Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Twin Towers

While browsing through some high school photos - I found this picture. I was in New York City with the Porterville Panther Band. I couldn't believe it -- the Twin Towers are in the background.

That's me - in the blue shirt, second person in. My little sister, Lily is in front.

Leader of the Band

***** For the latest entry on Frank "Buck" Shaffer -- click here. *****

Panther Band in Washington D.C. - that's me - the first "L" in Porterville.

We have the most amazing man in Porterville, California.

Frank "Buck" Shaffer is someone I love and respect and have known for many years. And today I got to interview him for a hometown newspaper story about Unsung Heroes.

I have always admired Buck and always knew he has done so much for our small community, but sitting in his home - interviewing him - I was in awe while listening to all he has done.

If I had to name one person who has had a huge impact on Porterville, that would have to be Frank "Buck" Shaffer. He started the Porterville Christmas parade, the Veterans Day Band-a-Rama, the City of Hope Spectacular -- and The Fabulous Studio Band, to mention just a few things.

He was Porterville High School's band director for many years. He took a tiny band and made it grand. He has led our band from sea to shining sea - as they performed at venues across America. He was there for Disneyland's grand opening ceremonies - and every year thereafter for 32 years. He has directed the Porterville Panther Band at Carnegie Hall, Squaw Valley Winter Olympics of 1960, Seattle World's Fair, six Rose Parades, represented California in Philadelphia on the fourth of July of 1976, performed at half time shows for the Los Angeles Rams four separate years, led the band through 35 years of CMEA Superior Ratings, led the band through four recordings (Capitol Custom), played at least 185 half-time football shows, led the band through 345 DIFFERENT parades all over America and has had 37 annual concerts to a packed house in Porterville. (at the Porterville Memorial Auditorium in the Frank "Buck" Shaffer Theater -- named after him. Outside, he has a star on the sidewalk walk of fame.)

I still remember marching under his direction, 1973-1976 -- four of the best years of my life. During that time, I marched the Hollywood Christmas parade every year, Disneyland every year, did two Rams half-time shows, met and shook Vice President Ford's hand when the band played for him while he was in Fresno campaigning. In fact, he told me I had a beautiful smile. Buck also took us to New York City, Washington D.C., Arlington National Monument - Cemetery, Philadelphia -- a 10-day tour of the East Coast, where we toured the Statue of Liberty, The United Nations, Montecito, Gettysburg, Amish country, the White House, U.S. Capital, Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Treasury, the Smithsonian -- the list is endless.

His Fabulous Studio Band has done even more -- including several tours to the Orient, Japan and Korea -- and they have completed many domestic tours as well.

The hour and a half I spent with Buck was precious and priceless.
Writing the story will be an honor.
But how can I give enough justice to the story -- this man is incredible.
I was also very touched by a few things he shared with me and a favor he asked of me.

Thank you, Buck Shaffer. For the gift that you gave me -- the gift of music and for believing in me. Thank you for putting a song in my soul.

This is me in 1976 - you can't see my long hair
I was an Orange Blossom
the first "L" in P-O-R-T-E-R-V-I-L-L-E,
we marched in front of the band.

If you want to know more about Buck Shaffer -- please visit: www.buckshaffer.com
or read the story I wrote: HERE

For other Porterville High Band, Monache High Band, Fabulous Studio Band and other band stories click HERE.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Saying Goodbye

I had lunch with my best friend today. We meet occasionally for coffee or for lunch - always hitting unique little places or interesting sounding restaurants.

Today we went to a little Mediterranean place. We had humus and Tabouli salad and gyros.
And then, he decided to tell me -- he's moving to Sacramento -- next month! Huh? "What do you mean - you're moving away?" I just sat there for a moment, trying to absorb what he said. His mother is elderly and needs him. (I can certainly understand that.) But it was still sad.

This guy is my baseball buddy. There has never been anything else. Just friendship. He loves my girls and we've known him for years and years. We always meet at the Oaks baseball home games and often travel to some of the away games together. We go out for icecream in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter.

Baseball starts in two weeks - it just won't be the same without him.
Michael is like family. I can't believe I'm losing him.

I'll miss you Michael!

School District Lines

My heart is breaking.

I have spent all morning fighting (ok, just talking until I'm blue in the face) with my daughters' schools.

Apparently, for the past five years, we have been attending the "wrong" schools. No one ever told us. No one ever stopped us when we registered - so with one daughter having a year to go in high school and the other about to start high school - they expect us to move our daughters to the new school next fall.

The deadline to apply for a lottery to attend a different school was in December. (They can't understand that we didn't apply because no one ever told us that we weren't attending the right schools to start with. Apparently the boundaries changed several years ago but no one told us!) Oh, we live on a corner. If I cross the street to the west, she'd be ok. If I cross the street north, she'd be ok. My corner (and my house only) is the only one affected on this block. Next to me is a church, so obviously, they don't have children. I am the only house on the block that it affects.

We have lived in the same house for 15 years. The girls have gone from kindergarten through now to school with their friends. If I move her now - I might as well move her to a new town!

