exception. Buck advised me to take advantage of every positive opportunity in my path. His brief and wise words were to the point. ‘You've got to make your own Hollywood,' he said. So many young people have made their own Hollywood, inspired by Buck's tremendous leadership as a teacher, artist, and role model.”
Judith Singley Frickensmith of Monticello, Ill., read the news online and also heard it from her mother, who is a family friend of Shaffer's.
“Buck has always been a wonderful friend to me and my family and we are praying for his return to health,” Singley Frickensmith said. “Buck is such a special person, always so kind and giving of himself, and he adds so very much to everyone's lives.”

And more than 2,500 miles away from Porterville, in Shaffer's original hometown, where Shaffer was scheduled to perform a concert Saturday, people who knew him have also been responding to the news.
“People here were truly fond of the man. He was a favorite son here,” said Leigh Currey Merrifield, editor of The News and Journal newspaper in Shinnston, W. Va, and who has known Shaffer all of her life. “He had really been looking forward to coming home for months. I know many of his old friends and former band students who had planned to attend. The concert is naturally canceled but the program at the museum will go on. It will not be the same without his presence but people attending will be praying for a complete recovery. No one has ever forgotten Buck Shaffer's loyalty to his hometown. During the days when he was on tour, he'd always come by and most of the time, we were included in every tour. He never forgot where he was from. There are a lot of sad faces in town and all of the people in town are praying for him.”
It was a sentiment also expressed by Lee Martin, a former student of Shaffer's when he taught at Shinnston High School.
“When I first heard, it felt as if I had the wind knocked out of me. We are all pulling for him. We were all torn up when we heard the news. We are very concerned,” said Martin, 70. “We have a community band and we meet every Tuesday night. We plan on having a moment of silence and prayer for Buck tonight. And if prayers and thoughts are heard, than he should be just fine.”
Martin went on to reminisce about Shaffer. He became Shaffer's student at age 11 and especially remembers parading down Huntington, W. Va., at 1 or 2 in the morning - just because Buck decided to do something different and fun, Martin said.
“In those days, the high school band did not have enough musicians, so if you were good enough, Buck would pull you into the band. I was in sixth-grade when I started marching with the high-school band. I was in the band for seven years, six of them under Buck,” Martin said. “I've always held Buck Shaffer in the highest esteem of friends I have in this world. And I can't tell you how much fun we had when Buck moved in to Shinnston. He was the most innovative person ever to get in front of the band. If you looked up the word ‘Class' in the dictionary, you would see a picture of Buck Shaffer. He is a fine, fine individual. It knocked the wind out of everyone when we heard about his stroke and we have him on prayer chains and prayer lists up and down the town.”
Maxine Wesser, volunteer and board member of the Bice Ferguson Memorial Museum in Shinnston, said the town was really anticipating his arrival.
“He was our most famous band director. We're all distressed. We were really looking forward to his visit, which is always a highlight for us. He has always been a home town boy and everybody loves him,” Wesser said. “We had been building up for weeks and every week there was a story in the paper about him. He sent us lots of memorabilia for the museum. And we're going on ahead with everything else that was scheduled for Saturday. It's what Buck would have wanted.”

Frank ‘Buck' Shaffer admitted into hospital
By Esther Avila
Published Oct. 24, 2006 - The Porterville Recorder

Porterville musical icon Frank “Buck” Shaffer was in fair condition Monday night after being admitted to Sierra View District Hospital Sunday, said Shaffer's son, Bill Shaffer, 48.
“He's had a stroke. An [aneurysm] broke and there was a little bleeding, but they are watching him right now. His doctors have been in and there is reason for concern but they are observing him,” Bill Shaffer said. “He can't talk but he does recognize people.”
Bill Shaffer said the community has been great, with many former students and band directors visiting his father.
“Dale Anderson, Justin Adams and I went to see him about 1 p.m. [Monday]. It was hard. He can't talk and his hand was clutched but I put my hand on his and gave him some encouraging words. His eyes lit up and it looked to me like he could understand. He wanted to speak and it [appeared to be] frustrating for him,” said an emotional Jim Kusserow, Porterville Panther Band director and close personal friend. “We need to pray. The whole town needs to pray. It's all in God's hands. I still believe he has a lot to do and I don't believe it is his time. I can't predict what will happen, but I do know that I will be there every single day to see him.”
Kusserow succeeded Shaffer as the Porterville Panther Band director in 1990.
He has known Shaffer since he was 9 and was invited to play with the Fabulous Studio Band on one of their shows.
“I tried to talk to my band today. It took me 10 minutes for a single word to come out. I could not talk,” Kusserow said. “I told my band that everything I learned about life, I learned from Buck Shaffer. That's a fact.”
For Adams, Monache High School Band director, the visit with Shaffer was also emotional.
“Buck is one of the patriots of Porterville. We had more than half a century of him being one of Porterville's icons. I have known him on a personal level for 10 years,” Adams said. “The time we spent with him today was surreal. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
The hospitalization comes just five days before Shaffer was scheduled to travel to his hometown of Shinnston, W.V. to play a concert and have a section of the local museum opened in his honor during a special “Buck Shaffer Day” celebration Saturday.
A special U.S. Postal Service commemorative “Buck Shaffer Day” cancellation stamp is also planned for Saturday.
In an Oct. 17 interview, Shaffer said he was donating an old Edison recorder and an RCA Victor to the new Shinnston Museum.
 “Both of those were given to me by people in my hometown and I felt they ought to be in that museum,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer said he was planning on playing his saxophone at the concert.
“I'm playing all by myself and am planning on playing excerpts of songs that we have played with the [Shinnston High School] band when I was there and then move on to play music from when I was in the [U.S.] Air Force and play some popular big-band tunes,” Shaffer said. “The climax of the concert will be a tribute to the servicemen and people who have died for our country.”
Shaffer also said he planned on playing “Taps,” “God Bless America” and a few patriotic songs before ending his solo concert with “Amazing Grace.”
“At the end of the concert, I have asked a former student [Grandal Hall] of mine to join me in one final number. I had him from 1947 to 1953 and he has gone on to do great things in music,” Shaffer said. “He's like Jimmy Kusserow. He's played with the big bands, and has had a very successful band. We will play ‘Over the Rainbow.' That will be my final climax.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

The American Flag

There was an article in yesterday's issue of USA Today that caught my eye -- “‘Old Glory’ is the Flag to Fly in Pahrump.”

Mark Memmott wrote about banning foreign flags in Pahrump, Nevada, a small community west of Las Vegas. The town board voted this week to make it illegal to hang a foreign nation’s flag by itself or higher than the American flag. The city will issue $50 fines and require thirty hours of community service to individuals guilty of being non compliant with the statute. The approval (3-2) of the ordinance drew a standing ovation at the city council meeting.

I know I will get a little hate mail by saying this, but I do not care about that. I have as much freedom of speech as the next guy, so I will say it anyway.

Good for you, Pahrump!

First - let me say that I do understand that the First Amendment guarantees everyone in this country the right of free speech. And I am exercising that right as I type. I also realize that I may not like what others are saying or doing and that our Constitution defends other's rights to do that which I may find most offensive. (ok, so I took this line from Michael Douglas in "The American President" but I agree with him.) I know that our American Constitution protects freedom of speech and expression without consideration of the person's country of origin or nationality.

But I also know that our Republic is being inundated by foreigners who come to this country and refuse to learn the language or accept our patriotic love of flag and country.

I believe that the primary flag of this country should be the U.S. flag. And I have said this before, if someone feels so attached to their country and flag - what the heck are they doing here? Go home! I knew some foreign (not from Mexico) students while at Porterville College who hated the American flag and hated everything "American." It drove me insane to listen to them. If it was up to me, I would have deported them all. And I told them so. We were friends, so they would laugh and sometimes I think they did it just to get to me. But I had no problem telling them to leave. We do not need people like that here.

I have no problem if people feel adamant about displaying a different flag. (I do not care for it, but I can live with it) But I do have a problem if they disrespect our flag in the process. Flying a foreign flag above ours would bother me. (As flying the flag upside down. I often travel to the local Indian reservation and it really bothers me to see the flag flying like that in a couple of places. That is a sign of distress. They are simply doing it as some kind of protest or to make a point. I do not like it. I find it disrespectful.) The same holds true with flying a foreign flag higher than the American flag - it diminishes (mainly in their eyes) the patriotic standing of our country.

I am proud of the little town in Nevada. By taking a stand against foreign encroachment, this one small community has spoken out with what (I hope) the majority of Americans believe but are too timid - or too frightened from being politically incorrect - to say.

On death and dying

I attended a colleague's funeral this week. He was my age - only 47 - definitely too young to die. I sat quietly through the Catholic service at St. Mary's. Though not Catholic, I love their services. I find them interesting. I always feel peace in there. The singing (? not sure if it is called singing or chanting) is kind of haunting but a good haunting - I love it.

Nick was one of my first friends at the newspaper. He always waved when I saw him outside or he would stop by my desk on his way in, to see how I was. I remember he always had a smile for everyone. Sometimes we would chat for a minute before he would continue on to his own desk on the other side of the building.

I could not stop thinking of how young he was. One should not die at that age. But I guess it should not surprise me. I mean, I have lost many loved ones at young ages. My father was only 56 when he died. My oldest brother was 53. Nothing is certain....

At the graveside, I glanced around. Finally we had a cooler day. The leaves had started turning and were falling off the trees. This may sound strange, but it was a perfect funeral day. When I die, I want it to be fall -- it is my favorite time of the year and just seems right for a funeral. I would be more perfect if it rained. I love rain and there is something about standing at a graveside under black umbrellas seems right. Not that I want everything to be gloomy, that is so not it. It is just that I love fall and I love rain - so why would I not want that? (But then again, I love cemeteries, especially old ones or foreign ones - like Pere Lachaise in Paris - I can literally spend hours there.)

Sadly, Nick's passing has really brought Albert to mind lately. Albert was actually my brother-in-law but I was so close to him. I loved him dearly and my children adored him. He lived with us off and on through the years and thought the world of my kids. Albert was a free-spirit type of guy. He kind of came and went. He was an artist and died while photographing the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge a couple of years ago. He loved photographing it and painting it. A huge wave came out of nowhere and knocked him off a rock, camera and all.

I still remember the screams from my children when he died. I think that scene will haunt me forever. Marisa still cries for him. But he left behind some awesome work. I have several windows painted by Albert in my home. For Jennifer, he painted "Winnie The Pooh" on her bedroom window (she was only 3 at the time) and for Catherine, "Hello Kitty." Marisa picked Brian, who she was crazy about at the time - from the Back Street Boys. Brian is wearing a cap with Marisa's name on it. Those paintings are precious to me. For my window, I just asked for a vine, small yellow flowers and small birds - which he did for me. And since I love cats, he put a small kitty on one window. But my front two windows have Christmas paintings on them -- a snowman on one and Bambi on the other. I can still see Albert's handiwork here and at several businesses in Porterville -- he designed and painted several signs. But he was mainly known for his Christmas windows around town during the holidays - he did everything in 3D. Amazing stuff.

Anyway, when Nick died, I started thinking of Albert. Albert was only 45 when he died - like Nick, way too young. I especially miss Albert during the holidays, because he would always come stay with us during that time. I know this holiday season will be really hard for Nick's family -- I guess there is no such thing as a good time to die...

Friday, November 03, 2006

My blog was reviewed....

What a nice surprise I got yesterday when I woke up. I had an email informing me that my blog had been reviewed.

Not having any idea what to expect, I held my breath as I nervously skipped over to Cobwebs of the Mind -- a site by (author of several books) Ted William Gross of Jerusalem.

But it was pretty cool. I was not disappointed and I almost forgot I was reading about myself. Ted gave me a very nice review. He called my accomplishments "awesome and intimidating" -- it certainly made me smile. That never would have crossed my mind.

I'm not used to praise and I'm sure I was blushing as I read about myself. But even so, heck - admit it - we all love reading wonderful things about ourselves.

I won't go into the entire review here, but Ted did write:

There is something very uplifting about "Midnight Writings", Esther's blog (and there is an accompanying web site and something that we should all learn from. There is a quiet, serene osmosis between an individual and her profession. Esther is not just a woman who happens to be a journalist. She is a woman who part of her being is being a journalist. Sometimes, yes, she must write dry facts (though they don't appear in her blog for the most part). Mostly you can see her own thoughts and feelings within the posts on her blog. This allows for the mother, the individual and the professional to all merge as one into a coherent, though certainly emotional and deeply feeling individual.