Oh - and in order to get to the school across town, we have to walk/drive past the school in question. (.4 mile from our home. The other school is further.)

I am so frustrated and my younger daughter is devastated.

She called me from school - totally freaked out. Last week we signed her up for high school. She's been accepted into their marching band (few Freshman are) and into the advanced band and into their Wind Ensemble band. (top of the line band- by audition/permission only - they meet at 7 a.m. daily)

My middle daughter is the No. 1 student at the school - will they make me pull her out too? If they do - she'll be devastated.

I keep telling myself that things will work out -- but I didn't feel positive after leaving the district office. We missed the lottery system for attending and they said chances of getting in are slim to none.

I may have no choice but to move. If I have to move in order to have my daughter's life be uninterrupted - so be it. I'd hate to. We've lived in the same home for so long. But what other choice would I really have?

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Swallows are Coming - the Swallows are Coming

Four more days. Then, I'll be heading to San Juan Capistrano to take my elderly mama to see the Swallows return.

It's amazing. How do these birds migrate to Goya, Argentina, only to return year after year -- always on the same day? March 19. I have never seen it in person, but I do see it every year on the news.

My mama grew up in that area as a little girl. But, the last time she saw the birds, she was 10 years old. That was 75 years ago! She's always longed to go back and year after year and when I see it on the news, I regret that I didn't take her.

This year I'm taking her. Last Christmas, I wrapped a child's book (the only one I could find) about the Swallows, and while she opened the present, I played the 1939 classic "When the Swallows Return" -- she opened the gift, saw the "gift" certificate and hotel accomodation info and broke down crying.

Now, you should see my mama. She's like a little girl. For the past three weeks, she's talked about it every day! Telling me stories of how the Mission bells would start ringing when the birds are spotted in the city. And how hundreds of them are suddenly seen, flying to the San Juan Capistrano Mission. Sometimes she wipes away a tear, but mostly, I can see her drifting away to another time -- and I can almost see them -- flying, closer and closer and bells ringing and people cheering..... I can't wait...

It's going to be a bit bittersweet. You see, my mom has always said that she did not want to die before going back to see the swallows.

And, at 85, I realize that I need to treasure every day I have with her.

Four more days. Then we will go see the Swallows return...

March 23, 2006 : Edit to Add
I guess it is true - you can never go back again. My mom was a little disappointed that we did not see the Swallows that she remembered. She saw two or three - but that was it. I tried to explain that these were scouts -- and that the weather had prevented them from arriving. (lots of rain the past two weeks) But she insisted that it didn't matter - there were dozens of scouts on the days prior to the thousands of Swallows that would arrive. But, we had a nice time. I got to spend time with her and we laughed and talked a bit. I got to see a group of Swallows (about 25 of them) that flew by me as I sat in the gardens of the mission at San Juan Capistrano; but my mom was enjoying the mariachi and folkloric dance show and had requested to stay by the stage. (we were there five hours and she enjoyed her front-row seat to the show for two hours of it) I enjoyed walking around and entering the gorgeous church! (Catholic churches are so awesome)
Well...as it turns out -- swallows also arrive in Three Rivers (20 minutes away from me!) LOL -- so, I might take my mom to the Swallows Return celebration -- just for fun.

Spreading Sunshine

Besides writing, I am also in the medical field. I work approximately three to four hours a day for a paramedical company. Most of my work involves centrifuging and shipping blood, urine and drug-screening specimens. But, sometimes, I do electrocardiograms on people who are buying life, disability or health insurance.

Today, I had such an appt. And the woman (about my age) I went to see was in a very bad mood and by golly, she was going to make sure I knew it.

She proceeded to make my life miserable. She was negative. She was downright rude and nasty. Everything I asked her to do, she would complain loudly and tell me that she never did it that way last time she had the exam.

I decided to continue to smile and be nice and make her my project for the day -- I was determined to make her say something nice or at least make her smile.

The exam part was professional. I took her blood pressure and tried to say little things to her but she ignored me or sneered at me or just glared at me. I responded each time with a smile.
(I can be stubborn too - I figured the more I smiled and the nicer I was - the angrier she was getting - and to be honest, I wanted to laugh.)

When we got to the EKG - I commented on her cute monkey socks (she glared at me) and I chatted about my daughter loving monkeys.

It wasn't until I mentioned my daughter was Down Syndrome that she started to relax. I saw that it worked and I told them how she was just like a little monkey, always wrapping herself around me as a baby.

By the time we were done with the EKG, she was a different person. She thanked me for the exam and apologized several times about not being in a good mood when I arrived. I just smiled and said I hadn't really noticed, that I just figured she was nervous -- after all, I probably would be if some stranger came to my home to take my blood and have me semi undress. She started to laugh...just a little. I smiled, walked to the door and told her to have a great day. Her smile was so sincere by this time and she wished me a good day.

I got to my car and as I drove away, I felt really happy. I could have let that woman ruin my day. I could have cussed all the way home (Ok, I don't cuss)

So, next time you meet someone who appears to be miserable - just bear it. Remember, you'll soon leave. But in the meantime, see if you can make it your mission to bring a little sunshine to their life. If you succeed, you'll both feel great.