And after talking about several of my posts, Ted ended by saying:

"Midnight Writings" is not just a blog. It is the heart of a woman, mother, journalist. It is a journey from time to time into the soul of the woman who always smiles, names Esther Avila. Her writing friends at AW know her as "September Skies". And thus when I always think of her I think of a clear blue sky in the heavens on a warm, breezy day. It is always a day that brings a smile to one's face. Esther's heart and soul, with the hope that she portrays in her blog, leaves us with such a smile.
Read "
Midnight Writings". Visit "Midnight Writings". You will not be disappointed.

Now, isn't that the sweetest review? If you can, and you have not visited there yet, do take a detour to Ted's Cobwebs of the Mind site and check out the review. And, please....leave him a comment. He didn't have to do the review and I just feel honored that he did.

Monday, October 30, 2006

One year blog-versary

Tomorrow, November 1, marks my one-year anniversary of starting this blog. I originally started it as a way of putting down my thoughts on what it was like to be a reporter -- and to write about things I learned along the way. I also wanted to use it to write a few short stories -- most of them from personal experience.

And I did do that. But I have also used it to occasionally write miscellaneous family information.

I have met many other bloggers since last November -- blogging about everything from everyday life to the more serious ones -- who use their site for political thoughts, actual writing activities, contests, and the craft of writing.

Anyway, in honor of my blogversary, and ...Just for fun, I thought I'd run my very first post again. Actually, my first three posts - all written on the same day, Nov. 1, 2005.


MidnightWritings.blogspot / November Archives /original entry dated Nov. 1, 2005

My first newspaper assignment -- otherwise known as -- The deer-in-the-headlights look

I will always remember my first newspaper assignment. I was so excited with my new job. It was my birthday and getting the job was the best gift I had ever received. I was going to be the next Lois Lane – in my very own hometown. I was so ready.

What I was not ready for was being asked to write about anything political. I was so proud of the fact that I always voted…but what did I know about propositions and initiatives? I rarely bothered with learning all that. (That has changed and I am now totally aware of everything on the ballot)

Anyway, Henry (my immediate supervisor and mentor) sent me to cover a speech about Proposition-54 at the local community college. I went – not really knowing what I was doing. Our paper photographer met me there. “Isn’t this cool?” he asked. Um…yea…cool. NOT!

I took notes -- lots and lots of them. I didn’t really know what to do. It was my first day on the job. I had been told it was going to be a day of in-service. Doesn’t that mean watching movies and filling out forms? I had absolutely ZERO idea what to do out there alone.

After the event, I sat in my car for half an hour (my lunch break) and talked to my best friend. I was scared to go back to work. I had no idea what to do with the information I had gathered, or worse, how to write it. Dennis assured me that I would be fine. I wasn’t sure. I finally forced myself to return to the office.

Henry must have sensed it. “What’s the matter?” he asked me as I walked in. “You have that deer-in-the-headlights look.”

I just handed him my notebook -- page after page of scribbled notes. I stood there, quiet, waiting for him to call me an idiot. But he didn’t. He looked it over and being the professional that he was, found something in my notes, circled it -- and handed it back.

“This looks like a good place to start,” he said.

I took it from there. Of course, the story took me about three hours to write and rewrite. But when I left, I left with a smile. It did not matter to me that no one knew it was my birthday or that anyone even wished me a happy birthday.
All that mattered was that I had done it. I wrote a story.

The next day, I literally screamed when I saw it on the front page. Wow. I had really done it. I had written a story for an official newspaper – and if I had to say so myself, it came out pretty good. I went out and bought like 15 newspapers. (No idea why). I decided that if I could make it through that first day – that first story -- then I could do anything at the paper.

The Problem with New Writers:

The problem with new writers is that we usually feel we have to say it all – in one story. So, we don’t know when to stop.

As a student at COS a couple of years ago, I found several of my classmates with the same problem. Our first assignment (a news story) was so long – we’re talking four to five pages long – that our instructor didn’t read it. She placed a big red mark on it, returned it and asked us to turn it in no longer than two pages long. I learned a lesson. Or did I?

When I was hired by my hometown paper, the problem resurfaced and my first stories were often so long, my mentor would either shake his head or laugh. Oh sure, make fun of my writing. That was about the equivalent of laughing at one of your children.

But that is not how he meant it. And thank goodness he taught me about the 18-inch rule.

Henry also gave me some of the best advice I ever had. OK, so he was the only one giving me advice, though Bill Furth tried but he didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know.

This is what Henry said:

“When you get to nine inches……STOP. Just stop. Don’t go any further. Then, read your work. And you should be about half way done."

Then all I had to do was go back in and finish it up. Um…yea...right. That was easier said than done.

But it worked. I finally learned to stop writing when I was supposed to. If I was asked for a 10-inch story, I’d stop at five inches and take it from there.

I learned other tidbits of advice from Henry ... Such as “Start with the clown.”

In other words, find the most colorful, interesting thing in your story and start with that. Simple! No further explanation needed.

He also taught me that the cow jumps over the moon – and the explanation there is simple too.

“Esther, the cow jumped over the moon.”

Mental note to self: Do not write “over 100 people” – it should read “more than 100 people”
The same holds true for less than, do not use “under 50 people” unless I have dug a trench and am crawling under them.

Excuse me, do I hear ringing?

Too bad Henry never gave me advice about where not to put my cell phone.

As a reporter, I never carry a purse when I interview people. Not a problem most of the time since my slacks usually have a small pocket.

But one day I was interviewing a minister from a local church. It was a Sunday and there was church service that day. So, I wore a dress.

There was one problem -- no pockets.

My car key I had on an elastic band around my wrist. My writing pad and pen, well...that belongs in my hand. But, what would I do with my phone?

I thought I was being clever when I placed it snugly between my breasts. I mean, my phone was pretty small. No one could see it or even tell it was there. It was well hidden.

The church service ended. I waited for the right moment to approach the minister and I was writing down a quote from him when the unexpected happened. My phone started to ring. I forgot to place it on mute.

Oh boy.

I quickly excused myself by putting up my index finger, “Excuse me a minute, please" and I turned away.

I walked a few feet from him, pulled out my phone, shut it off, quickly hid it again and walked back. It was so fast, I’m not even sure he knew where the ringing came from.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where were we?”

And without explaining a thing, I continued the interview. I think I handled it rather well. It was a lesson I never forgot. Henry would have been proud of me!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"You're a Republican, aren't you?"

I had lunch with a really good friend on Friday. When we got in my car, Rush Limbaugh was on the radio. Skip started laughing. "You're a Republican, aren't you?" he exclaimed.

I answered, "I am." And I laughed along, but I really had no idea why he found it so funny. Apparently to him, it was.

I suddenly remembered Roger - a friend from when I worked at the newspaper full time. We were going to lunch one day and when we got to his car, I saw he had a John Kerry for president bumper sticker. Of course, it was no surprise that he was a democrat (I seriously think I was the only Republican in my office and the only person who did not hate President Bush.) Anyway, I stopped at his car and said, "We have to take my car." and when he asked why, I pointed to the bumper sticker and said, "You can't possibly expect me to get in that car. There's no way in the world I am going to be seen in that car with that thing on there." LOL -- I was kidding, of course. He didn't take it that way. He got in his car and drove off, leaving me standing there in the parking lot. I laughed so hard, I went back inside. When he returned, he not only didn't talk to me that day, he didn't talk to me for a week!

Anyway, back to Friday -- I was also asked what kind of Republican I was -- and why was I a Republican.

What kind? No one had ever asked me that before. I found it interesting that he would ask me.

I'm conservative but I guess I am social-moderate when it comes to certain issues. For example, I have no problem with two people of the same sex wanting to marry each other. What bothers me is when they try to control everything else -- i.e. forcing churches to accept them. I'm against that. I mean, if they want to do whatever, it won't bother me -- and if they find a church who will accept them, fine. But that does not give them the right to fight and try to force all churches to accept them. Does that make sense?

Skip apparently was trying to figure out why I was a republican.

"Your parents were republican!" he said -- as if that explained it all.

No. Actually, they were democrats.

My parents grew up as democrats -- but they were the Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy democrats. The democratic party back then was nothing like the democrats of today. The democratic party back then was more like the republican party of today.

Franklin Roosevelt got us into WWII
Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
and John F. Kennedy was president during the Cuban Missile Crisis -- placing the United States on alert against Russia.

Somehow, I can't imagine any current democratic politician (Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Charlie Rangle, Howard Dean) or any other presidential candidate having the strength of their conviction to stand in the shoes of a Kennedy, Roosevelt, Truman or George W. Bush.

National security and the defense of the United States should not be a political issue. It is a necessity. The problem with the democratic leadership is that they believe that if we are nice to our enemies - they have to be nice to us. But when you're dealing with leaders and regimes, whose first intention is the death and destruction of the West, there is no room for compromise. The only compromise they see, is our annihilation -- total destruction and complete obliteration.

I can not imagine what John Kerry would have done after 9/11. I really can't. I see him as beholden to the radical, liberal, 5-percent of his party.

That is why I can never imagine myself -- ever -- voting for a democrat.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Frank "Buck" Shaffer

photo by Esther Avila, 10/17/2006

It seemed like lately, every time I was in Porterville, I would run into Buck Shaffer -- at the grocery store, the post office, the pharmacy and even at the AAA automobile club. Each time, he would always smile and extend his hand and say, "Well, Esther Avila. What are you doing here?" -- always in his same voice. I would say the same thing, "Well, Buck Shaffer. It is so good to see you." We always talked for a few minutes and he'd tell me how proud he was of me. And I'd tell him how much I admired him.

I love Buck Shaffer. I always have.
I have known Buck since I was 10. (But he talked to me for the first time when I was 7. I lived near the corner of Orange and G Streets, just down the street from the PHS bandroom and I often ran outside to see the band march by. He'd always say hello to me and I will always remember how he took the time to talk to me.) I marched in his Porterville Panther Band 1972-1976 and considered him a hero in my life. I adore the man.

I've also had the privilege of writing some wonderful stories about him over the past several years. Early this year, I had the honor of writing the story when he was the recipient of the Freedom of Spirit Award. If you have not seen the story, I highly recommend it -- the things that this one man has done are amazing.

After his retirement, he kept teaching music.
This man has done more for music in Porterville than anyone else I've ever known.

I interviewed him last week (10/17) about a trip he was planning for Saturday -- a day dubbed "Buck Shaffer Day" in his original hometown of Shinnston, W. VA. He was going to play a concert there and assist in the opening of a music wing of their new museum.

When he returned, we planned on getting together next Tuesday to continue another interview that he requested. So imagine my shock when I got the call that he had suffered a stroke on Sunday. I cried for a few minutes and then got myself together and went to work on writing a story about it.

I was touched to see the outpouring of love and support from across the nation. Buck Shaffer is certainly loved by many.

my dear friend died on Dec. 1, 2006 -- please go to for stories.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Miss Porterville - Katie Lopez

Porterville Recorder photo by Chieko Hara

Something beautiful happened this weekend. My friends' daughter, Katie Lopez, was crowned Veterans Day "Miss Porterville" last night. I was there covering the story. When they called her name, I cried.

I was excited for her but that is not why it was so beautiful.

It was beautiful because it was a dream come true for her.

For the past 17 years (ok, maybe only 15) Katie has attended the annual pageant. Her father, (I went to school with both her parents and we all work on the reunion committees together) has worked at the auditorium where it is held for the past 32 years, and every year Katie watched, waiting patiently to be old enough to participate. She always knew she wanted to represent our Veterans by being their homecoming queen.

I believe that it would be such an honor to be the Veterans Homecoming Queen. I never tried for it. The closest I go was in college when I was named homecoming princess during football season. But that was not anything like this. That was a pure popularity contest and since I was a cheerleader, in the nursing program and a member of the track and cross country teams, I had plenty of people voting for me.

This is different. These young ladies were judged on a written essay, judges' interviews, talent, and the way they presented themselves in public.

It is also not associated with a football game, but with our Veterans -- which I admire tremondously. I am a very patriotic person and love the way Porterville treats Veterans Day.