I'd like to think she went on to have a great day. I know I did.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Puppet Masters

More on this later - but I just wanted to come in and save my result.

I'm off to the CMEA - California Music Educators Association - music festival, which I'll get to write about for tomorrow's paper -- and I kind of doubt I'll get back to this tonight.

Thanks Dawno (saying this in a nice and sweet, but sarcastic, way)

No. I love Dawno. She's one of the best things that happened to my life these two years - she and everyone else at AW. I can't imagine not knowing them.

Well - This is what it said:

"You belong in the Puppet Masters. Your world is filled with hidden foes. You trust no one, and you know that someday you'll find and destroy the bad guys hideout."

NOTE: I was going to explain about this fun quiz and why I believed I got this answer - but to be honest, I am too busy and not particularly interested in this - so I'm not going to bother.
~ SS 3/13/06

Forbidden Shed

I wrote this a long time ago. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It is a true story.
I was only 4 years old when I first stumbled across the dark shed behind my home. It was hidden behind a thick wall of elderberry trees to the rear of our landlord’s L-shaped lot.

I often played behind a brush in my back yard. I liked it there. No one could see me. But I could see between the slats of the boards and, more than once, I watched our landlord, Mr. Neiman, walk towards the elderberries. He always stopped, looked around and then would sweep aside some brush, exposing dark wood, before stepping through.

"There’s a secret room back there,” I said to my brother once.

But he didn’t believe me, or maybe he wanted me to believe that there was not.

At 11 years of age, he seemed to know everything and he warned me not to get too close – the place was crawling with large beetles, he had told me.

But I wasn’t afraid of the beetles and I wasn’t afraid of adventure. But I was afraid of Mr. Neiman.

Two cherry trees stood just beyond the tall wooden fence separating our yards. I often climbed the fence to reach the branches. I’d cling to the tree, stuffing cherries into the pockets of my dress – and into my mouth – to keep my hands free for climbing.

I would prefer to wear jeans but my mother wouldn’t hear of it. Jeans were no attire for little girls.

I was on this fence one day when I saw the Neimans walking down the street. The Mrs. was not always well, so it was not often that they went for a walk.

Knowing I had a few minutes to explore before they returned, I climbed over the fence and slowly walked towards the brush. My heart raced as I glanced back. Not that I expected to see them, for I knew that they would be gone awhile. But I was afraid that my brother would see me and that would be worse.

I stopped and studied their home. It was always dark in the main house. Once in a great while, a small light could be seen in a back window.

The children in the neighborhood were afraid of the two-story home. The brown home was said to be haunted.

There was no lawn, only bark and mulch and roses and wild flowers of every color. Mrs. Neiman always hunched over her garden, pruning or planting. And Mr. Neiman would water.

“Cheri’ take some flowers to your mama,” he would say to me in his husky voice, and then gesture to me.
“Come, come. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you, my little Cheri.”

He liked calling me Cheri’ – more than likely because of my love for cherries, I thought.

Every now and then, usually on the first of the month, my mother would send me to their home to deliver the rent. It always took a long time for them to open the door.

I always prayed it would be the Mrs. But every now and then it was her husband.

“Come in. Come in, my Cheri’,” he would say every time in his husky accent. And I would step just inside the dark room. A large upright piano stood near the door, dust clinging to every inch of it. I would squint, unable to focus in the dark. There was furniture cramped into every corner, yet the old couple moved as if they were in a maze, fast and with a purpose.

Mrs. Neiman rarely spoke but always smiled. I often wondered if she spoke English. She seemed harmless, yet the children in the neighborhood feared her. I didn’t. I feared him.

I’d stand quietly each time as he scribbled a receipt. And it was during these short visits that I picked up tiny pieces of their history. Mrs. Neiman had been born into royalty in Austria but fell in love with a German soldier during World War II. Her family disowned her. They ran away, married and immigrated to America.

I had asked him once if they ever had children. They did. Twin girls. But they died. Mrs. Neiman wiped away a tear as Mr. Neiman spoke. Then he quickly shooed me out of the house. I never asked again.

As I approached the shrubs, there was no question about it, I could see the old wood – dark, splintered and faded in some areas. There were no windows, or at least, none that I could see -- only one door and one large padlock. But next to the door was a hook – with a key.
Shaking, I spread the brush and stepped in, careful not to disturb any potential beetles.

I quietly turned the key and slowly opened the door. I expected the room to be dark but a window on the back wall brought in just enough sunlight to glance around.

I stood still, mouth open. I could not believe my eyes. Never in my life had I ever seen such a thing – picture after picture of naked or scantily-clad women on the walls. Some of them were standing, some were sitting, others were bent over, but each one, beautiful, with long hair, big eyes, ruby-red lips and the roundest breasts I’d ever seen.

I turned and ran as fast as I could. I never looked back and as I climbed the fence, I saw the Neimans walking back. I didn’t care. I was safe in my yard. Breathing heavily, I noticed I was so nervous that I was clenching my hand into a fist. I slowly opened my hand -- and panicked. I held a key in the palm of my hand.