Porterville is really big on Veterans Day. We have the parade, several services, a Veterans Day tea - which I have covered for the local paper for four years, and of course, my favorite -- the annual Band-A-Rama: something started by Buck Shaffer to honor our veterans. Hundreds of young musicians, from all of the local marching bands, come together to play patriotic music. It is not a competition, but a showcase of bands. Each band parades around the stadium individually before taking their place on the field. When all of the bands are on the field, they all play the same music simultaneously -- without ever practicing together as a group. It is the most amazing thing and they sound awesome.

But, back to Katie. My heart was filled with joy -- and with the thought that yes, dreams really do come true. Just ask Katie.

Congratulations again, Katie. I know you'll represent Porterville and the Porterville veterans well.

To read the story, go to (story up 10/23 only, then moved to onlinearchives)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Breakfast in The Netherlands

The Netherlands - February/March 1995

I will forever remember my first breakfast in The Netherlands. Yes, it was exciting --visiting a foreign country for the first time and living with a Dutch family for two weeks.
But that is not why I remember it. My first Dutch breakfast was actually embarrassing. There is no other word for to describe it.
After a 22-hour flight, and almost no sleep, I finally arrived in Amsterdam, Holland.
My friend Edward met me at the airport and then whisked me away. We arrived in Velp two hours later, where he had two bicycles ready for us. I was pretty tired but Edward was so excited about the afternoon he had planned, that I decided I’d keep quiet. And, in all of his excitement, Edward forgot about dinner. My jet arrived at 2 p.m. and I was too shy to mention that I was starving. I had been too nervous to eat on the plane. We finally stopped to share a bag of French fries -- with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise? How very odd, I thought. Where’s the ketchup? He also picked up a bag of little whole fishes, but I refused to eat them.
After riding through the countryside and into Germany and back – he lived near the border and I wanted to say that I had been there – we finally headed home in time for what they called “8 o’clock coffee.”
The Dutch are famous for their coffee drinking. And 8 o’clock coffee in the parlour was mandatory in the Van Drissen family. You simply did not miss it. Ever! In my situation, I was glad and I was more than ready for a little coffee. Because that also meant that we would get a cookie with it.
Before retiring to my room, on the fifth floor, Edward’s mother reminded me that breakfast would be served at 8 a.m.
There was a university not far from the home and Edward’s family ran a boarding home for college girls. I had been invited to stay in their home as their guest during the duration of my trip. That night I slept like a baby.
The next morning, I came down to find everyone sitting at the table, waiting.
“Good morning,” I said but only Edward answered. His parents looked at the clock. It was 8:03 a.m. It was awkward. I apologized and they nodded but I could tell they were not pleased.
Note to self – “Do not be late again.”
I was starving and wondered what we might have. But it turned out that breakfast consisted of a piece of toast and a piece of cheese. Nothing more.
I really was famished. I took my toast, buttered it, and bit into it with gusto, the good ol’ American way -- with butter touching my fingers and crumbs falling everywhere.
It was only then that I noticed everyone else cutting their toast into small squares – using a fork and knife and eating one square at a time with the fork. It was then that I noticed the silverware next to my plate.
“Oh my God,” I thought. “What must they think of me? They must think I am some sort of savage! I’ve only been here one night and already I am showing poor table manners."
It was at this point that I noticed that there were no napkins at the table. Not knowing what else to do, I swallowed quickly.
That is when I noticed something else – there were no drinks at the table. What kind of family was this? Certainly I would choke to death soon.
Fortunately I spotted some paper towels on the far wall, next to their sink. I realized I had two choices, get up and get one or stay seated and look messy for the rest of the meal.
I decided to quietly stand, retrieve the paper towel and return to my seat. Yes, the family noticed but it was better this way.
I learned several things that first morning in The Netherlands and I made several notes to self – always be on time, carry a small napkin in pocket, remember to use cutlery for everything and oh yes, never swallow anything too quickly.
[I also never realized, until after I left, that the family never talked at the dinner table. They always ate in silence. While I was there, I was bubbly and talked about home and asked lots of questions. Edward said he liked the change I made for them. So, at least I introduced a little California sunshine into their lives.]

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Birthday and miscellaneous

Life is so hectic for me that when I was asked where I would like to go for my birthday dinner, I only had one answer -- HOME.

I love staying home.

I did have to work this morning but I made it a point to stay home all afternoon/evening. We ordered pizza for lunch and for dinner, I made simple BRC burritos. (beans, rice and cheese) As far as I was concerned, it was the perfect birthday meal -- delicious and fit for a queen.

Speaking of Queens -- I am the current reigning queen (a game we play) at Absolute Write. I was thrilled to have the honor of being royalty for the week. And it couldn't come at a more appropriate time - it is not only my birthday, but my one-year anniversary at the site. How cool is that? :) It really made the honor more special for me.

I have another reason for having an ecstatic birthday.

Today's newspaper at Porterville Recorder ran my stories on "Living Here 2006" -- It was so awesome to see the little magazine-newspaper insert with all of my stories. I must say "great work" to Glen Faison, my Porterville Recorder editor (and the others putting it together) for some great work there.

And, a story I wrote for The Fresno Bee on a little girl (Camron Ascencio) from my home town made front page of the South Valley Bee - complete with two color pictures (one that I took of her, the other her mother contributed - she's listening to our national anthem after accepting the gold medal) and another contributed photo on the inside page. That little girl is amazing. She's 13 and just won the gold medal for the United States at the 2006 World Baton Twirling Championships, in Rome, Italy. She's the first American to ever win the title. (Japan has dominated that field for the past eight years, sweeping everything from first through seventh place, almost every year.) Anyway, I felt so blessed to be able to interview this little girl and the layout on the paper was amazing. Kudos to my editors, Gene Garaygordobil and Kathleen Coates for a job well done on that layout.

On a sad publishing note -- my editor at Valley Voice magazine left this week. I'm going to miss him. I was quite excited because he had just asked me to write a piece for DISCOVER (a local magazine) that comes out twice a year. I wrote the story and turned it in but now I do not know if they will use it. I hope they do. I would love to see my name in the pretty, glossy-cover magazine.

On a sadder, more personal, note -- my sister in Phoenix is very sick. I wish I could go see her. I will try to get out there soon. Also, my uncle died a few days ago. My mom was expecting it but it was still hard for her. I am taking her to Southern California next Tuesday. We'll stay down there a couple of days. (That is why I can't go see Lily next week.)

Fortunately, I'm almost caught up on stories again. I have another special section coming out in the Porterville paper - the Women in Business section -- which comes out in a week or two.

Twirling in Blue

Lily twirled around the room while holding a light blue dress against her little body.

“I’m wearing this,” she said. “What are you wearing?”

I stared at my little sister. I hadn’t given any thought to my wardrobe. I was 6 years old. I did not care what I wore. Whatever I grabbed out of the closet first, or whatever my mother would hand me, that is what I wore.

“I want Daddy to see me in this,” she said as she twirled some more. “This is such a pretty color – just like the sky.”

I remember feeling ashamed. I never thought for a minute that our father might see us. Why would he? He had never seen us before.

“Is Daddy really going to see?” I asked my older sister.

“Of course, he is,” Becky replied.

I still didn’t believe it. Papa was blind. He had been blind since age 22. He had been a welder for the Ford Company near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The company sent him to a specialist when he complained of blurry vision after work one day but nothing could be done to save his sight. Within six months, he was 100-percent blind. He did not see shadows. He did not see anything.

Growing up in a strict Pentecost family, I had seen attempt after attempt of young and seasoned ministers – all praying diligently to have God restore his sight. A few strange ministers, not from our church, even went as far as trying to cast devils out of my father.

Papa was a Godly man. He had spent many a year as a missionary, preaching in Mexico after his accident. He played guitar and had a great voice for singing. He taught himself piano and accordion and he and my mother would fill everything from small shacks to large tents with people anxious to hear the word of God.

“Why are you blind, Papi?” I asked him once.

He started to tell me about his work.

“No. I know that. But, why hasn’t God healed you?”

I still remember what he told me.

"Sometimes, God can use a person with a handicap more than he could if that person is whole," he told me.

Simple. I nodded and smiled. Papa must have sensed it. He smiled too.

I understood perfectly and I never asked again.

But now, there was excitement in the air. We were all going to Los Angeles to a [famous television preacher] crusade.

I wanted my Papa to see. I really did. But deep down I knew he would return the same. And that made me feel ashamed.

I tried to get excited. I remember picking a yellow dress, my favorite, to wear – just in case.

With 10 children in the family, we didn’t venture out too often. But that day, we all climbed into our family station wagon for the four-hour trip south.

As we arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Lily was jumping up and down, talking excitedly of how she wanted to hug my Papa first, so that he could see her pretty dress.

I remember watching miracle after miracle. A deaf woman could suddenly hear. A man in a wheelchair got up and walked. Every time the crowd would clap and praise God.

I was happy for them. I was. But I was so scared.

Finally it was my Papa’s turn. I saw him walk forward, holding on to my mother’s arm and I saw the minister talking to him and asking about his sight. He prayed for my Papa.

I’m not sure what all happened. I know there was prayer and a lot of Hallelujahs coming from the crowd.

“Can you see this? Follow my hand,” the man seemed to be yelling, as if being louder would make it happen.

My father shook his head and said he couldn’t see a thing.

Somehow I remember those words but not a whole lot more.

Finally, they stopped. The minister told my father that he needed to have faith and to return that evening, that this was a test. I also remember the minister talking to the crowd – telling them that they must also believe.

I shrank in my seat. Could this all be my fault? Did I not have enough faith? I wanted to cry. I knew it was my fault. Because of me, my Papa would remain blind.

I don’t know where we went for lunch but we did have plans on returning that afternoon. My Papa told my mother that he was thinking of going home. But my older brothers and sisters insisted we stay. Lily cried. She was so positive that he would see her blue dress before the end of the day.

We sat in the crowd, far from the front, when the minister called out for my Papa.

“Papa! That’s you!” Lily cried out but was quickly hushed. “They’re calling you. Didn’t you hear them?”

But my Papa wouldn’t budge. He shook his head no.

I don’t remember the rest of the service. I remember feeling horrible at the things the person was saying. How could he say such ugly things? He said the blind man did not have enough faith and refused to let God heal him. He said my Papa was wicked. He said things that made me cry.

No one else tried to talk Papa into going forward. Even Lily stopped insisting. I don’t remember a whole lot more but I do remember him talking to my mother and I guess my older siblings on the way home.

“I don’t believe God wants me to see right now,” Papa said. “God has a plan for us. It is not in his will for me to see – not today, anyway.”

I believed Papa. You don’t belittle people the way that man on stage did. I worried about Lily. I knew she wouldn’t understand. She was only 4 years old. How could she?

I turned to glance at her. She had crawled from the back of the station wagon to the middle aisle seat and into my older sister’s arms. I didn’t have to worry about her. She didn’t hear a thing. She was sound asleep.

My father was blind for more than 30 years and never did see eight of his ten children. I was only 17 when he died. Lily was 15. He never saw either of us - nor Lily's blue dress.

But I know some day he will see us in heaven. I have dreamt it many times and always --- I see my little sister, as a 4-year-old, in that same dream, twirling in her little blue dress.

“Can you see me, Papa?”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spinach and Al Qaeda

I am the kind of person who adds a little spinach to my salad when I visit salad bars.

"Gotta keep the spinach farmers in business" -- someone told me when I was little, and it always stayed with me. I say the same things to my daughters now.

But I had never bought spinach at the supermarket or had an official "spinach salad" -- until last week.

Of all the times I had to choose to start.

LOL I thought I was being so healthy. Not only did I add spinach to two big salads during a tennis tournament (for 50 people) last week, but I made myself a really nice and big spinach salad that I actually enjoyed.

It was not until that night that I heard about the spinach e-coli outbreak but I've checked with my daughter, no one on the tennis team has gotten sick.

Still, this reminded me of an incident in 1984, with a watermelon-pesticide scare. About eight people died.

We love watermelon and that day, my husband and I ate some and ended up getting sick. The sicker we got and the worse we felt, the more we ate. We didn't want food so we just sliced up more watermelon. We both ended up in the hospital. I came home right away, James was hospitalized for three days. That is how we learned about the pesticide poisoning. We were lucky. We could have died.

It's scary, when you think about it -- contaminating fruits and vegetables. It's so simple to do.

I live in the Central San Joaquin Valley -- everything is grown here! All it takes is for Al Qaeda terrorists to decide to contaminate our food source and we would be a bit of a mess. How do we know for sure if anything is safe to eat or drink?

I've been reading about some fish program that the government uses - to keep track of whether or not the water is contaminated. If the fish are fine, the water is fine. Simple.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Spinach, Tennis, Football and Wrestling

I just heard on Jay Leno earlier (one of my news sources) about the E-coli outbreak with bagged spinach. Oh oh! Just today I made a made a tossed salad -- complete with cherry tomatoes, croutons AND spinach from a bag -- for about 50 people. My daughter had a tennis tournament and since our school was the official host, the parents provided dinner.

I have not gone online to see what spinach it was. I bought bags with SpongeBob on the front.
(Oxnard, CA)

The tournament was fun. My daughter played three times and lost once. But because it was a "for fun" tournament, it does not count against her undefeated status. Actually, she was moved up to the No. 1 Varsity Doubles team for the tournament. I was very proud of her.

I was there from noon till after 5 p.m., then I rushed to take the salads in (I had premade them in the morning) and then hurried to take my girls to their first football game. I had volunteered to slice tomatoes for band boosters hamburger stand, so once I did that, I rushed to take my other daughter and son to the Convention Center.

Mike and Marisa are spending the night at the Convention Center in order to get some kind of WWE wrestling tickets that go on sale tomorrow

I hurried back to watch my two high school daughters perform at half time (both are in band) and then went home to do some more writing and print up invitations to my mother's upcoming BIG 85th celebration.

I don't think I will sleep any tonight. I have already gone by the convention center to check on my Down Syndrome kids five times! They were fine. It's going to be a long and cold night. Tickets do not go on sale till 10 a.m.

update: they got second-row seats. All front row seats were reserved. I also finished all of my story assignments and even though I said I wouldn't do this again, I then took on 8 more stories for three separate papers for next week. LOL Somehow after I caught up with those original ones, I figured it wasn't so bad.
And finally -- My tennis daughter has had two more meets, and remains undefeated. :) Yea!

Almost killed by a train

(update: 9/26: I had called the city and today I see that they fixed the sign. There is now a R/R crossing up)

I have a few phobias. I am scared of heights, earthquakes and trains!

There are railroad tracks about three blocks from my home. I pass them about 20 times a day as I come and go. Though I'm scared of being near tracks and approaching trains, I am not scared of riding in trains and I love the sound of the whistle. The train goes by in the mornings, at noon, around 5 p.m. and in the middle of the night. I always enjoy listening to the whistles.

But because of my phobia, I am always cautious when I cross any tracks.

Today, I came within inches - from having my car slammed, almost head on by a train. The road I took does not have a stop sign. It does not have R/R lights. There is a small, broken R/R sign. And there is a building just before the railroads. In that same area, the railroad curves and comes out from behind the building and can hit a car head on.

I was driving about 20 mph. I did not have my radio on. (usually I do and I am so glad I didn't.) I was not talking on my cell phone (I have a bluetooth but I was not on a call and I am so glad)
I did have the A/C on full blast because my car had been sitting for a few hours and it was a very hot day.

I never heard the train whistle.
I never heard anything.

But as I cleared the building, the train was right there. I slammed my brakes and stopped inches from the train as it went by. One more mph on my part and I would have been history.

I did not see my life flash before my eyes. In fact, I'm surprised that I stayed so calm. I quickly put the car in reverse and backed up a bit.

After the train passed, I drove to the other side of the tracks and pulled over and thanked God for sparing my life. I did not want to die in such a tragic way. My children would be traumatized. Thank God I was alone.

Only after the train passed by did I get scared. I am not exaggerating when I say that I came inches from the train. If I were sitting on the hood of my car, I could reach out and touch it. I was that close. One more inch and the train would be scratching my car.

I don't think God was ready for me. Or maybe I wasn't ready for heaven. Either way, I'm thankful to still be here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Back from my cruise

I'm back from my cruise - which I really enjoyed and know that I needed, yet I can't help but wish I had not gone. Too much happened while I was away.

On the plus side, I slept like a baby during the trip. But, I never got any writing done. Zero. It was naiive of me to think that I could. I did not take my lap top and I'm glad.

On the not-so-good side, I have not slept since my return. Sunday night, I slept two hours. I was so tired on Monday and had to put in a 6-hour day at work (medical work) -- since I had not been here all week, I had my day filled with appointments in four towns and two different counties. I then attended my daughter's tennis match. She won! Yeea! She's still undefeated. And from there we went directly to College Night 2006 at the Visalia Convention Center. It made for a super long first day back.

But aside from that, so much happened locally -- things that I would have loved to have been here for.

* The Visalia Drive-in Movies closed. They showed their last movie last Thursday and I would have loved to have been there. It is sad to see them all close - though I can see how economically it just isn't profitable.
* Also closing was Merle's Drive-in. They have been a Visalia landmark and icon since the 30s? President Richard Nixon ate there once. It was awesome. I remember the first time I went there for a hamburger and milkshake. The place is famous and I have seen photos of it in many books. It was like an old fashion Sonic - complete with roller-skating waitresses - though not for a while now. I'll try to go by and take a photo of the two places - both on Mooney Blvd., but a good four or five miles apart.
* Two more people were diagnosed with West Nile Virus in our area. And, anyone who visited the Fresno Fulton Mall over the weekend, may have been exposed to Rabies.
*Olympian Bob Mathias (two gold medals for the U.S.) died - he's from here (Tulare) and we have the track at Tulare High named after him. His funeral was held in Tulare and attracted many dignitaries and several other olympic-medalist athletes.
* Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in town.
* A plane crash killed two men near Porterville.

There were several other local things and I can't think at the moment. Of course, it is 3:30 in the morning and I should be sleeping.

I worried for two days (while on my trip) about my writing assignments. I then made a decision that it was impossible to work on them from the ship and enjoyed the rest of the trip. That means that I now have 7 stories, with 7 sidebars that I must finish by the middle of next week. And two other non-related stories for other newspapers also due next week.

Today I must see my mama. I need to take her shopping and help her around the house. And with her big birthday party around the corner, I am putting the finishing touches on her invitations, that I hope I can start printing in the next day or two. I really neeed to mail them all out.

For now, it looks like my laptop has not been charged and it's about to die, so I better sign off and get back to bed.

I probably will not be posting for a while.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rose Bowl - Commercials - and a five-day cruise

I'm happy to say that my mom's health has been great. We've been blessed in that area lately. She is turning 85 in a month and we are planning a really big party for her. Here is a picture of her on her 80th birthday party. She's playing badminton. In the second photo, she's just driven my little red convertible, shortly after I got it (1999?)

<----- That's my mom -- she was born in Pasadena so we always refer to her as the little old lady from Pasadena.

Speaking of Pasadena, I've been invited by Jim Kusserow, Porterville Panther Band director, to join the band for the Rose Bowl parade on January 1 in Pasadena. That is so exciting! What an honor! I'll be covering the band's activities from Dec. 29 through Jan. 1 -- writing for the Porterville Recorder.

I've been pretty busy lately. I thought I would have a lot of free time to work on my WIP once my children were back in school, but nothing could be further from the truth -- I am busier than ever. I feel like a taxi service but that's ok - that's my choice and I am not complaining, just explaining.

My days start early. Two children start school at 7 a.m., one at 8:30 and one at 11 a.m. -- in the afternoon, I play taxi again - at 2 p.m., 2:30, 3:20, 4:30 and 5:30. (one child comes home and then returns for sports) -- On Tuesdays, I add more taxi rounds at 6 and 8:30 p.m. (to and from band practice)and Friday nights - to and from the football games. And, of course, there are at least two tennis matches a week that I attend. (I try to make every single one of them - including out of town.) Thank goodness softball season does not conflict right now. That's a whole other ballgame.

I've been busy writing and working too. I work two to three hours every day at a medical office and then write for newspapers on a regular basis. Today I received seven new assignments that are due soon. Thursday and Friday I will be recording several more commercials for the Bakersfield Californian newspaper - in English and Spanish for radio and (this time) for television too! I am very excited about it. I have never done a television commercial for them.

I enjoy recording radio commercials. That's always so cool to do. And the first time I heard the commercial on the radio, I screamed. It is so odd hearing your own voice on the radio. You can't help but smile. :)

In the meantime, I'm off to see my uncle again. He's dying of cancer in Los Angeles and I promised to take my mom on Wednesday.

But finally I will have some time to work on my novel next week. I'm taking off (alone - with no children) for a five-day cruise to Catalina Island, San Diego and Ensenada On Labor Day with my sister Becky, her daughter-in-law and my sweet grand-nephew (age 1?)

I plan to write - write - write, and I'm really looking forward to a little R and R.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Harley Davidson ride

Even with lack of sleep, I've been doing ok and working. In fact, I had stories in three different newspapers this week.

One story was fun -- the class of 1956 was digging up their time capsule and I was there to cover the event. But, it was not there. Bummer. Still, I enjoyed covering the story. (My class of 76 time capsule was also missing)

Another story had to do with a Harley Davidson group having a poker run to raise money for our local sheriff's K9 units. I wrote the pre story and now they want me to cover the actual event.

It's a cool story. BUT -- it gets better. I was invited to ride along (they promised me I wouldn't fall off) at the event -- 120 miles.

Can you imagine? I'm actually not a big motorcycle fan but the thought is intriguing. I may not do the entire ride. They have several stops along the way and I may just take a leg of it.
It sounds scary. I mean, you can't really make a promise like that ("we have some great drivers. we promise you won't fall off.") An accident is an accident. Still, these guys drive these things all the time.

If you had the chance, would you do it? I told them I'd let them know by Friday.

It is times like this that I really love my job. I can't believe I get paid to do things like this. :)

Sleepless in Visalia - again

Well, it's happening again. No sleep. The last four days have been really bad. I wake up at 1 a.m. and stay awake till 4 - 5 a.m. -- jumping at every little sound, my heart racing up to 110 beats per minute. I sleep less than three hours a night and then work all day.

During the day, I'm fine.

I thought it was due to a combination of things -- the high school reunion, my mother, (she had another fall yesterday and banged her head on the sidewalk) my kids, a dying uncle, an aunt who died two days ago and my work. I kept thinking once things settled down, things would be better.

But, today it started crossing over to my day. Usually, my symptoms disappear during the day.
So, I decided enough was enough and I made an appointment with a doctor.

Spider Identified - I think

A few posts ago, I posted a picture of a spider found in our home. It was huge (by my standards)

Matt D. suggested I check out whats that bug dot com -- I did. As much as I dislike bugs, I was fascinated by the site.

I didn't find my spider but I did query in my question and photo and they found it for me.

My spider looks identical (same mark on back) to a Huntsman Spider. The first one is mine. The other spider has two rows of the markings but I saw several pics of spiders with only one row.
Either way, this spider was a bit too fuzzy and too large for my liking. (think baby tarantula)

Now - my question is: How the heck did it get here?
I have been reading that they are from Australia.
Thank you, Matt, for your help in identifying it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sorry seems to be the hardest words ... not really

I have been listening to the Mel Gibson incident a lot lately and to be honest -- I don't understand why people can not accept an apology any more.

I realize that what he did was wrong. He realizes it. He apologized.

“I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable,” the actor-director said without elaborating. (AP story)

Actually, he's apologized more than once.

But I guess that wasn't enough. Now I hear that the Jewish community is not accepting his apology and they want him to do some service work and speaking engagements.

My question is - why?

Why is it NOT enough? Do they feel he is not sincere?

I think what gets to me is that people no longer know how to accept an apology. It's like, "Ok, yea, I forgive you....IF...." and then the list begins.

Jesus forgave unconditionally. Why can't people do the same?

High School Reunion

My 30th high school reunion is this weekend and I've been really busy with some reunion things lately-- but finally it's all come together. Our last meeting (I hope) was last night and come Saturday -- I'll be having fun.

So why am I so nervous about it? I go through this every five years..... I'm getting more and more excited with each passing day but also starting to get more and more nervous....

I know the main thing is to visit with classmates and have fun -- but still...... why am I nervous about this? It's not like I don't know anyone. I've been on the 10, 15, 20, 25 and now 30 year committees. You would think I wouldn't react like this.......

But do you know what is sad? We have so many classmates missing. We had 325 graduates in our class -- but addresses now for about 150 of them. And, only 75 or so are coming to the reunion.